On the first day of Hebrew class at Western Theological Seminary, something happened in me. As we stood there surrounded by stuffed animals, learning the words for them in Hebrew, I had the keen sense that I was not there by accident. For five years I had been teaching Latin as a spoken language and had applied to attend Western on a whim. It quickly became clear that God had bigger plans for me, and soon I knew I wanted to teach high school Hebrew in addition to Latin.
The Hebrew language and scriptures worked their way into my heart the way rain seeps into the soil. I found myself humming morning prayers in Hebrew while brushing my teeth and singing Psalms in Hebrew when I was feeling overwhelmed. Internalizing the language and thought patterns of the people of the Old Testament revealed things about the heart and character of God and drew me nearer to God. In class we not only read portions of Scripture but also acted out the narratives, feeling them in our mouths and bodies as well as our minds and hearts and gaining new insights into those stories.
Of course, no school I knew of had any intention of teaching Hebrew, let alone the way I was learning it. But one day I spoke with my Hebrew teacher and advisor, Dr. Travis West (Moshe), and learned that a Bible teacher at Holland Christian High School wanted to start a Hebrew class there. He envisioned partnering with Western and having a seminary intern help teach the class. It sounded too good to be true. Sometimes God has a way of ordering things beyond our wildest imaginings, which, unbeknownst to us, God has been preparing us for all along.
I am now halfway through my first year co-teaching a high school Hebrew class at Holland Christian with Keith Blystra. Having lived in Israel for five years, Blystra knows Hebrew well, and the class is highly immersive. In the fall we brought students to WTS once a week to make use of the school’s props and materials. On an ordinary afternoon, you might see Hebrew students wearing bear heads and eating plastic fruit or creating a storm with blue fabric and beanie baby fish. You might hear students in sailor hats enacting parts of the Jonah story or singing and dancing to “This is the Day” in Hebrew, followed by a theological discussion on the holy name of God or what it means for God to be slow to anger and turn from calamity.
Holland Christian sophomore Austin Becksvoort told me, “I have been able to see another layer of complexity to the Bible that is not visible in an English translation. Learning the language it was originally written in opens up gateways in the Bible. A lot of subtle word choices and connections are missed when reading a translation.”
Another student, Kathryn Honeck, said, “I never knew how poetic God’s word is. Just knowing a few Hebrew words seems to bring me closer to God and give me an even better understanding of who he is.” Other students have enjoyed “just learning and being in the language,” and the way “we laugh every single day in Hebrew.”
The class has been a gift to everyone involved. I am immensely grateful for the ways Western is forming and preparing me to live into this calling, and I am grateful for the opportunity to further develop my own proficiency while sharing what I’ve learned with these students and watching them grow in knowledge and wonder.