By Sr. Barbara Frances Samp, CSFN
Editor's note: Sr. Barbara Frances Samp has taught a Bible class at Jesus the Good Shepherd Convent in Grand Prairie, TX since 2006. The following is her reflection on this ministry -- a ministry that continues to build the Kingdom of God's love among the adult students she inspires.
I have always been interested in Scripture since having to teach it to junior high students for a number of years. But my interest grew even more when I had the opportunity to study the Bible. I did this as a requirement to obtain the needed on-going education credits to keep my teaching certification current. I enrolled in the Biblical School in Scripture Studies as an on-line student at the University of Dallas (UD) in Irving, TX. It took me four years to complete the course which was quite intense and, at the end, I received certification in Advanced Biblical Studies with the go-ahead to teach Scripture.
Even as I was still a student at the University, the need to share my learnings arose when the sisters in my community became interested in learning the Bible. Like me, they never had the opportunity to do so because when we were younger the Bible was to be only read/studied/interpreted by the clergy. Therefore, once a week, the interested sisters and novices (we had a novitiate attached to our convent, at that time) spent time studying what I had learned at UD. This went on for about two years (2004 – 2006) until one of the sisters suggested I share with interested adults who participated at our Sunday Liturgy. It was Advent of 2006 when I attempted this adventure and I remember beginning a Bible Class with the study of the Nativity of Jesus as my opening lesson. I started with eight adults who were eager to enhance their love of Scripture and so the adventure began.
Their enthusiasm urged me to continue. The class met weekly and, as good apostles, the class members spread the word. By the following fall of 2007, the number grew to 12 participants. This encouraged me and the members to continue learning about God’s love, his watchful care, and Providence, his being a REAL Father to us his children. In time, I decided to follow the schematic of lessons according to the way I studied them at UD.
My original classes were basically lectures – boring. The students had an outline and objectives to follow what I was saying. It was a typical classroom situation. From the first day of class, they knew it would be an academic style of presentation with student participation welcome. Believe me, they participated! The questions and insights they brought up were at times challenging and I had to admit “I’ll look it up” or I’ll do some research on it and let you know next time we meet.” At times the questions were not Scripture oriented, but were of a religious nature about Sacraments or Liturgical practices, or Catholic Traditions. These adults were hungering to know more about their faith and how to better approach their relationship with God.
In early summer of 2011, we had completed the study of the entire Bible and the participants celebrated with a prayer service, a certificate of a four-year completion and a luncheon. This was followed by the question, “Will you be teaching this next fall?” And, so it was, come the following September, I began another round of classes. My class size grew to fifteen with a mixture of returnees and new faces. Once again after four and a half years, we finished a second round of studies in May 2016.
In 2016, after the second completion of studies, I had to find a way to make the presentations more meaningful and interesting; therefore, I enhanced the lecture by using Power Point. This was welcomed by several attendees, since the age group is mostly composed of seniors who themselves are experiencing hearing or vision difficulties. When appropriate, we watched a Biblical movie to make the lesson more interesting. Several participants enjoy the movies because they “understand the lesson better,” though we do watch out for Hollywood’s embellishments.
So why do we do this? As St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:20, “We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us.” I truly believe God is using my ambassadorship to bring others to him through Scripture. Yes, we study each book, not as the table of contents lists them, but more or less thematically, and/or chronologically. During each class period, we try to discover in the books of the Bible, what God is saying to us TODAY, regardless of when the book itself was written. It is a delight to see and hear these mature adults apply the message to our current world or their personal situation.
So, which Books do we cover? All of them – in four and a half years. We still have a year and a half to complete the entire Bible for the third time, but who’s rushing?
We teach and study to learn what God is saying to us in our time and age. We have, during our course of study, been able to appreciate the goodness of God and how the message of the prophets is still viable today.
Each fall, the number of participants changes. Some members are very interested and come diligently each week, rain or shine. Since that shaky beginning in 2006, the class enrollment finished in 2019 with 27 regular members, some of them returnees for a second or third session of studies. Since 2016, and in this past year, we reached the first term of the fourth year of studies.
The participants have enriched me with their insights, and it is an overpowering experience to hear and see how they are open to God’s Word. Working on preparations for these classes – which I do daily during the week -- gives me peace, strength, and insight into the goodness of God. One never tires of hearing the Word, and having the opportunity to share the Word is even better! I pray that I may continue to spread the Word the best I can. Again, as St. Paul says in Philippians 1:18, “What difference does It make, as long in every way, …Christ is being proclaimed. And in this I rejoice.”
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To read what Sr. Barbara Frances’ students are saying about this class, please visit Jesus is my pal now: Sr. Barbara Frances’ Bible class on our website.
Photo: Sr. Barbara Frances at her 70th Jubilee in 2018.