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High School Bible Teacher Shares How Immerse “Reinvigorated” His Class

My name is Ben Tameling, and I am a Bible teacher at Grandville Calvin Christian High School. I am writing to express my enthusiasm for the Immerse: The Reading Bible series created by the members of the Institute for Bible Reading and published by Tyndale Publishers. For the first time this semester, I used the Kingdoms book for my Old Testament Survey class and the Messiah book for my New Testament Survey class. In both cases, it reinvigorated my teaching and my students’ approach to the Bible. What struck me so positively from this experience are the following three qualities.

First, my students and I really appreciated and enjoyed the “user-friendly” format of Immerse. I had several students remark that reading the Bible this way felt less intimidating. As a Bible teacher who personally loves reading and studying the Bible, this comment blew me away at first, but then I began to see where students were coming from: all of the study notes, cross references, and footnotes in many well-meaning “study Bibles” end up distracting young people from actually reading the text itself. Reading both a large portion of the Old Testament and all of the New Testament using this format helped students focus on the grander narrative. The introductions to each book gave us helpful historical and cultural context for each book, but then we were off and running, uninhibited by the clutter of so many gigantic Study Bibles.

Allowing students to “immerse” themselves in Scripture allowed me as a teacher to let students’ observations and reactions drive the class.

Second, I enjoyed having student discussion lead the class rather than my own preconceived agenda. I still did and do a lot of planning, whether it be formulating “unit maps” to help introduce major concepts in biblical books, summarizing key learning targets, or putting together “recaps” to help students review together, to name just a few things. But allowing students to “immerse” themselves in Scripture allowed me as a teacher to let students’ observations and reactions drive the class. As their guide, I encouraged them to ask questions continually as they read and for them to share those in small groups, whole class discussion, and in their weekly journal reflections that I required. This last technique was a great way for me to keep up with students as they read, dialoguing with them along the way and prodding them to keep asking great questions as they sought to connect the dots throughout the Story. In short, it was fun to explore a balance between pouring a foundation for them to build off of and then letting them go to work as they read and shared their own perspectives.

Third, going along with the above points about the user-friendly format and the student-driven dialogue, I believe using Immerse has allowed students to work toward a more holistic understanding of the Bible rather than see it as a series of disconnected “devotional chunks”. In my experience using Kingdoms, students could now approach the account of the Israelites entering and then exiting the Promised Land as part of a Story, more like an absorbing, tragic novel rather than a tedious textbook. Likewise with Messiah: suddenly all of the teachings and miracles of Jesus flowed together into a discernible storyline conveyed similarly yet differently by each Gospel writer. And rather than rush as a teacher to try and make each and every passage “applicable”, it was fun to watch students make connections between then and now themselves.

All in all, I am so glad that I was made aware of Immerse: The Reading Bible and can’t wait to keep exploring ways to integrate it into my other classes, refining and honing my own skills as a teacher to help open up the Bible to students, and in turn being blessed by what they teach me through this experience of reading communally.

In Christ,
Ben Tameling
Bible Teacher
Grandville Calvin Christian High School

Bringing Immerse into Angola Prison

Angola Prison, nicknamed “The Alcatraz of the South,” is one of the world’s most notorious prisons. Located outside Baton Rouge, LA, it’s the largest maximum-security prison in the country, with the property bigger in area than Manhattan. It began in the mid-1880’s as a slave plantation, named “Angola” after the African country from which most of the slaves came.

When Angola was converted to a state prison in 1901, the inhumane practices from the slave plantation carried over. Convicts were frequently abused, underfed, and subjected to unregulated violence. Prisoners were often worked to death under the harsh conditions.

In November I was invited to Angola to present Immerse: The Bible Reading Experience to the 28 Protestant churches that operate inside the prison. Thanks to a partnership with New Orleans Baptist Seminary, there is a seminary program within the prison that has trained and ordained over 100 prisoner/pastors.

Our relationship with Pastor Jim Cymbala at The Brooklyn Tabernacle opened the door at Angola. After Immerse was successfully launched to 5,000 people at BT, Pastor Cymbala caught a vision for Immerse in Angola. BT has a long partnership with Angola, with groups traveling there every year to visit the prison hospital and minister to the men on death row.

Louisiana has one of the strictest penal codes in the country. Nine out of ten prisoners will die there, either by execution or by natural death. Many of the men I met committed crimes when they were teenagers and will never taste freedom again.

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There is a long history of violence and abuse at Angola. I talked to men who told me how before going to bed, they would stuff magazines under their T-shirts and into their shorts to keep from being stabbed to death in their sleep.

We toured a housing unit referred to as “Red Hat” after the red paint-coated straw hats that its occupants wore when they worked in the fields. The building, located next door to the execution chamber and electric chair, consisted of 30 cell blocks. Each cell measured 5 feet by 7 feet, with a cement bunk and no mattress. Dinner was served in stinking buckets splashed onto the floors. During times of overcrowding, fifteen prisoners, often naked, were pressed into a single cell. Red Hat officially closed in 1972.

In 1995 a work of redemption began with a new warden, Burl Cain. Cain adopted the posture that if you treat people like animals, they’ll act like animals. He built several dormitory-like units where inmates could move for good behavior. He started a rodeo where prisoners could become cowboys for a day, and where artistically-gifted inmates could sell their creations to the 10,000 spectators who come for the rodeo. It was Warden Cain who invited New Orleans Baptist Seminary into the prison.

The presence of Christ’s church in Angola has been palpable. The most violent prison in America went from 1,387 assaults in 1990 to 371 assaults in 2012.

Immerse immediately captured the imagination of lead chaplain Jim Rentz. A Bible in the New Living Translation that was easier to read, with no chapters & verses, with the books in a better historical order. He also liked that Immerse is more of a book club than a Bible study.

Chaplain Rentz told me there’s lots of good preaching in the churches, but structurally it’s always been very top-down. Immerse provides what’s been missing: the invitation for the inmates to simply read and dialogue together. Another chaplain, Liz McGraw, is excited. “The churches have been pretty siloed,” she told me, “but Immerse offers us the opportunity to come together as one, all different denominations, to read God’s Word!”

But how would the pastors react? I was able to present and explain Immerse to them for about 90 minutes. During my presentation I sensed they were tracking with me, but then came the moment of truth. With some trepidation I asked for a show of hands: “Who is interested in taking this to their church?” Without hesitation, all 28 hands shot up. We’re all in.

Later that night, to a packed house, I shared the Immerse vision with a larger group of 400-500. The meeting ended and I was swarmed with inmates, full of questions, wanting to know when the Bibles would arrive. There were tears. The hope of the gospel and the power of the Scriptures has shone a light into the darkness at Angola.

Beginning in February, all 28 Angola churches will begin reading the New Testament together with Immerse: Messiah.

This is a powerful story in the making, but it needs your prayers. Already we’re seeing the domino effect. A large state prison in Michigan, upon hearing about Angola, has decided to launch Immerse to 300 inmates in January.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. ~ The prophet Isaiah

The Story Behind Immerse

Another Bible. Another curriculum. Another study guide. Another campaign. Pastors are constantly being bombarded with offers for the “next big thing.”

Immerse wasn’t dreamt up as a clever way to sell more Bibles. Rather, it’s the result of more than a decade of research into the biggest barriers to Bible reading. Out of that research and experimentation came a philosophy of what it means to read the Bible well, which has finally led to Immerse.

Learn more and get involved: ImmerseBible.com

This Church Read the Entire Bible With Immerse

A year after its initial launch, one church has read through the entire Bible together using Immerse! Macedonia Temple of God started Messiah in 2017 and went straight into Beginnings once they’d finished. Once they finished that, they didn’t want to stop, so they continued into Kingdoms. And so on.

Sometimes pastors are hesitant to continue into the First Testament after their church finishes Messiah. It’s less familiar and more difficult to understand. But as Pastor Chris Morrison describes in the video below, diving in to the story of Israel with Immerse makes it come alive like never before.

P.S. Chris contacted us after his church finished Immerse with a message about their plans for the future:

“Hope you’re all doing well. We finished all volumes of Immerse last week. I’ve been concerned about what to do after such a great experience. I didn’t want to go back to ‘stale’ teaching after the excitement of Immerse.

“I kept thinking that I was looking for the right lesson or program, and I was getting nervous because I couldn’t find one like Immerse.

“But there is no ‘next’ Immerse-like study. Immerse has literally changed how I want us to learn and share as a church family. If I stay true to that, our Immerse experience will last forever.

“Thank you again for Immerse. It has altered me and my church family in a great way.”

Video: Pastor Jim Cymbala Reacts to Immerse

Located in the heart of Brookyn, NY, The Brooklyn Tabernacle is a vibrant church with around 10,000 congregants from diverse cultural and economic backgrounds. When they decided to do Immerse last spring, we were excited to see how it would be received in a church that large in such a bustling urban environment.

A few weeks after they began, we got word from one of their pastors that he was seeing copies of Immerse: Messiah all over Brooklyn – at the gym, in coffee shops, in taxi cabs, you name it. In total, around 5,000 people read the entire New Testament with Immerse.

Here’s Senior Pastor Jim Cymbala describing his experience of leading the church through the New Testament and their plans to continue into the Old Testament.