by Ruth Dearling and
Page 1 |
On October 30th, 1998 Ruth Dearing celebrated her ninetieth birthday as well
as fifty-nine years of active service on the campus of Prairie Bible Institute (PBI).
Although she did not teach full time after 1985, Ms. Dearing continued to work
in the Bible and Theology department as an examiner, tutor and mentor to college
students. To this day she retains an office the college faculty building as
Professor Emerita (she never has been officially retired). Ruth Dearing’s career
is unique not only for its longevity, but also for the fact that much of it was
spent in various positions of leadership. Leadership in evangelical Christian
education this century was dominated by men, so Dearing had few women
counter-parts. There were times when objections were raised to her occupying the
position of Principal of Prairie High School, or to her preaching the occasional
sermon at the Prairie Tabernacle Church on Sunday mornings; however, as Dearing
recounts, she performed these tasks at the request of PBI’s President, L. E.
Maxwell. That she was a woman never seemed to be an issue with him. His concern
was, “I am teaching women to minister; I want them to be free to minister.”1 With
Maxwell’s blessing, Dearing exercised that freedom, frequently carrying out
tasks traditionally undertaken by men.
Ruth Dearing was born in Southern California but her family moved to eastern
Washington when she was still very young. After attending the University of
Washington for three years, she transferred to Seattle Pacific College (now
Seattle Pacific University), where she earned a Bachelors degree in Religious
Studies. Dearing first learned about PBI when she met the founder and President,
L. E. Maxwell, in 1934.
Maxwell came to Washington to speak at a Bible camp where she was working
that summer. However, it was not until Maxwell’s second visit to the camp four
years later that Dearing seriously considered attending PBI. Believing that
Maxwell’s encouragement was also Divine leading, she enrolled in an intense
one-year program of studies which qualified her to graduate in April of 1939.
During that year of studies Maxwell asked her to consider joining staff for the
coming year as a teacher in PBI’s newly opened high school. Thus began a career
of service and ministry at Prairie Bible Institute which continues to this day.
Recognizing her gift for leadership, Maxwell asked PBI’s Board of Directors
to appoint Dearing Vice-Principal of the high school in 1943. The Board agreed
to Maxwell’s proposal. Dearing recorded her response to the news in the
following words: “I never dreamed of such an appointment and had no aspirations
to be an administrator. However, with his encouragement I accepted the position
as from the Lord and trusted Him for His wisdom and grace.”2 Three years later
she was asked to become Principal, and went on to hold that position for
Leadership responsibilities of a formal, positional nature were not the only
kind which were passed on to Dearing at PBI, although she had these in
abundance. During one period in the early 1950s Dearing was not only Principal
of the High School (her duties there also included teaching a number of
courses), but she simultaneously served on PBI’s Board of Directors, and held
the position of Women’s Dean for both the Bible College and High School resident
students. With typical understatement Dearing remarked: “It was just about too
much to do anything really well, but I tried to do it all.”3 Maxwell also
acknowledged her ability to lead by allowing her fill roles in the school which
were traditionally understood (and, some would argue theologically ordained) to
be the purvue of men. The first of these roles was teaching theology in the
Bible College. In 1950 Maxwell asked Dearing to teach an introductory Bible
course to the first year students. Eventually this led to her becoming a full
time instructor in the Bible College after she resigned from the high school
principalship in 1963. On different occasions male students would challenge her
about her role as a Bible teacher, asking for a biblical justification.
Dearing’s measured response was that she had not placed herself in that
position, but was put there by her administrative superior, Mr. Maxwell.
Trusting that those over her were guided by God when asking her to take on these
responsibilities gave her the freedom to teach without any sense that she was
violating a biblical commandment. On a more personal level, Dearing also stated
that, based on careful interpretation of certain Bible verses –“ there are only
two or three that are used to suggest that women should not teach – that they
have been misinterpreted in their absolute ban on women teaching.”4 If that
explanation did not satisfy, she would refer the student to either Maxwell, or
Dr. Ted Rendall, who later succeeded Maxwell as Principal of the Bible College.