Merrifield loves learning in order to teach

Communications Staff — August 4, 2004

Monica Merrifield was a separatist long before separatism was cool. At her Roman Catholic elementary school, a precocious Merrifield regularly quizzed the nuns on the significance of such dalliances as icons and Rosary beads.

But her austere teachers brooked no such questioning of Roman worship and the inquisitive student often found herself performing penance in an area of the classroom anointed to foster confession and vows of silence.

“As a kid I would question the nuns on things like that and they would put me in a corner,” Merrifield said. “I found those things to be stiff and unfulfilling, even as a kid. There just seemed to be more to true religion than that stuff.

“I had a love for God and who He was as I was growing up, but I had a better understanding of Him when I became a born-again believer in middle school.”

Her conversion coincided with that of her mother. It proved to be the pivotal moment in Merrifield’s life as she followed her mother and broke with the formalism of the Catholic Church in favor of conservative evangelicalism.

Merrifield experienced profound growth after graduating from college and joining an Evangelical Free church, where the pastor’s wife carefully discipled her. This, coupled with her earlier experiences, built within her a Gospel hub around which her life turns today.

Merrifield is a master of divinity student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. She is working toward an M.Div. in Christian Education and expects to complete her degree in December of 2004.

She came to Southern Seminary in 2001 with husband, David, who is also a student and serves as campus photographer. David shares his wife’s Gospel-entranced vision for life while serving as a U.S. Air Force chaplain. David plans to continue as an active duty chaplain following seminary.

The two have been married for eight years, having met while stationed at an Air Force base in Hawaii. While Monica is not certain what post-seminary life will mean for her, she hopes to use the gift of teaching she believes God has implanted within her.

A native of Honolulu, Hawaii, Merrifield received her undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame in economics and Japanese. She attended Notre Dame in part because of its reputation as a top-notch institution and in part for the main reason the school is well-known across the globe: its football team.

“I have no idea why that was such a big deal to me,” she said. “I wasn’t a cheerleader and I didn’t have a band scholarship or anything, but I’ll admit that it was a small factor. It certainly wasn’t decisive but it was one of the reasons why I was familiar with Notre Dame.”

Given her desire for teaching, Merrifield says her reasoning was somewhat peculiar. It turned out well because following graduation, she taught for seven years at high schools in Indiana and Hawaii.

“God has prepared me to teach in spite of myself,” Merrifield said, laughing. “My whole life I have wanted to teach but at the University of Notre Dame, education is not something any student aspires to. Notre Dame had no college of education. With my degree I thought it would have been impossible to get a teaching job.

“But God opened several doors for me to have an opportunity to teach. I took some courses in teaching at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, after it seemed that every other door had closed. In college I thought I would maybe go work for a bank in Japan and after I had made a good living in that, get a teaching job so I could make a difference in the world. But God’s plans have certainly been better.”

Merrifield has particular affections for the Japanese culture and people. She spent four years there with David earlier during an Air Force hitch and made another visit when she led a group of high school students to the country as part of an exchange program.

Merrifield’s time in Japan instilled a love of international students in her heart, a love she has brought to Southern Seminary.

The Merrifields serve as volunteers with the Baptist Student Union at the University of Louisville where they work with nearly 100 international students. The Merrifields minister to the students some capacity 3-4 days per week. They lead a Bible study each Sunday evening and on Mondays, Monica spends leisure time with Japanese students in activities such as eating lunch or shopping.

While their ministry there has been edifying, Monica says the time she has spent on Mondays in “frivolous” activities has particularly borne fruit of late.

“In the past three weeks [in October], I have had three very deep conversations with students that have led to opportunities to share the Gospel and talk about worldviews,” she said.

“One girl said she was writing a paper on Roman Catholicism and Protestantism and she wanted to discuss the differences between the two. That gave me a great entrÈe into the Gospel.

“Also last week on the way back from shopping at the outlet malls, I talked to another girl about sin and [effectual] grace and common grace. This all happened while doing frivolous things with them and spending time with them.”

As a student, Merrifield loves spending time in the books. Merrifield says her time at Southern has endowed her with a deeper love for the Word of God and the desire to teach it and to disciple other believers who may be young in the faith. There is no lack of opportunities in ministry for women, she said.

“Being at Southern has challenged me to love God’s Word and God’s people more and that goes in a cycle, I think,” she said. “It has also encouraged me to learn more about Him through the Scripture and to be able to interact with people to share that. There are just so many opportunities to minister here.

“I’ll admit that it would be easy for me to be a hermit and study all the time because I have learned to love good books as well. But I know God’s Word is efficacious when it is exposed to other people. My weakness is what to do with my time because of all the opportunities both for ministry and study.”

Wherever providence takes the Merrifields after seminary, Monica is confident that the discipleship of other women will be a major part of her teaching ministry. Given her conversion out of Roman Catholicism followed by years of waiting before being properly discipled in the faith, she sees the need all too clearly for the discipleship of new believers.

“I know a big part of the ministry — wherever we wind up — will be discipleship,” she said. “I have no idea whether that will be in some kind of full-time paid position or just voluntary work and that really doesn’t matter for me. What matters is teaching others the Gospel and helping them to grow in the grace of God.”

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