When Steve and Tanya Briix asked their kids if they wanted to move to South Africa, the kids had one question:
Can we take the hamsters?
“I said, ‘You wanna move to South Africa?’ and our kids said ‘What does that mean?’” Tanya explained, “It means you get two suitcases: one for clothes and one for toys, and that’s it.” No room for the hamsters, unfortunately.
Local pastor Steve Briix and his family are moving to South Africa this summer, where he will assume the position of academic dean at the International College of Bible and Missions in Johannesburg, South Africa. This relocation comes after 13 years of heading up Pine Ridge Bible Church college ministry, where Briix currently leads the weekly Tuesday night Equip ministry in partnership with Intervarsity ministries. Briix also oversees a number of programs on the Hillsdale College campus, including a student-to-student mentoring ministry, a weekly Thursday night study series on Christianity, and a ministry group called Prayer-for-the-Nations.
Before he arrived in Michigan, ministries like this were only a dream of his. A graduate of the Dallas Theological Institute, Briix was unsatisfied with his normal 9‑to‑5 in the Dallas business world, and he reached out to the seminary to ask if the Baptist association had any openings for a college minister.
They had exactly one in Quincy, Michigan, a position at Pine Ridge Bible Church. He decided to move with his wife Tanya to the place they would call home for the next 13 years.
Best-known on campus for his leadership of Equip, Briix is quick to correct anyone who might call it his brainchild. He said it actually began when a group of college students suggested having a weekly Bible study at the Briix’s house over dinner.
“Just listening to students about what would be helpful is really how it got started,” Briix emphasized. The group has grown since then and now meets at Free Methodist Church.
With experience in training and leadership, Briix is excited to put his skills to use at the International College of Bible and Missions (ICBM), where, according to its website, their mission is “to enable those called of God to develop their God-given gifts, to prepare them for the ministry of the propagation of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and to teach them to live and work by a Christian world view.”
His interest in teaching and equipping other pastors internationally began in 2012, on a missions trip to India. At a pastors’ conference where he was teaching, he witnessed pastors sleeping on floors because they had travelled from distant locations and had no beds to sleep in at night. Briix said it was humbling for him to see their faithful commitment to pray for each other, to learn, and to grow in their faith.
Most of the pastors, however, freely admitted they had very little knowledge of or training in theology. Briix said after that experience, he felt called to someday share his seminary experience with other pastors like those he met at the conference.
After a few years of missions trips elsewhere around the globe, the position of academic dean opened up at ICBM. After visiting the college for two weeks last summer, the Briix’s decided to accept the job. They were initially hesitant to take the volunteer position, as they would have to completely depend on fundraising. But when they saw how much the students sacrificed to learn every day, they decided it was worth it.
“We were there for a Saturday class and the dean of students made a big deal about, ‘Oh, we need to go pick up white bread and peanut butter,’” Briix said.
It wasn’t until later when they found out the students had purchased a taxi ride with the money they would have spent on food for the day.
“We went to seminary and we lived off of hamburger helper, but this does not even compare,” Tanya said.
And the students themselves couldn’t overstate the impact their studies at ICBM have made, Tanya said. Some students said they had to throw away all their old sermons because of how far they’d come.
Safety concerns and stolen mail (“no Amazon!” Steve lamented) are both everyday realities in Johannesburg, in addition to the cultural healing from apartheid and cultural and traditional differences between separate tribes. Steve pointed out that the tribal South African culture is very different from the American “melting pot.”
“It’s like everything blended together versus a chopped salad — and we’re clearly the tomatoes.”
The Briix’s said their mission, along with ICBM’s, is to speak God’s word and teach their students how to apply sound biblical principles to their lives and churches.
Steve said his is only a temporary position because the goal is to train a replacement who is actually from South Africa.
“The vision is for it to be Africans training Africans,” Steve said. “We’re taking five to 10 years, but if you notice, we’re just kind of living there with no end date.”
Steve’s regular day now is balanced between overseeing student Bible studies, meeting with students, fundraising, and finishing his dissertation. While in South Africa, he said he expects his days to be filled with meeting with faculty and staff, teaching a class or two, and overseeing the updating and revision of curriculum, in order to raise the college’s academic standards, which have been steadily climbing since its founding in 2000.
Hillsdale students are sad to say goodbye, but excited to see what lies in store for the family. Senior Carrie Olson, who has known the Briix family since freshman year, said she was shocked to hear that they were moving. “It wasn’t something I ever saw them doing, but the more I hear them and their children talk about it, the more I am excited for them. I can’t wait to see what they do.”
In everything they do, Steve said his family have taken the words of Saint Paul in 2 Timothy 2:2 to heart: “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”