Center connects to the Spirit
Oscar Merlo shares his vision for the new center on campus. | Caitlin Gaines/THE CHIMES
Seeking to connect students with the work of the Holy Spirit around the world, Oscar Merlo has agreed to act as director of the newly-launched Center for the Study of the Work and Ministry of the Holy Spirit Today. After traveling to over 30 countries as the executive director of the Alberto Mottesi Evangelistic Association, Merlo hopes to see the Spirit shape the hearts of students and inspire revival at Biola.
Q: What is your story? How did you come to Biola?
A: “My heart was pulled here when I read the job description. So, on one hand I had not opened that job description after three times that I had been sent that job description. By the third time, I opened it. When I read it, I read about the work the center will be doing. In one area, I saw the importance for the praxis. The world, the global south, where God is moving not just around the world but here, it impacts the front lines: the pastors, the leaders. I thought this is a really important center because it could generate reflection, which is mostly needed in this context.
"On the other hand, it can expose academia to the real work, not that fake work is happening, but to a work that is more tangible of how God is moving across the world. So, I saw an integration of praxis and academia, and I’ve been doing a lot of praxis. I’m educated and part of our work was to lead an education strategy that allowed me to travel and plan 143 extension centers around the world. And that’s really important for me, but I thought that at the level of a university [I] could really mix the praxis with the academia, and the Spirit of God could do some great things. On one hand, it could make us more coherent, more reasonable, more biblically founded about the reflection of the world today, but also more informed for praxis.”
Q: What is your hope for the Center of the Work and Ministry of the Holy Spirit Today?
A: “My hope is that there will be a genuine shift in the culture in the next years. Just to create more space for the Spirit of God in our personal life and developing a relationship with him, with the Spirit. I think that’s really important today. We run, we are strong in the Word, and from the standpoint of worship and the standpoint of praxis, we need the Spirit. We need the Spirit’s aid. He knows the deep things of God. It’s to our benefit to develop a relationship within those deep things of God. There’s the plans and there are the new strategies and the new things that can change the world and the new business opportunities, but those need to be brought into our hearts. How do they get into our hearts? Through the Spirit, through the Word. That then informs our way of thinking. My hope is to see this genuine shift, which has become more open, see a balance.”
Q: You are well traveled and have been to over 32 countries. How have you experienced God working in those countries? How does that shape what you are doing here at Biola?
A: “Every context is unique in the way that God moves. Out of the so many different spaces that I’ve been privileged to be at, the first one that comes to mind is the church in Cuba. In a context of close freedoms, there’s no liberties… Living with hopelessness in the midst of a context that is closed, that they have no liberties but that they’re living at the Word. They have an eschatology that things are going to be okay. That shaped me in a lot of ways in appreciating more of the things that I have.
"I went to about 23 of [Cuban] churches. I was invited to dinner, and we had this very simple spaghetti. They put a piece of hot dog on my spaghetti, and nobody else had a hot dog. I cut my hot dog, and I distributed it to the other plates. But then, they quietly also began to put it back into my plate, and then they said to me, ‘Don’t take away the privilege of us to bless you, and to have this community with you.’ That sharing of the only hot dog that they had. There this commitment to the cross really shaped my commitment to the Christianity that we have.”
Q: Biola students are privileged to learn about Christ and the Holy Spirit in a safe setting. How can Biola students appreciate this privilege more?
A: “In this society that we have, we have a tendency of just us, me, my space. How do I deal with living for Christ in the midst of that? It’s a commitment. It’s not easy. But if we develop more of a robust Christ in us, then he begins to change us inwardly. He begins to change our lives, and that then begins to give us new vision, new lenses of how we see life and how we see simple things… Christ’s eyes allows us to see the world in a different way, and how does Christ see my neighbor?”