On Sunday, July 5, 2009 seven ABSW faculty, students and friends left the Bay Area for a trip to Central Africa. The purpose of our trip was three-fold: to attend and participate in a two week, two part, women’s conference throughout the Lake Victoria region; to visit the site of a new protestant partner seminary near Kampala, Uganda; and to build relationships with Christian Frontier Mission and its director Rev. Paul Kim. This trip represents a return to a historic emphasis on world mission here at ABSW.
Over the generations we have been known as a missionary training school.
In the 40s and 50s ABSW saw many of its students graduate and leave for the mission fields of the world, many of whom made it their life-long ministry. In fact, ABSW was founded in 1871 as a home mission outpost in the West—providing theological education for those who were opening missions and churches on the West coast to meet the spiritual needs of new and recent immigrants.
As many of us are aware, American Baptist International Ministries, organized in 1814, is the oldest Baptist mission agency formed in North America.
As a denomination we serve more than 2,500 short-term and long-term missionaries annually, bringing U.S. and Puerto Rico churches together with partners in 76 countries in cutting-edge ministries.
I, personally, became intimately acquainted with this emphasis while spending three months in Costa Rica on one of my first sabbaticals from my teaching post at ABSW. During that three month period I met and befriended several ABC missionaries, and left, at the close of my sabbatical, duly impressed by the work they were doing in Latin America. Since then I have revisited these same sites numerous times (as well as other Latin American countries) teaching as a visiting professor in the theological training centers of Limon, Costa Rica and Northern Panama.
Today, due to an ever increasing sense of globalization, our US churches think about the world and missions in new ways.
As a seminary involved with churches and students on the West coast, we have experienced numerous shifts in perspectives on cultural diversity and globalization. In order to be relevant to these changing perspectives we have created a curricular emphasis on multiculturalism; striving to prepare pastors and ministers who have not only experienced a diverse set of cultures throughout their theological training, but have also become comfortable ministering across these lines. Seminary training can no longer afford to remain within the confines of four walls, but must create ways for students to gain a tremendous breadth of cross cultural experiences. Our trip to Africa in summer 2009 is but one of these opportunities—and there will be many more.
Here are some testimonies from those who participated in the trip:
Having grown up in a poor country after a war, I thought I knew what it meant to be poor. But I was wrong.
The people I met in the month of July in Africa were far worse off than I was 40 some years ago in Korea. Four words may be appropriate to describe what I saw there: dust, lack of water, mosquitoes, and lack of food. The problem is too overwhelming; kids can’t go to school; husbands don’t have jobs; churches have no resources to help the poor. We just didn’t know where we could start to help them.
Although we have our own problems here in the United States, they have something we do not have; a growing church. Pastors were hungry for theological education and they were willing to give their lives, even if three out of four pastors did not receive salaries. I will never forget those one hundred and twenty ministers of Bukavu, Congo who, even after my three-day preaching class had concluded, did not want to go home. They said they wanted to learn more and begged me to come back soon . . .
Sangyil (Sam) Park, PhD
Associate Professor of Preaching and
Director of the DMin Program
The memories are strong in my heart.
They hold the whispers of the women in Bukavu, Congo. They hold the soul tearing truth of their circumstance. I have not forgotten. After giving a word to the women, I moved to the back of the church. I set up shop there in a single wooden chair. My dear sister who came with me to the back sat next to me. She interpreted their misery, their fears and their disappointments so that I would understand.
The women made a long curving line as they waited to come to our humble space. As they came to us we sat very close to one another. I looked into her eyes as she whispered her name to me. I said, “Karibu”, (you are welcome, in Swahili, and I lowered my eyes and began to listen. I heard measured beautiful Congolese French in response to my welcome. The words were a soft description of a heavy life. They fell heavily in my lap and into my heart. I hear English heavily colored by a Congolese accent next explaining to me the need at hand.
The women were arrestingly beautiful, and their hearts so tender. They hung their head and they told me the stories in their life. They told me that they did not eat each day, and they were hungry. It was a quiet telling of a shameful condition. They were ashamed of the plaque of poverty and loathsome conditions which made up the context of their lives. The three of us sat knee to knee and heart to heart. We climbed onto the refuge of God’s unfailing love as one as a sea of impossible conditions raged around us.
Minister Cheryl Dawson
[her job title here]
ABSW Senior MDiv Student
Our journey began with a five-day Women’s Conference held at the Christian Life Church in Uganda. There is so much that I could say about our missionary trip to Africa but wish to concentrate on this conference, because it meant so much to the women who attended.
About 2,000 women assembled from five war-torn countries: The Republic of Congo, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania.
Many of these women had never travelled outside of their own countries before and were very happy to be here. Pastor Mark, from one of the churches in Uganda, said that this is the first time he had ever seen all of these countries come together.
We all lived in college dormitories together, ate, prayed, and learned together. Our mornings were spent in worship.
Each morning a different country was featured, with worship leaders from that country sharing their culture as part of the program. Our afternoons were devoted to education and led by the missionaries. At the conclusion of the day’s events, there was much crying, cheering, praise, thanksgiving, and hugs.
It was a great privilege to witness the movement of grace and African reconciliation in process. By the end of the conference, many of the women said that their coming together was a miracle. This first-time conference was such a success that next year another one will be held in Rwanda. Praise the Lord!
Ms. Choong ‘Sil’ Choi-Jung
Retired Business Woman
ABSW Senior MDiv Student
The first several days were a struggle for personal and physical needs . . .no, wants! Jet lag, little sleep, food and caffeine, interesting bathroom/shower facilities, and, where was dessert?
Suffering for the Kingdom - it’s a good thing, right? Then, interacting with the women of Uganda, Rwanda, Congo, Tanzania and Burundi at the conference and University housing, it was clear that the inconvenience and discomfort we experienced is their life - each and every day.
During our workshops in Bukavu (DR Congo) with women church leaders, another truth was apparent. Corporate worship and ministry require us to be in relationship - and relationships can be challenging. These women, not unlike us, are ministering in their communities, sharing hope for today and for the future in Jesus Christ, struggling to find meaningful, relevant ways to show God’s love to others. They ached for encouragement, and the revelation of God’s Word in their efforts - we were blessed with the privilege of sharing what God inspired us to teach.
To speak with Missionary Paul Kim is to discover his amazing visionary leadership and incredible heart for the people of East Africa. He and his family are devoting their lives to provide educational opportunities for pastors, trade workers (sewing centers), and children. The seminary outside of Kampala is both beautiful and functional, and will provide theological curriculum that will enable pastors to grow their ministries exponentially.
Ms. Jenny Clark
Administrative National Account Manager
Friend of ABSW
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in God’s word I put my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord more than the watchmen wait for the morning,
more than the watchmen wait for the morning.
This word from Psalm 130 God placed in our hearts as a theme to guide us as we shared fellowship together with our brothers and sisters in East Africa. As our experience unfolded, we came to appreciate that this word of encouragement would be nourishing bread for our journey.
We had the opportunity to meet many with whom we ministered in Congo at the women’s conference in Kampala. They, along with women from Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi and Uganda made the long journey from their homes to share the joy of communion, a blessed communion in which we were privileged to take part. It was there we first met Belade Wali Bobo, wife of the Governor of South Kivu, Congo. She freely shared her heart for the women of her province and their desperate circumstances as victims of sexual violence and war. She described the problem as “epidemic.” So hopeless are these women, she explained, that they will not even risk investing in friendships with one another. Wali was preparing us to understand the conditions in which the women leaders of churches in South Kivu, Congo, are called to minister.
Conducting workshops for these women leaders in Bukavu, South Kivu, we were privileged to hear their stories, to share their struggles and joys, to pray together, and to encourage them in ministry, even as they encouraged us with their generous spirits. We were inspired by the intensity of their faith, their hunger for the Word, the joy in their fellowship, and their determination to share life-giving ministry with women in their churches and communities for who all hope seems lost. The Spirit was at work in our communion as, together, we waited on the Lord.
Rev. Kristen Preston
Attorney at Law
These voices, along with my own, constitute the ABSW mission team (minus one) that traveled together through the worn torn countries of Uganda, Rwanda, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Tanzania, and Kenya. Also a part of the team was JJ Jung, husband of our student ‘Sil,’ who was our videographer. This team of 7 was in Africa for nearly three weeks under the leadership of Missionary Paul Kim and Christian Frontier Mission. We were challenged well beyond our expectations—to minister to women and pastors who are victims of war. We ministered to women who have been raped, widowed, and their homes pillaged by foreign and domestic armies. We ministered to pastors who have almost no training and even fewer resources. We taught, we prayed, we preached, we worshiped; we encouraged, we supported, we spoke words of hope; we envisioned with them life beyond war. Now, not even three months later, we continue to pray for those we ministered to, we continue to hope on their behalf; and we know that we will never be the same.
Rev. LeAnn Snow Flesher, PhD
Academic Dean and Professor of Old Testament
American Baptist Seminary of the West