Finding Christ behind bars – Train a Leader

Dmitri Dukhovenko began drinking as a teenager. By 19 years old, he was a drug addict. The next 11 years were a nightmare. At 30, he was in jail for the possession and sale of narcotics. During the trial, he attempted suicide by cutting his throat, but God marvelously preserved his life. He was sentenced to 27 months in prison. While there, believers visited and conducted services for the inmates; most of the believers were former convicts themselves. Dmitri decided to attend the services, and in a short time, he received Christ as his Lord and Savior. His life was changed. After his release, he started attending a church and was baptized. In 2006, he enrolled at the Zaporozhye Bible College and Seminary (ZBCS) in Ukraine and joined the prison ministry that had visited him. It was a poignant moment in his life when he made his first ministry visit to the prison where he had been physically and spiritually imprisoned to preach the Gospel. His testimony was astounding to both the security guards and the prisoners, especially those who remembered him as a prisoner. Now he has a Bachelor of Church Ministry degree and leads a weekly preaching ministry in the maximum-security prison. Many prisoners have heard about Christ and turned to Him. A new believers’ group has been formed; they in turn will emerge to freedom as Christians like Dmitri.

Fifteen years ago, Sergei Reus was invited to participate in a church service in one of Odessa’s prisons. Deeply inspired, he continued attending. “The more I was there, the more God was opening me up for what He wanted me to do: to carry out a ministry among the people staying in institutions of confinement.” Feeling he lacked enough biblical knowledge for the task, he attended a one year missionary training program at the Odessa Theological Seminary (OTS) in Ukraine. “The program was just [what I needed]. What I learned in the seminary is still a very good knowledge base for my ministry.” In 2000, Sergei was ordained for pastoral ministry among prisoners. “I always felt that I had to do something for people staying inside [the prisons].” Today, a team of Christians from several churches assist Sergei in his ministry. They regularly visit men’s and women’s prisons and investigative isolation wards. “I have seen many inmates accepting Jesus into their hearts, and after being discharged, [they] become members of local churches, start families and raise children.” Some of the former inmates are even working on the team now. “As we do our ministry, we trust that God would bring…many more people who are now in the slavery of sin.

“…This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained.” 2 Timothy 2:8b-9

Women and children first: ministering in India – Train a Leader

In India, women and children suffer disproportionately. Women and girls are affected by lower literacy and education rates, the dowry tradition, widespread domestic abuse and the tradition of temple prostitution. In addition, up to 35 million children are orphans; 11 million are abandoned; three million live on the street. Child labor, physical abuse, sexual abuse and prostitution affect millions as well.1

During her studies at the Allahabad Bible Seminary (ABSI), Vanlalruati Sailo’s ministry to women and children began. She led a team that shared Bible stories and the Gospel with children at a nearby school, and she was on the weekend ministry team at a nearby church, helping to conduct service and Sunday school. At her own church, Vanlalruati’s pastor asked her to minister among women and children as well. She visited every woman in the congregation and invited them to a Bible study and prayer time; more than 58 women came. She taught Sunday school, helped organize a youth program and taught a few subjects to students at the church’s Hindi Bible school. “I not only had the privilege of teaching them but also shared, counseled and built them up in their faith.”

Vanlalruati graduated with her Bachelor of Divinity degree in 2008 and was appointed as a missionary in her home state of Mizoram in Northeast India. She started working among the Hindi-speaking community there, women and children first. She began a worship service and visited residents regularly, sharing the Gospel. As a result of her efforts, a church has been established, and she baptized 78 new Christians recently. Now she is planning a vocational training program for women. “If you had not come into my life, I would not have had this opportunity to study His Word and prepare myself for this ministry. Thank you very much for your faithfulness,” she says. “I thank God for sending me to ABSI….God has opened my eyes to see the vast need for training young men and women for the ministry.” Training Christian leaders is an important need that is urgent and essential in the long term. The life and health of the Church depend on the proper development of pastors, teachers, evangelists and missionaries.1

Love your enemies: “I serve the people that I hated before” – Scholarships for the Shepherds


As a soldier in the Philippine Armed Forces, John* spent many years fighting Muslim rebels in the southern Philippines.
When he left the military life to become a pastor, God put the love for Muslims in his heart. “From that point on, my desire was to bring Muslims into a closer relationship with God,” he says. He and his family relocated to work in Muslim communities for five years. “As a missionary, I served the people that I hated as enemies before, but I [came to] love them as friends.”

Today John is working on his Master of Divinity degree at the Asian Theological Seminary (ATS) in Quezon City, Philippines. Having been married for nearly 20 years, John and his wife are leading a Marriage Enrichment project in an urban poor Muslim community. He says the couples are thankful to learn how to strengthen their marriages. “The participants, especially the husbands, find the discussion topics very interesting and enlightening….The changed lives and good example of family relationships displayed by the participants continues to impact the community. As a result, eight more couples have joined the group.”

John says through the marriage seminars and other family-related teachings, “we endeavor for the Muslims to understand God’s love through Jesus Christ whom God sent to reconcile the world to Him.” His biggest challenge is discussing with them who Jesus really is. “Please pray that I can continue doing it with courage, wisdom and cultural sensitivity.”

Much work awaits John. Many Muslim families need counseling, so he is looking into the possibility of helping other communities. “Muslim friends in Metro Manila have been inviting me to extend the Marriage Enrichment project in their communities,” he says. “My ministry has really improved a lot through [my training]….There is no way I could finish my degree if not for this scholarship….I know that behind this scholarship are people who sacrificed a lot of their time and money just to help others like me to be equipped for more effective ministry….May God bless you all tremendously.”

*Name has been changed for security purposes.

Helping women help themselves – Living Out Compassion


India has more human need than any other nation
– largely by virtue of its massive population but also due to many areas of suffering that must be addressed through sustained action and prayer. Lower literacy and education rates are one such need for women.1 With Overseas Council’s Community Outreach funding, New Theological College (NTC) is reaching out to these women with two projects.

They are empowering 25-30 illiterate women through their Adult Literacy Program. The women are very receptive and active, having requested the program themselves. “[It encourages] the women for further development in their lives and also opens doors for reaching out to them with the Gospel,” NTC says. Once they are confident in their reading and writing abilities, NTC will help them partner with government agencies and other organizations, so they can use their skills to generate income. By becoming self-sufficient, their improved economic and social status will greatly impact their families. Overseas Council’s Community Outreach funding provided for teaching materials, a classroom and facilitator.

They are equipping 8-10 women in sewing skills through their Tailoring Center. “The women in this area are very interested in learning new skills and would like to earn a livelihood, so they can become financially secure and stand on their own two feet,” NTC says. The women desire to contribute to the economic and social improvement of their families and the community. The college hopes the Tailoring Center will be a means of blessing for the women and a place where they can come together to share ideas and interact. “It is our hope that through the village women, we would also be able to reach [each of their] homes and share the Gospel with [their families].” Overseas Council’s Community Outreach funding provided for five sewing machines, one interlock machine, supplies and a trainer.

“It made my dream of furthering my education come true” – Scholarships for the Shepherds


Fatuma came from a Muslim background before receiving Christ at 13 years old.
While she was teaching and ministering to children within a Muslim dominated area of Nairobi, God called her into full-time ministry. She wanted to go back to school for additional training for 10 years but couldn’t until she received a scholarship from Overseas Council to attend the Nairobi International School of Theology (NIST) in Kenya. “It made my dream of furthering my education come true.”

Fatuma’s work with children continues while she’s training. “My main ministry is teaching in a Christian school where more than 80% of the children are from a Muslim background,” she says. She runs children’s Bible clubs as well as Sunday school at the church where she and her husband, Matthew, attend. “I thank God for the chance to also minister to the mothers of street children,” she says. The majority of Kenyans are children, so children and youth ministries are of utmost importance. Fatuma and Matthew both have a passion for youth and are involved in high school ministry, evangelism and discipleship programs to youth. She says her training is teaching her the importance of the right educational programs for different groups of people in the Church. “Pray for us to always grow in our knowledge of God and to be in His purposes and provision as we serve.” She hopes to graduate this year with her Master’s degree in Biblical and Theological Studies and then get a PhD in Education. “I would love to keep teaching in different forums…[and] equip God’s people.”

Bridge builder: Uniting faith and medicine to fight AIDS – Train a Leader

 

Around 500 HIV/AIDS sufferers die every day in Kenya, despite the halting of the infection rate.1 When combating the pandemic, sometimes doctors and pastors work at cross-purposes instead of as allies. Dr. Peter Okaalet bridged the gap by going to seminary, the Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology (NEGST), where he earned Master’s degrees in both Divinity and Theology. As the Senior Director for Health and HIV/AIDS Policy at MAP International, a global Christian health organization, Dr. Okaalet spent 15 years working with pastors and their congregations to redefine their response and attitude toward the disease and those who suffer from it. Having lost three brothers to AIDS himself, Dr. Okaalet says providing accurate information helps people in their response to the crisis, breaking the stigma and feelings of condemnation. His work has included establishing seminars, curriculum and Master’s degree programs in pastoral care and HIV/AIDS at 14 seminaries and Bible colleges throughout Africa.

Why pastors? “People forget that churches also have hospitals in Africa,” Dr. Okaalet says. “Most of the mission-based hospitals are in the rural areas where governments cannot reach. Where the road for the four-wheel drive stops, the pastor gets on his bicycle. Where the bike path stops, the pastor lays it aside and goes on foot.” Dr. Okaalet’s work was recognized globally in 2005 when he was named one of TIME magazine’s “Global Health Heroes” for leading the way for faith communities to join in the battle against HIV/AIDS. “For a long time, the Church was very quiet,” he says. “We are beginning to respond, but we have to do more.” His life continues to be devoted to fighting HIV/AIDS and helping others: he is a Member of the Global Council of MAP; Dr. and Senior Director of Okaalet & Associates Limited (which includes HIV/AIDS ministry and leadership development); a faculty member and part-time lecturer; author; and serves on several HIV/AIDS committees including UNAIDS.

 

Diminishing the effects of malaria – Living Out Compassion

Diminishing the effects of malaria
Located between sewer ponds and a stream, the Justo Mwale Theological College (JMTC) in Zambia is in a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Several outbreaks of malaria have occurred in the surrounding community and on campus, disrupting students’ learning and the college’s operations. Treatment can be received from nearby government health centers, but it is expensive and has not decreased occurrences. Malaria kills about twice as many people as AIDS and tuberculosis combined. The cost of widespread prevention (largely through mosquito nets) adds up to a mere fraction of the $12 billion+ lost in output each year, yet less than 5% of Africa’s children sleep under nets. Treatment-resistant strains of malaria are emerging, making prevention all the more vital.1

Through Overseas Council’s Community Outreach funding, JMTC established a First Aid Unit on campus, staffed by a nurse and volunteers, for treating the first stages of malaria for campus and community residents; conducted indoor spraying (to continue on a quarterly basis); and distributed treated mosquito nets to their staff, students and neighbors. “As a result, day by day, there is a reduction in incidents of malaria in our community,” says Dr. Edwin Zulu, Rector. Other plans include spraying outdoor areas; carrying out an advocacy campaign in the community on prevention, care, treatment and the importance of hygienically clean surroundings to reduce mosquito breeding places; regular maintenance of mosquito nets with anti-malaria treatment; encouraging people to take preventive anti-malaria medication; and providing nutrition supplements to affected people. “It is having a great impact on the college and surrounding community,” he says. “We sincerely thank you for the support and for blessing us with this project…[as] we endeavor to meet the spiritual and physical needs of humanity.”

Special Update: Nigeria

Rev. Victor Nakah ThDItinerary
Last month, I visited five training centers that Overseas Council collaborates with on varying levels. These centers include: Evangelical Churches Winning All Theological Seminaries (ECWA) in Jos and Igbaja, Life Theological Seminary (LTS) in Lagos, the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary (NBTS) in Ogbomosho and the United Missionary Church of Africa (UMCA) in Ilorin.

4 Things in Common
Upon completion of this visit, I identified four strengths these schools have in common:

  1. Each school has high levels of collaboration and camaraderie among the seminary leaders.
  2. The academic quality is high, without the usual associated costs (in Nigeria, schools can offer PhD programs without paying to become a state-recognized university).
  3. Each training center has rigorous academic qualifications for students and challenging experience qualifications for faculty.
  4. Every school I visited has the capacity to respond to the training needs of this populous country (166 million) through e-learning. Life Theological Seminary (LTS) has a Theological Education by Extension program. Each school has identified e-learning as a goal to be achieved in the near future.

Jos: ECWA Theological Seminary (JETSN)
Nigeria is a leading missionary sending country in the developing world. Nonetheless, there has been significant persecution of Christians. In Jos alone, the death of thousands, including pastors and the destruction of hundreds, even thousands of churches, have been consistent occurrences within the last decade.

This is the context in which the ECWA Theological Seminary (JETSN) is found. Operation World identifies ECWA in Nigeria by stating, “The dynamic growth of the Church continues to be impressively solid. This has been among…evangelical groups such as ECWA….” It also explains that ECWA is one of the church
networks that is working with the Christian Association of Nigeria to unite national Christians. It is essential that the churches in Africa work on the value of unity in Christ.

There are 29 full-time and 13 part-time faculty that teach 700 students. This training center has extension programs in five locations throughout Nigeria. They have focused programs to train administrators for the Church and other Christian organizations and a program to train agency leaders of ECWA. Their Center for the Study of Religion, Church and Society has shaped reaching unreached peoples in Nigeria. Operation World gave credit to this school for their participation as a “major research partner on the unreached in Nigeria: of 168 least-reached peoples in Nigeria, every group has been adopted for prayer and outreach.” Since inception, this program has planted 200 churches with alumni of JETSN. Students are also involved in this program through prison ministry and the film and theatre ministry. The seminary also offers computer training to the community and has attracted a lot of community attention through the launch of the HIV/AIDS screening and counseling clinic (the average life span in Nigeria is 47.7 years, according to Operation World). This is one of those schools that you can see has a larger perspective, making impact on its greater community today.

Igbaja: ECWA Theological Seminary (ETSI)
In Igbaja, ECWA has another theological seminary. There are 24 full-time and 15 adjunct professors that teach 700 students. Of this faculty, Dr. Stephen Baba is a recent PhD graduate that benefited from Overseas Council Professional Development funding. He recently published a book, “History and
principles of Biblical Hermeneutics for Beginners.” They have 200 students that attend their summer program and five extension programs with a total of 200 students. There are still at least 50-60 people groups in this area of Nigeria that are difficult to reach with the Gospel. It is pivotal that these programs exist to minister to these groups.

Lagos: Life Theological Seminary (LTS)
In Lagos, rural areas lack dedicated pastors because of the relative poverty. Life Theological Seminary (LTS) is training Christians to meet this need. This is an interdenominational Pentecostal seminary that is sponsored by Foursquare Gospel Church in Nigeria. Students come from at least 10 churches and denominations throughout Nigeria and surrounding countries. There are 21 faculty members at this training center with 550 students (200 of which are female). The campus church is pastored by the Provost who considers this role as an opportunity to model pastoral leadership to the student community.

52% of the budget for this training center is locally raised. They have a clear plan for sustainability, and they have purchased land to start a private Christian school to meet the growing needs for private high school education in Lagos. The center currently runs a preschool. With a Theological Education by Extension program, sustainable models in place and the recent land purchase, I am encouraged and excited to see the continued impact LTS has on the larger Lagos society.

Ogbomosho: Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary (NBTS)
This is one of the oldest seminaries in the country. Started in 1885, this is the main training program for the Nigerian Baptist Union. Over 50% of the students are from the Baptist denomination. In this training center, 19 faculty train over 800 students. There are also 10 affiliate Baptist denomination Bible colleges that collaborate with the school, training 100 students each, raising the total students to at least 1,800.

This school is working through the challenges of sustainability in innovative, income-generating ways. I am energized to continue to come alongside them and help in this process.

Ilorin: United Missionary Church of Africa (UMCA)
This training center is found in a predominantly Muslim city and is the only seminary found there. It is trategic to outreach in the city. UMCA is the main training institution in the denomination that offers Higher degrees. They are already in the process of introducing evening classes. There are 18 full-time and 17 adjunct faculty that train 600 students, 50% of which are from Pentecostal or Charismatic churches. We are looking into ways to partner in faculty PhD studies as well.

Conclusion
This was a successful trip, and it encouraged me to see the work being done to train effective Christian leaders who minister to the local Church and society. I continue to draw your eye to the faithful faculty in these schools, working hard to train a significant number of students compared to the ratio of faculty to students in other regions of the world. Praise God for His work in this region!

Special Update: Argentina

Street_web[1]FIET Theological Institute in Argentina is a Christian leadership training center that is committed to serving the Church, ministering with excellence and staying relevant to the Church and society. They have thoughtfully created a community outreach project this year that targets a major need in their society and offers to influence change in 10 cities found in Argentina.

The use and abuse of drugs, such as alcohol and cocaine, is not new and affects the whole of Argentina. In one way or another, churches have tried to confront this problem. However, in recent years in the country, the situation has been aggravated. It has affected Argentinean politics, laws and even into the churches and communities. The youth succumb to this quick solution to issues surrounding poverty. FIET says generally speaking, drugs are present in more than 80% of crimes in Argentina. There are poor government programs, and though churches have attempted to work in this area, often they do not have sufficient preparation or training.

FIET has been asked by more than 100 programs working together to help them in the preparation of volunteers to work with addicts, their families and the prevention of addictions. Today this issue is a priority in the agenda of the churches, and FIET has a unique opportunity to affect the ministry of the churches to society. Their plan lays out work in 50 churches, teaching 200 students who have had problems with drug abuse and preparing 100 of them as therapeutic assistants. They also plan to launch 10 Prevention Centers and open five recovery centers this year.

Along with the Council of Pastors, FIET has selected five cities in which to open centers of addiction study. They will send 16 teachers to act as professional specialists on issues related to addiction. Students will receive tools to start prevention and recovery programs at the addiction centers.

Against All Odds: Women in Christian leadership in the Arab world

Salwa Haddad and Smyrna Khalaf Moughabghab are members of a growing group that consists of three previously incompatible categories: 1) Women 2) in Christian leadership 3) in the Arab world. Times are changing. Salwa and Smyrna share what it is like to be an Arab woman in Christian leadership in this part of the world.

Salwa works with World Vision International as their People and Culture Business Partner focusing on the areas of Organizational Development and Change Management for the West Africa region, based in Dakar, Senegal. Smyrna has a Master’s Degree in Family and Marriage Counseling, is a practicing psychologist in this field, leads the Family and Couple’s Ministry at Hadath Baptist Church and serves in the Sunday School Education Ministry. Both Salwa and Smyrna serve as members of the Board of Trustees at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (ABTS), Lebanon.

“What I like about the board is that it includes a wide array of different skills. Theologians, pastors, professionals…and the female board members add ‘soft skills’ that are essential for the board’s overall,” Salwa says.

Paul Sanders, ABTS International Board member, agrees, “It is not common in the Arab world to see women compose 40% of a board of trustees, and yet that is the case for the ABTS local board. Salwa and Smyrna are both highly trained professionals. Not only do they bring a ‘feminine’ perspective to the issues discussed, but they bring their own distinctive contribution through their training, intelligence and experience. They are a real blessing to the ABTS board, and I believe that other Middle Eastern boards would do well to avail themselves of capable women as board members, an amazing resource.”

Smyrna says, “I would like to see more women equipped for leadership, not just in Christian settings but also medical, teaching [and other] areas.” A specific area she sees as important is providing women with adequate theological and ministerial training. “At ABTS, I still see a majority of men, although I know the ABTS leadership works to recruit both men and women. I would like to see more churches encouraging their women to study theology and putting an emphasis on equipping them for ministry.”

Salwa says she believes it is important not to let hurdles hold women back from that which the Lord is calling them. “I encourage Christian women in our region to step out of their fears and comfort zones and be courageous to move into leadership roles in relevant ministry areas. By God’s grace, they can excel, shine, make a difference and glorify the Lord.”

For stepping forward into the full calling of God upon their lives, Salwa and Smyrna are indeed two women of courage and strength who are active laborers in their local contexts against all odds!

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