Dr. Wojtek Szczerba’s Story – Called. Trained. Multiplied.

Dr. Wojtek Szczerba - Overseas CouncilCalled. Trained. Multiplied.
These terms capture the essence and uniqueness of Overseas Council’s world-changing ministry. We target leaders who are called by God to make a difference in the Majority World. Overseas Council is called to provide the culturally relevant and biblically sound training they need to be most effective. The natural result of well-trained leaders armed with God’s Word is the Kingdom multiplied person by person, small group by small group, community by community. Click here to read more.
Dr. Szczerba, teachingCalled.
Raised in a very religious, Roman Catholic family, Wojtek Szczerba was involved in many religious events since his early childhood. He was an altar boy for many years and even thought about becoming a priest. However, he realized in high school that “my faith was very superficial and my Christianity nominal.” He says God served mostly as an idea organizing his worldview, not as a Savior with whom he had a relationship. He started looking for something that would give meaning to his life. “Fortunately I met a group of Christians who truly lived their faith and whose lives with God were something I wanted to have. They wanted to talk to me about those fundamental issues. I spent several months with them, arguing, questioning and observing. Finally I started to read the Bible with them, and I realized this was the Word of God. This is when I became a Christian.” Wojtek began teaching at the Evangelical School of Theology (EST) in Poland in 1996.

Trained.
Wojtek-and-Magda-SzczerbaWojtek earned his PhD in 2000 and served as Academic Dean of EST from 2002-2006 prior to serving as Rector. After his PhD, he began working on his habilitation (second doctorate). In 2009, he successfully defended his dissertation and received his habilitation with honors. He was told it was one of the best defenses in recent history for the Philosophy department. “It was an immense accomplishment for Dr. Szczerba and a tremendous honor for EST and for evangelicalism in Poland,” the school says. “Very few evangelical theologians in Poland have their habilitation, and this honor glorifies the Lord and reflects well on Dr. Szczerba, EST and evangelicals in Poland….Dr. Szczerba was a very faithful, hard-working student, diligent with his studies. He has always had a passion to embrace the truth, making sure he understands what he believes and can explain the meaning.”

Wojtek SzczerbaMultiplied.
In addition to his role as Rector and professor, Dr. Szczerba is a representative of EST throughout Poland to other schools, churches, government officials and conferences. He steered EST through the process of becoming the first accredited evangelical theological school in Poland. The school has become an evangelical education center, gathering many people who serve the Lord through different programs, activities, events and outreaches.
Dr. Szczerba is an authority figure in Christian circles and is invited to teach at different conferences, as well as give lectures in other institutions. He is recognized in churches as a theologian and preacher, and he is a mentor for church leaders in his city, meeting with them to help them grow in their ministry and cooperate with other churches to have a great impact on society.

This is the power of Called. Trained. Multiplied.

The legacy of the JETSN Gospel Ministry: Seminary offers real life experience for students

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The city of Jos, Nigeria, is home to around 900,000 people (75% Christian, 25% Muslim). In addition to infrastructure, a major problem is the ongoing ethnic violence and terrorism that have caused many deaths and the destruction of property. “People are on edge, and the military and police are usually out in full force,” says Rev. Dr. George Janvier, Gospel Ministries Director from Jos ECWA Theological Seminary (JETSN). The seminary ministers to victims of the crisis through their counseling center, The Center for Professional Excellence.
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The seminary also has three dynamic Gospel preaching teams, led by Rev. Dr. Janvier:

  • The Gospel Team provides film evangelism and ministries in prisons, hospitals and high schools.
  • The Gospel Theater Team ministers through dramas, children’s puppets and films.
  • The Gospel Music Team offers worship music and film ministries.
    • All three include preaching, counseling and meeting needs as they are financially able.

 
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The purpose of the teams is twofold: to give students real ministry opportunities while they are studying and to minister to a large non-Christian community. The ministries are student-led to encourage and develop students’ leadership skills. Around 25-35 percent of the school’s student body are involved in this volunteer ministry.
 
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Zack was a student in the Gospel Team during his studies at JETSN. After graduating, he became an assistant pastor in a church in a largely Muslim village. The senior pastor was amazed at Zack’s abilities and asked him how he knew so much about ministry. Zack responded, “It’s because I was a member of the JETSN Gospel Team.”
 
The legacy of the JETSN Gospel Ministry is hundreds of people saved, hundreds more rededicated to their faith, many who have developed ministry skills for post-seminary life and leaders discipled by the Gospel Ministry Director.
 
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Social justice with a Christian perspective: “God had an assignment for me: protecting the rights of people”

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“Theology is on the side of justice,” says James Njonjo Mue, a human rights lawyer who has been trained to see justice through the eyes of God. Early on in his successful legal career, Njonjo felt a strong urge to receive theological training in order for his life to be “a more effective testimony.” In 2002, he enrolled in the Master’s program for Christian Ministry and Leadership at the Nairobi International School of Theology (NIST), Kenya. “NIST training allowed God to transform me, to sharpen my character.” A bout of illness slowed down his progress at one point, but Njonjo says his conviction was greater. He persevered and graduated in 2005. “I am glad that I did not succumb to the devil’s antics to discourage me from continuing my studies at NIST because my time there transformed me from the inside out.” It also deepened his conviction that “God had an assignment for me: protecting the rights of people.”

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Njonjo says his calling gives him the zeal to go the extra mile in protecting the rights of others, especially the underprivileged. In 2008, his passion for protecting the rights of prisoners led him to expose a great injustice at Kamiti Maximum Security Prison in Nairobi. Inmates were stripped naked and ruthlessly beaten, drawing international attention and condemnation. Njonjo was personally instrumental in releasing a video recording of the incident that made international news headlines and led to the beginning of drastic prison reforms.

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Kenya’s 2010 constitutional referendum was another test of his Christian conviction. He supported the “Yes” campaign, differing from the larger Christian community, because he saw the new constitution as a major breakthrough for justice and human rights. He says the referendum was the culmination of a battle that began much earlier, the 2007 post-presidential election violence that left a permanent dark spot on the history of Kenya. It reshaped his professional career and continues to affect it to this day, thrusting him into the arena of transitional justice (addressing past human rights violations).

Based in New York, the International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) began its work in Kenya in 2008 in direct response to the post-election violence. Njonjo was appointed the first head of the ICTJ Kenya Program and continues to run its operations. Their work in Kenya focuses on three key areas: truth-seeking, prosecutions and institutional reform, working with local human rights partners. Njonjo’s work as an Advocacy officer with the Kenya National Commission for Human Rights (KNCHR) includes participating in investigations of the post-election violence. “This was an opportunity for me to be part of an important process which seeks to bring justice in my country.”

Njonjo’s varied professional career began as a magistrate. After his NIST training, he joined World Vision International before he moved on to work with KNCHR and now the ICTJ. A Rhodes Scholar, he earned a Master’s degree in Law from the University of Oxford, Master’s in Christian Ministry and Leadership from NIST and a Bachelor’s in Law from Nairobi University. His wife, Katindi, is a Policy Analyst with the Institute of Economic Affairs.

Former drug dealer accepts Christ, now a church planter – Scholarships for the Shepherds

Former drug dealer accepts Christ, now a church planter | overseas CouncilMojtaba was a drug dealer in Iran, England and Japan for years. His wife, Fatimeh, was one signature away from divorcing him. Now he is a trained pastor, winning others to Christ and seeing broken lives restored…just like his own. In 1999, he left Fatimeh and their infant son, Saeed, in Iran with a promise to send support home. As the years went by, she grew tired of the separation and spoke of divorce. In 2002, a Christian friend shared the Gospel with Mojtaba. Feeling like there was a better plan for his life, he asked Christ into his heart and was completely changed. When he became a Christian, it was the final straw – Fatimeh’s family demanded she divorce him.

Much was changing in Mojtaba’s life. After serving as a volunteer for Elam College in the United Kingdom, he was accepted into their training program where he grew deeper in faith and devotion to the Lord. He kept earnestly praying for his wife and son. His testimony was the first to be featured in Elam’s Persian evangelistic TV program, Healing the Broken Hearted. It was viewed all over Iran and impacted many lives.

Divorce was imminent, but when Fatimeh went to her lawyer’s office, she just couldn’t sign the papers. Mojtaba praised God and invited Fatimeh to meet him. When they met for the first time in 12 years, she was shocked at his complete transformation – he was a godly gentleman who loved her and his son deeply. Their dormant romance was reignited and their family reunited. “Just as God brought down the walls of Jericho, He brought down the walls between us,” he said. “The work that God has done is not just a miracle – it’s more!”

Both Fatimeh and Saeed became Christians. For Christmas, the reconciled couple opened their home to other Iranians in town; 43 came. Some were believers, and Mojtaba led seven more to faith in Jesus. Now 25 believers meet every week for worship. A new church has been born, pastored by a man who used to be a drug dealer, and serving at his side is his wife who nearly divorced him. God truly heals the brokenhearted and answers prayer. Leadership training and development are vital if the burgeoning Church in Iran is to continue to grow and mature.1 Elam says they are “deeply grateful for the scholarship gift from Overseas Council that helped provide education for those, like Mojtaba, whose lives have been transformed by God and now want to lead others to the same healing and joy they have experienced.”

Meeting needs in the ‘Garbage City’ and beyond – Living Out Compassion

As part of their practical field training, students at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo (ETSC) serve in specialized ministries, including hospitals, homes for the elderly and disabled, orphanages, drug rehabilitation centers, prisons and mission outreach in Sudan. These experiences give the students practical skills to understand the real situations of ministry in their context. Church planting in deprived areas of Egypt is a key emphasis of service. Many of the church plants are in shanty towns and poor areas. The Manshiyat Naser (‘Garbage City’) church plant was started by the Outreach Ministry Team of Heliopolis Evangelical Church; ETSC students and graduates are members of this team.

After taking garbage to the area where they live, the garbage collectors sort it to retrieve useful or recyclable items; they burn the rest, resulting in pollution. Living in this environment makes them susceptible to various diseases and health problems. Those with chronic diseases require monthly medications that they cannot afford. The team started a healthcare project a few years ago that offers medical exams, surgical operations, prenatal care, medication and eye glasses. Patients pay only 25% of their expenses; ETSC covers the remaining 75%. Overseas Council’s Community Outreach funding covers many of the healthcare expenses, as well as the students’ transportation. In addition to healthcare, the team offers food to unemployed widows, weekly meals for children and retreats for different age groups. Communicating God’s Word and love is one of the main goals of the team’s service. They aim to communicate the message of salvation and show people that they care for their needs. As future pastors, they will have experience in addressing spiritual, physical and emotional needs in society.

I have had many challenges but no regrets – Scholarships for the Shepherds

Deborah* is using her life experience and personal benefit from counseling to help others through the same process. Currently she is working on her Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology at the Caribbean Graduate School of Theology (CGST) in Jamaica. She says her courses “have equipped me to help people…[with] advice and guidance and to share in their life challenges.” She has had plenty of those herself. She grew up in a single-parent, non-Christian home; her father has never been involved in her life. At 20 years old, she was pregnant out of wedlock. A year later, she and her boyfriend came to Christ and were married. After 12 years of marriage, Deborah discovered that her husband was having an affair. Despite individual and marriage counseling in an attempt to reconcile, the couple separated and will ultimately divorce. She says she doesn’t think she could have coped with the demise of their marriage “without the knowledge, resources and assistance that God provided for me through CGST.”

Now she raises their three sons on her own. Her mother, now a Christian, is unemployed, so Deborah supports her as well. Thus the Overseas Council scholarship has been a real blessing to her and her family. “It has enabled me to continue with my studies, and it…further confirms that the Lord provides for His children. Through this scholarship, I am being empowered to carry out God’s work and to take better care of my family.” Despite her trials, she has remained faithful to the Lord’s work. She counsels inner-city students, teaches adult Sunday school and leads worship. “I feel very privileged and blessed to have had the opportunity to participate in my courses….The Lord has given me the gift of teaching, and I am using my gift to honor Him.” After completing her degree, she wants to offer voluntary hours of counseling to people who cannot afford to pay for sessions. She’d like to teach adult literacy classes and may pursue doctoral studies as well. “I believe that what I have learned from the challenges and experiences that I have had will equip me to help people who have undergone or will undergo similar challenges.”

*Name has been changed for security purposes.

Taking Haiti’s kids back to school – Living Out Compassion

Taking Haiti’s kids back to school | Overseas CouncilTwo years after the 2010 earthquake, Haiti continues to rebuild. Over 200,000 people lost their lives. 300,000 were injured. More than one million were left homeless. Homes and buildings were destroyed, the country’s infrastructure and economy suffered a heavy blow, and a devastating cholera epidemic broke out. Consequently, many children were unable to attend school. Parents and leaders in the community requested the seminary’s help with this problem. Thus the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Port-au-Prince (STEP) began an initiative to help 100 children go back to school. The project is executed in two phases: first, helping 30 children complete the current school year; and second, helping 70 children begin the next school year. The goal is for the children to advance a grade level.

The project is transformational in several ways: it alleviates a significant issue in the community; it allows STEP to demonstrate Christ’s love to the families and share the Gospel; and it aids local churches in their fight against gang recruitment of children who are not in school. Jean Dorlus, STEP President, hopes students, now equipped with a model for community action, will implement similar programs at their churches on a smaller scale. He says the project is possibly a step toward supporting or operating a school for poor children in the future. The seminary intends to repeat this project every year as long as the need exists and funding is available. Overseas Council’s Community Outreach funding covers school fees for 100 children as well as the project’s operations.

Bringing hope to cancer children: “Their smiles mean a lot to us” – Living Out Compassion

“They come out of their rooms with a smile on their faces, one by one, and greet us together. Their smiles mean a lot to us,” says the team of students from the College of Theology and Education (CTE) in Moldova as they visit the pediatric hematology department of the local oncology hospital twice a week. The team gathers the children in the playroom for art therapy. “It helps them forget about their disease.” The team has formed a real bond and closeness with the children’s mothers and grandmothers as well. One mother says, “When Thursday comes, my daughter, Liuda, asks when you’re coming. I see that she really likes to be with you. I’ve also begun waiting for you because I notice that we, the parents, feel the need to tell someone that we are grieving. Communicating with you brings us relief.” The group talks about different topics: children, family and their journeys through medical treatment. “Sometimes it is very difficult to talk about a loving God in a hospital where children have severe cancer diseases, but God always gives us wisdom and words of comfort and encouragement.”

The team had a Christmas celebration for the children. They bought a tree for the children to decorate and explained the meaning of Christmas through a drama. “The children’s joy was unlimited.” They also distributed gifts to each family. For one boy, it was the last gift and joy in his life. “When we entered his room with a gift, he opened his eyes, held out his hand and smiled. A few hours later, he was gone to where there is no more suffering or tears. His parents were very thankful to us, and we took part in his funeral….His father said, ‘If not for God, we would have gone crazy [during this journey].’” A student on the team says, “We have such a boundless love for these kids….I am glad I can be a part of the team….We see many miracles in reaching the hearts of children and their parents.” Another says, “They can see that we are not indifferent to their needs and difficulties, and through this, they can come to Jesus.” Overseas Council’s Community Outreach funding provided for art therapy materials, a summer camp for 30 children and 40 parents, and 300 food packages for families who couldn’t afford to buy the food that the doctors prescribe; children going through chemotherapy need very nutritious food as their antioxidant and micronutrient levels are down.

“God healed my wounds….He brought joy to every place where there was sorrow” – Scholarships for the Shepherds

“I [want to] help women who are victims as well,” Renee* says. She can relate. She’s a victim of rape and psychological abuse by a relative. Feeling the call to educate herself more in that area, she enrolled in the Evangelical Theological Seminary (ETS) in Croatia. “God really healed me, so I can have compassion with others,” she says. “All that happened [to me], I can [use for] good and help other young girls who go through that while struggling with addiction.” Renee was a heroin addict during that traumatic time. She says her whole world collapsed when her father died. “I stayed lost in my pain….Soon I started using various drugs which led me to heroin.” Her life had no meaning without it. “All of my security was in it. I destroyed myself so quickly.” That’s when the abuse started, and she blamed herself for it. Her joy and will to live were gone, so she attempted suicide. “But God didn’t allow me to die.” Near death, her mother found and took her to a Christian drug rehab program. “That’s where I saw for the first time the life and truth in people that used to be drug addicts.” She felt understood and loved by them. They talked to her about God, and she read the Bible and many books about Him while there. “I saw that this was something different….I had tried everything in my life, and [none of it] brought me any good, but these people testified that God had changed their lives and that they were free….I decided to try God,….[and] He set me free and changed me.” She resolved to focus on ministry to abuse victims and drug addicts. “My life and example could save someone else’s.”

Renee says God brought her “a wonderful husband that loves God and is ready to go wherever God sends him.” They study at ETS together while leading youth group in their church. Renee is part of the worship team, leads a Sunday school class and is a home group coordinator, in addition to her work at the rehab center. She says she didn’t come to ETS just to earn a degree. “I came to get an education that I could use in my further work with people….The experience we get here is truly priceless.” The Overseas Council scholarship she received was a blessing. “It gives us the chance to be here, live, study and get trained for the ministry….I study what I really love.” Their future ministry may be in helping people who are completing the rehab program. “After that, they need someone to support them while they are readjusting to their surroundings….There is a great need, and we see ourselves helping there.” Renee continues to be thankful for God’s transforming power in her life. “God healed my wounds, taught me how to love myself and to give all the love He showed me to others….He brought joy to every place where there was sorrow….He has given me a new life that I want to live in gratitude.”

*Name has been changed for security purposes.

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