Theological Education in East Asia

Cambodia Discipleship East Asia Insight Education Mongolia Singapore Thailand Uncategorized

Article featured in 2015 East Asia Insight Q1
A young woman named Abby comes to faith in Christ through a café ministry in China. Soon after, her mother shows signs of demon possession. In a panic, Abby consults a shaman. Meanwhile, she also prays to Jesus for healing. She thinks that perhaps the more help she gets, the better.
This collision of worldviews is a common occurrence in East Asia, where Christ’s authority is pitted against the deep-rooted religious and cultural beliefs of a society. One way missions organizations combat this problem is with theological education, a fancy term for “giving Christians the necessary tools to apply the gospel to daily life, and teach others to do the same.”
The Bible is an obvious base for this education, though not always an available one in East Asia. Settings where a trained instructor can teach people to study, interpret and apply the Bible are even more scarce. Thankfully, both resources are becoming more readily available, thanks to those who see the need.
Making the Bible Available in East Asia
In contrast to the U.S., where you can find an average of 4.7 Bibles in each household according to Barna Group research, a single church in some parts of East Asia might not have even one Bible to share.
Crossway, a non-profit Christian book publisher, is working to change that with its Global ESV Study Bible, published in 2012. Crossway aims to make digital versions of the Bible freely available to all by September 2015, and distribute 250,000 printed copies to under-resourced church leaders in India, Africa and Asia this year. OMF International members Dr. Jerry Hwang, assistant professor of Old Testament at Singapore Bible College, and the late Dr. How Chuang Chua,* who served as the academic dean at Hokkaido Bible Institute in Japan from 2008-2013, had the privilege of contributing articles to the Bible.
The articles draw attention to the global applicability of God’s word, reminding us that the gospel is good news for every nation. Dr. How Chuang Chua’s article, “The Importance of the Global Church,” calls for an all-hands-on-deck mindset from the body of Christ: “By being salt and light,” he wrote, “the church provides a beacon of light to an otherwise dark and hostile world.”
From Knowledge to Action
“Theological education keeps pastoral practice firmly rooted in the Bible,” said Dr. How Chuang Chua. “Without sound theology, Christian ministry becomes entirely pragmatic, becoming divorced from its relational, missiological and doxological components.”
Translating biblical knowledge to biblical action is foundational to Chiang Mai Theological Seminary’s (CMTS) operations in Thailand. CMTS was started by OMF International in 2001 to train up pastors and lay leaders for local churches. Without CMTS’s church-planting emphasis, Pastor Lii may have never begun a church among gypsy families, which initially started as a ministry to the neglected gypsy children. Professors at CMTS challenged her to step out in faith and plant a church. The gypsy church has now been running for one year, and Lii is already planning to start churches in two other provinces.
We rejoice when God’s kingdom expands through his church. But in East Asia, rapid church multiplication can be problematic when the supply of trained leaders does not meet the demand.
Rapid Growth, Growing Needs
“There has been rapid evangelical church growth in the Philippines for the past 25 years or so,” says Jay Hallowell, Field Director of OMF International’s Philippines field. “The majority of churches do not have leaders with theological education.  This has meant the cults have also grown quickly and that the spiritual life in many churches has a significant level of syncretism.”
The areas in which rapid church growth takes place are often rural, semi-educated regions where cost, educational prerequisites and time commitment prevent believers from attending seminaries or Bible schools. Understanding this challenge has led to the development of home-based or off-campus learning experiences, which people like Saveourn in Cambodia have taken advantage of.
Saveourn is a famer in the Cambodian countryside who loves the Lord but has little time for formal education. He is taking a Theological Education by Extension (TEE) class, a mixture of home Bible study, group learning and ministry application that has been used with great success in the Philippines and Cambodia. His faith was tested when his four cows were stolen (equal to three years’ wages). Despite this great obstacle, he still attended Bible study class the next day, choosing to trust God for provision.
Saveourn is living out his faith under extremely trying circumstances. One might argue that formal seminary education could not serve him better. (By the way, Saveourn did end up getting his cows back, and friends and family joined him in praising God.)
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
There is a time and place for formal education, and believers from all over East Asia have benefitted from the expertise and breadth of information available at seminaries and Bible schools.
According to Dr. Hwang from Singapore Bible College (SBC), seminary is a “crucible” for spiritual formation and leadership training. He points out the benefit that SBC has had on first-generation Mongolian believers in particular, who come to SBC with a level of ministry experience and need further training to return home for more senior leadership roles, even to teach at Mongolia’s Union Bible Theological College, the only inter-denominational Bible college in the country. The rapid growth of the Mongolian church—from just a handful of believers in 1990 to over 41,000 today—has made theological education critical as churches combat the rising threat of cults.
While They Are Still Hungry
Theological education is not important because God needs help from programs or degrees to accomplish his work. Theological education is important because the transformative power of the gospel is.
As Christian workers at a conference in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, discussed a rural theological education program, an old man stood up and addressed the room. He had lived through the Khmer Rouge era, and the wear on his body and spirit showed in his wrinkled face and faded shirt. “There are many of us in our province who are hungry for God’s word but have no one to teach us,” he said quietly. “When you have no food, you feel hungry for a time and then the craving goes. Please send us teachers for the people while they are still hungry.”
Cults, syncretism and the distractions of daily life are imposing adversaries, but they cannot compete with God’s truth when his Spirit moves in power. May the global church rise up to ensure that our brothers and sisters receive food for their hunger, and that God’s church remains salt and light in the darkest corners of the earth.
To explore OMF International’s theological education opportunities, CLICK HERE.
To learn more about how you can partner with OMF International’s theological education ministries, e-mail stewardship@omf.org.
 
*Dr. How Chuang Chua passed away on the morning of March 5, 2015. He served as academic dean of Hokkaido Bible Institute in Sapporo, Japan from 2008-2013 and also served as adjunct lecturer at Tokyo International University and Japan Bible Seminary in Tokyo. Dr. Chua was a valued colleague and dear friend to many. He is survived by his wife, Kaori, and their three-year-old daughter, Airi.
“The State of the Bible: 6 Trends for 2014,” Barna Group, April 8, 2014, https://www.barna.org/barna-update/culture/664-the-state-of-the-bible-6-trends-for-2014#.VS58yIvwtMs.

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