ABSW Goes to Africa! (Part 1)

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.

Uganda seminaryToday, 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
American Baptist Seminary of the West

“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
Director of Alternative Women’s Programs
San Francisco County Jails
ABSW Senior MDiv Student

This is part 1 of a two part blog.  Next week’s blog will contain more testimonies and some conclusions.

LeAnn Snow Flesher, PhD
Academic Dean & Professor of Old Testament

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