WEEKLY REFLECTIONS | Doing theological education following Jesus’ example



“The harvest is large, but there are few workers to gather it in. Pray to the owner of the harvest that he will send out workers to gather in his harvest.” – Matthew 9:37-38

With Jesus Christ our Lord as our model, our Seminary here in Baguio is also trying very hard to educate our students, not to be “holy” like the Scribes and the Pharisees, but to be compassionate to people, like Jesus Christ our Lord. And we do this by exposing them in the course of their training to the realities of peoples’ lives in the church as well as in the larger community. Like Jesus Christ our Lord, we try to impress upon their hearts and minds the situations of people, who are “worried and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”, and the urgent need to really care for them.

We call this approach action-reflection approach to theological education. It is founded on a philosophy that genuine theological education happens not so much in the classroom, but in the day to day life of people as they struggle with the reality of God in their own lives.
I would always tell my students in our Seminary that I would be glad even if they would forget all the theologies they learned as long as they would never forget to have love and compassion for people. For this, I believe, is the mark of a genuine servant of Christ.

Sustained by Prayer

Finally, our Scripture Lesson is also reminding us that theological education patterned after Jesus Christ our Lord is sustained by prayer. Verse 37 says, “The harvest is large, but there are few workers to gather it in. Pray to the owner of the harvest that he will send out workers to gather in his harvest.”

Our Scripture Lesson pictures to us in a metaphorical way the reality of theological education in our time, and that is: “The harvest is large, but there are few workers to gather it in.”

The primary problem in theological education is in the recruitment, in the equipping, and in the sending out of church workers. Apparently, we are not getting the best of our young people for the Christian ministry. Those who are supposed to have been trained are not fully equipped for the ministry. And those who are adequately trained are also taking other vocations for various reasons.

Hence, the shortage of well-trained and adequately equipped church workers is a perennial problem in our churches.

But the good news is that God is the owner of the harvest, and God is the one sending out workers to gather in the harvest. It seems that what we only need to do is to pray to God, to pray to the Owner of the harvest, to send out workers to gather in the harvest.

To pray is not an easy task. To pray is not just telling God our needs. To pray is also listening and obeying what God is telling us to do. In other words, when we really pray we have to put ourselves, our whole being, under God’s disposal. And this is where the difficulty of prayer lies.

When we started our Seminary in 1996, we had nothing at all, except our vision for the church and our genuine desire to serve the church by equipping church workers. For almost a year, I never had a salary or remuneration. My family had to live with the meager savings we had from the past years. But God’s grace was, indeed, sufficient for us. Our students and my family never starved. For even as we pray to God, we also share our vision to our friends and partner churches here and abroad. And in God’s wondrous ways, by the end of that year, we had already the basic things needed to run a seminary. And God doubled the number of our students every year.

There was a time when the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) General Assembly declared a moratorium on Theological Education Scholarship. It was, indeed, a big cut in our annual budget since most of our students were UCCP’s. But we were greatly surprised, because when we needed the amount a check arrived. We didn’t know where it came from, but it was exactly the same amount we needed.

We discovered later on that the amount came from the United Church of Canada (UCC). It was supposed to be a scholarship grant for a third world student at Immanuel College in Toronto. But since there was no taker that year, the church decided to give the scholarship fund to a third-world seminary. And of all the seminaries in the Third World, the fund came to us.

I don’t think it was simply an accident of history. I do believe it was God’s response to our needs. For it happened not only once, but many times. Sometimes, financial deprivation would make us learn more and more to trust in God, not so much in what we can do, but in what God can do for us. If God calls us to do a particular task, he would also in wondrous ways provide for our needs to fulfill such task.

Of course, we had also our own share of sufferings and sacrifices. To start and build up an institution for theological education is never an easy task. There were times when I had to question God why He called me into this kind of ministry. Not a few tears flowed from my eyes, as I suffered all sorts of name-calling and harsh criticisms for pursuing a new way of doing theological education that I felt more responsive to the needs of our churches. But through all these experiences, I would say like Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, “We are often troubled, but not crushed; sometimes in doubt, but never in despair; there are many enemies, but we are never without a friend; and though badly hurt at times, we are not destroyed” (2 Cor.4:8-9). And if there is anything that sustained us through all these years it is no other than the power of prayer. # nordis.net



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