It’s an historic relationship, the first of its kind between Bethany Theological Seminary and a Church of the Brethren group outside the United States. At the 2016 Annual Conference, Bethany president Jeff Carter and Joel Billi, president of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) signed a Memorandum of Understanding that outlined a new intercontinental online education program. Conceived as a way to facilitate theological study at Bethany for EYN members, the program is a joint effort between the Seminary and EYN.
The first graduate academic program at Bethany made available to EYN students through the partnership will be the Certificate of Achievement in Theological Studies (CATS). To be eligible for study at Bethany, international students must pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). To help students prepare, Bethany offered an initial English language course in the fall of 2017.
As the program develops, Bethany plans to offer accessible courses in theological and historical studies, ministry studies, and peace studies. Developed or adapted in conversation with Nigerian church leaders, these courses will be designed to encourage mutual learning on topics of interest to students in Nigeria as well as America. Courses will be offered in intensive formats at a central location. It is hoped that this innovative program will create a pathway for more EYN students to enroll as degree students and study on campus at Bethany. Courses taken for the CATS can be transferred directly into the master of divinity or master of arts program at Bethany.
This educational opportunity is desperately needed by EYN, which has been targeted by the terrorist group Boko Haram. Attacks have destroyed more than 1700 churches and six of seven pastoral training centers, killed more than 20,000 members, and caused more than 100,000 to flee their homes. However, EYN is currently experiencing tremendous growth in Nigeria, in spite of the violence and destruction they face. One thing that sets EYN apart from most denominations is their near unanimous commitment to nonviolence; they repeatedly refuse to retaliate against those who are killing them.
Bethany sees its new partnership with EYN and the construction of an unparalleled tech center to hold joint classes across the globe as a means to educate both Nigerian and American church leaders who have a deep commitment to peacemaking. Having provided ministry training for more than 100 years, Bethany knows that educated clergy help create stable, prosperous, and peaceful communities, which is the hoped-for result in Nigeria. As EYN moves from a state of crisis to one of greater independence, this educational partnership can help strengthen the leadership, mission, and ministry of a resilient and growing denomination.