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 is arranging the offering of 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.
Bricks and Mortar
Construction of the technology center, completed in December 2017, is documented in photos here.
Key to the program’s success will be the completion of a new technology center in Jos, Nigeria, where EYN students will take all their classes online. Plans call for two large flat-panel screens and multiple cameras and microphones, similar to the technology now available in one of Bethany’s classrooms. Students on campus at Bethany, students in Jos, and faculty in both locations will share the classroom, able to see and hear each other in real time. Course content may also be offered through recorded class sessions, and faculty and students will communicate by e-mail and texts.
“A Bethany-EYN educational partnership is a perfect way for Bethany to continue to live out its century-long mission,” says Mark Lancaster, executive director of institutional advancement. “The use of technology to extend theological education to partner churches around the world like EYN matches well with Bethany’s vision of bringing theological education to those who feel called to seek it.”
While the center will belong to EYN, Bethany is assuming responsibility for raising funds to cover the construction cost of $150,000. Lancaster and Musa Mambula, Bethany’s international scholar in residence, have taken the lead in this effort, meeting with Church of the Brethren members across the denomination to make them aware of this opportunity for involvement.
January 2018 – Classes Begin
Reflecting the importance of collaboration in this new partnership, the first course will be taught by both Dan Ulrich, Wieand Professor of New Testament Studies at Bethany, and Pandang Yamsat, chief executive director of the Center for Value and Attitudinal Reawakening. A New Testament scholar, Yamsat recently retired from the faculty of the Theological College of Northern Nigeria. The two met at Bethany early in May 2017 to begin planning the course, Global Perspectives on Scripture: 1 Corinthians, to be held January 2-12, 2018.
“I am delighted that Dr. Yamsat took time to visit Bethany during a personal visit to the United States and to begin planning for our January course,” says Ulrich. “We were able to finalize the course objectives, outline the work needed to meet those objectives, and develop a rough schedule for each class session. We have developed a strong working relationship, and I am confident that we can model the kind of intercultural interpretation we hope our students will learn.”