On January 2, 2018, six students in Jos, Nigeria, joined eleven students at Bethany Theological Seminary for class without so much as noticing the ocean between them. It marked the realization of the new educational partnership between Bethany and Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN), which will make Bethany courses available to EYN students at a distance.
To reach this milestone in little more than a year took the work of administrators, contractors, construction workers, faculty, donors, technology experts, admissions and student development staff, EYN leaders, and the students themselves. Offering courses in real time between continents required the construction of a technology center in the city of Jos with classrooms patterned after the technology classrooms at Bethany. Cameras capture images of all students in the classroom on each campus, and the images are transmitted via Zoom technology to a large wall monitor in the partner classroom halfway around the world. Planning of the facility began in late 2016, and construction extended from July to December 2017.
The EYN students were required to take orientation sessions over a period of three weeks in late fall 2017, which included English classes and preparation for an English proficiency test. In the following weeks, they prepared for the first course offered through the partnership, Global Perspectives on Scripture: 1 Corinthians. The two-week intensive course was team taught by Dan Ulrich, Wieand Professor of New Testament Studies at Bethany, and Pandang Yamsat, New Testament scholar and chief executive director of the Center for Value and Attitudinal Reawakening in Nigeria. EYN students were able to take the course at no charge.
A primary outcome for both Nigerian and US students, Ulrich says, was learning that Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians is relevant in different ways in dramatically different cultural contexts. In these discussions, the class also noted different causes of division. “Tribal loyalties play a different role in Nigeria than in the United States, and political polarization looks very different in the United States than in Nigeria. Yet in each case, divisions in surrounding cultures are challenging the unity of Christ’s body. The work of healing communities may look different in our diverse contexts, but we each could affirm that the values Paul taught, such as humility and love, are essential to that work. Also essential is the hard work of communicating across cultural and theological differences.”
Connections student Naomi Kraenbring says that “it was encouraging to speak in real time with our sisters and brothers on the other side of the globe, interpreting scripture together. I left excited about discovering additional intercultural connections in my own life where I can engage with others to come to deeper understandings of our sacred texts, varied cultural contexts, and unique personhoods.”
A dedication ceremony for the new technology center was held on January 8 with approximately 200 in attendance, including dignitaries from EYN and other denominations, government, and higher education. Bethany was represented by President Jeff Carter; Mark Lancaster, executive director of institutional advancement; and Musa Mambula, international scholar in residence from Nigeria. Jay Wittmeyer, executive director of global mission and service for the Church of the Brethren, and Jay Oberholtzer accompanied the group. Oberholtzer is a deacon at Middle Creek Church of the Brethren, a strong supporter and promoter of the partnership project.
Carter gave one of the addresses during the ceremony. “Our educational partnership was born out of a common vision to create pathways for students in Nigeria to study with students in the United States, either physically or virtually via technology. . . . By learning together and engaging the work of ministry founded upon the study of scripture, the church gains a larger vision of the world God loves.”
Lancaster’s reflection on the event acknowledges the many people who made the technology center possible. “As together we lived in to the reality that this incredible technology center had been completed on time and together we had launched our first global class, it began to dawn upon us all that what we had created was much more than a high tech building: it was the beginning of hope for the future for EYN.” The $200,000 cost of the center was covered by individual and congregational donors within the Church of the Brethren and with $25,000 from Bethany to complete the project.
Beginning February 19, a new advisory board for the partnership will begin its work to maintain the program, meeting virtually from the Bethany classroom and the technology center in Jos. EYN and Bethany will each appoint their respective members. Bethany will take the lead on an education plan, and EYN will develop a business plan and budget, working toward self-sustainability of the center.* The education director for EYN will also be directly involved in recruiting future students for graduate-level study.
*Those interested in contributing to the cost of the internet connection in the facility during this interim period can contact Mark Lancaster at firstname.lastname@example.org or 765-983-1805.