March 27, 2017

Light from the East


As a teaching president (sometimes too much), I have the privilege of learning the beauty of distinctive expressions of Christian faith represented among the varied cultures at Central.  We are a global seminary, after all.  Shortly after teaching in Myanmar, I taught a course on Incarnational Theology with Korean Doctor of Ministry students.
            They were spending the week at Conception Abbey (a great place to build community with available housing, meals, and life of prayer) completing two courses, and I managed to get there for the second one.  With the assistance of Dr. Greg Hunt, a skilled scholar-practitioner who serves as Research Professor Theology at Central, I had the privilege of engaging mature Christian leaders from all over the country.  I was amazed by the deep biblical literacy, breath of ministry experience, and theological learning of this cohort.

            Korean Christians are a missionary people, which is a clear response to the call of the Gospel.  They witness of their own experience of missionaries coming to Korea in the 19th century, and they continue this work throughout the world.  Korean Christians have established vibrant congregations throughout the US, and they care deeply about the spiritual well-being of the nation as a whole.
They are also a singing people.  I enjoyed greatly our opening and closing music, especially concluding with a commissioning song.  At one point, we sang in the basilica of the Abbey where the reverberations were astonishing.  Many in the class are gifted musicians with significant vocal talent.  Some of the monks suggested to me that I invite them to sing more!

They are also a people of deep prayer.  I mentioned a prayer request for a beloved friend of Central who has broken his hip, and they prayed with fervor and compassion.  The practice at certain intervals is to pray aloud simultaneously; the intercession certainly informed heaven of this urgent need.  And they prayed regularly for Central and its mission, faculty, leadership, staff, and students.  In many respects their profound faith is a source of renewal in American Christianity.
We had very lively conversations as we sought to understand how the Triune God grounds an incarnational presence for the missional church.  Exploring varied forms of leadership that are modeled by the self-giving of God’s trinitarian relations opened new horizons for considering forms of ministry.
The Gospel takes root in the soil of unique cultures, bearing part of the larger story of that distinct people as they embrace the message of salvation through the redemptive work of the Triune God.  The Confucian influence contributes to the thirst for continuous learning and excellence, which prompts these learners to sharpen their preparation for ministry at every opportunity.

I am grateful that Central is a genuinely multicultural school that values what each ethnicity brings to its mission.  The Body of Christ requires this kind of diversity, and we continue to learn from one another.

Molly T. Marshall

Central prepares creative leaders for diverse ministry contexts.

March 13, 2017

Ministry Colleagues and Friends

            I arrived in Myanmar on Thursday, a day later than originally scheduled.  Evidently some exhausted parent disposed of a diaper in a way that rendered some of the lavatories of our plane inoperable. So we had to turn back, try to find another plane and crew, and wait until the next day to travel.  [We tried not to glare at parents of infants and toddlers, wondering who had committed the fateful deed.]

            Thankfully, Myanmar Institute of Theology flexed the schedule for the Ecumenical Lecture and allowed me to speak on Thursday afternoon rather than the morning.  Grace and adrenaline sufficed, and we had a lively exchange after my lecture on “The Promise of Trinitarian Theology for Congregational Life.”  As usual, I was on a mission to persuade my hearers that the Doctrine of the Trinity is not some abstract and irrelevant teaching, but the very heart of our faith as Christians, with the capacity to shape communities after God’s likeness.
            Over the past seven years, Central and Myanmar Institute of Theology have engaged in an exhilarating adventure: collaborating on a Doctor of Ministry degree.  It is challenging to work across cultural lines as we seek to find ways to be sensitive to the radical differences in ministry contexts. Each year faculty colleagues and doctoral students from Shawnee come for seminars, and we have the opportunity to learn how ministry colleagues follow their calling here.

            On a steamy Saturday morning, MIT held its commencement service, and it was festive.  There were 154 graduates in the varied degree programs.  One of the joys of my office is conferring the degree upon Doctor of Ministry graduates and presenting their diplomas.  With great pomp, we celebrated the graduation of thirteen from our joint program.  We now have about 40 graduates, and 84 women and men have been a part of the program.  We revel in what our collaboration has accomplished.

            Just as we try to extend the best of Kansas hospitality when the MIT cohort visits our campus, the faculty and students in Yangon are expansive in their welcome.   After the completion of the graduation ceremony, we shared lunch with faculty and administrators of our sister school, which was a special kindness.  Central faculty and staff know how exhausting it is to pull off the many events of graduation, and this additional celebratory lunch was generous.

            On the Lord’s Day, we will be in varied churches and then visiting in homes.  It is a privilege to strengthen our bonds with treasured ministry colleagues and learn of the significant congregational leadership they provide.  These spiritual kin face similar challenges, yet the threats to religious liberty linger in Myanmar.
            All is not well in the country.  Some pastoral leaders labor where fighting persists, and care for their churches sometimes upends their studies.  We trust that some of the skills they hone pursuing their degrees strengthens them for this urgent ministry.

            Molly T. Marshall

Central prepares leaders to love the global church.