A number of recent DBTS graduates are currently involved in theological education abroad, and several more alumni are in the process of deputation with the goal of teaching overseas. This kind of ministry represents a great opportunity for our graduates to help equip Christian leaders in places where theological education is much harder to come by. This summer Kevin and Sarah Sherman returned from a year in Zambia, and over the past few months I’ve enjoyed hearing about their experience. I recently had the opportunity to ask Kevin a few questions about their time overseas.
Can you give us a brief overview of the opportunity you had to minister overseas?
We spent one year teaching at Central Africa Baptist College in Kitwe, Zambia. The school was started in 2005 to train men and women for ministry. The school has about 30 full-time students and we regularly see a few hundred attendees at block classes which are held three times per year. I had the tremendous privilege of teaching a few NT book studies, systematic theology classes, and two Greek courses. In September (2011) I team-taught two week-long block classes in Juba, South Sudan. The experiences of the past year have dramatically enriched me spiritually in countless ways, particularly in my perspective and passion for the work of theological training.
What are the main goals of Central Africa Baptist College and where do their students come from?
The school mission statement is “training the next generation of servant leaders in Africa for Great Commission living.” The majority of the students are from Zambia. But my wife and I really appreciated the fact that CABC’s vision extends far beyond Zambia. I also had students from Kenya, Malawi, and Ghana. The school has had a strategic influence in Zimbabwe, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The need for quality teaching from the Scriptures is staggering; nominal Christianity is prolific in Zambia (and probably many other places in sub-Saharan Africa). People have a surprising interest in the Bible and spirituality–you would find it difficult to meet a person who denies being a Christian! One stranger I met made up a story about how he knew me just so that he could get some literature about the Bible! On several occasions complete strangers would assume that I must be a pastor and tell me about how much they needed to start going to church or ask me how the services were the previous Sunday. Unfortunately this widespread appreciation for the Bible and Christianity is usually accompanied by ignorance of (or ill-information about) the Scriptures, and it generally fails to translate into true spirituality and godly behavior. Because of this, it is not difficult to start churches or Bible studies and to influence people through these means. But it is very difficult to find Zambian pastors and church leaders who are Scripturally informed and spiritually mature. This means that there is massive potential right now for the spread of the gospel in Zambia and across Africa. Influencing godly Zambian leaders right now toward spiritual maturity could propel the Zambian church of the coming centuries toward a strong commitment to the authority of Scripture and passion for the progress of the gospel on their continent while we wait for the return of Jesus.
Can you tell us a little about your own background and preparation for teaching ministry?
I graduated from Pillsbury Baptist Bible College 2006 and finished seminary at DBTS in 2011. My wife, Sarah, and I both gained a passion for ministry in a foreign context as a result of time we had both spent overseas before we met. I had a particular interest in conducting theological training after teaching two block classes in India. We were looking for a short-term teaching opportunity to pursue once I finished seminary. The Lord providentially led us to the year-long teaching opportunity we enjoyed at CABC.
What course did you enjoy teaching the most and why?
Probably the most exciting course to teach was a Greek course on James. I had two graduating seniors in the class who were both taking their final semester of Greek grammar at the same time. Despite the heavy course load and the challenge of taking an exegesis course while still completing their grammar core, they both worked extremely hard, and it was exciting to watch them grow in their understanding of the Scriptures and to help them sharpen their exegetical skills. What I enjoyed most about the class was the chance to relate to these men in a less formal learning environment. We spent a lot of time together translating the text, examining the grammar, and discussing the structure and message of James, and occasionally just talking about ministry issues. The class gave me an unforgettable taste of the joy that comes with developing relationships which are centered on the gospel.
Teaching systematic theology classes was also a rewarding experience; our class discussions were a priceless source of insight for me into the ministry issues which our Zambian brothers are dealing with. The experience taught me the importance of training African leaders who are capable of formulating their own answers from the Scriptures to address the problems of their time and setting; it taught me that a mature church-planting movement is a “self-theologizing” one.
How is ministry preparation in Zambia different from ministry preparation in the US?
For one thing, the opportunities for ministry preparation are significantly more scarce than what are available in the US. There are fewer institutions offering a college-level ministry education, and the financial means of doing so are significantly harder to come by than in the States.
Another obstacle to ministry preparation which our students face is an educational system which has not adequately prepare them for college studies. As a result, our students have to work much harder to acquire the academic skills that should have been available to them in their secondary studies. Our students work particularly hard at developing good reading and writing skills; there is also a cultural reason which increases this challenge: written communication is a pretty recent innovation among the Bantu people groups who, for millennia, developed and transmitted their culture orally.
What are your tentative plans for the future?
We plan to permanently relocate to Kitwe, Zambia and are currently seeking the approval of our local church, Inter-City Baptist, to be our sending church. We are looking for prayer and financial support from churches and believers who are enthusiastic about the spread of the gospel and the training of African church leaders in Zambia. The need is urgent and we would like to be back in Zambia by February 2014, in time for the new school year. The ministry we envision is primarily one of theological training. I hope to teach full-time at CABC and Sarah plans to teach part-time as the education and counseling programs at CABC begin to develop. We are also looking forward to having an unofficial role on a Zambian-led church planting effort in the Kitwe area. We think that godly Zambian believers are uniquely qualified to establish Zambian churches, and we are excited about having a supportive role under their leadership.
Related posts: See also our interview with Jeremy Pittsley, who taught along side Kevin at CABC, titled “A Partnership to Consider.”