For ministry leaders in many parts of the world, pursuing seminary training means leaving their home country, uprooting their family, and taking on the challenges of navigating a new country — all on top of the academic rigors of graduate school.
For international students at U.S. seminaries, the endeavor is worth the effort because at the end they return to their home countries better equipped to serve the local church.
Until 2016, Joshua and Babita (last name withheld for safety) were involved in planting new churches in Nepal. Christianity has been legal there only since 1990, but churches are growing so quickly that there is a shortage of qualified, trained leaders to build, sustain, and equip members of the new churches.
“We don’t need money. We need leaders – equipped, trained leaders.”
In the absence of strong, well-taught leaders, young Nepalese Christians are sometimes led astray by false teachers. This leadership vacuum gave Joshua a heart for training more leaders for ministry in Nepal.
“Let’s go to Covenant”
Through an internet search, Joshua found the Covenant Seminary website, and he was thrilled. “I thought it would be wonderful for me to be trained by someone who is not just theologically trained but also has pastoral experience to share with me,” Joshua said. “I told Babita, ‘Let’s go to Covenant to learn from these men of God who have been pastors and are teaching.’”
Joshua began at Covenant Seminary in fall 2016, and he and Babita have been working hard to adapt to life in the States. From intricate modern appliances to driving on the opposite side of the road, life in St. Louis is different from the lives they left in Nepal.
Studying at Covenant also meant that Joshua needed to learn a new pedagogy — one that relied less on the rote memorization he was used to and instead required him to study texts and reflect on what he was learning. As Joshua has worked to master these new standards, he has been encouraged by his Covenant professors’ patience. He said they are willing to go over material during office hours and make sure he understands.
Joshua’s journey to Covenant began when he accepted Christ as a boy living in India. His Christian neighbors shared the Gospel with him, and he believed. But converting to Christianity came at a high cost. Changing religions is socially unacceptable in many parts of India, so Joshua kept his conversion secret from his parents for several years.
Eventually Joshua’s family learned of his conversion. Family members saw him performing with a praise-and-worship band in a televised church service, and they called his parents. Joshua’s family rejected him in 2004. Facing increasing pressure from his family, Joshua left India for Nepal and has not been accepted back by his family.
Babita grew up in a non-Christian family and was the first person in her family to become a Christian. Eventually the Holy Spirit caught fire in her family, and they all became Christians. Both Joshua and Babita earned degrees in theology from a Reformed theology school in Nepal.
Joshua grieves over the rift with his family, and eventually he would like to return to India. But his first priority after earning his master of divinity degree from Covenant is to return to Nepal to train more leaders for ministry. He would like to open a school in Nepal where pastors can receive theological training.
The strong preaching Joshua and Babita have heard at many St. Louis churches has blessed them, and they want the same for the Nepalese church.
“We want to see more young friends come and be trained and do church planting,” he said. “We don’t need money — we need leaders. Equipped, trained leaders.”
For international students like Josh and Babita, the endeavor of earning a quality seminary education in the U.S. is full of challenges, but it is worth the effort because they return to their home countries better equipped to serve the local church.