December 10th, 2009 at 2:23 pm
GARLAND – An education can change lives, and theological training can change the atmosphere and drive of a church. It did at the Ethiopian Evangelical Baptist Church as 28 members completed an 18-month theological education program to gain a certificate in ministry.
Bedilu Yirga, pastor of the church, collaborated with Donnie Auvenshine, dean of Christian studies at Howard Payne University, and Royce Rose, Texas Baptists director of theological education, to establish a theological training program with college credit for members of the church. Through this, the students were able to earn a certificate in ministry to become better equipped in training the next generation of church leaders and to minister to hurting and lost people.
“In 2006, we started to feel the need to equip our lay leaders with basic theological education,” Yirga said. “This church has 42 home fellowship Bible study groups in different places, and we needed to give leaders basic theological education to help with this.”
The certificate was issued through HPU while Yirga and other qualified leaders in the church taught the courses. Students who completed the program earned 18 hours of transferable college credit as well as the certificate. The 18-month course included classes on the Old and New Testament, Christian ministry and leadership development.
“Our goal is to make theological education more accessible in every way in our state,” Rose said. “As a result, Howard Payne started this program to work with people who wanted to get undergraduate hours and training. The question was then how do we make this accessible to other language groups.”
To do this, HPU outlined the coursework in English while Yirga and the other teachers lectured in both English and Amharic, the Ethiopian language most church members speak. This allowed the students to ask questions and receive clarification in their heart language, making comprehension and understanding most effective.
“What impressed me was the pastor’s commitment to education, knowing that training is one of the ways to build his church and accomplish the kingdom,” Rose said.
Most of the students completed the program filled with memorizing scripture, preaching exercises and studying Scripture while having full-time jobs and families to care for. Students learned to balance these responsibilities while attending the once-a-week classes mainly held from 7-10 a.m. on Sundays before Bible study and worship activities at the church.
“It is making a huge difference in their congregation to have that many people committed to theological education and higher education,” said Patty Lane, director of Texas Baptists Intercultural Ministries. “What a great thing to teach these people how important education is, and a biblical education at that.”
To make the program affordable for church members, HPU gave students a discounted tuition rate while Texas Baptists provided some scholarships to cover part of this cost. Students paid the remainder of the tuition as well as purchased books and course materials.
For Fufie Baraki, a member of the church who completed the program, the classes planted a desire in her heart to seek God and His Word and showed her that she can complete her college education even though she has five grown children and is not the typical age of a college student.
“It has changed my way of thinking to where I need to know more,” Baraki said. “I had gotten to the point where I didn’t want any more education and I just wanted to live the way I am. I now know that we always need to learn new things.”
Now that Baraki conquered the theological certification and gained some college credit, she soon hopes to enroll in a college or university to complete a bachelor’s degree in counseling or Christian ministry. In the mean time, she is helping with the churches home Bible study ministry and sharing the knowledge she gained in the classes.
“It has made the Bible more real to me,” Baraki said. “I can teach it and explain the Word better and know how God’s love makes it more precious. It helped me take my thoughts and turn it into ways that people can understand the Word of God. The leaders taught us how to bring our own examples and how to make it where people can understand it.”
Yirga, who has a strong commitment for education, has seen the hard work of Baraki and the other students pay off as they have been equipped to lead in lay ministry within the church while gaining a deeper desire for knowledge of God.
“I want them to take part in leadership in the church, be involved in ministry more, and I do hope they will continue with theological education someway, somehow as the Lord provides,” Yirga said. “Now people see that this group completed the certificate and they are ready and equipped to go into ministry.”
To commemorate the accomplishment of the 28 students completing the program, the church held a celebration service and reception on Nov. 1 complete with caps and gowns for the students and with more than 500 people in attendance.
“We wanted to celebrate God’s provision,” Yirga said. “God began this with the students, and they were able to finish because of His provision. We wanted to say thanks to God, and I wanted the whole congregation to see all the fruit of the efforts of those who started and finished. I wanted the congregation to realize that these people are now serving in various parts of the church ministry, leading in home Bible study groups, worship and children’s ministry.”
Because there was such support of the program, the church began another certification class through Wayland Baptist University in early December for 13 other church members desiring to complete the training. The new students will take classes during the next 18 months to complete their certification.