Halfway through lunch Jim’s phone rang. Ami needed to talk with him. Abandoning his meal, Jim headed to the main classroom where he found Ami so angry that she could hardly talk.
Ami‘s issue with Atar, a fellow student, had festered for long enough. Jim had to help them talk their issue through. Calling Atar over, Jim said he would start with prayer, but before even beginning both students started arguing in their tribal language. Ami ran off crying. Jim talked with Atar, encouraging him to try talking with Ami again.
A little later, Ami had calmed down and was prepared to try again. Jim prayed and laid out some instructions: talk one at a time, don’t interrupt and try to see each other’s point of view. The discussion escalated again. Atar asked for Job, a senior student, to help with the discussion and translation. Job and Jim helped them to accept each other’s feelings and correct misunderstandings. They were able to ask for forgiveness and pray for each other. Jim told them the Holy Spirit was at work, and any part he had to play was the result of practical, whole of life discipleship from his own life experience.
Job was amazed at what he had witnessed. He’d never seen reconciliation in his tribal culture. He had seen mediation, compromise and appeasement, but not reconciliation. Pastors in his tribe did not have training or experience in reconciliation and, until that day, reconciliation was merely a concept for Job. People could be reconciled through the Lord Jesus and really forgive.
For us this story partly encapsulates the vision of the J.O. Fraser Centre (JOFC). We must not simply be a school that provides theological education, but also be a discipling Christian community. We seek to train tribal church leaders to understand Scripture more deeply and put it into practice in their daily lives, with a view to them engaging in world mission, especially to the millions of unreached people in our area.
We are encouraged when we see teachers and students living in Christian community, where we see principle become practice, and theology become a reality. This is a witness to our students, reinforced by their theological studies, then lived out in the context of community. When they leave, it flows out into their own cultural communities of believers and non-believers.
Many in South East Asia see theological education in Bible schools as a cheaper form of tertiary education. Parents send their children to a Bible school to gain qualifications and serve in a church or mission organisation, especially if that comes with a salary.
Very early at JOFC we discovered many people did not really understand the gospel, nor had they personally responded to it. Many believed they were Christian because that was the village religion. Now many of our students have come to understand the gospel and put their faith in Jesus.
Sara came to JOFC after studying a B.Th at a tribal Bible school. She once told me that after all her study and experience of teaching in churches, she thought her job was to learn information from the Bible and pass it onto church members. She never understood that it was for her first. She thought that what she taught was food for others, but not her. She had never applied it to herself.
Sara enjoyed the depth of Biblical teaching at JOFC, but we wondered if she knew the Lord personally through saving faith or whether she just knew a lot about him? One night, Sara came under conviction of the Holy Spirit and sought advice from a teacher. She didn’t know if she really was saved. She had never surrendered her heart and asked Jesus to save her. Sara said, ‘I am so embarrassed, I have been at Bible school for so long, surely I am okay …but why do I not know if I am saved?’ Her teacher wisely replied, ‘You will only feel more embarrassed after more years of study, if you still have not dealt with this… are you ready?’ Both of them prayed together. Sara confessed her sin and asked Jesus to save her. They both cried with joy, and since then, Sara has been changing in every area of her life and is now teaching the gospel to a group of tribal people in a nearby village.
As Bible teachers we must be ever aware of those students who have heads full of knowledge but hearts empty of the Lord Jesus. Theological education is important, but if it’s not accompanied by application, so that student’s lives are transformed by the Holy Spirit, then there is little point. However, if this does happen, the results are bright shining lights proclaiming Christ in a dark world.