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The invisible Presbyterian seminary

Mission co-workers teach and preach around the world

by Jonathan Seitz | for Mission Crossroads

Lukas Nkhoma, Jonathan Thole and Watanga Ngoma leave the classroom at Justo Mwale University in Lusaka, Zambia. (Photo by Johanneke Kroesbergen)

Lukas Nkhoma, Jonathan Thole and Watanga Ngoma leave the classroom at Justo Mwale University in Lusaka, Zambia. (Photo by Johanneke Kroesbergen)

TAIWAN – Together, we are among the largest Presbyterian faculties in the world. Our teachers instruct and preach in English, Spanish and Portuguese, Mandarin, Japanese and Arabic. Most teach aspiring pastors, but there’s also a robust commitment to congregational leadership formation and lay discipleship.

I’m talking about the roughly 40 PC(USA) mission workers who teach in seminaries, Bible colleges, universities and lay academies worldwide. They teach Bible, theology, history and ministry. They build theological libraries, lead churches and write textbooks. These mission workers include Karla Koll in Costa Rica, Michael Parker in Egypt and Dustin Ellington in Zambia.

Some are doing creative ministry. Tom Harvey is dean of the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies in England, which trains teachers for churches and seminaries in the developing world. Thomas Goetz has taught English for 20 years at a Presbyterian university in Japan, while serving in churches and acting as a bridge between Presbyterians around the world.

My family has been in Taiwan for seven years. I teach at Taiwan Seminary in Taipei, and 89 percent of our graduates are still in parish ministry a decade after graduation. The Presbyterian Church of Taiwan asks new seminary graduates to draw straws to determine where they will begin their ministry, usually in rural Taiwan.

I am part of many other ministries, such as helping a church in Taipei begin a multicultural ministry, which is going strong, and working with researchers to conduct the first modern survey of Christianity in Taiwan.

Ministry in Taiwan is a “whole-family” endeavor for us. My wife, Emily, serves in team ministry. Our eldest child attends a bilingual school and took part in three church camps in Mandarin or Taiwanese last summer. Our five-year-old twins attend Mandarin prekindergarten.

Those of us in theological education are a kind of “invisible seminary,” or perhaps the PC(USA)’s 12th theological school. Because we’re so dispersed, it’s easy to overlook the common mission we share.

In 2015, Presbyterian World Mission recalled eight mission co-workers in five ministries due to a funding shortfall. All of these ministries were in education. Educational ministry is often less urgent than others, but it’s important, long-term formational work. It’s the type of work at which Presbyterians excel. Teaching yields results 10, 20, 30 or 40 years later.

It’s not uncommon for me to meet retired pastors who studied with my predecessors two generations back. The Great Commission at the end of Matthew famously includes four commands (go, baptize, make disciples and teach). The work of theological education exemplifies these commands.

Juan Sarmiento, international evangelism catalyst with Presbyterian World Mission, is spearheading the “Training Leaders for Community Transformation” campaign to develop 2,000 leaders worldwide by 2017 (#deepleaders)—leaders to share the gospel in community-transforming ways.

Please pray for PC(USA)’s invisible seminary and consider supporting one of its teachers.


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This article is from the spring 2016 issue of Mission Crossroads magazine, a publication of Presbyterian World Mission. To subscribe or read archived issues, visit  


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