WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–While Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary is known for sending missionaries across the world, the world also has come to Southeastern this semester.
Seven men -— church planters and pastors from Uganda and Tanzania -– have overcome numerous challenges to travel from Africa to North Carolina to finish their master’s degrees.
For Herbert Kabuluku of Uganda is unmarried and has no biological children, but like many pastors in East Africa he takes care of a large number of children who have been orphaned by war and the AIDS/HIV epidemic. He often has taken it upon himself to send these children to school when they are old enough to enroll.
Kabuluku’s commitment to education even led him to start an intermediate school for children. He also serves as the pastor of a church, assistant chairman of a church planting association and a teacher at a small seminary designed to give basic training to new evangelists and pastors. He had taught there for two years when the school board decided that all teachers needed face-to-face interaction with a professor in order to be considered qualified. He left his teaching job and began the search for proper training.
In 2005, Michael Wakol, a friend and mentor, contacted Kabuluku and told him about Southeastern professors who were traveling to Tanzania. Within the year, Kabuluku, along with nine other Ugandan and Tanzanian leaders, were receiving instruction from several Southeastern faculty members, including Russ Bush, Gerald Cowen, Gary Galeotti, Scott Kellum, Waylan Owens and Ivan Spencer. This put the men on track to obtain their master of theological studies degrees, a study and research program designed specifically for international students with theological undergraduate degrees.
The men completed 18 credit hours of work in Africa, but the remainder of their classes had to be finished on the Wake Forest campus in order to graduate. Only seven of the 10 men could raise support to leave their homes to study at Southeastern.
Kabuluku and fellow Ugandan Jackson Ecuna were able to get aid from their home seminaries, while Kintu Paget of Tanzania relied on his brothers for his educational funding. Despite the financial and travel hardships, all of the men said their education is money well spent.
“It was very difficult for us to get the money to come here,” Kabuluku said. Even so, he said, “I love it here. I especially appreciate the conservative interpretation of the Bible and the practicality of the classes.”
One major challenge the men have faced in their studies has been sharing two laptops, which they collectively saved money to buy. Kabuluku, Ecuna, Paget and Eliah Chilendu of Tanzania share an apartment. With their busy schedules, the school library is not always an option, and late-night homework becomes a challenge when the four men have to share two computers.
The men laughed while discussing the culture shock of their first few weeks in America.
“Here, the meals are mixed. When you eat one thing, you have to add 10 other things to go along with it,” Kabuluku said. “In Africa, when you eat cake, you eat cake.”
Another major difference the men noticed is the privacy that people insist on in their homes and neighborhoods.
“If this apartment complex were in my hometown,” Ecuna said, “I would already know everyone in the entire complex by name. Here, everyone comes home and goes inside behind closed doors. I haven’t even seen my next-door neighbor yet.” Although their neighborhood might not be as close-knit as they would have liked, the men said their fellow students at Southeastern have been encouraging.
Southeastern missions students and faculty have had multiple encounters with Tanzanians in recent years, and all of the men in the program pray that this kind of educational opportunity will be available every year.
More than 80 percent of the pastors in Tanzania are untrained and uneducated, Chilendu said. Some do not even read, and the tremendous need for training forces some pastors to make long journeys to get an education.
“Some of these men walk up to three days to make it to class,” Paget said.
Jared Leverington is a writer for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.