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‘God will equip you,’ extension director tells East Africa’s future Baptist leaders

ARUSHA, Tanzania (BP)–The small group of students listened intently as Bob Headrick shared words of encouragement about the challenges and opportunities they would face as new seminary students.

Speaking at a seminary chapel service during new student orientation, Headrick reminded the group, “The same God who called you is the same God who will equip you to fulfill that calling.”

Those aren’t mere words for Headrick. As a Southern Baptist international missionary to Tanzania since 1990, he has experienced firsthand the challenges of living in a Third World culture where “nothing is dependable.” Citing communications and transportation as two prime examples, Headrick declared, “It’s a difficult country to live in.”

Rather than focusing on the negatives, however, he added, “Living out here more than 10 years now, I’ve learned experientially what faith is. God never lets us down.”

Headrick, who served for several years as a church developer in southern Tanzania, is now the national director of seminary branches for International Baptist Theological Seminary of Eastern Africa. In addition to supervising a branch facility in Arusha where the seminary is located, he coordinates seminary branch classes in Kigoma, Mwanza and Tukuyu. A fifth branch facility is scheduled to open next year in Dar es Salaam, making seminary training available in all five major geographic regions of Tanzania.

In a country where poor road conditions can stretch a trip of a few hundred miles into a bone-jarring journey of several days, coordinating a national program in five locations becomes a test of endurance and efficiency. Each of the seminary branches offers classes four times a year for about three weeks each session. “It’s very intensive,” Headrick said.

Noting that most Tanzanian Baptist pastors live and serve in the nation’s remote bush country and that the average Tanzanian family has up to eight children, Headrick said relocating for seminary training isn’t a realistic option for most Tanzanian ministers. He said taking seminary training to the pastors and other church leaders “fulfills a need of strengthening our work as much as possible.”

Unlike the main seminary campus where courses are taught in English, the branch sites offer a four-year certificate of theology taught in Swahili.

Although the course work for the main campus and the branches are separate, Headrick said the focus of the two programs is complementary.

“The foundation of the work is the local church,” he emphasized. “The branch program is strengthening it at the grassroots level.”

Seminary president Harrison Olang said the branch programs focus on practical ministry application, with a different major emphasis each year on such topics as evangelism or church planting. Affirming the vital role the off-campus training plays in the seminary’s overall effectiveness, he said the branch programs “are part and parcel of the seminary.”

Among the seminary students who return to the bush to serve after graduation, Headrick pointed out, “Those guys who have a firm theological education are going to be looking for people in their congregations who are being called out.” That pattern will result in more students enrolling in branch classes and more local church leaders gaining valuable training.

Headrick, who teaches at the seminary in addition to his responsibility with the branches, said his ministry calling is more in the area of discipleship than evangelism.

“If you can disciple leaders, that is one of the best ways to spread evangelism,” he said. “My efforts get multiplied many times over.”
Headrick’s wife, Cheryl, is a former missionary Journeyman to Yemen who is fulfilling a longtime call to career missions by serving with her husband in Tanzania.

Citing the challenges of health, food, transportation and finances which are constant concerns for Tanzanians, Mrs. Headrick added, “The real need is Jesus.”

Affirming the impact of working with seminary students from throughout the nation and region, she said the school’s graduates “can get Jesus to the people” by being able to “go places we could never get to.”
Headrick said many of his students “are like sponges. They just can’t get enough.”

Watching them thirst for knowledge and training “is fulfilling,” he said. “When I’m in a classroom with students, all the difficulties of living here just fade away. Because God called me here, I love it.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.sbcbaptistpress.org. Photo title: BOB HEADRICK.

    About the Author

  • Trennis Henderson

    Trennis Henderson is the national correspondent for WMU (Woman’s Missionary Union). A Baptist journalist for more than 35 years, Henderson is a former editor of the Western Recorder of the Kentucky Baptist Convention and the Arkansas Baptist News state convention newsjournal.

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