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His studies at Southwestern help launch college in India

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–In a stronghold of Eastern religion where most people follow Hinduism, Buddhism or Islam, Louis Mren Ao has started a Baptist college to train people to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.
Louis Meren Ao currently is a doctoral student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas. But home in India at Agape College, he is the school’s founder and president.
While sharing his Southwestern classmates’ concerns about projects, papers and exams, Ao is also concerned about obtaining books for Agape’s library, accreditation for the young school, better facilities and faculty salaries.
Agape College was established “to carry out the will of Christ in the world, to proclaim and apply his gospel,” according to its mission statement. The college hopes to fulfill its mission by teaching Christians to preach the Word, plant churches, witness and do ongoing ministry.
The school, the first in India rooted in Southern Baptist education, is located in Nagaland, a region in northeast India on the Burmese border and one of the few in India where Christians are the majority. With one-fifth of the world’s population, India is said to have more non-Christians than North America, South America and Africa combined.
Ao said training ministers in India is important because not everyone can come to America as he did.
Ao, who has a master of religious education and a master of divinity from Southwestern, is pursuing a Ph.D. in church administration to give him the administration skills he “needed so badly.” He credits Southwestern with helping to provide some of the tools that made Agape possible.
Agape’s genesis dates back to when Ao was pursuing his master’s degrees. The knowledge he gained while in the religious education school, he said, helped him build a vision for the college. In addition, some faculty members, who he praised as great teachers and good friends, are serving as advisers for the college.
In 1989, Ao was mulling over how to launch the college. He had no resources and no idea how he would set up the college if he had them. He and his wife, Aienla, spent a lot of time in prayer. The first answer to their prayers came when Ao’s brother-in-law, at the time a government magistrate, gave Ao a permit to a parcel of land he owned, completely surprising Ao. The parcel was about four miles from Dimapur, the chief city of Nagaland.
The permit was essentially a deed, which meant that Agape received the land as a gift. Ao said that his brother-in-law, a Christian and “a great believer,” was “way ahead of us. He was faster than me.”
The next challenge for Ao was to design the curriculum. That work took place under the auspices of now-retired Southwestern professor Charles Tidwell, said Ao. Tidwell helped develop the curriculum and encouraged and challenged Ao.
Ao said he raised funds from contributions by various board members of the college. Ao’s wife inherited a large tract of commercial land, but the topography was unsuitable for a college campus. She sold the land and proceeds from sale were contributed to the school.
Because of a lack of sufficient start-up capital, Ao didn’t build right away, opting instead to hold classes in a rented building in downtown Dimapur in 1991. A growing student body — now numbering 43 — and rising rent forced Ao to reconsider building. While the rent was not an immediate financial threat to the college, Ao said the school was “giving away money” by leasing and could not expand facilities to meet student needs.
“It was the right time to make the sacrifice of building,” he said.
Building became a community effort, as area churchgoers and young people helped to put up the temporary buildings on the parcel outside Dimapur. Students and faculty alike still contend with rain coming down through the thatched roofs of the buildings, and “you can feel the breeze” when the wind blows through, Ao said.
It is a hardship, he said, but one that they rejoice in. “The hardship is sweet. It tells us we’re sacrificing ourselves to make things work for God’s glory. The joy of it is doing it for the kingdom’s work, giving yourself as a good steward.”
That attitude, he said, has helped make the college successful.
The college offers a bachelor’s in theology and diploma programs for those with only a high school education. Seminary Extension, a ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention, provides most of the courses — overviews of Old and New Testament books, hermeneutics, evangelism and Christian and Baptist history. Other courses focus on Hinduism and Islam as well as studies of cults and their practices.
The college continues to do well since Ao’s return to Texas, he said. But Ao is concerned about Agape’s need for thousands of library books to help with accreditation, better facilities to help attract more students and the continuing need to pay faculty salaries.
A number of churches, he said, are praying that Agape will be able to find a better home, and some are contributing to faculty salaries, which require about $5,000 each month.
Other support from Southwestern is coming from Daryl Eldridge, dean of the seminary’s school of educational ministries, who is helping to raise an Agape College endowment fund for college faculty to study at Southwestern.
“We are very excited about that,” Ao said, adding the college would like to have a faculty member obtain a social work degree from Southwestern to help train Indian students to minister in northeast India, which has many social problems.
Eldridge noted making training available to Agape faculty member is critical in a country where Christianity is not welcomed.
“We are really swimming against the tide there,” he said. “To make an impact, we have to have trained leadership there.”
The kind of leadership found at Southwestern is taken for granted in America, he said, but is vitally important in a nation like India.
Ao noted the college already has sent out about 250 students into the field, and those students and current students who minister to surrounding Hindu villages while at college are on the frontlines of the war with the forces of darkness.
“Satan is so active,” Ao said. “There are people who worship him. The devil is very possessive. There are a lot of demonic works in our country.”
Ao added he is grateful to be a part of training students to go into the field and carry the message of salvation.
Southern Baptist schools have played an important role in Ao’s life. At 13, he became a Christian at a Baptist school in India. He received his undergraduate degree from Dallas Baptist University. Friends at Dallas Baptist spoke highly of Southwestern, and he said he was very impressed with the president, faculty and staff.
“They are great scholars, friendly, humble and kindhearted,” he said.
Ao is a member of University Baptist in Fort Worth and is pastor of the Indian International Community ministry there. He says that if all goes well, he will take his doctorate to India by 2000.
“From God, Southwestern can extend its ministry to the northeast of India,” he added. And from the Lord’s work through Agape, the gospel can be taken from this small corner of southern Asia throughout India and to the rest of the world’s largest continent.
Further information about Agape College can be obtained writing Ao at 4932 Gordon Avenue, Fort Worth, TX, 76115 or calling (817) 923-0743.

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  • Cory J. Hailey