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Native American, Liberian tie missions to Ed.D. degrees

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP) — Often the call of the Great Commission brings to mind a missionary taking the Gospel to the unreached or a church planter in places where churches are few. How often, though, do people connect the Great Commission with education?

Jennifer Barnett and David Tokpah certainly make that connection — Barnett with Native Americans and Tokpah with the people of Liberia, Africa.

Both received their doctorate of education (Ed.D.) degrees this spring at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The Ed.D. is an advanced degree that prepares leaders in educational ministry, focusing on both the theory and practice of education within churches, schools and university settings. Southeastern’s Ed.D. program offers concentrations in higher education, K-12 education, denominational leadership and Christian ministry.

For Barnett, the Ed.D. program allowed her to gain a stronger knowledge of education and theology while continuing to serve her Native American community in Shawnee, Okla.

“I wanted to study something that would be useful for my people and the churches I serve in ministry,” Barnett said. “My call to ministry is to serve native peoples and help native believers grow, mature, serve effectively and know how to share the Gospel effectively.”

Barnett is minister of education at Indian Nations Baptist Church in Seminole, Okla., where she seeks to provide young adults with opportunities to develop leadership skills and gain ministry experience. She also chairs the board of the Indian Falls Creek Baptist Assembly, which provides family camps with programs for all ages.

“[Jennifer] has special skills in mentoring college students, Native American students like herself and students from around the world,” Ken Coley, director of Southeastern’s Ed.D. studies and professor of Christian education, noted.

Tokpah, senior pastor of New Covenant Methodist Church in Hamilton, N.J., and chaplain mentor for Vitas Hospice of New Jersey, chose the Ed.D. program because of his desire to contribute to Christian education in his Liberian homeland.

“I plan to help Christian- and church-related higher education institutions in Liberia analyze their financial sustainability strategies in order to continue providing quality education from a Christian perspective without disruption,” Tokpah said.

Tokpah’s aim is to work with church leaders and policymakers in Liberia to ensure that Christian institutions can avoid shutdown in times of political instability, donor fatigue and delayed tuition payments.

The ultimate goal, Tokpah said, is “for these higher education institutions to have complete freedom to design their curricula based on their core values and to have the ability to train men and women who will recognize Jesus Christ as Lord.”

“David Tokpah has sacrificed a great deal to complete his doctor of education, traveling from New Jersey to Wake Forest each time he had classes,” Coley said, referring to Southeastern’s campus in North Carolina.

“In addition, he spent eight weeks in his native Liberia to conduct original research — interviews with presidents and other administrators in several of that nation’s Christian universities,” Coley said. “Upon his graduation he and his family will return to Monrovia, Liberia, for a ministry in educational leadership. We are so proud to have participated in David’s preparation for God’s calling.”

Barnett and Tokpah were drawn to Southeastern’s Ed.D. program because of the quality of education and connection to ministry coupled with the opportunity to remain in their current ministries as they completed their degrees.

“I received a lot of support and felt very encouraged by the faculty in the Ed.D. program,” Barnett said. “You appreciate the personal care and thought they have for you. Even though I’m not on campus, they did everything they could to help me succeed and graduate.”

“I … not only want[ed] to attend a school with quality professors, academic rigor and lots of opportunities,” Tokpah said, “I wanted to attend a school with a strict Christian worldview integrated with core courses to help me grow and make disciples for Christ and for the transformation of the world.”

For information about Southeastern’s Ed.D. program, call 919-761-2490 or email [email protected].

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  • Harper McKay