NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Theological education is challenging enough.
For many Korean students at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS), though, theological education is harder still because it’s in a language not their own. But thanks to an expansion of the Korean language program offered at the seminary’s North Georgia hub, all that is changing.
Seminary trustees approved the formation of the program, known as the Korean Theological Institute, in 2003. The program teaches Korean students in their own language, and has grown from offering undergraduate and graduate certificates in New Orleans and at the North Georgia hub now to providing full bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Korean at the North Georgia campus, located in metro Atlanta at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church.
“The Korean people group are a significant part of the Christian community in the United States and around the world,” seminary provost Steve Lemke said. “It is crucial that we train effective leaders for our Korean churches.”
Steve Echols, NOBTS regional associate dean for Alabama and Georgia, said the program had about 15 students last academic year when international students could obtain a student visa only if they planned to study at the seminary’s main campus in New Orleans. Now approval has been secured for students to obtain visas to study at the North Georgia extension center as well, and the number of students is expected to go up.
“In South Korea, many students from the Korean Baptist Theological University/Seminary want to come here to study,” Deok Jae Lee, director of the Korean program, said.
But the program has more than just an international appeal. Its location in the Atlanta area is quite strategic.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Atlanta’s Korean population ranks 10th in the country at just over 22,000 people. By word of mouth in local Korean churches and through advertising in Korean newspapers, enrollment numbers are on the rise.
From a combined count of 15 undergraduate and graduate students last year, the Korean program is anticipating close to 30 graduate students and about a dozen undergraduate students for the 2007-2008 school year. Lee said the program is critical for local Koreans.
“They came to America a long time ago, but they have a problem reading and writing in English,” Lee said.
The program this fall will offer five undergraduate classes and four graduate classes. Lee will teach several classes, but Korean Ph.D. students will also gain valuable experience as they teach in their own tongue. In this way, both students and teachers involved in the program will be better prepared for future ministry opportunities.
“I think that current students will be leaders in their countries and in other seminaries,” Lee said. “It is a wonderful mission strategy.”