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Southwestern, Tokyo seminaries partner to enhance Great Commission efforts

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has begun a partnership with Tokyo Baptist Seminary to help achieve the purpose of both schools: reaching the world for Christ.
“This continues our strategy of a Great Commission vision for the world,” said Southwestern President Kenneth S. Hemphill. “It also enhances our global ministry. Not only are we seeing more international students coming here, but with partnerships with seminaries in Japan, Korea and India, we have created collegial relationships that will enhance students’ abilities to obtain ministerial education and training.”
Seishi Kitajima, president of the Tokyo school, said through a translator his seminary also has a Great Commission vision and the partnership with Southwestern “is a positive step in actualizing our global-evangelism efforts.”
Kitajima and Hemphill signed the partnership agreement Dec. 9 on the campus of the Fort Worth, Texas, school. In 1997, Southwestern began offering a joint doctor of ministry degree with Korea Baptist University/Seminary in Taejon, Korea. The first students from Korea arrived on campus for courses last summer. In September, Southwestern agreed to provide the Bangalor Baptist Hospital in Bangalor, India, with consultation on curriculum design and resource development and possible clinical faculty supervision for a proposed diploma in pastoral-care education from the hospital.
The Tokyo seminary has 120 students and offers undergraduate-level study in theology, religious education, church music and lay leadership. The seminary has Japanese and English divisions and meets mainly at night.
The first interaction between the schools will be students in the English division simultaneously enrolled in Southwestern and Tokyo Baptist and, after fulfilling the academic requirements, receiving a diploma or graduate diploma from Southwestern.
Most of the students in the English division are military personnel, missionary wives and American business people, most of whom travel throughout Asia and are able to minister to people in many different countries, said David Fite, Southwestern’s director of continuing education and off-campus centers.
The agreement provides the framework for further interaction including faculty and student exchange programs and consultation by Southwestern to assist the Tokyo seminary in developing its library.
Kitajima also sees the agreement as a way for the Japan Baptist Convention “to give something back” to Southern Baptists in America who have been so instrumental in helping the convention.
“Through faculty exchange, there is the possibility for Southwestern to be enriched by the experiences of Japanese Baptists,” he said.
Most of the Japanese students are in their 50s, work full time and have “deep church experience and commitment,” said the director of the English division, John Wright, a Southern Baptist missionary to Japan who served as a translator for the Dec. 9 meeting. Most, he said, travel one and a half hours each way to school four nights a week for five years to earn their undergraduate degree and will quit their jobs and enter the ministry when they graduate. He added that professors, including Kitajima, also are full-time pastors.
This kind of commitment and sacrifice is typical of Japanese Christians, who make up less than 1 percent of the country’s population, Wright said, and can be a source of encouragement to faculty and students at Southwestern.
“Even though the quantity of Japanese Christians is low, the quality is high,” Kitajima said. “Average Japanese Christians are strong in devotion and have a much larger influence than their numbers would indicate.”
Even so, the need for trained leadership to work with Christians of such devotion is vital “in the evangelizing of Japan and the whole world,” Kitajima said.
The Tokyo seminary’s ties to Southwestern date back to 1949 when, as a teenager, Kitajima accepted Christ after hearing Southwestern President E.D. Head speak at an evangelistic meeting at a high school in Fukuoka. Kitajima later wrote to Head telling him of his experience. Head responded by sending several of his books for Kitajima to read.
Kitajima also said the church music department at his seminary was started by Rennie Sanderson Otani, a 1961 Southwestern graduate. Tokyo Baptist is the only seminary in Japan with a church music department.
After signing the agreement using traditional Japanese calligraphy pens, Hemphill and Kitajima exchanged gifts. Kitajima, who teaches church history, gave Hemphill two copies of a book detailing the history of Baptists in Japan since World War II. One of the copies of the book, which is written in Japanese, will be added to Southwestern’s library collection. Hemphill presented Kitajima with a book detailing the history of Southwestern, along with “The Antioch Effect,” Hemphill’s most recent book on church growth.

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  • Matt Sanders