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International Education: Gaining a Global Perspective

 

By Erik Alsgaard

(From left) The Rev. Gerald Lord, Ken Yamada and the Rev. Ted Brown are leaders in the International Association of Methodist Schools, Colleges and Universities. Lord is an associate general secretary with the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry and Brown is president of Martin Methodist College. Now retired, Yamada is the former special assistant to higher education and ministry's general secretary.
(From left) The Rev. Gerald Lord, Ken Yamada and the Rev. Ted Brown are leaders in the International Association of Methodist Schools, Colleges and Universities. Lord is an associate general secretary with the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry and Brown is president of Martin Methodist College. Now retired, Yamada is the former special assistant to higher education and ministry's general secretary.
COURTESY TED BROWN

Shaping principled leaders for a global church

John Wesley famously once said, "The world is my parish." As The United Methodist Church lives into the reality of being a global church, the development of leaders for that church grows in importance each day.

The emphasis is nothing new for United Methodism. From Wesley's founding of Kingswood School in 1748 to today, when there are more than 800 Methodist-related schools, colleges and universities around the world, higher education has been an emphasis of the denomination.

"Thirty-eight percent of the delegates to the 2012 General Conference were from central conferences," said the Rev. Gerald Lord, associate general secretary of the higher education division of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. "Forty-four delegates were graduates from Africa University," a school that didn't exist 20 years ago.

Global perspective vital

A central part of that education today should be obtaining a global perspective, the Rev. Ted Brown said. He is the president of the International Association of Methodist Schools, Colleges and Universities (IAMSCU) and the president of Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tenn.

International education—cross-cultural exchanges and studying in a country other than one's own, for example—is a critical part of developing principled leaders for the future United Methodist church, Lord added.

"Students graduating in 2013 without a global perspective will be impoverished," Brown said. His school is one of more than a dozen colleges and universities embarking on an ambitious exchange student program through IAMSCU's Methodist Institution Student Exchange Network (MISEN), which brings young people to campuses outside their home countries for a life-changing experience.

Exchange changed 'my vision'

Spending the Fall 2012 semester on the campus of Martin Methodist was "one of the most important experiences of my life," said MISEN exchangee Elizabeth Tapiia.

While in the United States, she also attended "Imagine What's NEXT," a young adult event sponsored by the United Methodist Student Movement in St. Louis in November 2012.

Together, she said, the experiences changed "my vision of the life. Here in Mexico, sometimes it is difficult. Now I work with the children of my church and also I am more interested in knowing more about God." She also is involved in a ministry that helps people with limited resources.

A foreign languages major at Universidad Madero in Puebla, Mexico, Tapiia expects to graduate in 2015.

The opening of the Russia United Methodist Theological Seminary in Moscow represented a milestone for the church's growth in Eurasia.
The opening of the Russia United Methodist Theological Seminary in Moscow represented a milestone for the church's growth in Eurasia.
GENERAL BOARD OF GLOBAL MINISTRIES

"Any cross-cultural experience is broadening," Lord said, "and necessarily broadens one's education and outlook on life. It can expose you to people who are of different backgrounds and provide empathy, which leads to tolerance and understanding, which leads to peace." All these are Christian virtues, he added, and are strengthened by international education experiences.

IAMSCU, which includes more than 800 Methodist-related institutions around the world, is fostering a certificate program in International Peace Studies, Brown said. As people worldwide grow more comfortable with movement around the globe, new relationships will be formed that will lead to amazing opportunities, he added.

The higher education and ministry agency's main focus is "the formation of new Christian leaders for the church and society," said Amos Nascimento, special assistant to the board's general secretary. He said this is happening around the world.

"In the Philippines," he said, "we were able to get our schools, colleges and universities together and they are forming an association, so they collaborate among each other instead of depending solely on external resources. This cooperation will focus especially on online education."

In Taiwan, Nascimento added, there are a high school and a university that were founded by Methodist missionaries and supported by churches in the United States. These and other institutions are seeking to reconnect with the church.

Aidilio Alfeu uses one of the computers at the Africa Training and Learning Center, located at the Mozambique Annual Conference offices in Maputo.Funding came from the Methodist Global Education Fund for Leadership Development.
Aidilio Alfeu uses one of the computers at the Africa Training and Learning Center, located at the Mozambique Annual Conference offices in Maputo.Funding came from the Methodist Global Education Fund for Leadership Development.
JOHN GORDON/UMNS

Education yields systemic answers

"Global challenges demand systemic answers which can only be adequately addressed by education," he said. "Worldwide poverty, pandemic health issues, lack of leadership, and the changing nature of the church are global issues that demand action." The foundation , he added, is preparing leaders capable of addressing these problems.

A shining example of this for the church, Lord said, is Africa University. In the last 20 years, it has grown to where it can point to leaders it developed who are serving all over the continent of Africa, he said. Training and distance learning centers have been created in Côte d'Ivoire and at the annual conference office in Mozambique, in partnership with United Methodist Communications.

"Everywhere I go, I'm aware that I'm walking in the footsteps of Methodist missionaries," Lord said. "They converted, preached, built churches, and built schools. Our friends abroad are there because of the work these missionaries and circuit riders did years ago."

The United Methodist Church continues, with fresh energy and vitality, to develop leaders for the church of today and tomorrow. Said Brown, "We will become a global United Methodist church because of what's going on on our Methodist college campuses right now."