A few weeks ago I was asked to be the student speaker at a luncheon for the Kenneth Kantzer Society. This is a group of people who have made large donations to Trinity via some sort of planned giving and the luncheon was an expression of thanks from the University. The speakers included the president of the University (Dr. Carig Williford) on behalf of the administration, a professor (Dr. Perry Downs) on behalf of the faculty, and myself on behalf of the students. My job was to give a student’s perspective on how Trinity has impacted me and my ministry.
A Timely Opportunity
This turned out to be a very timely opportunity for me. Right now we are in the middle of a farewell tour.” We’re traveling to each of the churches that have been supporting us throughout our Trinity sojourn in order to say farewell and also to say thank you to them for standing by us. As a result, I’ve been reflecting on just how thankful we are for the people that have entrusted us with their prayers and their resources so that we can be equipped for ministry. I was more than happy to have the chance to thank these individuals and families who are devoted to the ministry of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
I thought it might be worthwhile to record the speech here. It is an expression of gratitude for everyone that has provided for us financially or prayed faithfully for us over the past few years at Trinity. I think it captures just how important this time is to us and to the ministry we are going to in Slovakia.
To the Kenneth Kantzer Society, and to All our Supporters
I have been asked to share for a few minutes about my experience at Trinity and the impact that Trinity has had on me, to shape me and prepare me for ministry. I will do that, but I also have a bit of my own agenda. I want to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to you for your gifts and your prayers for Trinity. I am the recipient of the prayers, scholarship funds, and gifts from you and people like you. Without you I would not be able to be here and I would not be able to carry on with my ministry of theological education and evangelism in Slovakia. Thank you for providing me with this opportunity and thank you for helping to sustain through your prayers and your gifts, this institution. I want to tell you that I believe as you pray and give that you are sustaining one of the most important evangelical institutions in the world in terms of laying a foundation for solid evangelical theology and ministry.
Trinity is shaping the life of the church, the leaders of the church, and the direction of the church in the United States but also all over the world in China, Korea, Singapore, India, Puerto Rico, Burkina Faso, Uganda, the Phillipines, Germany, Romania, Uganda, and Slovakia. Maybe when I list countries off like that, you picture a globe with the countries being highlighted in Trinity blue as I mention them, so that eventually countries all over the world would be highlighted because they have been impacted by the ministry of Trinity International University. That’s a good way to think of it, but I was actually thinking of Yacouba Sanon, Won-Seok Jung, Ming Gao, Jules Martinez, Hsing-Wei Chang, and other friends and classmates from Trinity that are going back to their countries as church leaders who will impact individual lives, and, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, shape the ministry and direction of the body of Christ all over the world.
So today I have the chance to stand before you as one of those people and, I hope, show you the impact you’re having not just on my life but on the growth of the church in Slovakia.
In June my family and I are going back to Slovakia where I will join the faculty at the only evangelical seminary there. Maybe you can imagine how difficult it is to start a seminary in a post communist era. As it turns out, communism wasn’t all that good at changing people’s beliefs. By persecuting the church they actually strengthened the faith of believers. But there were things communism was good at. They made it hard to spread the faith and, because they controlled the schools, they made it hard for people to be theologically trained.
So in 1994, five years after the fall of communism, four evangelical denominations joined together to start the first evangelical seminary in Slovakia. But to have a viable seminary in such a small country with such a small percentage of evangelical believers (1 in 500 or 0.2%), they need to provide an accredited degree, otherwise students would be reluctant to attend. But to provide an accredited degree, they need qualified teachers. But to have qualified teachers, they need a seminary. You can see the vicious circle. Now, after more than 15 years of teachers who are teaching, pastoring, and working on PhDs, they will soon be able to offer accredited master’s level degrees.
But it’s still an uphill climb. When I join the faculty this coming year, I will be the only teacher whose research concentration was in biblical studies-the only one in Old Testament or New Testament or biblical theology because in Slovakia, where there is no easy access to an evangelical institution, it’s easier to get a degree in historical theology or practical theology or christian education or even counselling or intercultural studies, and much more difficult to get a degree in biblical studies. Especially when theological schools will not grant you admission because your view of Gen 1 is, according to them, “unscientific.”
As I was considering which school to attend for my doctoral studies, I consulted the president of the denomination we work with in Slovakia. He told me, “Todd, you have the chance to bring to Slovakia what is very difficult for us to provide for ourselves. As an American you have the chance to study under some of the best evangelical minds at what many think is the best evangelical school in the world.” Of course he was speaking of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
Lenin used to have a motto. He had lots of them, but one of them was “study, study, study.” He believed that would change the world. I have a motto like that. I understand God’s calling on my life to be to study, live, and teach God’s word in Slovakia. It comes from Ezra 7:9-10. I believe that as I pursue my calling, as I am faithful and equipped to carry out my calling, God will change the world. He will undo the damage done by communism, he will undo the damage done by the kingdoms of this world, and he will bring his own kingdom. So thank you for helping me to be equipped for ministry in Slovakia. Thank you on my own behalf. Thank you on the behalf of Luke Zheng, on behalf of YunGab Choi, on behalf of Nelson Morales, and many others.
Thank you and God bless you and your ministry.