Facebook Seminary: Pakistan Pastors-in-Training Plug In with AU Professor
By Carl Stagner
God is on the move through the Church of God in Pakistan, and it’s a breathtaking sight to behold. On Saturday evenings, seminary students in the Middle Eastern country assemble to hear Sarah Blake LaRose teach hermeneutics and exegesis. But Sarah is not in the same room—not exactly, anyway. Ten time zones away, it’s Saturday morning in Anderson, Indiana, where the AU professor has logged on to Facebook Messenger. There she lectures on the topic of Scripture interpretation, fielding questions and interacting with her pastors-in-training in Pakistan.
A Global Strategy Facebook post put it this way: “What do you do when you need a teacher for courses in hermeneutics and exegesis at a small theological school in Pakistan but can’t find a qualified teacher who can do it?” Of course, the answer was found through modern technology, and in the person of Sarah Blake LaRose, already experienced in teaching online courses for the Anderson University School of Theology and Christian Ministry. Retired professor John Aukerman had connected Sarah with Don Armstrong, regional coordinators for Asia and the Pacific, so when the need arose, the need was soon met.
“I started teaching just one course in biblical exegesis,” Sarah recounts. “When that was finished, the director of the school in Pakistan asked if I would like to teach another class. We talked about it with Don and decided to do a second course in hermeneutics.”
The seminary in Pakistan is small and resources are limited. But they do have Internet! So, all the teaching consists of verbal instruction and everything Sarah says is translated. “Learning to plan my lectures and activities to take into account the translation time is a new experience…I assess the students by asking them some review questions each week to help them think about what we have covered in the past. They have excellent memories!”
Considering all the harmful ways technology can be used, “seminary on Facebook” has been a positive development. “I’ve learned that almost anything can be taught online and, especially if you have no books, you can find another way to teach,” Sarah explains. “I would like to see them all have computers to take advantage of research tools, but that is my American self talking. Instead, I am using technology to go to them when I cannot physically do so. They are also sharing their videos of worship and baptisms, etc., on Facebook. I see that they are very constructive in their use of technology.”
The seminary students in Pakistan will soon go on to become pastors and church planters. In the meantime, they’ve become more than students to Sarah. “I enjoy learning from them about what it is like to have church in Pakistan as we share prayer requests before class begins,” she explains. “The same students have gone through both classes, and several of them have become my friends on Facebook. Now that we have spent almost six months together, we are all coming out of our shells and learning to laugh together and, sometimes, to have very powerful moments guided by the Holy Spirit as we interpret Scripture together.”
“Teaching them hermeneutics isn’t so much about learning the philosophy of Scripture like we do in American seminary,” she continues. “It is about learning how Scripture is used practically within their culture and giving them a chance to compare that with the ways Scripture is interpreted in other cultures and other times. There is much about Pakistan that I don’t know, and I let the students give me guidance in this area. At the end of class, I ask, ‘Do you have any questions? Is there something you would like to study next week?’ Some of the requests have been very deep, and I have learned as much from them as I hope they have learned from me.”
Learn more about Global Strategy at www.chogglobal.org. Learn more about the AU School of Theology and Christian Ministry at www.anderson.edu/theology-christian-ministry. Learn more about what Sarah has accomplished to remove barriers to learning the Bible in a story published by CHOGnews last year.