Dr. Nordling in Nigeria

The last of our faculty travel highlights this week is actually the first: Dr. John Nordling, professor and Greek instructor for many of our summer Greek students, who taught beginning New Testament Greek in Nigeria for five weeks this past spring. His travels began before the end of our last academic year, from March 4–April 5.
Greek classes at the Jonathan Ekong Memorial Lutheran Seminary (JEMLS) in Obot Idim Ibesikpo, Uyo, AKWA Ibom State, Nigeria, began at 8 a.m., broke for chapel at 10 a.m. (Dr. Nordling also served daily as preacher for four out of the five weeks), and resumed until noon. Dr. Nordling taught a class of 50-60 students, in English. Though Nigerians know and speak dozens of tribal languages, English serves as the country’s unifying tongue.
In the afternoon, he taught a New Testament elective to a much smaller class of 15 or 20 second- and third-years. “The first one was Romans: very important for any Lutheran pastor,” Dr. Nordling said. “Then the pastoral epistles, Timothy and Titus. I gave lectures based on the Greek text. The third one was the Gospel of Matthew. I quizzed them to keep them honest. I’m a big one for quizzing, even here. That’s the only way to make sure that students are with you and engaged. I’m a great respecter of the Old Adam. Every day is a test.”
The seminary is located in a developing urban setting on the southeast corner of Nigeria, a part of the infamous Slave Coast, close to the ocean and the equator. Hazy with heat, humidity, and pollution, the large classroom was an open air room with no panes in the windows, located next door to a canal and noisy brick factory. Out the windows, factory workers shoveled sand in 90 degree weather. In the large room, many of the students couldn’t see the whiteboard, the inked words faint and far away. Dry-erase pens dried out quickly. “I became very covetous of markers,” Dr. Nordling admitted.
Dr. Nordling teaches Greek from the front of the room.
Outside of class, study at home was difficult due to a lack of electricity. “This is right on the equator. The sun comes down at 6 p.m. and goes down in an instant.” Without dependable lights, “It gets dark real quick.” To get the printouts he needed for each class, Dr. Nordling depended on Seminary Rector Dr. Michael Adoga, an old student and friend (“I was his doctoral father 8-9 years ago,” he explained), who would run to the print shop down the road each day. Dr. Nordling preached his chapel sermons directly from his computer to cut down on these runs.
Though daily Greek classes were composed of approximately 50 or 60 students, Dr. Nordling technically taught Greek to 80 students. Some of the missing were pastors who had to prioritize their pastoral responsibilities over study; others cut class as needed for travel back home on the weekends, though there was a cultural aspect to that as well. “Everything was kind of looser,” Dr. Nordling explained. “Education is not as intense there as I was making it. Part of the problem was me. The students were more laid back. Some of them just hadn’t had to learn the way I was trying to get them to learn. There was no flippancy, no disrespect, nothing like that; I didn’t have discipline problems. They respect authority. Every morning when I’d come in at 8 a.m., they’d all stand.” It was simply a matter of different cultural expectations.
He also began each Greek class by having the class sing the Lord’s Prayer. “They loved that, and were very good at it. They sang like only Africans can sing. The guys at the brick factory would sometimes look over.”
JEMLS is the seminary of the Lutheran Church of Nigeria (LCN), an LCMS partner church and member of the International Lutheran Council, an association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. Begun in a rural clan in 1936, the LCN now has approximately 80,000 baptized members (50,000 communicant members), served by 72 active pastors. The president of the synod, called an archbishop, is The Most Rev. Christian Ekong, a descendant of the pioneering father of the LCN after whom the Jonathan Ekong Memorial Lutheran Seminary was named.
Chapel service at JEMLS; the Lord’s Supper was celebrated during the Lenten season.
JEMLS is also located in what Dr. Nordling called the Christian part of the country, with very little Muslim influence. The story is different in the north. During those few times Dr. Nordling watched local television (his hosts put him up at a hotel with three generators, and though power cut off frequently it came back quickly), he heard reports of Christians killed by Muslim marauders. “You have Christian farmers up there,” he said, describing the tensions in the region. “It’s kind of like the range wars in the Wild West. They’re more nomads. They would break into the farms and sometimes they would kill people. They had herds and stuff. They were kind of competing for land.”
One of the common complaints among the Christian community in Nigeria is the underreporting of the violence. “I saw stuff on Facebook that wasn’t in the news,” he said. “I think there were several hundred people killed while I was there. It’s like it didn’t even happen. It’s just a common thing.”
CTSFW’s connection with JEMLS is through her loyal sons, one of whom is the Rev. Charles Wokoma, LCMS Missionary to West Africa. Born in Africa, Rev. Wokoma received his MDiv from CTSFW in 1997 and has since served in both nations. In September of 2013 he accepted a call to Africa as a theological educator. He works tirelessly at JEMLS, and teaches and preaches at local congregations each week.
“He’s very supportive of confessional Lutheranism, liturgical Lutheranism,” Dr. Nordling said of Rev. Wokoma. Christianity in Africa tends toward Pentecostalism, which emphasizes the importance of personal and spiritual experiences over the centrality of God’s promises in His Word (promises which are kept regardless of personal feelings). Speaking in tongues and faith healing are commonly associated with the experience-based movement. Rev. Wokoma is ashamed of the troublesome theology that plagues the nation, and determined to train pastors who are loyal to the confessions. In chapel services he insists on serving as the celebrant so that he can demonstrate and teach the blessings of closed communion and the importance of fellowship under the same confession.
Left to Right: JEMLS Rector Rev. Dr. Michael Adoga, Missionary Rev. Charles Wokoma, Dr. John G. Nordling
Rev. Wokoma also assisted in Dr. Nordling’s class nearly every day, helping to keep the students focused and engaged. And when Dr. Nordling worried that he was not reaching his students as well as he did with his summer Greek students here in Fort Wayne, Rev. Wokoma was quick to reassure him. The students had already learned a lot more Greek from this class than they had in the entire history of JEMLS.
There were also the exceptional students, who thrived on the Greek training and went above and beyond both in and out of class. Several of the fourth-year students helped Dr. Nordling call on students for translation and composition; another, Rev. David Imuk, was the reason that he even came to teach at JEMLS in the first place.
In 2015, Dr. Nordling came to Nigeria for the first time to teach a very small class of about ten laymen—successful businessmen wondering if they ought to become pastors. He also met a bright, young pastor named Rev. Imuk, who he discovered had learned Greek on his own. His questions about the text were pointed and clear. During his second trip to Nigeria in 2016, Dr. Nordling asked Rev. Imuk if he would like to study Greek at CTSFW. “I asked him if he wanted to come and his eyes lit up.”
Through donations, they gathered enough money to bring Rev. Imuk to America for summer or fall Greek. However, the US embassy rejected his applications for a visa twice, for no discernible reason. Dr. Nordling wrote letters, to no avail. With only the fees for the failed attempts to show for it, they decided they were not defeated, though perhaps redirected. “I talked to the archbishop, Rev. Christian Ekong,” Dr. Nordling continued. “’If Mohammad can’t come to the mountain, then the mountain has to come to Mohammad.’” Since Rev. Imuk couldn’t come to America, Dr. Nordling asked if he could come to Nigeria instead.
Archbishop Ekong made it happen, carving out the time in the seminary’s schedule. Instead of coming for 10 weeks at a time, they decided to schedule Dr. Nordling for two trips: five weeks for this trip (his third time in the country), then another five in the spring of 2020. As to Rev. Imuk: “He became my grader and daily tutor—and so probably ended up learning Greek far better by my coming to Nigeria than if he had had the opportunity to study with me in Fort Wayne.”
Rev. Imuk plans to continue working with students on vocabulary during the intervening year, in preparation for Dr. Nordling’s return next spring. CTSFW assisted by sending blank flashcards to JEMLS through Rev. Wokoma, when he came to the LCMS Convention in July.
“All said, it was very rewarding. I’m glad I did it,” Dr. Nordling concluded. He admitted that it was both the hardest he has ever worked as a pastor, but also the most rewarding—made possible by many, from Archbishop Ekong, Dr. Adoga, missionary Rev. Wokoma, to Rev. Imuk, to name only a few. Deep thanks are also due to the donor who sent the mountain to the West African coast: Mr. Gerald Schultz of Rathdrum, Idaho, whose material support brought this intensive Greek course to pastors and seminarians in Nigeria.
Dr. Nordling with JEMLS leadership and about two-thirds of the Greek class on the final day. Of particular note is Archbishop Christian Ekong sitting in the center. To his left is Rev. Gary Schulte, Area Director of LCMS Missions, West and Central Africa; and to his right is Dr. Nordling. Rev. David Imuk is standing to the right of Nordling, and Rev. Charles Wokoma is standing on the far left of the first standing row.

Thanks be to God for His generous gifts, for the confession we share with our brothers and sisters in Christ overseas, for His promises to every nation and generation. May He continue to bless those seminaries built on the rock of His firm and unchangeable Word, as they work in Christ to train pastors to serve as undershepherds for His flock, and deaconesses to serve as His hands of mercy.

While [Jesus] was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Matthew 12:46-50

Prof. Pless in South Africa

Earlier in the summer, Prof. John Pless (Assistant Professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions as well as Director of Field Education) was in Tshwane, South Africa, teaching an intensive course at the Lutheran Theological Seminary (LTS). From July 28–August 9 he taught a class of 25 students, finishing out a five course series based on the five volumes of “Commentary on Luther’s Catechisms” by Albrecht Peters. Residential LTS students along with pastors and lay preachers from various South African Lutheran bodies attended the series on how to teach, preach, and provide pastoral care based on each section of the Lutheran Confessions.

He first began teaching this advanced catechetics series in February and March of 2017. “I appreciate the continuity I have with these students,” Prof. Pless wrote in a report following the final class. “It is especially heartening to have a solid core group of pastors and lay preachers who return for each offering.”

For three hours each morning, Prof. Pless covered the fifth volume of Peters’ commentary, teaching about Confession and Absolution as well as the daily prayers and the table of duties in the Small Catechism. He used his newest book, “Luther’s Small Catechism: A Manual for Discipleship,” as a supplement. Donors from the United States provided both books for the students.

In addition to teaching, preaching in chapel, and visiting colleagues and local pastors, Prof Pless noted a particular undertaking nearing completion at LTS. “Certainly a highlight of this trip was to watch the daily progress being made on the library expansion and renovation, a project supported by the St. Philip Lutheran Mission Society.” The St. Philip Lutheran Mission Society is made up of CTSFW alumni, who first visited LTS in the spring of 2008 as students. Now pastors, they raise financial aid for the institute to support the promotion of confessional Lutheran theological education in Africa through LTS.

“It is such a blessing to be able to partner with LTS-Tshwane on this project,” explained the chairman of the society, Rev. Chris Maronde, associate pastor at St. John in Decatur, Indiana, and doctoral student at CTSFW. “The express mission of the Saint Philip Lutheran Mission Society has been to support the seminary in any way we can, although this is the first capital project we have ever undertaken.

“As Philip didn’t travel to Africa but sent the Ethiopian back to his home, so Saint Philip Lutheran Mission Society is made up of pastors (all CTSFW alums) and donors in the United States who support the training of native pastors, who will travel back to their homes all over Africa with the saving proclamation of Christ and Him crucified.

“Our primary method of aid is tuition support, but it has been very satisfying to see a ‘brick and mortar’ project travel from conception and fundraising to construction. It is also humbling to the board to see this mission society, still very young, be the driving force in the construction of a building thousands of miles away.”

Many challenges delayed the project for several years, but construction finally began in the spring; the dedication is scheduled for September 7, two days from now. The expansion of the facility had been overdue for many years, and will more than double the space for holdings, allowing many books to be brought out of storage and into student’s hands. The previous rector of the seminary, Dr. Weber, asked the society to take on the project, and the current rector, Dr. Winterle, saw it through to construction. “We enlisted the help of many in the United States,” Rev. Maronde went on, “particularly by partnering with the Rocky Mountain District of the LCMS (who is providing funding to equip the building with necessary amenities), and a grant from a Lutheran organization in Texas. Without our own donors and these other organizations, this library would not be under construction.”

Prof. Pless plans to return to LTS in March of 2020 to teach “The Psalms in Pastoral Theology,” followed by another Confessions course in August. “I am grateful to the congregations and individuals whose gifts have enabled me to travel to South Africa and bring books for our students,” he noted in his report. “As long as we can find funding for these trips, I am willing and eager to come to South Africa twice a year.”

You can learn more about the St. Philip Mission Society at www.splms.org. To learn more about the seminary in Tshwane, go to www.lts.ac.za.

Dr. Schulz at the Nagercoil Seminary

First up in our faculty travel highlight week is Dr. Detlev Schulz, whose credentials include many of CTSFW’s international and mission departments. He is Professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions, Dean of Graduate Studies, Director of the PhD in Missiology Program, and Co-director of International Studies. This summer Dr. Schulz visited the India Evangelical Lutheran Church (IELC) from August 11–16.

He spoke at the Pastors’ Refresher Course, a retreat hosted by Concordia Theological Seminary, Nagercoil, under the theme: “The Unity of the Spirit in the Bond of Peace (Eph. 4:3).” The retreat itself took place over two days, from the 14th to the 15th, while the rest of his time in India was spent consulting with the faculty on curricula and colloquy matters. Dr. Schulz was asked to assist in their theological education by helping to map out the Lutheran emphasis in their Bachelor of Divinity program, as well as to discuss the role of the Nagercoil seminary in the IELC colloquy process.

President Suviseshamuthu and Principle Christudas (here pictured standing on either side of Dr. Schulz) extend their warmest greetings to CTSFW. Founded in 1932, the seminary of the IELC is also currently being beautifully restored to its original self.

Faculty Addition and Advancements

Opening Service begins in less than a week, on Monday, September 9, at 10 a.m. in Kramer Chapel. The start of the 174th academic year at CTSFW will include the installation of a new faculty member: the Rev. Prof. Adam Koontz, who began his service as Assistant Professor of Exegetical Theology on August 1st. Prof. Koontz attended school as an undergrad in his home state of Pennsylvania before receiving his Master of Divinity from CTSFW. He served as pastor at Mount Calvary in Lititz, Pennsylvania, during which he planted Concordia Lutheran Mission in Myerstown. A doctoral candidate in New Testament and Early Christianity in the Department of Religion at Temple University, Philadelphia, he and his wife Jen have returned to his alma mater in Fort Wayne with their six children.

“It’s honestly completely different coming here as a professor instead of a student—except that in both cases I arrived in the middle of summer and spent a lot of time in the library as soon as I got to campus,” Prof. Koontz explained. “As a student, I was excited but didn’t fully understand the importance of the teaching that happens at the Seminary. As a faculty member, I’m excited again but know full well that what we teach here matters more than anything.”

Prof. Koontz will teach courses related to the New Testament, beginning with Gospels 1 and Greek readings. In the winter and spring quarters, he will teach lecture courses on Paul, his specialty. “The faculty is very excited to welcome Rev. Koontz to our midst,” said Academic Dean, the Rev. Dr. Charles A. Gieschen. “He brings both expertise in the Pauline Epistles and fine recent pastoral experience that will be a blessing to our students. He’ll also,” he added, “bring down the average age of the faculty.”

Additional changes were made to the faculty earlier this summer, when the Board of Regents took action at their May meeting to advance both the Rev. Dr. Peter J. Scaer and the Rev. Dr. Naomichi Masaki from the rank of Associate Professor to the rank of full Professor. “It’s nice to have my title shortened by four syllables,” Dr. Peter Scaer pronounced. “But, more seriously, it’s a time to reflect on my service, and to offer thanks for such a wonderful place as CTSFW. There isn’t a better place to study and teach theology. And at a time when the world so desperately needs Christ, it’s an honor to be a part of what’s happening here in Fort Wayne.”

“I am truly humbled by this advancement, deeply thankful to the board and the administration for their trust and recognition,” said Dr. Masaki. “Still, far greater confidence comes from the Lord who has called me to this beloved seminary. It remains my utmost joy and privilege to serve Him alongside my dear colleagues He brought together as a team.”

Both professors have distinguished their teaching with service here as well as abroad in many countries and across continents, traveling overseas to teach at seminaries and theological schools partnered with CTSFW. You can learn more about the service and accomplishments of our faculty at www.ctsfw.edu/faculty. To watch Opening Service on September 9 at 10 a.m. (EDT), go to www.ctsfw.edu/Daily-Chapel or www.facebook.com/CTSFW where it will be streamed live.