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.

Pless at Seminário Concórdia in São Leopoldo, Brazil

Early in July, Professor John Pless gave a lecture on Law and Gospel in Confession and Absolution at the 8th International Luther Symposium at our sister seminary, Seminário Concórdia in São Leopoldo, Brazil. The seminary train ministers in one of our partner churches in Latin America, the Igreja Evangélica Luterana do Brasil, or Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil. Prof. Pless taught a course on “The Catechism: A Field Manual for Discipleship.” Two of his books, translated into Portuguese, were also featured at the symposium: “Manejando Bem a Palavra da Verdade” and “Palavra: Deus fala conosco” (“Handling the Word of the Truth” and “Word: God Speaks to Us”).

Like many of our faculty, Professor Pless has a full travel schedule, especially in the summer months. He attended this symposium in Brazil, returned in time to travel south to Tampa, Florida, for Synod Convention (where he also signed copies of his books—though in English this time—at the CPH booth close by the Seminary booth), and left from there to go to South Africa.

Prof. Pless spoke highly of the seminary in São Leopoldo (which is part of one of our partner churches in Latin America, ), from the depth of its theological education to the warm community of faculty and students. As always, we thank God for the partnerships we have with our sister seminaries across the world, and for our brothers and sisters from all nations.


Photos courtesy Filipe Schuambach Lopes of Concordia Seminary of São Leopoldo.

LLDP Partnership

This week, CTSFW is hosting the Lutheran Leadership Development Program (LLDP). The LLDP is a certificate program of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) in partnership with CPH and CTSFW. Dr. Naomichi Masaki serves as its Director. CTSFW hosts two sessions out of three sessions a year on its campus. President Lawrence Rast teaches History of the Lutheran Church this week and Dean Charles Gieschen will teach Lutheran Hermeneutics next week. Participants in this cohort are bishops, presidents, and general secretary from several African countries, including our brethren from South Africa, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Ghana.

Dr. Rast teaching his course “History of the Lutheran Church” in the library.

This week’s class is about much more than mere places and dates. The rich history and doctrinal heritage of the Lutheran Church is key to understanding who we are as Lutherans and what we believe. The course covers the complex historical circumstances that informed the development of Lutheranism, the internal relationship between the confessional writings and the way they have informed later expressions of Lutheranism, and the vital coherence of doctrine, practice, and life. As such, these men will grow as theologians, gaining a renewed commitment to the Lutheran Confessions as they confess doctrine in the way of the Gospel as articulated in the book of Concord. As leaders, the program will give them the tools to evaluate and address contemporary issues in the Church through the Lutheran Confessions in light of the history of the Church.

Left: Students Modise Maragelo and Tsegahun Assefa; Right: President Lawrence Rast

God’s richest blessings to these Lutheran leaders as they learn and later return to their home countries. May they gain much not only from the class but also from fellowship with one another and in our community here!

With Mandla Thwala, Tsegahun Assefa, Helmut Paul, Lawrence Rast, Daniel Mono, Modise Maragelo and Emmanuel Joseph Makala.

With thanks to Dr. Naomichi Masaki for the pictures and for the description of the program.

Oberursel Visitors

L-R: Dr. Zieroth, Dr. Neddens, Dr. Barnbrock, Prof. Pless

Last week we had two professors from our sister seminary in Oberursel visiting our campus. From left to right: our own Dr. Gary Zieroth, visitor Dr. Christian Neddens, visitor Dr. Christoph Barnbrock, and our own Professor Pless. Dr. Neddens guest-taught Theological Ethics while Dr. Barnbrock guest-taught Catechetics. Dr. Barnbrock also preached in chapel on April 1.

Lutherische Theologische Hochschule (LthH) in Oberursel, Germany, is an LCMS partner seminary. We’ve had quite a number of seminarians study abroad in Oberursel, and our CTSFW faculty include LThH graduates as well–Dr. Detlev Schulz (you saw him in a post earlier this afternoon) received his MDiv from this seminary, as did Dr. Roland Ziegler.

After the visit, Professor Pless had this message to share with the CTSFW community:

“Our colleagues from Oberursel, Dr. Christian Neddens and Dr. Christoph Barnbrock, asked me to convey to you their appreciation and gratitude for your hospitality and conversation during their visit to CTSFW earlier this week. Their impressions of our seminary were very positive and they are eager to find ways to enhance the relationship between our two seminaries.”

Dr. Schulz: LCEA

On March 5, Dr. K. Detlev Schulz (Director of PhD in Missiology Program and Co-director of International Studies here at CTSFW) was in Himo, Tanzania, visiting St. Peter’s Seminary there together with the Bishop of the Lutheran Church of East Africa (LCEA).

Dr. Schulz is third to the right, standing to the left of Bishop Angowi of the LCEA (in purple). On the far left is missionary Rev. Jonathan Clausing, who teaches at the seminary. He and his wife Anita have nine children, and live in Moshi, Tanzania.

The LCEA is only 20 years old, the church body having formed in 1999. Much like our own CTSFW, students attend their seminary for four years before ordination. St. Peter’s Seminary’s location in Tanzania allows these men to remain close to their homes and the congregations that they will serve as they enter the ministry.

DMin Conferral: Rev. Tariku Tolessa Jira

Dr. Grobien, Director of the DMin program, places the hood on Rev. Jira. Dr. MacKenzie (far left) and Dr. Gieschen (far right) look on.

Following chapel this morning, we witnessed the conferral of the Doctor of Ministry (DMin) degree upon the Rev. Tariku Tolessa Jira of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY), which you can still watch on today’s livestream. He successfully defended his dissertation project, “The Place and Purpose of Spiritual Gifts in the Scripture: the Understanding of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church—Mekane Yesu—Illubabor Bethel Synod Congregations in Mettu and Alge Towns,” just last week. “Today is an important occasion in the life of our Seminary, in the life of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, and especially in the life of our dear brother in Christ,” said Dr. Grobien, Director of the DMin Program.

Rev. Jira’s colleague and Director of EECMY-Department of Mission & Theology, Dr. Lalissa D. Gemechis (who received his PhD from CTSFW in 2017), upon this news emailed his congratulations: “I am so excited and thankful to God for His provision. Just to let you know that Rev. Dr. Tariku Jira will be head of denominational Theological Matters which is a big task. He will right away assume this position upon his return.”

The graduates from these programs have an incredible impact on their home churches, synods, and countries. “The single most frequent and fervent request received by The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod from partner and non-partner Lutheran church bodies around the world is to share our theological treasures,” explained Professor Robert Roethemeyer, Co-director of International Studies, who often travels to Ethiopia and gets to know these students. “Through sound, vigorous theological education we have prepared another leader for the EECMY. This is one of the most impactful ways CTSFW strengthens global confessional Lutheranism. We form servants in Jesus Christ to shepherd their own church bodies and to teach in their own seminaries.”

Once more paraphrasing the words of our brother in Christ, Dr. Gemechis: thanks be to God for His provision. And congratulations to Rev. Jira!

Left to right: Dr. Grobien, Dr. Schulz, Dr. MacKenzie, Rev. Jira, Dr. Gieschen, Dr. (President) Rast.

Lutheran Theological Seminary in Pretoria

Prof. Pless’s Advanced Catechetics class.
Imposition of the Ashes during Ash Wednesday service at the LTS chapel.

Another faculty member taking advantage of the quarter break to teach beyond the city of Fort Wayne is Professor Pless. He is teaching a two-week intensive catechetic course on Baptism and the Lord’s Supper at the Lutheran Theological Seminary (LTS) in Pretoria (Tshwane), South Africa. The class began on February 25 and ends tomorrow.

He is also working with the St. Philip Lutheran Mission Society to expand and remodel the current library at LTS. The society was formed by CTSFW students following the spring of 2008 (now pastors themselves), after they traveled to LTS and saw not only the present but also future impact the seminary will have on confessional Lutheranism in Africa.

Prof. Pless presenting new books to the LTS library.

LTS serves students from several African countries, who are educated in Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions and then return to their countries for ordination in their home communities. The Mission Society raises financial aid in support of LTS, and funds have been secured and designated for this library project. Construction is expected to start in the near future, and Prof. Pless had the opportunity to present new books for the library.

You can learn more about LTS in Tshwane/Pretoria at www.lts.ac.za.

Dr. John T. Pless (left) with Dr. Mark Rabe, LCMS director for theological education in eastern and southern Africa, and Pastor Eric Skogaard of Elm Grove Lutheran Church in Elm Grove, Wisconsin, who is at LTS to teach an intensive course on the pastoral epistles.

STM-Gothenburg Program: Its History and First Graduates

Dr. Masaki is currently overseas in Europe, teaching classes on the theology of the Lutheran Confessions at the Old Latin School in Wittenberg. He is there as a part of the International Lutheran Council’s Lutheran Leadership Development Program, with students ranging from pastors to presidents to bishops and general secretaries, from the Lutheran Churches in Ghana, South Africa, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Madagascar.

While there, Dr. Masaki also had the chance to attend the first graduation exercises of the STM-Gothenburg program, a joint labor of the Lutheran School of Theology in Gothenburg (FFG, which comes from the Swedish name “Församlingsfakulteten”) and CTSFW. The program takes four years to complete on a part-time basis, allowing the students to both pursue advanced study and continue serving the Church and their congregations as pastors.

“Very proud of our first fruits, Rev. Janne Koskela of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF), Romans Kurpnieks of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (ELCL), and Rev. Hannu Mikkonen of ELMDF,” Dr. Masaki wrote on his Facebook page. “It was a great celebration! A wonderful day! Again, congratulation, Janne, Romans, and Hannu!!”

Top row, left to right: Dr. Masaki and Rev. Romans Kurpnieks
Bottom row, left to right: Rev. Janne Koskela and Rev. Hannu Mikkonen
(Photo courtesy Rev. Konstantin Subbotin.)

Christopher C. Barnekov, PhD, of the Scandinavian House Fort Wayne (which helps graduate students from Scandinavia study at CTSFW by providing low cost room and board), followed up with an article on the history of the program and the great need–and incredible remnant of confessional Lutherans–in the Nordic and Baltic regions, as well as in Eastern Europe. A slightly shortened version was uploaded to the main CTSFW page, but you can read his full, original article here:


The graduates, LSTG faculty and board, and CTSFW faculty on the steps in front of the LSTG house. In no particular order: Rune Imberg, Jakob Appell, Timo Laato, Torbjörn Johansson, Roland Gustafsson, Frederik Brosche, Daniel Johansson, Patrik Toräng, Romans Kurpnieks, Bengt Birgersson, and Janne Koskela. Three of our own are among them: Drs. Masaki, Nordling, and Ziegler. (Photo and description originally shared by Dr. Masaki on Facebook.)

The first three graduates of CTSFW’s STM Extension Program in Gothenburg, Sweden, received their degrees in a special ceremony in Gothenburg on Sunday, February 24. Two pastors from Finland and one from Latvia were the first to complete all the requirements, with several more expected to finish over the next year. The program began in 2014 as a joint effort of CTSFW and the Lutheran School of Theology in Gothenburg (LSTG).

The STM Extension was organized at the request of LSTG to meet an urgent need in the Nordic and Baltic regions for advanced theological training on a confessional Lutheran foundation. The former state churches in the Nordic region have succumbed to liberal theology and reaped empty pews, with average attendance below two percent and the percentage of babies baptized dropping steadily. The STM program largely serves confessional movements, several of which joined the International Lutheran Council last fall. In the Baltic region, the STM Extension serves the Lutheran churches recovering from the devastation wreaked during decades of Soviet occupation.

What was totally unexpected, however, is that many students are also coming from Eastern Europe, from as far as Russia, Ukraine, and Romania. The LCMS Office of International Mission has found this program extremely helpful for their efforts supporting confessional Lutheran churches in this region. So have sister churches such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia. As a result, this extension that originally hoped to attract seven or eight students now has about 24 from nine different countries.

Dr. Ziegler (middle) with Rev. Appell (left), who serves both local congregation Immanuel Lutheran as well as LSTG, at a restaurant celebrating the graduates’ achievements. (Photo courtesy Rev. Janne Koskela.)

The program is offered through three one week “Intensives” per year, normally taught in Gothenburg. Each year CTSFW faculty teach two courses and LSTG faculty teach one. The CTSFW faculty who have taught in Gothenburg thus far include Dr. Naomichi Masaki, the STM Program Director in both Fort Wayne and in Gothenburg, and Professors Rast, Gieschen, Ziegler, and Pless. Dr. Roland Ziegler is teaching a course on Justification this week.

The Gothenburg Extension came about because it was becoming increasingly expensive and increasingly difficult for young pastors to leave their families and their parishes to spend five quarters in Fort Wayne. Yet the need for advanced study was so great that LSTG asked CTSFW to consider an extension. The format of the program, with three one-week sessions per year (and much work before and after the classes), makes it possible for these pastors to attend. With solid support from the CTSFW Administration and Regents, CTSFW has been able to say, “Yes!”

The program is funded by several LCMS congregations and individuals through the “Bo Giertz Fund,” named after the late bishop of Gothenburg best known in America for his novel, The Hammer of God. This fund has so far been able to cover operating costs for both schools, as well as tuition and fees for students from the Nordic and Baltic regions.  The LCMS Office of International Mission supports the Eastern European students, and several Nordic foundations help Nordic and Baltic students with travel expenses. A local congregation of the Swedish Mission Province, Immanuel, provides lodging for the students. It is noteworthy that the Pastor of this congregation is The Rev. Jakob Appell and its President is The Rev. Dr. Daniel Johansson … both of whom earned their STM degrees at CTSFW, as have several other leaders of the confessional movement in the Nordic lands.

For information about donating to the Bo Giertz Fund, contact the Advancement Office at [email protected] or by calling (877) 287-4338.