Feature

The Whole Gospel to the Whole World

Missionary training still tops Alliance priorities

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One hundred twenty-five years ago, A. B. Simpson founded the Gospel Tabernacle in New York City, and with it, the Missionary Training Institute, which prepared men and women for the challenges of taking the gospel into the world. The late nineteenth century was marked by the tremendous challenges of reaching peoples in places like the Belgian Congo, China, Chile, Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), Palestine (then part of the Ottoman Empire), French Indochina (now Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos) and many other well-known Alliance mission fields.

As some of the former country names suggest, that era was characterized by colonialism, and early Alliance missions often faced the threat of civil war. Missionaries also had to overcome the difficulty of a North American church that sometimes felt there were too many needs at home to dedicate large sums of money to reach the world. But challenges or not, there were 170 spiritually passionate men and women in Simpson’s first class. Many were training for missionary service abroad.

Necessary Adjustments

Over the years the Missionary Training Institute adjusted to a new era that required its graduates to have a Christian liberal arts education. In 1956 the school was renamed Nyack Missionary College (after the village to which it had relocated in 1897), and the task of training missionaries was handed over to the Missions Department. Similarly, Nyack’s sister schools—now Crown College in Minnesota, Simpson University in California and Toccoa Falls College in Georgia—developed their own programs to train missionaries for the effort.

Then, at the request of the Alliance National Office, a graduate training program for missionaries was created in 1960. Named for Robert Jaffray, one of the most prominent Alliance mission-aries of the previous era, the Jaffray School of Mission was established to train leaders for the challenges that had emerged after World War II, including new Alliance work in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, France and Mexico, to name a few.

Jaffray School of Mission attracted several dozen students each year in the 1960s and 1970s, when “Missionary” was dropped from Nyack’s name. Later, when Jaffray School of Mission became a fully accredited seminary in 1980 and expanded its degree offerings to pastors and Christian counselors, its name was changed to Alliance Theological Seminary (ATS). Today, ATS has more than 750 students.

An ‘In Tents’ Situation

In 2001, ATS established the Alliance Graduate School of Mission (AGSM) as the platform for providing missionary training for today’s world. Currently, more than 60 students are training at AGSM for missionary service. Our students encounter the same issues faced by the class of 1887: the need to study the Scriptures thoroughly, to develop skills for communicating the gospel cross-culturally, to cultivate a deep spirituality and to persevere when finances never seem adequate. But today’s students have additional challenges.

We are long past the colonialism that shaped so much of the missions context for Simpson’s first graduates. Likewise, the Cold War that set the international mood of the 1960s and 1970s is long gone. Today’s mission students are facing a world that is more complex, just as dangerous and which never seems to stop shifting.

In our time, Alliance missions are developed in a context that requires partnership with missionaries from many Alliance national churches. Also, our workers often dare to live in nations that are hostile to the gospel and do not issue missionary visas. Consequently, many of AGSM’s more recent graduates are performing professional roles at the same time that they are performing their missional tasks. They, like the apostle Paul, are “making tents” as they bear witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ and call believers together as the people of God.

The Alliance has more than 110 tentmakers serving in roughly 22 nations under the auspices of International Fellowship of Alliance Professionals (IFAP). This new breed of worker has professional skills and experience, coupled with a heart and ability to share the faith with others cross-culturally.

Not all tentmakers are seminary graduates; our AGSM program trains missions students and Christian professionals in ways that help them meet the challenges of this new context. One training tool is our online class, Tentmaking as Missions Strategy (contact Stephen.Bailey@nyack.edu for more information). This course introduces students to the many issues they will face in nations that restrict access to traditional missionaries—persecution, poverty, political unrest, resistance to the gospel message and spiritual isolation.

Despite these obstacles men and women of spiritual passion and a deep sense of calling continue to accept the challenge just as they did in Simpson’s day. The graduates of AGSM are serving in some of the most exciting and difficult places around the world.

One recent graduate runs a dental clinic in a Muslim nation while he prayerfully and quietly connects with the God-seekers who cross his path. Another serves as a teacher and mentor in China, where she answers the searching spiritual questions that her students bring to her. Yet another provides community healthcare in a clinic in North Africa while pointing out the direction of the Kingdom of God. Their situations do not allow us to share their names and exact locations, but I hope you will join me in supporting and praying for our Alliance tentmakers around the world. Remember also to pray for the missions students at AGSM who are in the process of preparing to join them.

Much has changed at Nyack College and ATS since Simpson’s day, but the determination to prepare men and women to fulfill God’s mission in the world has not. The Alliance Graduate School of Mission is working hard to serve the Alliance through missionary training that fits the time.

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