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The Most Reverend Dr. Stephen Kaziimba (center), 9th Archbishop of the Church of Uganda.

On March 1, 2020, two-time WTS alumnus Stephen Kaziimba was enthroned as Archbishop of Uganda, the head of the Anglican Church in Uganda. President Felix Theonugraha and his wife Esther, Development Director Andy Bast, and Associate Professor of Church History David Komline traveled to Uganda to represent Western. Current Ugandan student Isaac Ssebyala was also able to travel back to his home country to witness the historic event, thanks to some local donors.

The Words of Hope team in Uganda with the WTS delegation. Director Titus Baraka is fourth from the left, standing.

“It was an incredible global church moment,” said President Theonugraha, “and seeing our two-time alumnus selected to head up a 12-million-member church was amazing.” The six-hour event was attended by the president and vice president of Uganda, archbishops from all over the world, and nearly 3,000 people.

Mary Nabakooza was the first Ugandan to attend Western, coming in the fall of 1999 to complete a Master of Theology (Th.M.) degree. Ten Ugandans have followed, many being experienced pastors with degrees from Uganda Christian University and the Bishop Tucker School of Theology. Stephen Kaziimba first attended Western in the early 2000s to earn a Th.M. and returned for a Doctor of Ministry degree, which he earned in 2007.

President Theonugraha is very interested in investigating partnerships and an exchange program with Uganda Christian University and the Bishop Tucker School of Theology. While in Uganda, he and Dr. Komline met with the vice chancellor and professors of the schools.

“I want our students to learn from an area of the world where the church is vibrant and growing,” he said. “We can expand our knowledge of what God is doing and learn from the people who are there. We have resources we can offer to them, too, for mutual learning.”

2016 Th.M. graduate Godfrey Kyome greets his beloved professor, Dr. David Komline.

The Uganda-WTS pipeline has been aided by Words of Hope (WOH). Students Titus Baraka and Stephen Kaziimba became involved with WOH while studying at Western and advocated for the organization to expand to Uganda. From humble beginnings in an outbuilding on the grounds of the Archbishop’s residence (with chickens cawing and dogs barking in the background of radio programs), Words of Hope Uganda now broadcasts out of a beautiful building on the grounds of Uganda Christian University. Titus directs the ministry, with mobile studios in dioceses all around the country offering programs in 14 languages.

Titus served as host for our delegation while they were in Kampala. At one point during their week-long stay, the WTS group joined Titus for a regular gathering he leads for people dealing with drug addiction, alcoholism, and intense poverty. The meeting lasted for three hours, filled with remarkable testimonies of transformed lives. Titus later reported that he uses a lot of the family systems theory he learned at Western for his ministry.

As the meeting was winding down, a man asked President Theonugraha to come outside and bless his boda boda (motorcycle used for transport).

“My first thought was that I’m not the blessing bearer—Jesus is the one who is going to bless you and keep you safe,” Felix recalled. But then he realized this is part of contextualization, and it’s not much different than people in the West walking around a building and praying for all the things that will happen inside. So he blessed the boda boda.

“This is the type of horizon-broadening experience I hope we can bring to our seminary students,” he said. “We want them to step into these cross-cultural moments.”

The trip happened just before COVID-19 became a worldwide pandemic, and since then we’ve learned of another impact of our Ugandan graduates. Because of the pandemic, the president of Uganda asked Archbishop Kaziimba to lead worship from his house. What was the only organization to have the technology to livestream? Words of Hope Uganda. Now five million people a week are regularly watching the livestream and hearing the message of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Dear WTS Community,

These past few months have been incredibly difficult as we have grieved the loss of lives, community, routines, and expectations due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This last week was monumental as we mourned the loss of over 100,000 lives to this deadly virus here in the United States.

Last week was also painful because we witnessed the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer. His death once again called attention to the suffering and lament of the African American community, whose collective experience has all too frequently been marked by injustice and brutality. The death of George Floyd concluded a span of a few weeks where we grieved the loss of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, and invoked the memories of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, and Laquan McDonald, among many others.

Incidents like these remind us of the long history of injustice and racism in our country. This past August marked 400 years since the beginning of the transatlantic slave trade, and much remains to be done on both relational and systemic levels to ensure justice and equity regardless of the color of one’s skin.

Incidents like these also cause us to lament how some law enforcement officers have misused and abused their authority, thus overshadowing the dedication and commitment of those public officials who put their lives at risk every day for the sake of others.

This past week reminds us that violence is not the answer. The groundswell of protests represents the hurt and frustration that the African American community has experienced through the criminal justice system. Let us not gloss over the pain that led to these protests and the sincere cry for justice that continues beyond the violence. We remember the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “A riot is the language of the unheard.” At the same time, the small minority incidences of violence and looting, whether committed by those genuinely frustrated or by those simply taking advantage of the situation, often end up hurting the very businesses, communities, and people the protests aim to help.

This past week also reminds us that while we live in a polarized society, God has reconciled us to himself through Christ, and that he has given to us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:19). God has also called us to rejoice with those who rejoice, to mourn with those who mourn, and not to overcome evil with evil but to overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:15, 21).

Over this past year, the diversity committee at WTS has worked on a statement on racial and ethnic diversity at our institution. The proposed statement includes the following affirmation:

We affirm that all human beings are in the image of God, and we uphold the full dignity and worth of all people of all racial and ethnic identities.

We therefore reject any direct or indirect discrimination against, and devaluing or dishonoring of, any person on the grounds of race or ethnicity.

In the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit, we commit to discerning and uprooting all forms of racial prejudice, individually and in our institutional culture.

I share this not because we have arrived. We have much work to do. I share this because this proposed statement not only demonstrates our commitment as an institution, but also is a much-needed reminder for such a time as this.

In this season of Pentecost, when we remember how the breath of God fills us with the Holy Spirit, our country is protesting the death of a man who cried out, “I can’t breathe.” Jesus Christ did not turn away from suffering such as this but took it upon himself. Before he rose and sent the Spirit, he struggled for breath on the cross. Pentecost Sunday is a powerful reminder that we do not strive for reconciliation or fight for justice alone. Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, has come to make all things new (Rev. 21:5). Through the cross, justice and reconciliation with both God and fellow human beings are possible. Let us continue to be Spirit-filled people in this world, crying out for justice, proclaiming peace, and joining in God’s work of reconciliation wherever we go.


Soli deo Gloria,
Felix Theonugraha,
President

 

 

View the webinar: Race and the Church: A Christian Response to the Death of George Floyd.

Western Theological Seminary is pleased to announce it has been selected by the family of the late Rev. Eugene Peterson (pastor, author, and translator of The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language), to establish a new “Eugene Peterson Center.”

While the mission and programs of the center will continue to be developed and solidified in the months to come, the center will exist to promote the pastoral theology of Eugene Peterson for future scholarship, the health of pastors and the Church’s renewed imagination. The center will steward the Peterson papers and archives, create generative models for pastoral formation, provide resources to encourage pastors for sustainable, joyful and courageous ministry, and promote robust Christian imagination among writers and culture makers in the wider church.

Eugene Peterson’s relationship with the seminary goes back decades, beginning in the 1980’s when he taught at a Young Life Institute on campus. The Presbyterian minister’s friendship with WTS deepened in 1998 when Rev. Dr. Timothy Brown invited him to campus as the keynote speaker for the Henry Bast Festival of Preaching. In 2008 he returned to speak at President Brown’s inauguration, and was invited again in 2014 to reprise his role at the Bast Festival.

According to his son, Rev. Eric Peterson, “WTS is the school that Eugene exclusively recommended to prospective students who were preparing to serve the church.” In 2010 Eugene said this: “It is everything I think a seminary needs to be–theologically focused, faculty accessible, personally relational and God honoring. I never fail to feel at home there with its professors and students.” After visiting campus himself, Eric agreed. “To witness the combination of first-rate scholars, coupled with a compelling vision for theological education and a student body that exhibits an earnest desire to serve the kingdom was altogether inspiring,” he shared. “The meaningful ways the seminary community is engaging with people at the margins of society resonates with our family’s values.” 

The seminary is excited to be tasked with stewarding Eugene Peterson’s pastoral legacy through the center, which will house diaries, letters, sermons, book manuscripts, Regent College teaching material and extensive documentation related to the translation of The Message within its library archive collection in the newly built Jack & Mary Dewitt Learning Center. 

WTS President Dr. Felix Theonugraha is excited to be able to provide opportunities for students, alumni, and the wider church to engage Peterson’s work. “Forming the whole person has long been an emphasis here at Western,” he explained. “There is agreement among theological schools that we must do a better job focusing on the formation of future pastors, especially as we live in a world that is filled with cultural liturgies that form us each and every day in ways that are contrary to the values of the Kingdom of God. It is tempting today to judge the effectiveness of one’s ministry or a church’s impact based on numbers–how many members, how many attendees, how many sites, how many countries– Eugene compassionately and unassumingly reminds us to turn our eyes away from the glitter of this world and to fix them upon Christ.”

Academic Dean and VP of Academic Affairs Dr. Kristen Deede Johnson, who had a personal friendship with Eugene, said, “I have spoken to countless others who, through his writings and personal friendship, were given a vision of the Christian life that by God’s grace has sustained them in that ‘long obedience in the same direction,’” quoting one of his most famous lines.

“We are honored and humbled by this opportunity to steward and extend the legacy of Eugene Peterson,” said Dr. Theonugraha.

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