id-ThM-Kyome-GodfreyMaster of Theology student Rev. Godfrey Kyome has lived on the streets of Uganda, has worked at a home for blind youth, was ordained in the Anglican church, and now serves as the assistant executive director for Words of Hope Uganda radio ministry.

“My life has witnessed the grace, presence, and providence of the Lord,” says Godfrey.

Godfrey’s father was a hard man and mistreated his mother. Rather than stay under his father’s roof, 12-year-old Godfrey took to the street shortly after primary school.

One night he ended up sleeping on a church pew. When he woke up, people had filled the church and were worshipping. He immediately sat up, thinking, “I should be worshipping, too, not sleeping!” He began spending his days looking for churches to be part of.

“Life on the street away from my family was a time that God used to prepare me for my ministry,” he observes. “Like a prodigal son, the time came when I thought, ‘I shouldn’t be living this kind of life.’”

Eventually he moved in with an aunt who encouraged him to go back to school.

Secondary school was a turning point for Godfrey. As a teenager, he began organizing small-scale mission projects in different schools and found local pastors interested in discipling young people. One of those pastors was Bishop Stephen Kaziimba (Th.M. ’03, D.Min. ’07). Rev. Dr. Kaziimba became a mentor for Godfrey, along with Captain Titus Baraka (Th.M. ’02).

“They are always helping insignificant people see the gifts they can use in the community and the church,” he says.

Godfrey went on to Uganda Christian University, where he earned a bachelors degree in social work and administration.

When he was on the street, in desperate times he had bargained with God, promising to serve him if he would answer his prayers. When he got his degree in social work, he followed his passion to work with disabled youth and volunteered at a home for the blind. He thought, “This is what I’m going to do. It’s enough for God.” But God convicted him that he had made a pledge to serve Him, leading Godfrey to complete a Master of Divinity degree in Uganda and seek ordination in the Anglican church.

Many of Godfrey’s mentors came through Western Theological Seminary, and it became a dream for him to study here as well. Last year WTS President Timothy Brown and Words of Hope President David Bast took a trip to Uganda, and Godfrey was their interpreter. He applied for the Master of Theology (Th.M.) program and was accepted.

“Being here is a dream come true,” he says. “It’s a confirmation of what God wants me to do in Uganda.”

Godfrey’s research centers on congregational transformation through leadership. He is interested in how a leader can use teamwork to transform his or her community by recognizing and using different gifts, talents, and abilities in the congregation.

“I believe if all people are given an opportunity to participate in church or in ministry, there will always be a tremendous transformation,” he says.

His current work as assistant executive director of Words of Hope Uganda allows him to connect people and help them work together. He organizes Words of Hope’s radio ministry in the country’s fifteen dioceses to make sure they are airing quality material. On his radio program on Saturday mornings he records sermons for them to use. He also organizes listener’s conferences for those who wish to share their testimonies.

He attributes much of his success to his mother, who prayed for him from the time he was a boy.

“I remember nights when I was sleeping… she would put her hands on me and pray for me, and I kept pushing them away because they were so cold!” he recalls. “But I am what I am because of the knees of that woman.”

Godfrey is thoroughly enjoying his time at WTS.

“It’s such an encouraging environment as I meet people from different areas of the world, like India and China,” he says. “We share ideas in the Th.M. program, and I have learned so many things that are happening in the church around the world.”

The program is also helping him to look inward and know himself more deeply.

“You think wide. You think like a scholar. And I believe a good pastor should be a scholar,” he says. “By God’s grace, when I go back I would love to have a leadership conference, especially in the Mityana diocese, where we have a low level of education,” he says. “I want to see how we can equip them with this kind of knowledge in leadership and discipleship, but also how I can advance our ministry doing discipleship through media. Whatever God brings my way, I will do it for the glory of the Kingdom.”

Although I graduated from WTS five years ago, when I heard that my alma mater was launching a certificate in disability and ministry, I wanted to enroll. I would love to learn how I can cross the bridge more effectively between the world of those who live with fully-able bodies and minds and those who do not. What a rich area of ministry!

This certificate program is important because the theological conversation around disability needs to change. It is rooted in shame rather than hope, love, acceptance, and redemption. I have cerebral palsy. Because of this, I wore my shame like a cloak for the first 28 years of my life. “I caused this. I’m broken. I cause my parents so much extra work/money/time. I’m imperfect. I don’t belong in this world. This is too difficult. Why would God do this? God must hate me.” And on and on and on. Even a person well-adjusted to life with disability will deal with these toxic thoughts.

What message does the church offer? In my experience, the church responds to disability in one of three ways:

  1.  God made you this way because he knew you were special enough/strong enough to handle it.
  2.  You have a disability because of the sin that exists in our world. You are an example of what “original sin” can do.
  3.  God made a mistake. Something happened (perhaps Satan tried to destroy you), but God stepped in just in time.

I’ve had all three of these justifications said to my face.

For those of us who have disabilities, we (wish we could) respond like this:

  1. I am not strong, nor am I special. If this is what strong and special looks like, you can have it.
  2. Why am I an example of original sin? I didn’t do anything to deserve this. (Many who have physical disabilities—like me—were born with them).
  3. I thought God didn’t make mistakes. And I thought he was stronger than the devil. Is God imperfect or weak?

Obviously, the church’s theology on disability leaves a lot to be desired. There has to be a way to approach disability from a theological perspective that does not involve shame, sin, or mistakes.

I borrow heavily from theologian and sociologist Nancy Eisland [paraphrasing], “Somewhere within God exists the possibility for disability. God is so huge, who are we to say what is encompassed within the character of God? Therefore, we cannot say that disability is a sort of imperfection or mistake. It is something deliberately, intentionally given to us by God.”

This statement may be hard to swallow for both able-bodied and the disabled. Disability looks like a mistake to us. But is it a mistake from God’s perspective? I choose to believe that my cerebral palsy (CP) was given to me with purpose. Indeed, I am certain that CP has formed me for the better. How then, is my CP a mistake?

Further, if one is going to espouse the idea of disability from original sin, then one also needs to make sure it is abundantly clear that in Christ, our disability has been fully redeemed. We know that Jesus redeemed the world and saved us from the power of sin through his death and resurrection. We believe that he brings hope into seemingly hopeless situations. Many of us bear witness to his inbreaking power. Why do we think that the human body or mind is off-limits to God? Can’t his power reach that far? I’m not speaking exclusively of miraculous healing—although God is certainly able to do that if he chooses. I’m talking about the glorious mystery that occurs when a person or family thanks God for the difficulty of disability; when they find hope in times of desperation; and when the glory of God shines brightly in an imperfect physical or mental existence. That is redemption only God can bring. It is no less a miracle than being fully healed.

This is the theology of disability the church needs to adopt. The world only offers a message of shame, and to a large extent, this is what the church has offered too—except we cloak it in religious language, or we try to make it better by saying, “But you’re made in the image of God too.” Too? Oh, thanks for making room for me. No. People with disabilities are made in the image of God. Period. There is no too.

The perspective of a person with a disability is needed and valuable. Back in seminary, I brought my disability into a couple of sermons. Later, someone said to me, “It wasn’t really necessary for you to talk about your CP. You make it sound like that’s all you ever think about.” I was taken aback and felt a split second of shame and doubt. But disability is the filter through which I view the world. As much as someone (or I) might like, I cannot get away from it. This classmate was in no way mean-spirited, but he made me realize that some find my CP uncomfortable and would rather pretend it doesn’t exist or influence my life in any way. In that instance, I heard that my perspective wasn’t important and didn’t matter.

People with disabilities are not going away anytime soon. In fact, with the aging of the population and the rise (and associated risk) of multiple births, they are increasing in number. The church must reexamine its theology of disability, and then must use that theology to do a better job of connecting the worlds of the able-bodied and the disabled. The GCDM is a step in that direction. I applaud WTS for this important new program.

-Jill VandeZande ‘10

Campus Staff Minister

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

Bakersfield College, CA

Ridder Church Renewal (RCR) is in its seventh year, and 96 churches are involved right now—that’s 63 Reformed Church in America churches and 33 Christian Reformed Church in North America churches. Beginning with 15 churches in 2008, Ridder Church Renewal has added more churches with each two year cycle. To date, 129 churches have taken part in the process. RCR has gained momentum in both the U.S. and Canada and has expanded into a Pacific NW region and the “Heartland region” in Iowa, Nebraska, the Dakotas, and Minnesota.

The Ridder movement is a partnership of Western Theological Seminary, the Christian Reformed Church, and the Reformed Church in America. It aims to help churches and their leaders move into more vibrant mission and life as a congregation.

This year marks the start of a new module cycle in Ridder. Churches beginning Module 1 are sending their pastors to their first Faithwalking retreat, where they will delve into what it means to be in mission for God with integrity, authenticity, love, and courage.

“A lot of what we tend to see in the first module is transformation in the lives of pastors. Then, as it goes on, churches begin to help their members see how God is calling them to their own ministries in their community,” says Chris DeVos, who directs Ridder Church Renewal at WTS.

Pastors entering Module 2 will also participate in the Faithwalking retreat, and many are bringing stories with them of how Ridder has impacted their lives over the last two years.

“The stories from pastors are the most impactful,” says Trisha Taylor, one of the co-founders of Faithwalking.

One pastor told her, “I wouldn’t still be in the pastorate if it wasn’t for Ridder, and I definitely wouldn’t still be in my church if it wasn’t for Ridder.”

“I regularly hear ‘I am a different person; I am a different pastor; I am a different father or mother; I’m a different partner to my spouse,’” she shares.

Jack Tacoma, ministry specialist for the Christian Reformed Church, has been involved in church renewal for the past 20 years, and he says Ridder is the best process he has ever used.

He believes that part of the reason RCR is so successful is that it is self-sustaining. As pastors go through the process, they tell their colleagues at other churches about it. Then as they move deeper into the process, they become coaches and mentors for the newer people.

“It’s really a movement,” says Chris DeVos. “We emphasize the fact that it’s not a packaged program. It is a process of transformation for pastors and churches.”

Trisha Taylor web“For me, the best part of Ridder is the stories. They’re not sensational, but they’re deep and they reflect the kind of change that has staying power—the kind that doesn’t end when a retreat or a module has ended. In the Ridder process I see pastors growing in their maturity, congregations growing in their openness to change and to engage the world as it is and not as it used to be—and that gives me a great deal of hope. I believe that we’re nourishing the ground that the future leaders are going to come from.”

—Trisha Taylor, Counselor, Co-author of The Leader’s Journey: Accepting the Call to Personal Congregational Transformation




Ryan Braam web“Recognizing that in the person of Jesus Christ, all my sins past, present and future are forgiven has enabled me to see where God is gently exposing sin so that I can repent from it and move forward. Ridder has really gotten me to a place of joy and freedom in which I can leave shame behind and just move forward in learning.”

—Ryan Braam, Pastor at Brighton Fellowship Christian Reformed Church, Brighton, Ontario, Canada






Andrew Nunn web“I really sensed a call through this process to engage my neighborhood. I’ve had deep and meaningful conversations with my neighbors. One family was sending a member to drug rehab and they asked my wife and me to come over and pray with them. If I hadn’t been attuned to that movement of the Spirit and the mission of God in the world, I would have missed some of the most meaningful ministry.”

—Andrew Nunn, Youth Pastor at Bethel Christian Reformed Church, Acton, Ontario, Canada






Pete Burrill web“The authenticity piece has been important for me. My family went through a significant trauma where my son…he took his own life. The work that Christ had done in me through Ridder really forced me to see ‘I can’t keep this back. I can’t not let the people know what’s happening.’ And the response of the people was just incredible. It was really overwhelming, to say the least.”

—Pete Burrill, Pastor at Emmanuel Reformed Church (RCA), Woodstock, Ontario, Canada






Barb Boss web“Because I’m striving to be authentic, I can help grow and nurture that culture in our congregation. I just feel so much more full now, so much more fully alive. It’s like I’m living into this and taking little baby steps to be the person that God created me to be. There are times at home when I know my cup runs over…but when I’m here [at Faithwalking] I just feel like ‘surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.’ That becomes real to me.”

—Barb Boss, Pastor at Family of God Community Church (RCA), Newaygo, MI





Jack Tacoma web“One of the reasons why Ridder is as crucial as it is, is that this process recognizes that God has already placed the leaders in every church. This is a snowballing process that’s not dependent on some out-of-town person to come in and fix the leaders, but it instead uses what’s already there. Ridder is helping them discover that they can be torchbearers for hope. It’s by bringing their best selves to the job—not by pretending they’re Billy Graham—but by bringing the person that God designed them to be.”

—Jack Tacoma, Ministry Specialist in Church Renewal for the Christian Reformed Church

At WTS each student is matched with an internship site where they can learn, grow, and experience what real-life ministry is like. We partner with a variety of churches and ministries to make sure our students’ unique gifts are being cultivated. Listen to these four students talk about their internships.

Rev. Dr. Dynna Castillo Portugal’s path to ministry began in an unexpected place: computer science engineering. She also has a masters degree in human development and worked as a computer programmer, website developer, database manager and an A/V technician.

Her interest turned to theology largely from the influence of her family over the years. Her grandfather was a church planter who started over 50 churches. Her father is the senior pastor of her home church in Mexico City, Mexico, and her mother serves beside him as a great example of courage and strength.

“From my dad I learned how to be patient and engaged in ministry. I really admire his strong faith,” she says. “From my mom I learned to be fully committed and disciplined. I’m inspired by their testimony.”

In 2002 Dynna came to the States to study at Bethel Seminary, where she received an M.A. in Theological Studies. After that she earned a diploma in choir conducting. She gained experience as a church leader in a Free Methodist church in Minnesota, and in 2007 she was ordained as an associate pastor at Templo Evangélico Gethsemaní in Mexico City.

“Families in my home church are struggling with domestic violence, and in my experience as a pastor there, we have not provided the care these victims need,” she explains. “It was difficult for me to work on my dissertation because violence is a sad reality for many families in Mexico. At the same time, I felt that God was talking to me and comforting me. It was a spiritual journey much more than a thesis.”

Dr. Castillo Portugal hopes to translate her thesis into Spanish to become a resource to leaders in her home church as well as in Latin America.

As a faculty fellow at Western, she is teaching the introductory course, “Practice of Counsel and Care.”

Many of the distance learning students are heavily involved in their own ministries, so they have many questions and concerns from their own contexts.

“It’s a constant learning, and that’s what makes me feel energized,” she shares.

She also believes that pastoral care is not just the ministry of the church leaders, but also of the congregation.

“It is sharing both in sorrow and joy,” she said. “When the church is active in the world, pastoral care and counseling is part of the ministry that the church offers to those in need.”

Duane Loynes describes himself first and foremost as a family man—husband to Ericka and father to 12-year-old Duane, Jr.—but he is also a scholar at heart.

Growing up with a mother who made sure he got the best education possible, Duane pursued a degree in engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology in his home state of New Jersey. He quickly realized he hated it.

“One day I looked at my bookshelf and saw that all the books I was reading for fun dealt with theology, philosophy, and religion,” he says.

He left Stevens, packed his bags and headed to Chicago. There he worked in the IT department of Wheaton College while finishing a BA in Communication and Organizational Leadership at Trinity International University.

Eleven days after graduation he began taking graduate courses at Wheaton, earning his MA in theology in 2005. Two years later, he earned an MA in philosophy from Northern Illinois University.

Duane is now in a doctoral program at Marquette University, working on his dissertation. He is examining the way Christian theology makes space for racism—for instance, the KKK uses the Christian cross as its symbol, yet for some reason people are not scandalized by that. He is delving into the philosophical foundations for the way Christians engage the world, including issues of apologetics, atheism, gender, and race.

Yet, at the end of the day, the most important thing to Duane is his family.

“I wasn’t raised by a father, so when I get to heaven I don’t want God to say, ‘You were a great scholar, great pastor, great student…but you weren’t there for your son.’ Being a father is very important to me.”

As a faculty fellow at Western, Duane will teach a class in the spring as well as serve on the Master of Theology committee and work on diversity initiatives.

“I love teaching. I try to drum up interest in the subject and get everyone to see why it’s important,” he shares. “I’d love to teach a course on apologetics to make sure that when our students encounter people who challenge the Christian faith, they will have up-to-date defenses for why they believe what they believe.”

In his work with Dr. Theresa Latini, Associate Dean of Diversity and Cultural Competency, Duane hopes to see WTS take leaps and bounds in cultural competency.

“I would love to see a change in the way we view diversity and cultural competence,” he says. “I’d like it to be addressed not just in terms of ‘being nice’ to different people, but penetrating to the core of who we are. We’re looking to change not just people’s behaviors, but the DNA or genetic code of the institution.”

by Wendell Karsen, ’63 (Th.M. Director, 2001-2006)

In August of 2003, Barna Szabolcs Kali arrived at Western Theological Seminary from the Hungarian Reformed Church in Romania to participate in the Master of Theology (Th.M.) program. Blessed with a gregarious and warm personality and a keen mind, he soon blossomed where he had been transplanted. In May of 2004, he received his Th.M. degree. Then it was farewell and back to Romania.

Eleven years later in July of this year, my wife Renske and I had the wonderful privilege of visiting Barna and his wife, Tunde—now blessed with three girls, Anna, Rebeka and Sara. Barna and Tunde, both ordained pastors in the Hungarian Reformed Church, currently serve two parishes each in northern Romania:  Tunde in the village of Mazőméhes and Barna on the edge of a small town named Ludus. They have been a great force for good and for God there. The four congregations, though small and poor, are flourishing, and the Kalis have been involved in several projects to improve the lives of the people in their communities. Barna also serves as the regional director of youth work and runs pastoral training programs.

Barna preaching.JPGBarna is not only a preacher, but is also of necessity a farmer. Since their congregations can only pay the Kalis the equivalent of $350 a month, they need to put their own home grown food on the table. Fortunately, the land around their manse provides enough space for them to raise chickens, rabbits, turkeys and bees. They have a large vegetable and flower garden and a small orchard with a variety of fruit. The Kalis bake their own bread from home grown flour and can a variety of delicious food to tide them over the winter. Honey from the bees is used to barter for additional supplies. They are not only blooming where they are planted, they are planting a lot of things that bloom!

Barna has an idea a minute of how to enhance their ministry and provide for needs, while Tunde keeps their family ship on a steady course. Barna’s latest project is to raise money to purchase a maxi-van. A number of people in their congregations are elderly and must walk long distances over rough terrain to get to church. Barna’s goal is to provide transport for these faithful parishioners.

During the four delightful days we spent with the Kali family, Renske and I had a great introduction to the province of Transylvania (transferred from Hungary to Romania at the end of WWI), to the complex post-communist political scene there, and to the Hungarian Reformed Church’s ministry in Romania (established in the 16th century with over 700,000 members today).

Upon taking our leave of the Kalis, two thoughts crossed my mind. The first was that through its Master of Theology graduates, Western Theological Seminary has made a significant impact in a number of countries around the world. The second was a question: How many American seminary grads would rise to the occasion if they were called to minister in a locale that would pay them $350 a month and where they would need to raise chickens, turkeys, rabbits and bees, bake their own bread, and harvest their own fruit and vegetables? The beauty of the Th.M. program is that Western is not only blessed to be able to enhance the ministry skills of our brothers and sisters abroad, but that the WTS community can also learn a great deal from them about dedication and discipleship right here at home.



Western’s 2015-16 Master of Theology students are from India, Azerbaijan, South Korea, North America, China and Uganda. Learn more about our Th.M. program.

November’s Bast Preaching Festival is quickly approaching, and so is the opportunity to join a preaching peer group.  Dwell Groups are designed for pastors and preachers to gather together and encourage one another to dig into the craft of preaching. They kick-off at the Bast Preaching Festival on November 9-10 and run for a full year until the next festival. If you’re interested in joining a group, please visit for more info.

Conversations with 3x Nobel Peace Prize Nominee
Archbishop Elias Chacour

Thursday, September 17, 2015

We belong to the land by elias chacour.jpgblood brothers book by elias chacour-2013.jpgElias Chacour is the retired Archibishop of Galilee in the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. Father Chacour is known for his efforts to promote reconciliation between Arabs and Israelis. In Blood Brothers, he tells his own and his people’s story that continues to inform present-day Israel.

He is the founder of the Mar Elias Educational Institutions, K-12 (3,000 Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Druze faculty and students) in Ibillin.

He describes himself as a Palestinian-Arab-Christian-Israeli.

Come and learn what this complicated identity means, how it is even possible in a time like ours, and what Father Chacour’s vision of peace entails.

Western Theological Seminary promotes hearing, discussing and pondering viewpoints across the spectrum of public opinion on complex issues.



Presentation at Hope College

Graves Hall 263 College Ave, Holland, MI



Community Presentation at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church

195 W. 13th St., Holland, MI


Sponsored by:

Kairos West Michigan

Western Theological Seminary

First United Methodist Church, Peace with Justice Committee

Hope Church, Holland

Third Reformed Church, Holland


For more information, contact the Rev. John Kleinheksel at 616.994.0187

Every student at WTS has the opportunity to test themselves out in a real-life ministry setting through an internship. For M.Div. student Karen Vande Bunte, this meant leaving her home and family business in Michigan behind and spending her summer months in a little town near Thousand Islands, NY.  Karen acted as a co-pastor where she got to preach, counsel, and pray with church members. Hear what it was like to pastor a small church and experience a new, beautiful part of God’s creation.