Baptists Collaborate for Ecumenical Education in Zimbabwe
By Tracy Hartman
With theological education characterized by “reverence or biblical authority and respect for open inquiry and responsible scholarship” as one of its core commitments, Alliance of Baptists members voted in 1989 to give birth to Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, the first moderate Baptist seminary formed after the fundamentalist takeover of Southern Baptist Convention seminaries.
Now, more than 20 years later and for the same reason, the Alliance is helping give birth to the Zimbabwe Theological Seminary in Gweru, Zimbabwe.
Baptist in heritage but ecumenical in practice, ZTS is a community of learners committed to spiritual formation and excellence in scholarship. Working from global and inclusive perspectives, they strive to train men and women for the various ministries of the Church in Southern Africa and beyond.
Many challenges exist in beginning any new school, but the seminary’s work is compounded by the ongoing economic crisis in Zimbabwe. Last summer, seminary leaders reached out worldwide for help. The overwhelming response to that request is a testimony to the power of collaboration and cooperation.
Here in the United States, a group committed to the new seminary began teleconference meetings last summer to coordinate support efforts. Chris Caldwell, pastor of Broadway Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., provided the phone bridge and early leadership in the conversations. Participants included Mary Andreolli and Paula Clayton Dempsey from the Alliance, David Goatley and Dawn Sanders from the Lott Carey Missionary Convention, Ron Crawford, Tom Graves and Tracy Hartman from Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, and Kerry Smith of Bartlett, Tenn.
The Alliance and the Lott Carey Convention were already sending funds to the seminary on a regular basis. In addition to securing other sources of funding, the group chose to focus on securing books for the seminary library and helping the school develop and launch a website.
Beginning with a book list provided by the seminary, team members emailed colleagues and friends across the country for assistance. Kerry Smith pointed the group toward the Montgomery Community Church Used Book Depository, a ministry of Montgomery Community Church in Cincinnati that coordinates the shipment of books to individuals and organizations overseas. Some donors gave books from their personal libraries; others purchased books and donated them to the new school.
Renowned spirituality and church history professor Glen Hinson heard about the need. Even though he admitted, “It is not easy even at age 80 to part with things you have cherished much of your life,” Glen elected to donate his entire library. To date he has filled 92 boxes, and he estimates he will send 50 more.
When the seminary requested Bibles, students at BTSR and the library at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond donated more than 75 Bibles. Under the direction of Pollyanna Sedziol and the crew at the Used Book Depository, these books have been collected, re-packaged, posted and shipped halfway around the world.
The committee quickly determined that fundraising was needed to help offset the cost of shipping—$3.50 per pound, and more than $13,000 to date—so they began to recruit others to adopt this cause as a mission project. Currently individuals, schools, Sunday School classes and vacation bible school programs in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and Kentucky have pledged their support. If you or your organization would like to help, contact Tracy Hartman at firstname.lastname@example.org for information on where to send your donation.
Collaboration continued with work on the new seminary website. A former BTSR student donated her time to design a new logo for the seminary. Colleagues at the Lott Carey Convention volunteered to host the website and called on their webmaster to design, launch and maintain the site, http://www.zimsem.org.
Now that the website is up and running, the support team has turned their attention to networking and fundraising on behalf of the seminary. David Goatley at Lott Carey has convened a planning team of African American Southern Seminary alumni. By September, they hope to have graduates participate in a collective contribution.
Henry Mugabe, one of the Zimbabwean nationals instrumental in the new work, will be in the U.S. this summer. If you are interested in hosting him as a speaker, contact Dawn Sanders at email@example.com.
In addition to collaboration here, help is coming from other points across the globe. The Italian Baptists, long-term partners of Zimbabwean Baptists, have pledged support for the new school. In Zimbabwe, the new seminary is partnering with a major university to gain accreditation and national standing.