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Now is still the time

Twenty years after it opened, Asia Lutheran Seminary continues to train national pastors and evangelists, now expanding to cover all of Asia.

It was the right time. On May 29, 2005, Dr. John Lawrenz preached the opening sermon at Asia Lutheran Seminary (ALS). His theme was “Now is the time.”

Opening a regional seminary

Three years earlier, WELS World Missions had commissioned a committee to create a proposal for reaching East Asia with the gospel. “Now is the time,” they reported, quoting 2 Corinthians 6:1,2: “As God’s coworkers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says, ‘In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.’ I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (emphasis added). With the understanding that the best way to reach unbelievers in the Chinese-speaking world would be to train Chinese Christians as pastors and evangelists, the committee presented a proposal for a regional seminary that would serve Hong Kong, Taiwan, and East Asia. The seminary, located in Hong Kong, would train new workers for Hong Kong and Taiwan for the pastoral ministry, deepen the biblical and doctrinal knowledge of the present national workers in Hong Kong, train evangelists for outreach in East Asia, and prepare sound materials in Chinese for use around the world.

God provided the right men at the right time.

Titus Tse, a pastor and the chairman of the church body in Hong Kong: South Asia Lutheran Evangelical Mission (SALEM), knew firsthand the importance of SALEM leaders receiving consistent Bible-based training. For Tse, Asia Lutheran Seminary would be a vital partner in providing that training and bringing the church into formal fellowship with WELS and membership in the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference.

With their combined decades of mission experience, WELS missionaries Gary Schroeder, Rob Siirila, and Mark Sprengeler built on the foundation of previous missionaries and visiting instructors. These men provided the language, culture, and relational gifts needed for the work of establishing a Lutheran church on Asian soil.

Then, in 2004, Lawrenz joined as the first president of Asia Lutheran Seminary. Soon classes were being prepared, materials translated, and students recruited. It was the right time.

Asian pastors
Left: Angus Cheung, a Hong Kong national pastor, serves as a professor and the academic dean at Asia Lutheran Seminary. Right: Part of the current faculty at Asia Lutheran Seminary: (left to right) Jon Bare, president; Angus Cheung, academic dean; Guy Marquardt, director of the Regional Theological Education Program; and Timothy Matthies, dean of students.

Equipping national leaders

Twenty years have passed. The history can be seen on the walls of one of the classrooms at Asia Lutheran Seminary.

One wall is covered with the pictures of former presidents and professors—John Lawrenz, Steve Witte, Rob Siirila, Glen Thompson, Mike Smith, Mateusz Oseka, and Aaron West.

A second wall is covered with pictures of visiting instructors—too many to list here. The teaching of these men shaped the seminary—and the students who came through it.

On a third wall, you will find a picture of the current faculty—none of whom were on the scene in 2005. You’ll notice a few things that will cause you to linger a bit and say a prayer of thanksgiving. Angus Cheung, a Hong Kong national pastor and member of SALEM, now serves as professor and academic dean. Nearly all of the adjunct instructors are national pastors from SALEM or East Asia—ALS graduates who are now fully equipped to serve as confessional Lutheran teachers. There’s an extra picture frame that hasn’t even been hung yet. That’s because plans are in the works to call an additional national professor.

As you venture into the school’s office, you’ll also notice another change. Only two of the six faculty members are based in Hong Kong. Three (including myself, the president) live in Thailand, and one is currently relocating to Australia. As a proactive response to the changing political scene in Hong Kong, a secondary hub for the work of Asia Lutheran Seminary is being established in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Training Chinese speakers around the world

That’s just part of the story, however. The time is still now—and God is doing something big.

Cultural and political changes have meant changes for our churches in Hong Kong and East Asia. Tse estimates that nearly one-third of SALEM’s members have emigrated—many of those to Australia, New Zealand, and England. Leaving East Asia and Hong Kong, the Chinese-speaking diaspora is now spread across Asia and the world more than ever before.

For Tse and the leaders of SALEM, this is an opportunity. It is for Asia Lutheran Seminary as well—17 of its certificate-level students currently live in New Zealand. Asia Lutheran Seminary is now serving Chinese-speaking students on four continents.

Online recruitment is now strategically poised to recruit students from across the world. Having teaching hubs in Hong Kong and Chiang Mai allows Asia Lutheran Seminary to serve Chinese-speakers throughout Asia and around the world effectively.

Asia Lutheran Seminary graduating class 2016
Left: Some of the graduates from Asia Lutheran Seminary’s programs in 2016. Right: Missionary Robert Siirila and Titus Tse, chairman of WELS’ sister church in Hong Kong, were key players in the development and growth of Asia Lutheran Seminary.

Serving all of Asia

But it’s more than just that. Now is still the time for reaching all of Asia, not just the Chinese-speaking world. In January 2023, WELS World Missions strategically merged the missionaries serving across Asia into one team: the Asia One Team. Its vision? Bringing “Grace to all in Asia.” Asia Lutheran Seminary was tasked with becoming a regional seminary for Asia, centralizing work formerly carried out by individual missionaries for specific countries and programs.

To accomplish this, a new branch was created: the Regional Theological Education Program. Guy Marquardt, who had been serving as a friendly counselor to India, now serves as the program’s director and an ALS professor. Purposefully based out of the Chiang Mai office, the Regional Theological Education Program partners with sister churches and Asia One Team-provided seminary programs throughout Asia to provide continuity through consultation, curriculum, materials, and visiting instructors. Where possible, the program seeks to serve as an on-ramp into Asia Lutheran Seminary’s mainstream certificate and degree programs for students across Asia.

One such on-ramp is already in the works. English-speaking leaders and graduates from local programs throughout Asia are interested in continuing education. To accommodate this need, Asia Lutheran Seminary is making plans for the start of an English-language degree program that will further equip them to serve in their own churches and training programs.

As this English program develops, Asia Lutheran Seminary is also exploring a partnership with Multi-Language Production’s TELL program, which provides an in-depth, online Bible study curriculum to train leaders. Integrating TELL into Asia Lutheran Seminary would expand its certificate-level recruitment and training to English-speakers throughout Asia. Students who finish the TELL certificate-level training will be well equipped to lead local groups and progress into the degree-level program of the seminary.

What God will do through Asia Lutheran Seminary may only be fully realized when we look back in another 20 years. But one thing is already clear: Now is still the time. The work of the past 20 years has created a foundation for the years ahead. Asia Lutheran Seminary is an accredited and recognized seminary in Asia. It still carries the simple understanding presented in the 2002 proposal—the best way to reach unbelievers in East Asia will be to train local Christians as pastors and evangelists—but now expands it to all of Asia.

Looking forward, I would like to add a sentence that has always been an understood value of ALS: The best teachers will be local leaders who are fully equipped to serve as confessional Lutheran instructors and professors. There’s room for more picture frames on the classroom wall.

“I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” Now is still the time.

Author: Jonathan Bare
Volume 111, Number 06
Issue: June 2024

A powerful message

Marzan Venus, a Lutheran leader in the Philippines, shares, “As a child, I understood the gospel because our pastor preached about repentance, the love of Christ, and forgiveness—that Christ gave himself for us. Early on, I understood that because of my pastor. At first, I thought that my pastor was Jesus. But then I understood later—oh, he’s really a servant of Christ, because I see Christ through him. That made an awesome impression. And it really sank in; that teaching, that message, is powerful.”

Asian man leading bible study
Marzan Venus leading worship and a Bible study in his home in the Philippines. Marzan soon will graduate from Asia Lutheran Seminary through the Regional Theological Education Program.

Years later, and now accompanied by his wife and three kids in Davao City, Marzan is on the cusp of graduating from Asia Lutheran Seminary through its Regional Theological Education Program. He too will preach that message that is so powerful. God willing, in addition to his local mission start, Marzan will also have opportunities to be involved in training leaders in the Philippines through Asia Lutheran Seminary’s use of the TELL program. He hopes to give clarity to those living in his city and beyond so that they see what he saw—not the face of a pastor but the face of Jesus.

Learn more about Marzan and the Regional Theological Education Program in this month’s WELS Connection.

Justin Steinke is a missionary on the Asia One Team. He is based in the Philippines.


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