French Course of Study Opens Ministry Training
United Methodist pastors are now being trained in Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal, Cameroon, France, Switzerland, and in the Haitian community in Florida using the French Course of Study, a project begun in 2005.
“For Tanzania, Burundi, and Rwanda, the trainers still have to be educated to use the program. As the situation develops, we will probably also introduce it in Algeria in Northern Africa,” said Bishop Patrick Streiff, who worked with the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry and the General Board of Global Ministries in convening the group that eventually drafted the Course of Study for training pastors in French-speaking areas.
The Rev. Rena Yocom, GBHEM’s Assistant General Secretary for Clergy Formation and Theological Education, said the four-year course is structured like the English program, but takes into account the local issues in the country where the pastors are being trained. Students study Bible, historical theology, Wesleyan doctrine, and practical theology— worship, including weddings and funerals, evangelism, and more. “The study materials can be sent electronically to each episcopal area, and they can print out what they need,” she added.
Money from the $2 million Africa Theological Education Initiative, approved by General Conference 2008, was used to fund training of those who will go back to their home countries and train others to use the Course of Study in educating pastors. GBHEM, GBGM, and United Methodist Communications were charged with funding and overseeing that initiative. And the General Board of Discipleship is working to set up publishing groups in Africa.
“This is really an affirmation of those who serve the church in pastoral ministry without benefit of formal theological training or ordination,” Yocom said.
The Rev. Mande Muyumbo, director of Kamina Methodist University in the North Katanga Episcopal Area of the Democratic Republic of Congo, said the completion of the Course of Study for French-speaking United Methodists is important for the growth of the church.
“With the support of GBHEM, the Francophone group has been able to a produce some materials which will equip many lay preachers who are responding to the growth of the French-speaking United Methodist Church in the world. This is a significant step toward developing leaders who will transform the world," Muyumbo said.
French is the second most frequently spoken language among United Methodists. Only English is more widespread.
“They wrote original material; it isn’t translated from English,” Yocom said. GBHEM and GBGM supported the efforts of a team of African and European pastors and teachers who worked on the material. And the General Board of Discipleship is working on publishing partnerships in each conference so that affordable resources needed to lead well and form Christians in the United Methodist way can be developed that are appropriate to language and culture.
“The course includes opportunities for discussing burning local issues the pastors will face,” Yocom said. “We don’t have any concept of what they are wrestling with.” Yocom said some local issues include dowries, remarriage, women’s attire in Muslim countries, HIV/AIDS, and polygamy, as well as indigenous religions.
The first group of five pastors trained using the new material graduated in Paris this year, Yocom said.
Streiff said completion of the French Course of Study means local pastors will have a chance to get adequate theological training for their ministry. “The biggest challenge remains now for annual conferences in Africa to implement the course over the coming years and to reach the local pastors in remote places where they do their pastoral ministry” he said.
Streiff said in most French-speaking countries in Africa, local pastors have had minimal opportunity to get basic theological education. “Adequate material in French was missing as well as possibilities to go for studies to existing institutions…. The French Course of Study fills a huge vacuum,” he said.
GBOD’s Discipleship Resources International Office is working with Central Conferences in Africa, as well as the Philippines and parts of Europe, to address a perennial and debilitating lack of access to even basic UM resources for carrying out the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ.
“The goal is to have a system in place by which churches and their leaders in all Central Conferences have ‘reasonable access’ to the resources needed to lead well and form Christians in the United Methodist way,” said the Rev. Stephen Bryant, special assistant to GBOD’s General Secretary for Development of International Resources and Initiatives. “By reasonable access I mean available, affordable, and appropriate to language and culture. The greatest challenge is in Africa with its many languages and economic challenges, and with three Central Conferences.”
Publishing teams are being put in place in each of the twelve episcopal areas. “We give these publishing teams access to a large number of existing UM titles with permission to publish, while at the same time encouraging local authors for indigenous writing,” Bryant said.
*Brown is associate editor and writer, Office of Interpretation, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.