Women & Theology: Discipleship in South Asia
“So… if God clothed Adam and Eve with skins, he had to kill that animal. That must have been the first sacrifice. Does that mean Jesus was the last sacrifice?”
“The story of Abraham [and Isaac] is not about Abraham’s wonderful faith. It is really about the Creator’s love and faithfulness.”
“Before the WDP [Women’s Discipleship Program], we were like dry branches. Now, we are full of leaves.”
While I was in seminary, an opportunity arose for me to serve in South Asia for a summer. My denominational missions organization was involved with training men to pastor church plants in rural villages. They quickly learned that most of the members of these small congregations are women, and because of cultural stigmas, the women were not encouraged to study, learn, and grow in their faith. The organization invited me to do some research on how we could teach and encourage these women. Coming from a South Asian background, I was thrilled about the opportunity to use my education in a country dear to my heart.
As I prepared to go overseas that summer, my professors supported and encouraged me in ways I did not expect. Many gave me opportunities to pursue further studies about the history of missions in South Asia and women on the mission field. I even had the chance to develop a discipleship curriculum for South Asian women, and I was eager to test it out. When I finally arrived and spent time with those women, however, my research revealed that my curriculum prototype was entirely unusable. The content was too heavy, it was poorly organized, and it certainly would not survive translation, among other mistakes. But seminary gave me the opportunity to make those mistakes under the guidance of extremely patient and wise pastor-scholars. I’m glad they did not let me give up so easily.
As my education continued, I learned that historically, new church member candidates began their study by learning the Apostles’ Creed. Eventually, I rearranged my inadequate materials and developed what is now known as the “Women’s Discipleship Program,” a curriculum based on the Apostles' Creed that covers the basic idea of redemptive history. The program was tested in South Asia during the summer of 2012 and is still being used to train women today. The Lord has made it tremendously successful, and I praise him for his kindness.
The quotes above are from the first group of women who attended the program. Each of them completed the program with a certificate of training. In an honor and shame culture marked by oppressive patriarchy, receiving a certificate of achievement is so much more than getting a piece of paper. That certificate symbolizes her ability to learn, qualifies her to teach, and gives her confidence to do these things. In fact, a year after the program, I returned to South Asia and learned that one young lady who attended the program now teaches over 200 women in local churches. Although she was shy and didn’t like to speak in front of people, what she learned through the WDP and the certificate she received empowered her to share the gospel and the story of Scripture with all those around her.
Actually, what the WDP did for this woman is exactly what seminary did for me. Through seminary, the Lord gave me the tools to write, the confidence to teach, and the theological education that would change my life forever. It’s more than just a degree. My professors invested in me, and the Lord used my education to influence pockets of new believers in South Asia. Together, both my training and my experiences abroad have helped me understand a truth that crosses all cultures: All Christians, including women, will benefit from the study of theology, no matter how formal. But if you do have a chance to go to seminary, do it. You won’t regret it. I know I never will.
Sherrene DeLong graduated from WSC in 2011 with a Master of Arts degree in Theological Studies. She is married to Matthew DeLong (M.Div 2010), and they are excited to begin working with international students through RUF International at Auburn University later this year. Sherrene enjoys playing with her dog, Bhindi, and brewing the perfect cup of cardamom chai.
This post is part of our Wednesday series on Women & Theology. You can see all previous posts here: http://wscal.edu/blog/category/women-theology-series. If you are thinking about seminary, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to talk with you!