Inspiring others through theological education

8 Dec 2022

How does theological education change a scholar’s life? A group of students pursuing theology through LWF scholarships are documenting their unique experiences in a journal to be published in 2023.


Scholarship workshop 2022

Ms Rutendo Immaculate Gora (right), Northeastern Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Africa, and Rev. William Charles Jayaraj, Tamil Evangelical Lutheran Church (India), at the scholars’ workshop. Photo: LWF/K. Kiilunen 

Scholars compile journal on unique experiences of doing theology together in the LWF  

(LWI) – They are lay or ordained, from different world regions and churches, in diverse fields of study, but they share one passion: to see their personal journeys in theological education inspire others to answer the call to church ministry and be part of ongoing reformation in the church.  

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) recently gathered a group of 10 theology students to peer review contributions to a journal inspired by their unique experiences. At the 1-4 December workshop in Geneva, they shared how each person’s theological education has been a process of posing questions about their faith, about a just God, their roles in church and society, and as future leaders in the Lutheran communion.   

“Through my studies, I want to provoke the church to rethink its role when it comes to traditions and discipline that undermine people’s dignity,” said Rev. Witness Issa Maratu, a PhD candidate at Tumaini University Makumira in Tanzania. An ordained pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT), she is pursing Old Testament studies with a special interest on how contemporary interpretation of biblical characters “can help to transform our current situation.”  

Through my studies, I want to provoke the church to rethink its role when it comes to traditions and discipline that undermine people’s dignity

– Rev. Witness Issa Maratu, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania

Maratu said her doctorate research “was triggered by cases of girls and women being subordinated by both the African traditional cultures and Lutheran church discipline.”  As “ecclesia semper reformanda – a church always in ongoing reformation – the church’s role is not to judge people but to help us understand our sinful nature as human beings and that we are justified by God’s grace,” she added.

Scholarship workshop 2022

Rev. Witness Issa Maratu, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania. Photo: LWF/K. Kiilunen 

Awareness about diversity  

Mr Karl Michael Barría, Lutheran Church in Chile (ILCH), is an undergraduate student at Faculdades EST, the theological university of the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil (IECLB) in São Leopoldo. At the institute, “focus on liberation theology is very strong, and the concern for marginalized people has especially changed my mindset,” he said, citing the work to empower youth, promote gender justice and diaconal service. Michael said his studies have made him more aware and compassionate about experiences that connect people’s pain and suffering. It has also been about lessons learned from living alongside fellow students and working with his professors in tasks such as preparing the liturgy together, “not in a hierarchical way but in a horizontal manner,” he added.     

Ms Rutendo Immaculate Gora, who was born in Zimbabwe and lives in South Africa, where she is a member of the Northeastern Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Africa (NELCSA), is studying at the Stellenbosch University in Western Cape. Theological education and active participation in the predominantly white German-speaking NELCSA has introduced her to diverse people. “It has an impact on understanding the world through my faith; through the lens of African religion and spirituality and innovative thinking.”   

Scholarship workshop 2022

Mr Adrian Lopez, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Malaysia. Photo: LWF/K. Kiilunen 

Christian foundation 

For Mr Adrian Lopez, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Malaysia (ELCM), theology is a new career path. He had settled down as a manager in the construction sector, serving the church as a lay person, when the ELCM bishop enquired if he was interested in studying theology. It was at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic “and definitely not the time to quit my job with these uncertainties looming around”. But he was excited about the opportunity to be better equipped when serving the church and community. 

At the Seminari Theologi Malaysia, Lopez has become more aware of the need for the church to insist on theological formation from a very young age. A major focus of his education is Sunday School ministry, which he describes as an important foundation for a Christian child in a multicultural and multiracial country. The encounters with other seminarians from other backgrounds and denominations are enriching experiences. 

Scholarship workshop 2022

Participants in the theology scholars’ workshop in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo: LWF/S. Gallay

Tamil Evangelical Lutheran Church pastor Rev. William Charles Jayaraj is doing his doctoral research with the Gurukul Lutheran Theological College and Research Institute in India. He is interested in the children’s and youth ministry and how theology applies to the needs of those who are excluded in the church and society. Jayaraj hopes his research on the pneumatological (spiritual) image of God “can help the church to realize its calling to bring and accept everyone inside the church including the transgender people, the LGBTQ+ and others.”

Different themes 

Rev. Katariina Kiilunen, LWF Program Executive for Capacity Building and Leadership Development coordinates the scholarship program. It includes regular online “Coming Together” meetings of current scholars to exchange ideas, resources and innovative ideas. The journal writing project was an open invitation that was shared on the platform and in the end a group of 10 students are involved. “I am grateful for their commitment, creativity and enthusiasm and I hope their stories will serve as an inspiration for many and contribute to the global discussion on the impact of theological education in LWF member churches.”  

The other workshop participants included gender studies PhD candidate Rev. Mimii Kwerakwiza Brown Rubindamayugi (ELCT),Tumaini Makumira University; and Rev. Kagiso Harry Morudu (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa), post-graduate studies on masculinity, University of KwaZulu Natal. Mr Tristan Kruger (NELCSA) and Mr Hans-Christoph Thapelo Lange (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa- Cape Church) are undergraduate students at the Stellenbosch University, South Africa. Doctoral student Ms Kidist Bahru (Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus), is researching how the 16th century Ethiopian Orthodox Church Andǝmta Commentary of Psalms interprets questions to God in the context of grief at the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies at Anglian Ruskin University, United Kingdom. 

LWF/P. Mumia