Sow, Grow, Send – a vision for theological education around the world

Jamie Read

Your mobile phone buzzes as another text comes in. 

This time it’s not a friend checking in. This message only comes once every year. It reads:

‘Dear alumni, greetings from UMS! Our ALUMNI CONFERENCE will be Monday 7th to Friday 11th Jan 2019. It will be a great time of refreshment, teaching and fellowship…The first 70 who reply will get a place, so don’t delay! The conference is free…’

And so began the build up to the eighth Alumni Conference at Uganda Martyrs Seminary, Namagongo (UMSN). Within 24 hours of the text message going out, every place is filled – joy for 70, a waiting list for 20, disappointment for many more. 

Such is the appetite at UMSN to grow faithful preachers of God’s word. Crosslinks’ partnership with the seminary began in 2011 with the first Crosslinks School of Biblical Training (SBT). Back then, a handful of former students returned to Namagongo for a preacher’s refresher conference. 

Now the demand is so great that Crosslinks mission partners Chris and Ros Howles are fully occupied with the logistics of the conference, along with the principal and a team of eight from the UK and beyond.

2019 was no exception. Each day began with the rapturous acapella harmonies of 80 voices singing God’s praise, followed by ‘sermons for pastors’ based on 1 Peter 5. The remainder of each morning was spent studying Philippians, along with various preaching tools to help the preacher get to the heart of the text.

Small gatherings in the afternoon enabled alumni share encouragements and challenges over recent months. Honesty about pastoral situations and sermon preparation, followed by stories of dogged perseverance and faithfulness amongst clergy in tough parishes. The Alumni Conference is a life-line for these men and women.

Take Peter Henry Otyang for example. Tucked away in the diocese of North Karamoja, among north eastern Karamojong pastoralists, he is the only clergyman in a parish the size of Oxford. He visits parishioners along miles of untarred roads, on foot or borrowed motorbikes. Then he heads home to his small thatched-hut ‘vicarage’. As he shared his hopes and dreams for the ministry, he also laid down a challenge for his fellow-ministers to join him:

  • No team ministry, just a handful of eager, young lay-readers. 
  • No study, just a respectable space for growing vegetables and generating a small income. 

Wonderfully, Peter Henry is stubbornly committed to ministry in his parish. But he also sees it as a mission frontier, telling me, ‘I did not come to Karenga parish because the bishop moved me, I came here because Jesus said “go and make disciples of every tongue, tribe and nation.”’

The ambition of the teaching staff at UMSN is to develop this kind of missional mind-set at the heart of its training. As a minister comes to see that God’s mission is more than an annual door-to-door outreach week, so the local church will grasp its role to send out, as well as draw in.

Another pastor, Rev. David Isabirye was able to study for a bachelor’s degree in theology courtesy of a bursary given through Crosslinks. During this time he sensed a call to a rural parish in Busoga, eastern Uganda. Again, a missional mind-set led to action. David explained how as the minister he has been able to equip many in the congregations to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This snap-shot from a gathering of pastors in one small region of the world explains why Crosslinks is committed to helping train another generation of faithful, passionate and mission-minded ministers, in their own context, for mission to the world. 

This year we want to expand our bursary programme, urging churches and individuals to partner with a minister-in-training. But we need your help. Three things lie at the heart of the vision:

  1. A commitment to SOW. By supporting a study partner you have the opportunity to sow seeds that under God will yield a great harvest as the gospel takes root in the lives of many students training for ministry. The fruit might not be immediately obvious, but there is every chance a student you support will come back to their sixth or seventh alumni preaching conference in years to come.
  2. A commitment to GROW. As the stories above show, Crosslinks mission partners are committed to nurture growth started in training. One pastor described the alumni conference as, ‘like a petrol station. We are running low on fuel, and we come and get filled up, so that we can go out and fill others up’. Many of the study partners Crosslinks support keep in close contact with our mission partners after completing their studies. More often than not this is where the real fruit of gospel ministry is seen.
  3. A commitment to SEND. Jesus makes it clear that the central priority in discipleship (Luke 9:57-62) is to send out workers into the harvest field (Luke 10:1-3). We sow deep. We grow up. Then we send out. This is the pattern of the Lord Jesus Christ and it is our desire to see students, sponsored through training, taking the gospel not just to the frontiers of Uganda but to every continent.

A small gift towards our study partner scheme in 2019 will enable God’s Word to impact the lives of over 50 students in training. 

Why not play your part – sow deep, to grow up, in order that many would be sent out.