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Global Vision - Advent 2007
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Ministry Not Their First Career Choice: African Seminary Presidents Not Where They Expected To Be
by Andy Behrendt
Both Cyril Fayose and Peter Bartimawus now serve as presidents of seminaries in Africa. But earlier in life, a career in ministry was far from their minds.
One of the last places I wanted to be was to be a minister because of the way ministers were thought of - you have to be old, you have to be bald-headed and that kind of thing - and of course because of the low status, particularly on the income level," recalls Bartimawus, who now leads Bronnum Lutheran Seminary in Nigeria.
While growing up, Bartimawus had wanted to be a lawyer. But when he was 15, a conference organized by Nigeria's Fellowship of Christian Students provided him with a conversion experience that reshaped his perspective. At that point, he says, "I knew that the best thing I could ever do in my life is to lead another person to Christ."
Fayose, president of Trinity Theological Seminary in Ghana, had been a farmer with his heart set on becoming an economist when a pastor in his hometown area in Ghana changed his course. "He says, 'You know, I think this guy is a good candidate for ministry.' And that was the beginning of my troubles," says Fayose, breaking into laughter.
Most of Fayose's family insisted that he wasn't pastor material. His mother said there were three things she didn't want any of her children to become: a pastor, a policeman or a soldier. He only agreed to become a candidate for ministry amid certainty that he wouldn't make it through the process.
"It was a long-term journey, but let me say that I have never regretted being a minister," he says. "It's the greatest thing that happened to me."
After completing his undergraduate studies in Nigeria, Bartimawus pursued his master of theology degree at New College, the divinity school of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He later studied in Göttingen, Germany, to brush up on his German.
Bartimawus was an instructor and academic dean at Bronnum for several years, meanwhile serving a congregation as an associate pastor, before coming to Luther Seminary in 1999. In 2005, he received his Ph.D. in church history. He had returned to Nigeria and to teaching at Bronnum when the seminary's provost was made a bishop and needed a successor.
"I rigged it," Bartimawus jokes before explaining that the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria's council controlled the process of handing over the seminary's leadership. "Unfortunately, they gave it to me," he says, again with a laugh.
Bartimawus began his five-year term as Bronnum provost in spring 2006. He and his wife, Fiyayina, welcomed their first child, Joshua, earlier this year.
A Trinity graduate, Fayose studied industrial psychology at the University of Ghana during his first several years as a pastor. In 1993, he came to the United States to pursue a master's in religion at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary. He spent a second year in Iowa as a clinical resident in Des Moines, where his wife, Marylinda, and the first of their four children joined him.
Fayose returned to Ghana to serve as a pastor and Trinity lecturer before coming to Luther Seminary in 1996 to pursue a Ph.D. in pastoral care and counseling. He graduated in 2001, having also spent a year as a pastor in Alexandria, Minn. He resumed teaching and pastoring in Ghana, became director of Ghana's National Counseling Center and in fall 2006 assumed Trinity's presidency.
Bartimawus notes that Luther Seminary provided him not only with exposure to a different context but also great interaction with both classmates and instructors. He also appreciates the faculty's diversity.
"What I valued most were the courses I had as independent studies - kind of deciding your future," he says.
Fayose remains grateful for the opportunity to study at Luther and for the seminary's instructors and staff. Indeed, he encouraged his longtime colleague and fellow Trinity faculty member, J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, to apply to become Luther Seminary's visiting Schiotz professor. Asamoah-Gyadu was chosen and served in the position from February to August 2007.
More than any of his other places of study, Luther taught Fayose a sense of graciousness that he has carried all the way to the president's office. "My students always say that I'm more approachable," he says. "I think I acquired that from Luther."
Further, "I think the scholarship at Luther is the best - I'm a Presbyterian, so I tell people that it's the Princeton of the Lutheran Church," Fayose says with a laugh.