A newsletter for friends of the Global Mission Institute, Luther Seminary

Global Vision - Fall 2012

View more articles in the Fall 2012 issue.

The power of the GMI's networks opens students to new cultures, expressions of faith

by Christy Hallenbeck, M. Div. Middler

John Telyea

John Telyea, M.Div. middler, was out of his element on a Sunday morning visit to Celestial Church of Christ, a Nigerian-founded immigrant congregation that worships in St. Paul.

"Whatever the Spirit moved them to do, they did," said Telyea of the congregation's charismatic worship style. "If you felt the Spirit was calling you to lay in the middle of the aisle or speak in tongues, you did your thing."

Telyea worshiped at Celestial as a student in African Traditional Religions, the Mission II course offered during the summer 2012 term at Luther Seminary. Telyea was connected to Celestial by tapping into the networks of the Global Mission Institute, networks that exist thanks to a former director's interest and research on local African immigrant congregations.

"The power of the GMI's networks, in both experiential and theoretical form, helped set the stage for necessary conversations about God's mission in today's world," said President Richard Bliese. He taught the course with Falres Ilomo, a scholar from Tanzania who served as the 2011-2012 Visiting Schiotz Professor, a fellowship coordinated by the GMI.

Though at times Telyea felt uncomfortable amidst such unfamiliar expressions of faith, he acknowledges the profound theological learning of the encounter. "This is how this group experiences the divine mystery of God," he said.

Such insight is a primary goal of the course. "It's asking the mission question within the world of many cultures," Bliese said, which included conversations among the instructors, teaching assistants and students from both African and European-American cultural backgrounds. "There's this really rich back and forth."

Mutual Learning

Nkiruka Okafor, a second-year doctoral student and native of Nigeria, served as one of the course's teaching assistants and as a formative voice in that conversation.

"I wanted to clarify who we are as Africans and what we believe," said Okafor, whose family engages in traditional religious practices today. "I was convinced that my background could validly challenge some misconceptions about Africa."

Those challenges helped inform students from both cultural backgrounds.

"Africans come in to the course to try to get a handle on their own traditions," Bliese said. On the flip side, "Most European-American students have absolutely no clue about African traditional religions, but it fascinates them."

That mutual learning leads to a deeper understanding of the church's call in a world of differing expressions of faith.

"Globalization has knit the world into a village," Okafor said. "As the diversity of peoples and cultures increases, so the minister should be informed on the context and religions that shape the worldview of the peoples."