The Far-Reaching Advantages of a Church-Based Seminary


A short while ago in my missions class at our extension site in Yaoundé, Cameroon, our guest lecturer was Chying Chying Zau Naw. He is a recipient of our Alex Steddom Scholarship and is a beloved member of this year’s graduating class from our Master of Divinity program. He introduced himself to our ten Cameroonian students as one who owed his conversion, humanly speaking, to the work of a missionary sent from Bethlehem in 1871 to Burma (now called Myanmar). He then shared the challenges of gospel ministry in his homeland where there is much oppression. The Cameroonian students were encouraged, as they are facing similar oppression.

As Bethlehem is in the midst of celebrating her sesquicentennial, Chying Chying’s presence (by Zoom) in the Yaoundé classroom of our church-based seminary in Cameroon filled me with fresh appreciation for what God has done and continues to do both in and through this 150-year-old mother church. What a far-reaching privilege to share these riches.

Humanly speaking, the reason that Chying Chying from the Kachin people has an opportunity to teach in a seminary in Cameroon is that another of our graduates, Pastor Dieudonné Tamfu (M.Div., 2010) from the Wimbum people, planted Eglise Baptiste Bethléem in Yaoundé. This young church is now vitally intertwined with our two-year-old extension site, where he serves as director and professor. Dr. Tamfu’s passion is to ensure that the extension site in Yaoundé is church based in a way that corresponds to what he experienced while he was with us in Minneapolis, all the while endeavoring to thoroughly contextualize the training to Cameroon.

But that’s not all. Let me list the other lecturers for my missions class to illustrate even further the advantages of having a school that is organically connected to a missions-minded local church:

  • Joe B. (M.Div., 2006) taught on loving Muslims in the Middle East;
  • René González (M.Div., 2021) taught on the growth of the church in his homeland, El Salvador, and throughout Latin America;
  • Vijay, member and global partner of Bethlehem Baptist Church, who has mentored our seminary students doing their cross-cultural internship in India, talked about church-planting among Hindu peoples in India where he is planting a church and training pastors, inspired by the church-based approach of Bethlehem College & Seminary;
  • Pastor David Livingston, who himself has taught extensively in Nigeria, next door to Cameroon, poured out his heart with tears at times as he told the stories of William Carey, Hudson Taylor, and Cameron Townsend;
  • Moise Yanto, Cameroonian Bible translator, who partnered for many years with Bethlehem’s 50-year Wycliffe missionary, Steve Anderson, taught on the pastor’s role in Bible translation;
  • Darren Carlson, founder and president of Bethlehem-birthed Training Leaders International, shared about his award-winning documentary on Christians reaching out to the immigrants pouring into Athens;
  • Joann Pittman, who served through Bethlehem in China for three decades and is now writing and teaching extensively on this most populated country, talked about China’s influence on Africa and the gospel influence that Africa can have on China;
  • Scott Clark, whom I met on my first trip to Cameroon in 1990, recounted Pastor John’s influence on him to give his life for the unreached peoples of West Africa and shared about his three decades of work with the Fulani, one of West Africa’s largest unreached people groups. Over 200,000 Fulani live in Yaoundé!

The next two sessions of our class featured each Cameroonian student giving a presentation on an unreached people group that he had adopted for prayer this semester. The final class session next week will be led by our chancellor, John Piper, who wrote Let the Nations Be Glad, the textbook our students are being transformed by every week.

What a gift for me to be a part of our church-based seminary on two continents. It brings together so many strands of the multi-faceted joy of over 40 years of ministry at Bethlehem. I am seeing apprentices from the ’80s and ’90s, students from The Bethlehem Institute from 1998–2008, and Bethlehem College & Seminary students from 2009 to the present making a difference for Christ and his kingdom. I have the privilege of watching Nurture Program graduates from my years as missions pastor (1984–2002) serving in places that neither they nor we could have ever imagined. I have also been blessed to have a front-row seat to the collaboration of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Bethlehem College & Seminary, the Treasuring Christ Together network, Desiring God, and Training Leaders International be used of God to penetrate hard hearts and serve unreached peoples and theologically famished pastors. God has been so kind, even amid the suffering he has promised in every sphere of ministry along the way. God is good—all the time!

I hope you are encouraged with the fruitfulness of your investment of prayer and giving. I believe the best is yet to come.

Together with you in the Greatest Cause,

Tom Steller
Associate Professor of Bible and Global Studies, Bethlehem College & Seminary
Director of Theological Education in Cameroon, Training Leaders International


Prayer Requests:

  1. That our faculty, staff, and students on all our campuses will finish this academic year in the strength that God supplies.
  2. That the recent increase of COVID-19 cases among our students and staff will not hinder the fruitfulness of all that has been invested in making this a banner year for so many.
  3. That the coming summer months will be rich with ministry opportunities for our students.
  4. That God will guide and provide for the incoming cohorts this next academic year.