The Alex Steddom International Student Fund was established last year as a vehicle for supporting the extraordinary financial needs of new international students at Bethlehem College & Seminary. These seminary students apply from all over the world expressing earnest gospel ambition for their native countries and people groups. Last year, we started by praying toward a goal of having $100,000 on hand annually, so that every year we might be able to enroll at least one new seminarian from elsewhere in the world.
We want you to know that our need has changed this year. We discern that God has guided us to admit two international students in the coming school year: René González of El Salvador and Zau Naw of Myanmar, but, more urgently, we do not have sufficient funds on hand to support them both. We only planned for one international student this year. So we are praying that God might now bless us with similarly unplanned growth in the Alex Steddom International Student Fund. Unless God harvests generosity for us this summer, our operating budget will be out of kilter even as school begins, and we will likely be unable to admit a new international student next year.
These international students require $25,000 of financial aid annually, beyond the Serious Joy Scholarships that they already receive as resident students. We need to cover the $6,000 of annual tuition that we ordinarily receive from every student. Additionally, restrictions on their student visas prohibit them from working here, so we must also provide a modest annual stipend for their books and the living expenses for them and their families. There are also the travel expenses incurred to get them to Minneapolis and, by God’s grace, help them return back home to minister after graduation.
We continue to pray toward a goal of $100,000 on hand in this fund. An endowment or legacy gift of $2.5 million would satisfy this need perpetually, or until Jesus returns. If there is an inclination toward such extravagant generosity percolating in your heart, know that this letter seeks only to call out your cheerful worship by faith. In the meantime, we are trusting that God will supply our immediate needs as he has always done.
In the introduction to the third edition of Let The Nations Be Glad!: The Supremacy of God in Missions, John Piper cites Lamin Sanneh, professor of history and world Christianity at Yale University, who wrote:
Among the many breathtaking developments in the post-World War II and the subsequent colonial eras, few are more striking than the worldwide Christian resurgence. With unflagging momentum, Christianity has become, or is fast becoming, the principal religion of the peoples of the world. Primal societies that once stood well outside the main orbit of the faith have become major centers of Christian impact, while Europe and North America, once considered the religion’s heartland, are in noticeable recession. We seem to be in the middle of massive cultural shifts and realignments whose implications are only now beginning to become clear.
Dr. Piper himself goes on to write, “Europe and America are not the center of gravity in world Christianity any longer. The center is shifting south and east. The churches of Latin America, Africa, and Asia are experiencing phenomenal growth and are becoming the great sending churches.
So, now let us tell you about these godly young men.
René González is currently the Associate Pastor of Iglesia Cristiana Cimiento Estable in San Salvador, El Salvador. He is married to Magali, and they have two children, René and Alicia. El Salvador is a country in which most of the population lives in extreme poverty. René wants to be better equipped to rightly handle the Word of God, so that he might return to El Salvador and offer the hope and joy of the true gospel to a suffering people too often exploited by false teachers—old and new.
In 1890, Ola and Minnie Hanson were sent as missionaries to Burma from the church now known as Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis. They lived among the Kachin people there for 28 years and led the effort to translate the Bible into the native language. A Christian community emerged there, where once there had been none at all. The faculty building at Bethlehem College & Seminary is named after Ola and Minnie Hanson. Today Burma is known as Myanmar, and Bethlehem’s 117-year relationship with the Kachin continues through annual teaching and service trips by faculty members and seminarians from Bethlehem College & Seminary.
Zau Naw represents more of the long-term fruitfulness of this extraordinary movement of God among the Kachin. He is ordained and serves as a worship pastor at the Thida Baptist Church in Myitkyina, Kachin State in Myanmar. He has attended Singapore Bible College as well as Kachin Theological College & Seminary, and he holds a Bachelor of Theology and a Bachelor of Church Music. He is married to Hkawn Seng Bu, and has a 3-year old son, Aura Doh. Zau Naw prays to return to Myanmar, by God’s grace, to infuse Kachin worship with a passion for God’s supremacy in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.
Can you see why we just couldn’t take a pass on Zau Naw or René González’s application this year? There is a balance of $41,000 in the Alex Steddom International Student Fund at this time. That’s enough to support René González for the coming school year, but $9,000 shy of what is required to support Zau Naw. Again, that’s just for the coming year. This is the short-term need. However, we will need $100,000 on hand by December, in order to feel responsible in admitting a third international student to the seminary for the 2018-19 school year. For the ciphers among us, yes, we are on a trajectory that will require at least $125,000 in the fund for the 2020-21 school year, assuming we continue to admit international students along the way.
This is not a need that will have an ever-increasing ceiling. At our scale of 16-18 seminarians per graduating class, we won’t likely be admitting more than two or three international students per year, neither can we afford the substantial additional administrative burden of qualifying and credentialing them. That said, there is a long waiting list of prospective international students attracted to Bethlehem’s worldwide reputation established through Chancellor John Piper’s longstanding web ministry and the church’s extensive network of global partners on the mission field.
Would that 100 years from now, should the Lord tarry, some successor of mine might write to your descendants to tell of the fruitfulness of the ministries of René González, Zau Naw, and 115 other gospel ministers from among the nations who, by then, served to cause peoples among every tribe and tongue to know and experience that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.
Lord Jesus, may it be so.