The blessing of scholarships

Most people are not overly excited at the prospect of supporting scholarships for international partner churches. When it comes to mission work, it just doesn’t carry the same thrill that comes when we see pictures of missionaries reaching out to tribes in the jungles of North Sumatra, or the sense of ownership that comes from helping build churches in the mountains of northern Thailand. Yet scholarships for pastors to undertake advanced theological studies remain the most requested mission support we receive from our partner churches.

The reality is that if western churches continue to decline, and support for mission continues to shrink, our overseas partners will have to become self-sufficient sooner rather than later. They recognise that this self-sufficiency is not just in regard to finances, but perhaps especially in relation to training their own church workers in the future. This is one of the reasons for their sense of urgency that local people be given a solid foundation in Lutheran theology.

These days it’s much more difficult to bring pastors to Australia for post-graduate studies. Enrolment and visa requirements demand a high level of English competency, and all the associated costs are much higher than they once were. While we remain committed to bringing students to Australian Lutheran College from our partner churches, the demand for advanced Lutheran training is such that we also need to explore other options to best serve our partners.

In 2019, just before COVID hit and international travel was shut down, I was approached by a Lutheran mission organisation (Garuna Foundation) to nominate a couple of potential students for post-graduate studies. At the time, Zoom was still largely unknown to us all, but they could see the possibilities and were setting up a pilot program delivering a Master of Arts in Christian Ministry via online delivery. This was never meant to replace face-to-face learning but was a way of supplementing it at low cost – and as it turned out, at a time when people couldn’t travel.

Pastor Giesa Panpan, the head of the ministerial training department in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Papua New Guinea was identified as one of the candidates. After six months of English language preparation, Pastor Panpan embarked on a two-year journey with around a dozen other pastors from the region, growing in theological understanding and developing regional networks.

As he approached the end of his successful completion of this study, I was delighted to meet with him in Madang and talk about the impact it has had on his own faith, his vision for church worker training, and his joy in the gospel. While the course was accredited and delivered through Grand Canyon University, all the professors were leading Lutheran scholars from across the United States. The thing that struck me in our conversation about his experience studying Lutheran theology at this level was the joy with which Pastor Panpan spoke. He shared with me the way he had grown in his understanding of God’s grace to him in Christ and of how Lutheran theology and practice ensured that burdened sinners could receive these gifts with no strings attached. Pastor Panpan spoke of the way his eyes had been opened to the needs of his own church and rejoiced that he had been given the knowledge and tools to address these needs in practical ways. And he shared his renewed love for Lutheran theology – not for its own sake – but because it makes the good news of God’s love in Christ so clear and accessible to sinners like us.

With the assistance of LWA, we were able to provide Pastor Panpan with a monthly data allowance so that he could join his classes online and make the most of this unique opportunity. Despite power failures, earthquakes which knocked out PNG’s internet connection, not to mention holding down a full-time position in church leadership and caring for his family of six children, Pastor Panpan successfully completed his studies in October 2022. Thanks to your support he has been enriched personally, and empowered to fulfil his call into the future so that local missionaries can be better trained in the work of the gospel. As he oversees all the seminaries in PNG, along with the evangelist training centres and church workers in service training, you can be sure the things he learnt will be passed on to others.

While they may not seem all that exciting to western eyes, it must be said that scholarships are the mission gift that keeps on giving! Thank you, LWA, for looking beyond that which is exciting to our eyes, and providing what is deeply needed for the sake of the Gospel.

About the Author

Pastor Matt Anker

A Victorian by birth (Birregurra), Pastor Matt grew up moving, every couple of years, as his father worked his way up the ladder of the National Bank. After moving towns seven times in 14 years, Matt’s family settled in the outer north east of Melbourne where he finished his schooling. While studying Economics at Monash University, Matt met Laryssa who is now his wife and, together, God called them to faith through the ministry of the Lutheran church in Croydon. Prior to being called to ministry, Matt worked in hospitality, finance and also owned a lawn mowing franchise. Since ordination, Pastor Matt has served Holy Trinity, Mildura, the Goulburn Murray Lutheran Parish (Shepparton and Echuca) and now serves as Assistant to the Bishop – International Mission. Matt and Laryssa have four daughters, two son-in-laws, four grandchildren and a mini dachshund.

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