Before there was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, there was Grandma’s and Grandpa’s cabinet. Behind those cabinet doors in my grandparents’ home in Richmond, Virginia, were adventures to be discovered and stories to be told.
Readers of C.S. Lewis had their wardrobe adventures. The 16 grandchildren of Dr. and Mrs. W. T. Thompson had their cabinet of many lands. Opening the doors of the cabinet transformed the living room into an exciting world of faraway people and cultures. A double-reed shepherd’s pipe from the Holy Land evoked the wonder of the Christmas story for us. We held the vial of water from the Red Sea with awe, because we knew the story of God parting the waters so the Hebrews could escape.
Other items in the cabinet were from countries completely new to us. We loved the flat paper ball with the dime-sized hole in it that inflated when one of us blew into it. “How did the air stay inside a paper ball with a hole in it?” we wondered. We knew the ball came from Korea, and we wanted to know more about its ingenious creators. We would pull out a scrapbook filled with photos of people and countries very different from our own. Who were they? How were they different? How were they like us?
Because Grandpa, known as Dr. Tolly to his Union Theological Seminary and Assembly Training School (later Presbyterian School of Christian Education) students, was a professor of religious education, he knew a “teaching opportunity” when he saw one! Quoting Jesus’ Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them . . . and teaching them” (Matthew 28:18–20), he would tell us about the missionaries who — like Paul in the New Testament — were telling the Good News in Korea and other places throughout the world. We learned about the Koreans, how they lived and how they worshiped.
Grandpa acquired the cabinet treasures — and his knowledge about Korea — on a visit to Asia in 1923–24. He spent six months in Korea at the invitation of the World’s Sunday School Association, teaching Korean Christians about methods of Christian education. Afterward he spent three months visiting and encouraging missionaries in places like Saigon, Ceylon, and China. Because the seminary recognized the necessity of Christian education in spreading the Good News, it gave Grandpa (Dr. Tolly) a nine-month leave of absence to train those in other countries how to teach the Bible and the faith.
Today, nearly 100 years later, Union Presbyterian Seminary continues to value the importance of Christian education in global and local missions. On the drawing board is a new Global Mission Center for Christian Education where educators, pastors, and mission workers from the global church can gather with the UPSem community to share best practices in Christian education. The Center will nurture partnerships with churches in countries where the rapid spread of the gospel has created a tremendous unmet need for trained leadership. It will be a place where UPSem students, alums, and friends can experience firsthand the vitality of the church’s global community and mission. Educators will be able to collaborate on the development of culturally specific curricula and teaching materials.
Is Christian education really important enough that we should put in the time, money, and people necessary to develop a 21st-century Global Mission Center? Absolutely!
This past December, I received a Christmas letter from Hajnalka Fazekas Domokosné, assistant to the Bishop of Miskolc of the Reformed Church of Hungary. I met Hajnalka in the early 1980s when she was studying at the Presbyterian School of Christian Education (PSCE) in Richmond. In her letter, Hajnalka wrote that the Hungarian government has turned to the church to provide teachers for the ethics and religious education classes required for students in the fifth and ninth grades.
“We had to mobilize all of our pastors and Christian educators to meet this unbelievable requirement,” Hajnalka wrote. Providing teachers and curriculum for the new classes offers the Hungarian church an opportunity to build relationships with students and their parents and to renew relationships with the schools, most of which were church-founded and belonged to the churches until World War II.
This call offers the Reformed Church of Hungary “a big possibility, but also a big responsibility,” Hajnalka said. “Before World War II, 94 percent of all our schools belonged to the churches. Now we have got another chance from God. We shall have to use it well.”
Hajnalka is not alone in her critical need for qualified Christian educators. The explosive growth of Christianity in Africa, Asia, and other places has multiplied the needs in the area of Christian education. Opportunities abound. Jesus says to us, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Luke 10:2).
The Global Mission Center for Christian Education will prepare workers from many nations for gathering in the Lord’s 21st-century harvest field. The Center will help address the needs of churches around the world by recruiting professors with experience in Christian education and mission, by offering new and relevant curricula and resources, and by strengthening partnerships with other seminaries. By providing the keys to open doors throughout the world, the Global Mission Center will be a gateway to experiences even more profound than those accessed through C. S. Lewis’ wardrobe or my Grandpa’s cabinet.
Raised in the Union Presbyterian Seminary community, Lisa Cross has been involved with the seminary in a variety of capacities from being an intern and later director of the Community Recreation Program in 1974 to being a student to currently sitting on the board of trustees. She lives in Suffolk, Va., where she is the commissioned ruling elder for ministry with older adults at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church.