I don’t know that Koko had ever opened a Bible, let alone studied it verse-by-verse. But as an international student desperate to pass the TOEFL test, she wanted all the English practice she could get.
Koko’s name was actually Hiroko. She was a Japanese college student staying with my young family. My 18-month-old son couldn’t pronounce “Hiroko,” so she quickly became “Koko,” a friend who brought him candy and taught him Japanese words.
While we kept complimenting her English, she was always asking us to correct her. When I asked one day if she’d like to study English with me using the Bible, she quickly said yes.
I’d previously taught ESL during seminary as a way to earn grocery money. But my lessons with Koko were something new. Instead of focusing on conversational vocabulary, I had to find basic English words to explain complicated theological concepts like the Trinity and the incarnation.
The Gospel of John led Koko to new English words—and new ideas about God. But that wasn’t the only way it was new. It was also another unexpected place for me to use my theology degree.
Why Go to Seminary?
My plan hadn’t been to teach a Japanese college student while living with my pastor-husband and 18-month-old son in St. Louis. Originally, I went to seminary with the plan of returning to sub-Saharan Africa to teach at a Bible college where I’d spent a summer during college. I was the nerdy girl who got a thrill translating passages from Greek or Hebrew to English in my little cubicle in the quiet library.
I was determined to quickly finish a degree, raise support, and get back to Malawi. I had seen women in many roles on the mission field and knew my degree would be helpful. What I hadn’t anticipated was God’s creativity, and the need for such a degree right here at home.
It’s true that women aren’t licensed or ordained in my denomination. But I had the benefit of some strong female role models and a church that paid for my seminary degree. The Christian men and women around me encouraged me to use my analytical mind and desire to do ministry without worrying too much about what shape any future ministry might take. They gave me the freedom to be trained, asking God along the way how he would want me to use this great gift.
Some of the needs for theologically trained women seem obvious and pressing. We need seminary-trained women on the mission field. We need women who teach Sunday school, lead Bible studies, and mentor younger women. We need women’s ministry directors who help discern how to meet the needs of the women in the church.
I knew these things when I enrolled in seminary. What I didn’t know was all the other ways God would use my exegesis and systematics and Greek and Hebrew for his glory.
Loving the Stranger
Koko wasn’t the first person who made me thankful to have theological training. Lydia was another. An Azerbaijani refugee, Lydia first came to our church through the food pantry. She attended our worship gathering sometimes and quickly became known as the generous but sometimes picky regular.
Between her little bit of English and my little bit of Russian (Lydia had learned some Russian as a girl in school), we became friends. I soon learned Lydia was in the process of trying to become an American citizen. English lessons and long, arduous conversations with lots of laughing at ourselves and each other commenced. As a former baker, Lydia would often bring baked delicacies to our meetings.
I heard terrible stories about life in her village that had led to her eventual escape. In the midst of our meetings I was able, little by little, to explain the gospel to her—though her hospitality and generosity far surpassed mine. Through my weak and faltering lessons and her tenacity and hard work, Lydia became a citizen of the United States. I hope one day she’ll become a citizen of heaven, too.
Could a theology degree enable you to welcome the strangers in your own community?
After six years as an associate pastor, my husband accepted a call to Savannah, Georgia, to serve as a campus minister with Reformed University Fellowship on the campus of the Savannah College of Art and Design.
There, I got to know young women learning how to create new fibers, animate for films that would end up on big screens, and design the buildings of tomorrow. But they were also learning about God, and they had deep questions.
During the semester, a student and I co-led a women’s Bible study, where—along with the basics of Reformed theology—we discussed the issues on the students’ hearts and minds: What does God think of art? What does your sound-design major have to do with God’s kingdom? How can I make entertainment for the glory of God? Their questions were sincere, but they weren’t simple. In answering them, I was grateful for being trained to interpret and apply the Bible.
Could a theology degree allow you to answer the complex questions of younger women?
About five years ago, a friend on staff at my church was looking for Bible study curriculum for busy young moms that was relevant and nourishing, but could be done quickly. They wanted to deepen their understanding of Scripture, but they didn’t want to do homework.
In a moment of frustration at not being able to find the right materials to serve the women of our church, she asked me to write something. Together, we wrote a study on Romans for that group of 20 women, but we found it filled a need for many other Christians. That friend and I are now writing our sixth study for busy women who want to study Scripture in depth but have little time to do so.
Could a theology degree equip you to produce a blog, newsletter, curriculum, or podcast to serve your local church?
I still haven’t made it back to Africa with my diploma. But, over the years, God has shown me that my education hasn’t been wasted. If you’re a woman with a theology degree—or just a solid foundation through your childhood, church, or college ministry—you are needed. Ask God to show you where you could serve others and teach his Word. He just might surprise you.