Nurturing New Leaders
In addition to his responsibilities as principal of the Gospel for Asia Biblical Seminary (GFABS) in Southern India, Samuel Mathew (ThM, Mis '89) takes seriously the task of nurturing students. Since 1993, when he helped found the school, students all over India have attended GFABS to get an education and train to fulfill the Great Commission.
The student body is diverse, hailing from all over India and representing 31 denominational backgrounds. As often occurs in India because of extreme poverty and religious zeal, many Christian students overcome intense family pressure in order to commit their lives to Christ and go to school. Alone, they come to GFABS for training to be future leaders of the church in India and the subcontinent.
"More than two thirds of our students face these kinds of challenges," Mathew says. "The main pressure comes from parents--even Christian parents. They have many dreams and expectations for their children," he explains. "But when their child decides to devote their entire life to the Lord, it creates insecurity about their future. Most parents do not understand the need for full-time evangelism or ministry, so they discourage the student from following his call. And those who are not from Christian backgrounds place severe pressure on their child," Mathew goes on. "These students are ostracized from their families and their respective villages. Some parents even take legal action against their child so they are no longer allowed to enter their home."
Mathew tells of one such student, Arjun, the eldest son of a staunch Hindu family in a North Indian state. "A few years ago his younger brother became ill and God miraculously healed him. As a result, Arjun wanted to fully commit his life to the Lord, and he applied to GFABS. His pastor and relatives discouraged him and some of his friends called him a traitor. His father was furious about his decision to follow the Lord, because as the eldest he was expected to take care of the family," Mathew says. "He enrolled at GFABS wrestling with financial problems. We helped by waiving the entire fee for his studies. He is now in his final year of the BTh program."
Mathew has many responsibilities--including currently completing a PhD long distance in the School of Intercultural Studies--but is never too busy to spend time getting to know GFABS students, the most meaningful part of his job. "I enjoy meeting with young people and providing them with an impetus for the future by imparting vision, counsel, and building them up in the word of God," he says.
He recounts another story that is particularly poignant for him. "Several years ago, while cleaning plates after lunch, I met a student and began to ask him about his personal life," Mathew says. "He told me that he recently went to the washing area and found a small, leftover piece of soap. He took it to use while bathing. As he was telling me about it, tears rolled down his cheek. He had been taking baths without soap for the previous six months."
"Our goal is to meet the need for trained pastors, leaders, and church planters in the most unreached regions of Asia," Mathew says, "and we do not use the criteria of financial security for a candidate's admission. If he or she is eligible academically, we enroll the student. We then raise funds, as best we can, from our donors and prayer partners around the world, to ensure that basic needs are met and training is accomplished."