15 November 2011
This year SEAN - Study by Extension for All Nations - celebrated its 40th birthday. Part of the worldwide Theological Education by Extension Movement, today more than 100 countries use its courses to equip new Christians and train up leaders.
SEAN began in Tucumán, Argentina in July 1971, but the seeds were sown 20 years earlier. Tony Barratt, who was working for the South American Mission Society in Chile, saw that many local indigenous Mapuche Christians had leadership potential but, with minimum primary education, they couldn't meet the entry requirements of traditional theological training. In their poverty, they couldn't leave their smallholdings anyway. Over time Tony developed self-study materials combined with weekly group tutorials to help them.
Rather than sending people overseas to teach and train nationals for ministry, SEAN courses provide local churches with what they need to equip their people to do the mission and ministry themselves.
There are countless stories of SEAN courses transforming individuals and communities as far flung as Mongolia, Paraguay, Nepal and Panama. Here is one from Peru:
Police Captain Oscar Ugarte lay in his prison cell, his life in tatters. One shot from his gun had led to divorce, abandonment by family and friends, being sacked from his job and a 25-year sentence. In success he had not been religious, but, in despair, he turned to God. A few months later, some missionaries visited the prison, presented him with the Gospel message and the SEAN course Abundant Life, which he devoured and began to put into practice. Other prisoners, seeing the change in his life, began to accept Jesus as their Saviour too.
After several years the prison church passed the hundred mark, and Oscar continued his SEAN studies as he pastored it. Out of the blue, his case was reviewed. It was concluded that his shot had been in self-defence and his conviction a result of internal grudges. On leaving prison Oscar got a job as a security guard.
One day Oscar was asked to take over a struggling congregation in Lima. On his arrival the congregation of thirty halved, as many refused to accept him as Pastor. He persevered and, remembering his SEAN training, set up a congregational Bible Institute to disciple and train others. His congregation "Jesús es el Camino" (Jesus is the Way) is now more than 300.
Closer to home SEAN is having a huge impact in the UK too. Anthony Baker describes how much the courses have helped him:
"I have had severe dyslexia all my life. Known at school as "the thick one" my difficulties were not recognised or diagnosed until my late 40s. I recently made a decision to attend a SEAN course run in our local church: Life to the Full, an 18-week foundation course on the Christian life. I then did Pure Gold, an overview of the Bible. I was encouraged to go on to the Compendium of Pastoral Theology, a six-course study on the Life of Christ. Each course had an optional exam - I achieved between 99 and 100 per cent for all - the diploma was the first academic certificate I had ever received.
"The SEAN courses have given me confidence with my disability, strengthened my faith and helped me to understand the Bible in depth. Anyone can join in with SEAN - if you trust in the Lord whatever your difficulties you will find He will help you to fulfil your potential."
If you are interested in learning more about SEAN see www.seaninternational.com and www.sean.uk.net. As the late Rev. Dr. John Stott commented: "Having followed the expansion of the SEAN courses with interest and thanksgiving to the Lord, I hope that many more groups will use this material."