We arrived in Bangalore late on Friday night. Saturday morning we went to St. John's Church, in Bangalore for the TAFTEE graduation service. I have been teaching for TAFTEE all around India for the last ten years, but had never had an occasion to see or participate in a graduation. TAFTEE (The Association For Theological Education by Extension) is the world's largest, accredited, distance school of theology. Accredited through the University of Wales in the UK, they offer certificates, diplomas and degrees, including Bachelors and Masters of Theology, and Masters of Divinity. TAFTEE is dedicated to providing theological education at low cost to pastors and lay leaders who cannot afford the time and money to go to seminary across India, east Africa and Malaysia. TAFTEE's Executive Director, Dr. David Samuel, has been my host and has become my good friend over ten years of working together here.
Thirty-six men and women received Masters of Theology degrees, twelve received Bachelor of Theology degrees, and a whole host of men and women (the youngest was a thirteen year old boy, the oldest was an eighty year old woman) received certificates and diplomas for successful completion of other programs. Hundreds of people- families and friends of the graduates, packed the church for the two and a half hour service. If you think Bethlehem's pews are uncomfortable, you should come to St. John's... It was my privilege to give a greeting to the graduates and their guests on behalf of all of you
The picture shown here was taken immediately before the procession into the church. Standing next to me is my good friend, Bunu, Pradeep Samantaroy, Church of North India Bishop of Amritsar, in Punjab. His Diocese includes the troubled Indian State of Jammu and Kasmir. We dream about partnering there with the church schools in Kashmir. As in Tamil Nadu, where Hindus want to attend the Arcot Lutheran Schools where we sponsor children, Muslims in Kashmir know that the Christian Schools are their best prospects for the kind of education that offers their children- both boys and girls- a chance to succeed. These schools build trust, friendship and are the best (by far) alternatives to the Wahhabist madrases that radicalize boys and refuse to teach girls. Standing next to Bunu, in the orange stole (Orange! I have never seen that before!) is Govada Dyvasirvadam, Church of South India Bishop of Vijayawada, on the east coast of Andhra Pradesh. I have visited that diocese, and got to know "Dyva" a few years ago. Both are remarkable pastors and leaders.
Today, I was back at St. John's to preach. Their first service is at 6:30am! Still, around 175-200 people gathered for a service of Holy Communion at that VERY early hour. The schedule allows people to beat both the heat and the Bangalore traffic. Again, it was my privilege not only to preach, but also to share a greeting from all of you at Bethlehem.
Tomorrow begins the preaching seminar that TAFTEE has arranged. I will keep you all posted. Blessings and peace,