The English-language UEM documentation "The Relevance of Advanced Education for an Interreligious and Intercultural Global Community" has just been published. The authors, Pastor Dr. Andar Parlindungan (Head of Training & Empowerment) and Julian Elf (Education Coordinator for the German Region), publish the personal reflections of former UEM scholarship holders, which they presented at the Alumni Conference in Hattingen (Germany) from August 30 to September 7, 2019. At the same time, this conference marked the launch of an international alumni network to promote UEM's proven scholarship program through the scholarship holders themselves.
"Over the last twenty years, the UEM has awarded several hundred scholarships. We currently have 71 scholarship holders in the programme, 32 women and 39 men, as of May 2020.The UEM invests a great deal in this method of training professionals in the member churches, both materially and in terms of personnel within the organization itself. Why are we doing this? A few exemplary points will be used to illustrate the value of these programmes for the common future of the UEM.
As the UEM, we are a communion of very different countries with a variety of cultures and languages. Our scholarship programme is intended to promote exchange between individual members, not only through person-to-person encounters as part of regular visits, but also through intellectual exchange and the expansion of professionalization in the individual fields of work.
Whereas in the past the scholarships were primarily focused on studies in theology, in the last ten years the proportion has increasingly shifted towards development policy scholarships. One reason for this is that the members of the UEM have established a broad range of public services in their respective countries. For the education of their theological personnel, they now make use of the many local opportunities they have created for highly qualified theological education that meets the needs of the culture. The priority of the theological scholarships has changed to give preference to spiritual-scientific exchange, rather than the professionalization of theological personnel with regard to the service in the church. This also means that the UEM can now fulfil more requests from members to supplement the broader ministries of the church and its institutions. Scientific exchange in the fields of diaconal work, medicine, agricultural sciences, church music, economics, and administration is of great importance to UEM members today.
Various aspects have led UEM members to see a greater need here now than in the past. In general, it has become clear that with the increasing demands for professionalism and the growing fields of work within the churches and institutions, theological personnel are not automatically qualified to take on certain tasks. Trust in God and trust in the power of prayer also includes learning the corresponding skills. Even in biblical times, tasks were distributed such that the growing structures of the church of God could be maintained accordingly. Thus we read about the appointment of men to assist Moses (Ex 18:13-27) and the election of relief workers for the poor in the new Christian church (Acts 6:1-7), to name just two examples out of many.
The further training of staff through scholarships prepares the members of the UEM for existing areas of work and for upcoming challenges. Professionalization can considerably reduce future incidences of undesirable appointments. Close supervision of the scholarship holders allows us to determine at an early stage whether the person will bring in innovative ideas and can meet the requirements of the task. At the same time, we can expect that the awarding of a scholarship will create an internal bond between the UEM and its members, so that the scholarship recipients will wish to remain in the service of the communion over the long term. To this end, it is of course necessary that the members of the UEM can then offer the graduates of the scholarship programme appropriate positions in their institutions.
It is important that the members of the UEM clearly perceive their opportunity and responsibility with regard to the scholarship programme. The UEM does not award scholarships in order to train and educate suitable people for the organization itself – this is a very special side effect when filling positions within the organization – but rather so that scholarship recipients will want to commit themselves to their sending church early on and remain loyal to it. What the existing structures encourage us to take for granted in the case of theological training can only be achieved in other areas of work by assigning appropriate tasks within the church. If the members of the UEM do not want to lose out on scholarship graduates in the competition for prospective specialists, they must prove themselves to be committed and attractive employers. Otherwise these women and men who have received specialized training at great expense will very quickly move on to state institutions or other organizations and companies.
The material award of the scholarship is therefore accompanied by nonmaterial support. In those places where the members of the UEM have succeeded in retaining the sponsored persons, they take up important key positions at the end of their scholarships and work successfully as multipliers, whether in the leadership and diaconal institutions of the churches or as medical doctors, development specialists, lecturers, or experts in other areas. With the intercultural and scientific experience they have gained, the alumni make an essential contribution to the development of their churches, but also to the economic, social, and democratic development of their countries of origin.
This developmental benefit may not be immediately apparent at first glance, but the experience of the international community, together with the internationalization of training institutions through scholarship holders, contributes in no small measure to the positive development of a common world. From this point of view, the UEM scholarship programme also translates faith into other cultures. This translation of faith is not limited to vocabulary and grammar, but includes exposure to foreign cultures and traditions, and leads to a consolidation and enrichment of one‘s own faith as well as the faith of one’s counterpart. We of the UEM see this as global learning in an ecumenical perspective. It is obvious, however, that such learning should not be limited to the actual duration of study. The successful graduates of these programmes have a special task here.
We are currently expanding our UEM alumni network, as it offers the possibility to continue the spiritual and scientific exchange within the UEM community beyond the study phase. Today, many former scholarship holders from the three regions are working to contribute their gifts and acquired knowledge in the international context. Whether a pastor from Tanzania or Indonesia working in Germany, a doctor from one part of the world in another, a musician abroad, an expert in interfaith dialogue, or a representative for advocacy issues, each of them is part of a community that is committed to proclaiming the Kingdom of God in word and deed. We could hardly imagine a better investment in the future of the UEM and its members."
Andar Parlindungan: “This book shows succesful and also challenging stories supported by UEM. We see the fruitful impact of the shorarship program to develop the educational work in our member churches.”
Julian Elf: “The book shows how important higher education is to the entire UEM and the lasting impact it has on the further development of the UEM ministry."
The book is dedicated to Rev. Agustinus Purba (MA), a participant of the conference, who died of Covid-19 shortly before the publication of the book.
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