Norther’s African Pastoral Training Institute

From the time Dr. Wayne “Coach” Gordon helped create the Africa Pastoral Training Institute (APTI), he had plans to turn it over to others. Transferring leadership to Kenyans is not only critical for the program to grow, he believes; it also fulfills the apostle Paul’s instructions to entrust these teachings to reliable people who can in turn teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2). In fact, the APTI originated with the desires and dedication of Kenyan pastors. 

Gordon, a Northern Seminary grad, is founding Pastor of Lawndale Community Church in Chicago, President Emeritus of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA)and Associate Professor of Urban Ministry at Northern. He first encountered the Kibera slums of Nairobi when he spoke at a CCDA conference there in 2005. Since then he’s traveled to Kenya over a dozen times.  

After several trips, while leading a group of Northern students on an immersion experience, he met with pastors in Kibera for all-day training. “The Kenyan pastors kept saying, ‘Can’t we start something regular like this?’” Gordon says. “One of the core values of the CCDA is listening to the communities we’re working with. So out of the pastors’ requests we started exploring options.” 

In Kibera, the largest slum in Kenya, there are about one thousand churches. Yet the pastors there often lack even a high school education. “These pastors love the Lord and are doing well studying the Bible on their own,” says Gordon. But “generally people who have a degree don’t work in the slums.” To address the felt need of these leaders, Gordon started meeting with a team of about twelve pastors who oversaw the development of a new program. They chose the name 

APTI, intending to make the institute open to other Africans from outside Kenya. 

In 2012 APTI was launched as an innovative partnership between the Kenyan leaders, Lawndale Community Church, the CCDA, and Northern Seminary, which grants a diploma to students who complete the program. The curriculum includes ten courses: five in Christian community development and five in pastoral ministry. Northern professors have traveled to Kenya multiple times a year, donating their time to teach APTI courses in their area of expertise. 

As he worked with the Kenyan pastors, Gordon says, he was struck by “the depth of their faith and commitment.” He remembers one class where he and his co-instructor, Rev. Dr. Marshall Hatch, gave each student a Zondervan Study Bible to take home. “They started cheering like they had won a huge sporting event. Their eagerness to learn and dedication were so inspiring.” 

From the beginning APTI has worked to include people of color among the instructors from the US. “So many things that happen in Africa are white run,” says Gordon. “We wanted the students to see that there was more diverse participation.” And eventually every course was being co-taught by an African leader. 

After graduating 85 students in its first round, APTI offered another course for graduates to become certified as instructors. Twenty people completed it. Over the years since, as more African leaders are able to teach, the program is becoming more sustainable, reducing the need for American professors to fly to Africa.  

To further serve the program’s vision, seven APTI graduates were selected to continue their training at Northern as full-time distance-learning students, beginning in fall 2020. Four are in a doctoral program and three are earning a master’s degree, all focused on Christian Community Development. These students will be able to award diplomas to others in Africa when they finish their degrees. And already their studies have benefited their own communities and their Northern classmates. 

One class the Kenyan students have taken is Church-Based Community Development, a unique Northern course that focuses on how the local church can truly help its community. It has application both in the US and in Kibera, Gordon says, but the details look different in different contexts. 

For one course project, a Kenyan student named Dorcas found an innovative way to grow food by planting kale in industrial plastic bags filled with dirt. She taught people in her church how to create their own kale farms outside their homes. Another student trained women in the church to start a laundry service together. In an area where most homes lack running water, this was an effective way both to benefit their community and to generate income. “It’s great to see these projects that we in America wouldn’t think of,” Gordon says. 

“When the four Kenyans in the doctoral program speak in class, they see things from a different perspective, seeing things most Americans wouldn’t. The other students love to listen to them and their view of how something works in a different culture.” To encourage prospective Northern students, Gordon likes to point out the benefits of getting to know the Kenyans who may be in their cohort. Multiethnic and multicultural classrooms have been a feature of Northern for years. Now including international APTI students who live in a very different context has been especially powerful for those involved.  

APTI’s leaders originally planned for the program to be transferred completely to African leadership after ten years, but the Covid pandemic has extended that to about fifteen years.  Northern will continue to be involved long term. Gordon hopes that in 2022 he and other Americans will teach another course in Kenya, and the Northern students from Africa will come to the US for an in-person fall course and the annual CCDA conference. 

Gordon continues to be inspired by the friends he’s met through APTI. Because of the time difference, one Northern class he taught fell at 4:00 a.m. for the Kenyan students. Still, “they are never late; they’re always present,” he says. “It’s pretty special.” 

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