A record number of some 280 educators from a dozen countries gathered in Hong Kong Oct. 20-21 for the Asia Lutheran Education Association’s (ALEA) fourth conference, under a theme that emphasized the importance of Christian service connected with Christian education.
Among those attending were teachers, professors and administrators from LCMS-related national and international schools in China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Myanmar, as well as registrants from three Concordia Universities in the United States and LCMS mission personnel and staff.
The conference theme — “Christ, Conscience and Curriculum: Schools in Mission” — called attention to the ALEA board’s “desire to highlight Christian service as an essential aspect of Lutheran education in Asia,” ALEA Executive Director Rev. Ted Engelbrecht noted in a welcome letter for the conference program book. “Born as it is out of the love that God first shares with us in Christ,” he continued, “we would like to see the service we do in response to both God’s love and His commandment to love others become a more integral, intentional and institutional part of our schools’ curricula and programs.”
ALEA’s conference attendance has grown dramatically since the first one in 2002 that attracted some 60 participants.
Five keynote speakers for this year’s conference addressed this year’s theme. They were:
- Dr. Martin Schmidt and Michael Kersten of the Hong Kong International School (HKIS) faculty, who led a social-conscience workshop in which they laid out steps for doing service “so it is service learning in a Christian context and not just random acts of service,” according to Engelbrecht. He said they also addressed “how to best institutionalize service learning in the curriculum.”
- David Begbie, director of the Hong Kong-based Crossroads Foundation and an HKIS alumnus, who “focused on how much God in the Bible shows his concern for the poor, the widow and the orphan,” Engelbrecht explained. Begbie also led an “experiential simulation” exercise during which conference participants took on the responsibilities and burdens of poor people who had to pay their rent by scraping together meager finances, selling paper bags they made, and bartering. That simulation “helped us all actually experience both poverty and the stretching of our world views when we encounter it first-hand,” said Engelbrecht.
- The Rev. Dr. John Nunes, president and CEO of Lutheran World Relief (LWF), Baltimore, who “provided insight on how some kind of poverty affects us all, but that God calls everyone to address the poverty of everyone else, in service,” according to Engelbrecht. Nunes also shared information about the Lutheran Malaria Initiative — the unprecedented joint effort of LWF and the LCMS to end malaria deaths in Africa by 2015.
- The Rev. Andrew “Andy” Whaley, pastor of Discipleship and Community Development at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Plano, Texas, who served as conference worship leader and facilitator for a panel “to focus our discussion and bring it to a ‘now what?’ in our lives and schools,” Engelbrecht said.
Conference participants also attended breakout workshops — choosing from some 25 offered over four sessions.
Engelbrecht noted in an email to Reporter that “from all accounts — written and spoken, the conference was a huge success. People were inspired by the speakers, deeply moved and affected by the simulation, enabled in how to be about and do service and service learning, enlightened and/or encouraged by the scope of the Lutheran education system in Asia, [and] impressed by both Concordia School, Kowloon … and HKIS,” where conference sessions were held.
HKIS and the Lutheran Church–Hong Kong Synod (LC-HKS), the LCMS partner church there, co-hosted the conference.
Engelbrecht added that conference registrants also were “happy to meet and network.”
During a banquet at a Hong Kong restaurant before the Oct. 21 closing program for the conference, three awards were presented.
Patrick and Sue Frerking received Concordia University Nebraska’s Church Leadership and Outreach Award for their service at HKIS, Concordia International School Shanghai, and the new Concordia International School Hanoi (CISH, where Patrick Frerking is now principal of the Upper School).
ALEA gave awards to Dr. Tu Ngu from Hanoi, who was instrumental in negotiations leading to the opening of CISH this fall, and to Dr. Allan Schmidt of Seward, Neb., “for outstanding leadership and work in education all over Asia,” according to Engelbrecht.
Engelbrecht, who started LCMS humanitarian work in Vietnam and served there 15 years, is now located in the Portland, Ore., area. He currently serves as the Synod’s education facilitator for Asia and will begin teaching at Concordia, Portland, in January.
The Rev. Bart Day, executive director of the LCMS Office of National Mission (ONM), and the Rev. Dr. David Birner, co-executive director of the LCMS Office of International Mission, also were at this year’s ALEA conference and shared their positive impressions of it with Reporter.
“The ALEA conference was well worth the time and travel,” Day said. “It was wonderful to talk about service learning and the benefits it can have on students. It is clear that a lot of good things are happening in Lutheran education in Asia. Challenges to the Gospel are being addressed so that a faithful confession can be made to the children being served.
“The ONM looks forward to growing a partnership with our international schools,” added Day, who was installed in his position with the new National Mission office July 1. “We have so many things to share and learn from one another. I pray that the ONM can support and uphold the work of Lutheran schools around the world.”
Birner was among those who helped start the ALEA and organize its first conference in 2002.
“This one was outstanding,” he said of this year’s conference. “Its service learning emphasis gets right to the heart of Lutheran education, as Lutherans engage with the world around them. It’s one of the Lutheran distinctives — not setting ourselves apart from the community, but right in the middle of it.”
Birner continued that this “distinctive” is “the power of Lutheran education in Asia.”
“This conference was just exactly about engaging with the communities we serve and the poor in and around our communities,” Birner said.
He added that it was evident to him from this year’s conference that its “multinational mix is expanding, and that’s good.”
“Two factors are at work” in that regard, he explained. “The schools have raised the profiles of Lutheran education in Asia and the LC-HKS has raised the profile of Lutheran education in the Chinese community. Those two pieces have attracted Lutheran students from Asia and the U.S. Asia is really the common denominator for a large sector of Lutheran schools.”
For more information about the Asia Lutheran Education Association, click here.
Posted Nov. 16, 2011