New Chinese School of Theology Principal Sees Great Opportunity to Share the Gospel
Dr. Irene Tran was excited to follow God’s command to come back to Canada, and in September 2017, became the new Principal of the Canadian Chinese School of Theology at Ambrose Seminary.
Born in the Philippines, Tran received her M.Div. in Taiwan and D.Min. in Denver, Colo. She served 20 years in two Taiwan C&MA churches with her husband, Wilson, including 10 years at the Taiwan Alliance Theological College. In 2005, Wilson was invited to become the senior pastor of Winnipeg Chinese Alliance Church. Six years later, Irene was called back to her home country and the Biblical Seminary of the Philippines in Manila (the country’s only Chinese seminary), serving initially on faculty and later as Dean of the Chinese department overseeing the training of pastors from China.
In late 2016, Irene and her husband started to feel God leading them somewhere else — and the journey brought them to Calgary at an important time in the development of the Canadian Chinese School of Theology at Ambrose Seminary.
“With her administrative experience and training in counselling and pastoral care, Irene brings wonderful gifts to our program,” says Jo-Ann Badley, Dean of Theology at Ambrose University. “We were so blessed to have Dr. Jason Yeung as principal for many years, and now we are blessed once again to welcome Irene.”
Preparing people of great impact
“Our little school plays a very important role in helping the Chinese church share the gospel throughout the world, especially to the many unreached among the 14 billion Chinese scattered around the globe,” says Irene Tran. “This is a great opportunity to train people to become excellent pastors and missionaries who will build and establish churches whose church members can have an impact in the greater community.”
Determining the most effective ways to do that, while continuing to provide the high quality learning expected by the roughly 50 students enrolled in the Chinese School, is one of Tran’s top priorities, and she looks forward to bringing together a team to provide insights and advice.
“This is a good time in the School’s development to review the strategic plan, and to look at what works well and what should be maintained, changed or adjusted,” she explains. “The School was founded to provide the best of both worlds — Western and Chinese methods of training. We will be asking pastors and churches what external and internal challenges their churches face today and what kind of leaders are needed in order for the church to effectively address these challenges.
“This will have an impact on the student and graduate profiles, and the curriculum design. Necessary adjustments will then be taken to make the School program more relevant and effective.”
Tran recognizes that the needs of today’s Seminary students are different from those who enrolled only short years ago. While students used to live and learn on campus full-time, now more study part-time and take up to seven years to complete their program. “Spiritual formation and community life is a little more challenging now,” she acknowledges. “And it can be harder to keep up the learning momentum.”
On the plus side, part-time study can also make it possible for more people to consider Seminary training because it can fit better into their lives. “There is a lot of potential out there,” Tran notes, “but we need to discern what God has assigned us to do in view of His overall plan. Our duty is to serve our generation according to God’s purpose.”
Integral to Ambrose’s mission
By all measures, the formation of the CCSTAS almost a decade ago by the Association of Canadian Chinese Theological Education — and with strong connections to the Canadian Chinese Alliance Churches Association — was a win-win for Ambrose Seminary and for the Chinese community when a Memorandum of Understanding was signed in 2009.
The Chinese School is another facet of Ambrose University’s mission to form leaders for churches in Canada, and responds to the reality that Christianity is becoming increasingly multicultural.
“The Christian community is growing most quickly in Canada in churches where members are largely first-generation Canadian,” Jo-Anne Badley explains. “If you are in Seminary with people who have different cultural perspectives, you develop different cultural sensibilities. The Chinese School gives us a diversity we wouldn’t necessarily have otherwise, and increases the capacity of Canada’s churches to provide leadership in a multicultural context.”
The School also affirmed Ambrose’s responsiveness. “We were asked to offer Chinese Seminary training in Western Canada because there was a fairly large population that wasn’t being served,” Badley says, noting that there are few places in North American in which to study in Chinese, and the only other opportunity for M.Div. training in Canada is at Tyndale in Toronto.
Ambrose built on its existing Seminary to create the Chinese School, which offers Master of Divinity and Master of Christian Studies programs, and diploma and certificate programs in Christian Studies. Courses are taught primarily in Mandarin, complemented by Cantonese and English.
Most CCSTAS students are from Canada because of the visa challenges faced by students from China. “Our focus, first and foremost, is that we are a Canadian Seminary concerned about leadership and formation for Canada,” Badley explains. “Since Chinese churches are very missions oriented and have a very intentional focus on education, we recognize that through the Chinese School, we are also training for Chinese churches around the world.”