There is a sense of intimacy and community at Wesley Theological Seminary. In the midst of all that, it is easy to forget that the seminary reaches far beyond its walls. Not only are its programs thriving at Wesley Downtown, they extend around the globe.
Dr. Kyunglim Shin Lee, Vice President for International Relations, has been instrumental in creating that thriving global seminary. “I remember when David called me in for a meeting,” she said, referring to Wesley’s President David McAllister-Wilson.
“He told me that Wesley is a leading seminary in the world, and asked me what we should do to ensure that it continues to be a leading seminary 30 or 50 years from now.” As it turns out, McAllister-Wilson had an answer ready – going global.
Shin Lee found herself with a new calling. “I suddenly thought about my childhood dream, which was to become a missionary,” she said. “That dream had been put aside because, at the time, women couldn’t be ordained in Korea. I had forgotten about it. But God had not forgotten, and God was calling me.”
She started by putting some clear policies in place. Chief among them was the decision that Wesley would not go into communities that she had not explored.
Now, a decade after answering the call, Shin Lee’s life is shaped by her travels. Her itineraries take her around the globe from Turkey to the Dominican Republic, Tanzania, Kenya, Togo, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Russia.
The students she recruits for the Global Asian track of the Doctor of Ministry program have also become world travelers. Each cohort participates in five sessions of two weeks each, over a two-year period. The first four sessions alternate between Wesley and Korea. The final session, though, goes farther afield.
“We have held our fifth sessions in Moscow and even in Germany,” Shin Lee said. “Last year we were in Indonesia. Next year we will be in Cambodia. No matter what country a student comes from, they learn all about the world.”
Wesley professors teach the courses in English, and are paired with a colloquy professor based in Korea. “The job of the colloquy professor is not to translate,” Shin Lee said. “They help to interpret; they help the students to understand better.”
Recruitment is already underway for the eleventh cohort. “Other seminaries are now copying us,” Shin Lee said. “So we must constantly distinguish our program from others.”
One such distinction is Wesley’s emphasis on diversity, among both students and faculty. “We want people to learn from each other, so they can become global leaders,” Shin Lee said.
She notes the growing need for trained clergy. “In those countries where Christianity is increasing, in Africa and Asia, they simply do not have enough clergy,” she said. “Our Wesley faculty are very conscious of this situation. They are responding to the call.”
All of these efforts come with a price tag that international students can rarely afford to pay. “My nickname is Matchmaker,” Shin Lee said. “I know who has the money, I know who has the passion, I know who can teach, and I know who is in need. I make the connections between all of those things.”
Quick to acknowledge her many collaborators, Shin Lee reserves special thanks for Rev. Chung Suk Kim, and for Ed Whitfield and Donna McLarty who served as co-chairs of the Wesley Board of Directors when the program first got off the ground.
“And there are so many pastors and donors,” she said. “I would like to name them all, but there isn’t room.”
Not surprisingly, Shin Lee lifts up her greatest thanks to God. “Sometimes, when I think about how much money I have to raise, I lose sleep,” she said. “Then I think how far God has led us and that God continues to provide for us through these wonderful people.”