The Foundation for Theological Education in Southeast Asia
NB: A book documenting the history of FTESEA is available: SUPPORTING ASIAN CHRISTIANITY’S TRANSITION FROM MISSION TO CHURCH, A History of the Foundation for Theological Education in South East Asia. Samuel C. Pearson, Editor (Eerdmans, 2010).
⇒ 75th Anniversary Historical Presentation / Photo
⇒ A River of Living Water: A Historical Sketch of Nanking Theological Seminary and the Board of Founders by Frank W. Cartwright
The Foundation for Theological Education in Southeast Asia (FTESEA) is the successor organization to the Board of Founders of Nanking Theological Seminary . In the early 1930s Rebecca A.D. Wendel Swope and Ella V. Wendel bequeathed a sizable sum of money to the then Board of Foreign Missions of the Methodist Episcopal Church with the stipulation that the income was to be used for “Nankin (sic) Theological Seminary.” In June of 1932 the seminary’s Board of Managers in Nanking decided that it would be advisable to organize a Board of Trustees (Founders) in the United States. The organizational meeting of the Board of Founders was held on June 5, 1937 with four denominational mission boards as members.
Within two years after the establishment of the Peoples Republic of China in 1949, the Board of Founders could no longer relate to Nanking Theological Seminary. After several years of exploring its options, the Board of Foreign Missions of the Methodist Episcopal Church requested and received an order from the New York Surrogate’s Court authorizing the Board of Founders to use the income from the Swope-Wendel Fund for “(1) any purpose contributing to Christian theological education (a) in China, or (b) in areas of Asia and of the Western Pacific beyond the confines of China…when the said corporation shall deem the same advisable because of conditions existing in China.” In 1963 the Board of Founders’ name was legally changed to the Foundation for Theological Education in South East Asia.
South East Asia
Initially, the Board of Founders worked with four to seven seminaries in several South East Asian countries. By 1957 these relationships had stimulated the formation of the Association of Theological Schools in South East Asia (ATSSEA). In 1980 ATSSEA changed its name to the Association for Theological Education in South East Asia (ATESEA).
During the 1970s, under the leadership of its then Chair, Charles Forman, the FTESEA invited ATSSEA to join it in setting up procedures for Asians to make the decisions regarding FTESEA’s grants to the member schools of ATSSEA and ATSSEA itself. First, ATSSEA and the FTESEA set up a Joint Regional Planning Commission. Since this joint Commission was successful, ATSSEA decided to establish its own Resource Commission. The FTESEA gave it the responsibility of developing recommendations to the FTESEA regarding the grant requests from the ATSSEA member schools and ATSSEA itself. The FTESEA has regularly adopted the recommendations of the Resource Commission.
In its first years the Resource Commission continued to recommend grant requests from all of its member schools. By the mid-1980s the Resource Commission had decided to stop approving grants for its schools in the more developed countries, i.e., Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, etc., and to increase the FTESEA grants to schools in less developed countries, i.e. Myanmar, Vietnam, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Indonesia, etc. The Resource Commission also decided to limit FTESEA grants to the improvement of libraries.
At its 2001 General Assembly ATESEA reduced the size of the Resource Commission to six, and included persons with fund raising experience in its membership. The new Resource Commission continued the tradition of strengthening theological libraries, but also recommended some non-library grants to the FTESEA.
By 2003 ATESEA had 97 member institutions in 15 Asian countries. It also supports Master of Theology, Doctor of Theology, and Doctor of Pastoral Studies.
Renewal with China
When Nanjing Union Theological Seminary reopened in the late 1970s, President K.H. Ting wrote the FTESEA and asked that the FTESEA help the seminary by providing books for its library. Under the leadership of Frank Cooley, a Presbyterian missionary to Indonesia in the USA on furlough, a project for providing books for the Nanjing library was begun. Cooley collected catalogues from various publishers of theological books, and sent them to Bishop Ting. Nanjiing was invited to select the books it desired for its library, and order them through Cooley. When Cooley’s furlough ended, Marvin D. Hoff, who was FTESEA’s Executive Director, continued this project with the assistance of his wife Joan.
In 1989 Bishop Shen Yifan, then General Secretary of the China Christian Council (CCC) and the chair of the CCC’s Commission on Theological Education met with the FTESEA Executive Committee. He encouraged the FTESEA to continue its bilateral relationship with Nanjing and to begin a new partnership with the CCC Commission on Theological Education. The Executive Committee readily agreed.
Through its partnerships with Nanjing and the Commission, the FTESEA has
⇒ Provided books for the libraries at Nanjing and other Three-Self Patriotic Movement and China Christian Council (TSPM/CCC) seminaries throughout China;
⇒ Provided a major grant for building the new Nanjing library;
⇒ Provided scholarship assistanc to seminary faculty members doing advanced theological study in the USA and Canada;
⇒ Provided major grants for the purchase of computers to TSPM/CCC seminaries;
⇒ Provided other grants as requested by Nanjing and/or the Commission.
In 1985 Bishop K.H. Ting asked the FTESEA to support two publications. The first, Nanjing Theological Review, converted Nanjing’s publication of the same name into traditional characters for distribution to Chinese living outside of China. After initially publishing each quarterly issue, it was decided in the mid-1990s to publish an annual issue of articles selected from the quarterly issues. All of the work on this publication is done in the Amity Foundation’s Hong Kong office. The second publication, the Chinese Theological Review, which is published annually, translates into English CCC statements, articles/essays, sermons, etc. written in Chinese for Christians in China. Janice Wickeri has been the editor of this journal from its beginning.
The current editor is Theresa Carino.