Two Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary students have found that the 2+3 Master of Divinity program was the quickest way to get to the mission field, gaining both practical experience and theological training in their education.
The married couple, Patrick and Libby Anderson*, went from enrolling in Southwestern Seminary in the spring of 2019 to serving on the mission field in just over two years. But living life on fast forward fits Patrick Anderson, who is currently nine months into the three-year field portion of the 2+3 program.
The 2+2 and 2+3 programs in the Roy J. Fish School of Evangelism and Missions allow students to earn 60 course credit hours on the Southwestern campus, followed by either a two-year short-term missions commitment or a three-year long-term missions commitment through the International Mission Board (IMB). The combination of course work and field experience counts toward a Master of Divinity degree with a concentration of international church planting.
Because Patrick and Libby are called to be career missionaries, he opted for the 2+3 program, which allows them to apprentice with a career IMB missionary and work with Central Asian refugees who are finding new homes in Europe.
The Andersons knew each other as friends throughout their college years but only started dating in early 2018. Soon, however, they were connected in a literal world-wind marital engagement.
“I spent our entire engagement overseas in North Africa,” Patrick said. Libby, who was a year ahead of him in school, graduated while Patrick was away. When Patrick returned to the United States at the end of 2018, he graduated, and they were married in early 2019. He enrolled at Southwestern the same semester.
“When we first started dating, she was in the application process for Journeyman and that fell through for multiple reasons, but I knew I wanted to go overseas at that point as well. So, we decided to go long-term and the 2+ program,” he explained.
Libby said she they both wanted to go the field as soon as they could. “I said, ‘I don’t want to sit in Fort Worth for four years, while you finish your degree.’ So, that led us to the 2+ program because it was the shortest amount of time we could take and him get a full degree and get us on to the field,” she explained.
Patrick was raised on the mission field as his parents served in Central Asia. His older brother and other relatives are also missionaries. Libby’s family are believers and are supportive of her serving overseas, but found it “a little shocking” when she relocated to Texas. “I was the first one to move away,” she said. “They are supportive, and they are wrapping their minds around us not being there for holidays.”
Although they have been on the field for a short time, Patrick said the biggest need he sees is for theological training for the people group with whom they are working.
“We have amazing ministries that are evangelical and are sharing the Gospel with the refugees. But what is really hard is how do we follow up with them?” he said. “How do we get a refugee family living in Europe to have a healthy church community, if they don’t speak the local language here and are from a completely opposite culture?”
Patrick said while there are healthy churches where they are working in Europe, he wondered “how do refugees fit into that? That’s our biggest question that we are here to try to answer.” Both he and his missions team leader believe the answer is in theological training. “That is his vision of the future of refugees, and we are here to assist him with that. I can only do that because of the education I had at Southwestern.”
Though there is a local church that has a fellowship for the people group they are serving, Patrick said having seminary-trained workers on the field helps answer important questions such as “What is a pastor?” “What are the marks of a healthy church and how do you move towards that?” and “What even is a church?”
“All of these things are things that I have studied at seminary and that I absolutely need to know and use, because it is the biggest thing we are trying to answer,” Patrick said.
Looking back, Patrick said having Matt Queen, professor of evangelism and L.R. Scarborough Chair of Evangelism (“Chair of Fire”) in the Roy J. Fish of Evangelism and Missions, as his professor prepared him for the work they are doing. “Dr. Queen is great at lighting the fire under you for sharing the Gospel,” Patrick said. “In that class, we were trained on how to share the Gospel with all different types of people, and it gave a push that semester to share more.”
As part of the class, the Andersons went to a refugee community near Southwestern and met numerous people from the same people group with whom they now serve. “We kept going there after that semester and we went all throughout seminary in that community in door-to-door evangelism,” Patrick said.
Libby worked full-time to pay the couple’s bills, but her “job was working with refugees as well” which helped the Andersons “get prepared.”
In the evenings, Libby also took women’s certificate courses at Southwestern to fulfill the IMB’s academic requirement for a spouse. Even after fulfilling the basic requirement, she “didn’t stop,” Libby said. “They were so valuable, I just kept signing up and signing up.”
Libby added that she really appreciated her training at Southwestern. “Our time, for both of us at Southwestern, was unmeasurably valuable with the conversations we are having now. For the different pathways that are available for women to sit in classes and learn these things, I needed it. When we are talking to someone that we are ministering to, I needed the valuable education I got from the women’s program. The seminary was a great experience for both of us. The 2+ program is the best program,” she said.
Even though the work with refugees has changed a great deal since the crisis accelerated in 2015, there have been a steady stream of refugees coming to Europe. “When we first got here, we asked our team leader about the changes occurring and how to plan for the future. His answer to us was ‘You need to be flexible, but I can see you guys being here for 20 years.’ So, we are trying to be flexible, but right now there is enough work here,” Patrick said.
One of the changes Patrick observed is the teenagers who have been in Europe for a while are becoming more like the European culture than the culture from which they came. The team in Europe is learning, adapting, and being flexible on helping churches address this and other family dynamics.
Libby added that even though some of the refugees have been in Europe for more than 20 years, there are still gaps in their theology and they need help in learning how to form healthy churches. The need for more laborers in the field is going to continue, she said, and not just with these refugees.
“Our people group is not the only group that needs theological training,” she said. “People who have been theologically trained are needed all over the world.”
More information about Southwestern Seminary’s 2+ programs can be found here.
*Names changed for security reasons.