Building up Resources for Theological Education in Asia


For ATL Consultation-Bangkok, Feb., 2003
Rita M. England
Building up Resources for Theological Education in Asia

I would like to begin by quoting from a report (in National Catholic Reporter) of last year’s conference “Rescuing the Memory of our Peoples” –an international gathering to discuss the whole question of Archives, particularly those relating to mission. “At the beginning of the 20th century, 80 per cent of Christians lived in the west. At the beginning of the 21st century, between 50 and 60 per cent live in Africa, Asia and Latin America” – quoted from Andrew Walls. I would add to take that further by saying that in our region we find almost half the world’s Christian population, as also half the world’s Christian history – and also theology.

At the end of the report Andrew Walls is again quoted. Two of his graduate students, completing doctoral dissertations, dealt with Christian Mission in Ethiopia – one drew on material now held in Canada, the other on oral history interviews with the region’s people. “Regarding the works, you could be forgiven for thinking these students were writing of two different places” says Walls. For the material found in Canada reflected the work and insights of the missionaries who had worked in this region of Ethiopia after WWII and of a miraculous turning around of these people to become followers of the Christian faith – while the local story told of an indigenous prophet in the 1930s who had attacked the village-based tribal cults before the missionaries arrived, thus making the ground fertile for the message of a universal god and for the seeds of the Christian faith.

This story could be repeated in every country of our region – including my own. Maori had themselves come across Christianity before the missionaries came to NZ. They prepared the way for the first missionary workers, traveling with them, interpreting for them – and they also are not given the credit due to them, even ignored, by many later mission historians!
We have in these examples two different histories or stories – depending on our point of view, on where we stand as we look at the story of our peoples’ life and faith.

a) Where do we stand?
Think about your library. What do you consider to be the most important shelves in your library –that is after a collections of Bibles? ….. What would it mean if the next most important to these shelves were a constantly growing collection of Christian writings from the Asian region (and perhaps neighbouring regions - Inner Asia/ Pacific) and Christian writings from our own country and people were to be found? What would it mean in your own understanding, your plan of work, the proposals you make to your committee, colleagues or support group?

You will know that I like to use the phrase ‘where are your feet’! The view from the path is different depending on which direction you are walking. And this is especially so for theological education and in library work. The task of Christian education, the mission work of your church, the importance of meeting with and being alongside people in your area, the focus and emphasis of theological education and the library holdings are all quite different when viewed from within the place where you stand, or the direction in which you are walking. The two papers on Ethiopian Christian history noted above show this clearly.

But where are these stories of our people to be found in our libraries? Does it worry us that so much of our own story is mis-told, misrepresented, unknown? Or do we also think the story of our churches began with the missionary and that the story as seen through the eyes of the mission boards is all there is?

b) Tradition in which you stand

You will be aware by now of the book Ministering Asian Faith and Wisdom. In chapter 2 of this you will find the long history of libraries in our region outlined. This gives a picture of an early “seminary in exile” 70 AD (p.14), and notes the spread of the written word across Asia to the east, and the development of multiple copies of writings, including of course the Gospels. It tells of libraries of indigenous materials held in India since the 2nd century, in China since the 7th century, in the Philippines from the mid-16th century-as only a few examples. It talks also of important institutional and personal libraries of the 19th-20th centuries. We stand in a long tradition of developing library collections of locally important materials!

Today we need to become more aware of this rooting of our library collections, this history to which we belong. We seem to have forgotten that we have a Christian story, in many countries, as old or older than anything in the west! We rely heavily on publications that come out of the west instead of looking to our own materials for the task of undergirding theological education in our own country. We have been blinded by so many things coming from elsewhere that we cannot see the importance of what is to hand, or the Christian story has been overlaid by other stories and needs to be recovered. Refer briefly to The Da Qun project and Martin Palmer’s The Jesus Sutras. Note also Saeki’s The Nestorian Documents and Relics in China; T.V.Philip East Of the Euphrates; J.C. England The Hidden History of Christianity Asia …and many others that should be found in your library!

c) The Resources we have

These are some of the resources we have but are only a beginning. We are working here againts a major misconception that must be countered –the idea that there is very little writing from each of our countries or from Asia as a whole, even in today’s lively theological scene. Some suggest that if we rely only on our own resources we will have very thin library collections. We hope that the publication of Asian Christian Theologies will show that this is not so! You will see that much of this Research Guide is in bibliographical form – well over 1,000 pages of bibliography is found in the 3 volumes.

But listing the material is not enough. As librarians the task has only just begun with the publication of Asian Christian Theologies. So where to begin! In introducing this Guide to groups of teachers or researchers I have likened the task to the launching of a ship, and emphasised that a book like this is not to be put on a shelf as reference only, but to be used to the full. I have suggested that we must chart our course with all the seriousness of a captain piloting the ship through wide, perhaps unknown, seas. And we must respond to the wind of the Spirit to move us along our way. How do we equip ourselves for this task? You will find much in MAFW to help you and your ideas will be useful additions to this text.


1) Have you made a survey of the Asian materials held in your library? (refer MAFW chapter 1). The first step towards building up of your Asian theological resources is to know what you already have. And that often also raises the question ‘can we find what we already have?’, or is it “lost” among other holdings? swamped by other materials? stowed away in a corner because it has not been considered important? in the too-hard basket because we don’t quite know what to do with it? uncatalogued because western cataloguing systems to not expand to cover the intricacies or different perspectives of Asian though?

Note also that now we have Directory of Asian Theological Libraries and Librarians. We are deeply indebted to Karmito and Cahyana for the work they have done, and continue to do, to plot the resource collections we already have in Asian theological libraries. This is a tool to be used for the documenting and locating of resource collections, and could be expanded with a wider cooperative effort. We should all join this team/or is it crew!?!

2) Next, an acquisition plan needs be developed – where are the major gaps to be found in your collection? What will you try to get for your library? Who else nearby holds these materials? Can a group of libraries together? (See page 50, e.g. in MAFW. )

3) Along with this is the question of the materials themselves – what are they? And here Asian Christian Theologies is an important resource. Included in the bibliographies you will find not only books, and articles, but letters, archival materials and some web-sites. Publishing detail, or journal titles and issue numbers, are given wherever possible. In this way a search can begin towards building up a valuable collection in your library.

And where are they to be obtained? Here MAFW also gives basic information, along with bibliographical listings. See particularly Part 3 – bibliographical sources; regional Asian resources; basic country references; key periodicals; publishers and agencies to help, and so on.

4) But very soon you will find a number of problems. The book you want for you library is out of print; the publisher no longer exist; many documents are only held in the west or in a person’s private collection; the journal has been lost or is not now known or remembered; the item is extremely rare or deteriorating badly, and so on. So what to do!! We do, of course, need a publishing, re-publishing, restoring programme. We also need to cooperate in the searching and the sharing of what we find. To adequately work on something as large as this we need an active team who are hunting our materials, letting others know of what is found, encouraging each other on the way – perhaps here is an important role for future networking between librarians in this region. As librarians we need to give some thought to this together and make plans as to how we will overcome these obstacles.

5) It also raises the question of what small items (letters, pamphlets, memorial minutes, etc. – see MAFW chapter 7) or what archival holdings are available and accessible. These should be searched out and deposited in a safe environment (MAFW chapter 8). We are looking here not only at the archives of your college or your church, but also those of other groups and agencies in our communities – of society-oriented groups, of NGOs, of women’s work, education, health, rural or urban centres of concern, and so on. All these are a part of the resource required in the task of training the theological student or committed lay-person for the work which he/she will do in the community upon graduation. They are a part of the resources needed to fill out the sails, or power the engines, in our traveling with Jesus and his people. (I am sure we will hear more to help us in this from the archieve conference referred to earlier – “Rescuing the Memory of our Peoples”)

6) In all this the role of the librarian, your role, is essential, not only in gathering and documenting, but in promoting and turning around the focus of the library holdings as a whole towards local and nighbouring materials – the Asian, the Philippine, the Indian, the Malaysian…heritage. Gather this material together and highlight it. This may be both a physical gathering and that of a union listing. Having these materials together, seen and available, underlines their importance and assists in research. (MAFW chapters 9 & 10)

7) The support of college staff, and others, is also essential in enabling this redirecting of the focus and goal of theological library holdings so that this immense resouce – of over half the world’s Christian heritage and today’s activity – becomes available. So – the importance of having a committee and other support groups and also the importance of support and networking within the region. (See MAFW chapters 14 and 15)

8) As this journey continues, with you as the venturers/as crew, you will find entries in Asian Christian Theologies which you feel should be changed or corrected. In a work of this size/magnitude/coverage – cooperative effort is needed. Let editors know. (Addresses for John Prior and John England are on the Brochure).

You will also find ways of handling the many tasks asked of theological librarians in Asia which
will be helpful to others. Many of the suggestions found in MAFW have come from people like you – but these are only first steps. Some means of communicating with each other throughout the region, or sharing new finds or ways of doing things, of assisting each other in this huge and so very important task must be found. Perhaps ForATL will look at this question later in the week. But in any case individual contacts kept fresh and alive will help everyone involved.

9) And finally there must be a commitment to this whole task of building the resources for theological
education in Asia, both for students of our seminaries and also for Asian Christhian themselves, wherever they may be found and in whatever work they may be engaged. This is our mission. We are called by Christ into this frontier work, to sail these seas or walk this road, with the One-living-God whom we all serve, and who is at the helm, or on the road ahead of us.

This commitment will include, at least

- a programme to develop Research Centres and libraries for Asian theological materials, both nationally and sub-regionally;
- a strategy for finding aand reclaiming the materials;
- the development of a safe, secure repository, available to all who wish to learn from and act upon their own Christian story – for these materials belong to a particular local community and country, and must become a living resource in centres of learning and action in your area. Such a resource is vital for the future development of relevant theology in your area;
- taking the necessary steps to work together – to network through a strong ForATL – so that librarians may support each other, may speak to each other across the distances, may realise the visions we have of Asian libraries for Asian peoples, may find inspiration ever new beginnings in walking together along this road.

Remember, in all these tasks as librarians we are not only custodians but ministers of the holy, mediators of wisdom. The library is a chapel where God’s presence is more fully known (See MAFW pages 25f and 35f). And here, in the library, is the “Place of the Cure of the Soul” – (found over door at Ramesseum, Thebes and later at Alexandria).


Contact Persons *

Mrs. Elizabeth T. Pulanco, Convenor, email:
Mr. Yesan Sellan, Secretary,,

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