Christian Higher Education in the Developing World

Philosophy & Mission

As a cross-cultural church planter for 17 years in rural Africa, I discovered that mission service is often limited to short terms and viewed as professional development. Both of these issues are a consequence of the widespread mindset that workers serve for a specific time as opposed to focusing on a task or making missions a career. Serving at an institution of higher education in one of the poorest countries in the world, I find myself more aware of the effects of these mindsets. Universities are places to train leaders and research ways to build capacity for their constituency. To achieve these goals, universities need qualified and experienced professionals. Yet in a developing country, it is often difficult to attract mission-minded workers who are professionals willing to contribute to the long-term mission of the Church. The good news is that every worker, professional or not, can choose to contribute to the mission.

Christian universities are part of a larger trend in Africa. Joel Carpenter notes that Christian institutions of higher learning have mushroomed across Africa.[1] This follows the secular trend across Africa. It is through universities that societies can develop effective leaders and professionals. The mission of Christian educators in these areas is different from the mission of secular educators, however.

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Our mission is not primarily about economic development or overcoming oppression. Our focus is redemption, developing our students to their full potential in Christ. We focus on holistic education that allows the student to grow emotionally, physically, spiritually and mentally.

Here the role of teachers is vital. Christian teachers need to take time to be with the student. Lokkesmoe and Medefinde point out that Jesus was attentive to the individual. Although he spoke to a crowd, he demonstrated an interest in individuals. He listened deeply and intently so he could pose questions that would challenge individuals to reach their potential. To do this he needed to be authentic. Because we seek to develop transformational leaders who can act using God’s principles to be agents of change for God’s glory, Christian higher education is about who we are with others. Transformational leadership is learnt in the way students are treated on a daily basis, such as by treating each student fairly and not showing favoritism and by patiently guiding students who struggle because of disadvantaged backgrounds.

This requires Christian educators who understand poverty but who can see beyond the boundaries generated by Satan. Educators who will step out in faith and lean on the One who has promised to never abandon the righteous (Psalms 37:25). Universities in developing countries need educators who can transform students by shaping their characters to honor God. In this century, more than ever, the world needs a glimpse of Jesus. This is our reason for being.


Gideon P. Petersen, vice chancellor, PhD, missiology. Currently serving at Université Adventiste Zurcher in Madagascar.

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