In Commemoration of BSOP’s 45th Anniversary
by Joseph Shao, Ph.D.
There’s a famous Chinese saying which goes: “It takes ten years to plant a tree but a hundred years to build a man.” BSOP may not be in its centennial celebration, but these forty-five long years have brought amazing fruits and deeper truths that continue to testify to God’s constant presence and His faithful promises to this institution. Again, the phrase from Ralph Waldo Emerson comes to mind: “The years teach much which the days never know.”1
Looking back, these forty-five years have left many precious marks of God’s timely provision and total protection. The first twenty years saw BSOP’s founders weaving the God-given vision with unwavering faith through persistent prayers. The recent twenty-five years show the touching pattern of such a vision when colors and shapes fit themselves into BSOP campus life under the Master’s divine plan. God’s gracious Hand is seen upon her, leading her ahead as the task of theological training gets broader and heavier. Yet traces of God’s bountiful blessings can be glimpsed as we turn the pages of BSOP’s walk with God throughout these precious growing and learning years.
Further Fulfillment of the Founder’s Vision
As stated in the history of this seminary, the founders longed to see the need of training local Christian workers being met.2 During the 1960s and even in the early parts of the 1980s, many local churches relied on pastors and church leaders from abroad to take charge of the pulpit nourishment and church-related ministries. The words of Jesus that a prophet is without honor in his own house sank deep and firm into the local church scenery. However, with the movement of acquiring Filipino citizenship through naturalization that the late President Ferdinand Marcos started toward the latter part of the 1970, a swift tide of foreign pastors returning to their homeland or going to the US began to fill the headlines of many church bulletins. Suddenly, one by one, the local Chinese churches began to realize the urgent need of training and keeping the local people for the local churches. As a result, today, among all the registered 82 Filipino-Chinese churches all over the Philippines, 90% of them have senior pastors and full-time workers who are graduates of BSOP. In fact, over the past four decades and five years, BSOP has trained more than 500 men and women for various ministries in churches, para-church organizations, Christian day schools and other ministry-related institutions.3
Indeed, a strong foundation has been laid by the nine God-fearing founders who had bequeathed such a significant heritage to those who have followed and continue to follow the heavenly vision which was set at the very start.4 Now we have a bigger team of board members coming from various parts of the world, who are willing to carry on the commission of equipping God’s workers with God’s Word for God’s works. Like the great spiritual servants of God in the Bible, they have a pure desire to love and serve God, all for God’s glory.
Prayer before anything else is still the watchword and the principle followed by our united and faithful board members. They continue to adhere to this ministry of kneeling and praying for every matter concerning the seminary, be it big or small. Surely, the principle and practice of prayer cannot be over-emphasized by those who live inside the seminary or those who serve outside its campus. It is the very breathing pulse that keeps the seminary going. Although the Monday evening prayer meetings of the board members and the faculty have long since stopped, prayers in and out of the seminary and for the seminary have never ceased at any time, rain or shine.
Farther Foresight in our Faculty Development
BSOP is one of the well-established seminaries, headed by Chinese leaders in East Asia. Rev. Hsueh Yu Kwong, our first Chinese president, assumed leadership in 1959. Before him, the late missionary Ms. Ruth Brittain was the first acting president. The students’ spiritual life and growth had been the main focus during those early years. For a decade, Rev. Hsueh, together with great Bible teachers and preachers like Rev. and Mrs. Raymond Frame, Rev. and Mrs. Franklin Lee, and Rev. and Mrs. Stephen Chiu, Bible scholars Rev. Stephen Chan Chong Tao, missionaries Ian and Helen Anderson, and Ms. Dorothy Wong, Ms. Betty Po, and other devoted missionaries and teachers, have left their marks in molding the devotional life of our students. Rev. Hsueh stamped the strict and pious Christian training lifestyle; his translation works and publications were already known all over East Asia. Rev. Stephen Chan Chong Tao’s New Testament Commentaries came as the final products of his hours of classroom lectures.
In 1975, Dr. Denny Ma and his family came to assume the presidency of the seminary and became the main catalyst in bringing renewed and solid dimensions to the theological education and direction for BSOP.5 It was during his time that the name BIOP (Bible Institute of the Philippines) was changed to BSOP (Biblical Seminary of the Philippines). For the first time, BSOP announced that degree courses would be offered, namely, the Bachelor of Theology (B.Th.) and the Master of Biblical Studies (M.B.S.) as well as the Master of Christian Studies (M.C.S.). The change was obviously needed then, as our world was changing and knowledge was moving in leaps and bounds. Yet for many, especially we the Chinese, change seems to be quite slow and scary. A prophet usually receives no welcoming ears as he echoes the crises facing the nation… However, Dr. Ma, sensitive to the restrictions coming in from the government with regard to the stay of missionaries, whether Chinese or Western, began inculcating new interests and motivations in theological education. Thus, when he departed after less than five years of stay, he left behind a new breed of fresh, greenhorn graduates who eagerly went into theological ministry. These included Vicente Lo, Hannah Ong, Jean Uayan, Nenita Lee and Tan Chiu Eng. Many of them are still presently teaching at BSOP. This is not to neglect the input of Rev. Moses Keng and the outside or foreign help from China and the West, like the late Rev. and Mrs. Paul Contento, Dr. Carol Herrmann and many others. Moreover, the seminary expanded her campus with new facilities like the library and women’s dormitory building.
As we see the fields white unto harvest, but the vineyard still short of laborers, we cannot help but cry out to our Lord for mercy and faith, to send in more workers. Still the few workers need qualified trainers to lead them. In 1981, Rev. Dr. Paul Lee Tan was installed as the fourth president, though staying only for two years. He pushed for the degree course, Master of Christian Education. Even from the beginning, the line-up of our experienced faculty has always attracted dedicated men and women from local and neighboring countries such as Malaysia, Vietnam, Korea, Indonesia, Thailand, Brunei, Burma/Myanmar, and Singapore; they were eager to come for theological training. Nevertheless, there were many times when the seminary was left without an official president. Still, the Lord graciously provided spiritual leaders and respected servants of the Lord to stand in the gap and keep watch over His work. Of course, the board, working with the faculty, continually labored to find suitable persons who could set more long-term theological goals for the seminary. At times, we also invited some of these to be vice presidents and acting presidents, among whom were Rev. and Mrs. James Shao Chun Lan and Rev. and Mrs. Peter Au. They willingly gave time and effort toward the ministry of BSOP. During Rev. Au’s time, building of the president’s apartment and audio-visual room, as well as expansion of the library, took place.
More and more, the need for training local leaders and teachers to do theological education began to sink deep into the minds of many people. Faculty development plans and faculty reserve plans have been drawn up and undertaken by other newly-formed seminaries around Southeast Asia. Countries such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia had established their own theological schools later than BSOP, but they have moved ahead with the foresight of preparing local leaders, teachers, and preachers for their own future needs as well as the need of the coming generations.
In 1988, Rev. Wesley K. Shao, now President Emeritus, became the sixth president. He stressed the importance of balancing the students’ ministry with spiritual maturity.6 He steered the seminary during those gloomy years when the impracticality of depending on leaders and ministers from abroad became a growing reality. Through his sermons and his services, Rev. Shao continues to model a constant walk with our Lord that has enabled him to keep bearing fruits even in his elderly age. He is the consoling agent of many wounded soldiers of God who come to him for spiritual encouragement. By this time, the undeniable crisis of training and equipping our own faculty to meet the growing demands of local churches had reached its apex. In 1989, Dr. Joseph Shao and his family returned from graduate studies abroad and accepted the mantle of being the seventh president in 1990. Amid the challenges of the new millennium, as our world moves into globalism and information technology makes universal digital communication a reality, the goal of preparing godly servants rooted in God’s unchanging Word cannot be neglected.
In order to provide a stronger and more continuous base of faculty and staff, BSOP’s faculty development program was launched with full support from the board members. From the early 80’s to the present time, many members of our alumni and faculty have had their graduate studies, higher theological training and sabbatical studies in various reputable seminaries in the United States and even in Israel. They are Prof. Hannah Ong Haskell, Rev. Vicente Lo, Dr. Tan Chiu Eng, Prof. Jean Uayan, Dr. Jane Chuaunsu, Dr. Wanda Po, Rev. Philip Su Gi Ty Co, Rev. Dennis Bentley Yam, and Rev. Wilson Go Kiao.
Today, we still request foreign mission boards and Christian organizations such as the Send International, the Overseas Missionary Fellowship, the Conservative Baptist Mission, and the Educational Projects, Inc., etc., to furnish us with adequate teachers and faculty who are specialists in different theological fields of study, so as to broaden the ministerial skills and horizons of our students. We had the privilege of having many respectable, devoted and able theologians and missionaries like Rev. and Mrs. Theron Wong, Ms. Julia Baum, Rev. David Dean and Rev. Carsten Laudert with their respective families, Philip Remmers and Rev. Jay Hallowell, serving with us at some periods over these last twenty-five years.
More importantly, we also need to build with our own muscles, to grow out our own tendons and rear up a local pool of well-trained teachers. We strive hard to reach self-reliance, self-provision, and self-independence in developing qualified teachers who can meet the needs of our present students.
Full-fledged Execution of a Finer Curriculum
The on-going tension facing the seminary is the student population, as it fluctuates back and forth, at times few, at times more; but altogether very precious, as one of our founders used to comment.7 This is a great improvement from those early years when at one time, there used to be only one single male student staying in the men’s dormitory as against a full dormitory of twenty women! The school year 1993-1994 seems to reflect the greatest number of new students at thirteen, and the student population reached approximately forty, including the commuters. Still, we cry out to the Lord of the harvest to send more workers into His vineyard to receive training and equipping for God’s service.
Being a minority race in the 7,100 islands of the Philippines, we, the ethnic Chinese are considered small in population. In the first 20 years of our seminary’s history, we have witnessed a handful of applicants, both local and foreign, who were mostly in their twenties and single. But for these last 25 years, however, we have opened our doors to a more diverse group of applicants – mature (mostly college graduates and professionals, single) along with some married and elderly couples, too. Many of them have been invited to serve as senior pastors of their respective local churches immediately after their graduation. We even set up a Mandarin track to train a number of overseas pastors from China. As noted earlier in this article, the degree courses were first offered a number of years after the school’s founding. This is not to belittle the training we offered in the past, but it only reflects that the time has come for more specialized and sustained training as our world becomes more sophisticated and selective.
Throughout these 45 years of theological endeavor, we still adhere strongly to the wholistic training of godly servants. Particular attention is given to maintaining equal development in three areas of the student’s life, namely: the development of his inner walk with God, the attainment of theological skills and knowledge in God’s Word, and the practice of Christian service and relating with God’s people in and outside the campus. Thus, the curriculum we follow recognizes the needed balance between classroom studies, personal Christian growth, and social life and practical internship in churches or para-church ministries. The faculty members have taken special effort in reviewing and revising our curriculum, in order to meet the challenges of new ideas, new perspectives, and new horizons in theological education. Many a times we have had to acknowledge a difficult but urgent shift in paradigm. Our curriculum must make room for our students to reflect on their learning and to put these into effect in their living.
In the midst of educational challenges for the coming generation, we finalized our requirements with the Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS) and attained the government’s full recognition of our Master of Divinity degree in 1992.8 BSOP was the first evangelical seminary in Metro Manila to gain government recognition status because majority of our faculty members were of Filipino citizenship. In 1995, BSOP also gained accreditation from the Asia Theological Association (ATA) for our Master of Divinity program in all its major tracks.9 Presently, the Commission on Higher Education has recognized our Master of Arts in Christian Education, a newly designed course for Christian educators. CHED has also given permit to our newest track: Master of Arts major in Intercultural Studies.
To assist the local churches in the training of laymen for ministries, we have provided courses through the TEE, or Theological Education by Extension program for many years. Classes were conducted in Metro Manila as well as in other urban and provincial churches. A greater force in this area has been the joint effort of BSOP and the United Evangelical Church of the Philippines in forming the Christian Ministry Training Center (CMTC) on July 28, 1995.10 These training classes are still going on, mostly in the evenings, despite our troubled environment of daily crimes, kidnappings and unrest.
Finer Facilities for God’s Fighting Troops
Elder Henry Co mentioned five periods of building programs in his article.11 The writer would like to pause and praise God for the spacious and beautiful surroundings in which BSOP is situated, to carry out her mission of training servants for our Lord. Indeed, with the added land, the acquired dormitory and the annex buildings, accommodations became available for students, teachers, visiting professors, commuters, and even alumni and guests. This also made it possible for couples with families to move into the campus, both students and faculty members alike. Indeed, the BSOP family kept growing with different age groups of people living inside. Facilities and rooms needed to be planned for a growing family. Sometime in the summer of 1993, the old one-story flat was remodeled into the Activity Center and was used alternately as the assembly hall, the recreation room, and the conference room all under one roof.
However, things do wear and tear with time and use. During one Convocation Day, which usually attracted an audience of 200 or more, a Christian brother in the construction business was present. On that very day, there must have been a crowd nearing 300. This fellow, together with those in the chapel, felt the hall shaking, the walls squeaking and the floor sounding strange. After the meeting, he offered his services to check on our buildings. Sure enough, the investigation revealed six sickly, spoiled pillars being infected with termites. This was in the oldest building, housing not only the chapel, but also the dining hall, the administrative offices, two main classrooms and part of the women’s dormitory. Since we did not have any building maintenance fund, the agreement was: “Start the needed repair works as soon as possible with whatever money we have; stop the work immediately when the money box is empty.” The damage was so massive and extensive that the cost was estimated to reach over one million pesos. Another serious repair that needed to be taken care of immediately then, was the two-story laundry building which only had hollow blocks and no foundation posts at all. The total cost of all these repairs actually reached three million pesos; yet the repair works continued until completion because the funds kept coming in, portion by portion, just in time for us to assure payment to our contractors.
As an architect once remarked, “Once you start renovating, it could go on forever.” Money could be an issue, but safety in learning was far ahead of money matters. In fact, God Himself took care of the money factor for us, as He has done in the past. He was and is and still will be the Alpha and the Omega, the ever-faithful One, who neither sleeps nor slumbers as He watches over us. In all these seemingly endless repairs and renovations, money kept pouring in from devoted people of God who opted to remain anonymous in giving before men but were moved by the grace and the love of God. God indeed provides the best for His own fighting troops.
On the 40th founding anniversary, the board members, aware of the deteriorating buildings and the unending repairs going on, waited in prayer for two long years.12 A group of our board members even solicited our architect, Philip Recto, to personally go with them on a trip abroad, as they tried to envision the building of one glorious seminary for God’s honor. By the middle of 1996, the actual 5-year plan of rebuilding the facilities of BSOP went into action. The plan covered three phases of building and the estimated cost would reach 100 million pesos, following the latest currency turmoil in the Asian market that occurred near the end of 1997. Today, the new dormitory and the administrative buildings (first and second phases of building) stand witness to God’s everlasting faithfulness amid human uncertainties.
Faithful Functions of God’s Given Funds
BSOP has also testified to God’s never-failing faithfulness and gracious provisions for these 45 long years. Over the years, BSOP has trained more than 500 men and women for various ministries in churches, para-church organizations, Christian day schools, seminaries, and other ministry-related works such as hospital chaplaincy and pioneering mission. About 30% of the alumni are scattered all over Asia, Australia, and North America; whereas 70% are in the Philippines, serving the Lord in their special callings and burdens. A crucial fact behind these figures is the untiring support and generous giving of the local churches, whose members have sacrificially donated their time, talents, and treasures to the Lord’s work.
Many unsung donors have committed themselves to share in our task of equipping God’s workers with God’s Word for God’s works. One particular incident still lingers deeply in this writer’s mind. It was toward sunset and someone came stealthily to our door and handed an envelope before dashing out. When the envelop was opened, there was found a chunk of bills amounting to 20,000 pesos, with a note saying: “This small amount of money is nothing to the rich, but a great deal to the poor like me. Please include this to help the school bring up a good missionary to spread the good news to save souls and glorify His name. God bless everyone, from MR. NOBODY.” Until today, the writer keeps this piece of note in his drawer, still not knowing the donor but being encouraged by every word in it. There are many other touching testimonies, such as that of one widow who gives regularly despite the gloomy outlook in the business field.
Being the only Chinese seminary in the Philippines doing theological training, BSOP strives to be a good and faithful steward of God’s given wealth and opportunities. Many learned and gifted Bible scholars and lecturers have come to our campus to conduct intensive and special seminars for our students. BSOP also works hand in hand with the local churches to share such expertise and to support the training of Christian leadership among the lay preachers and believers. BSOP SUNDAYS are also conducted regularly to strengthen the interrelationship between the seminary and the local church. As BSOP continues to train leaders and workers for church work and ministries, BSOP also looks to these organizations to provide more leaders and workers to come for training and equipping for God’s service.
In this strategic place of freedom and function, BSOP looks for new and more innovative ways to put into great use the resources given by God. The BSOP library has now expanded in size, volume and quality. We bring in great books and encourage students to read and research, digging deep into God’s Word and looking wide into our world. Sensing the need of the growing ethnic Chinese believers who face a multi-lingual society, BSOP has started the BIBLE READING IN AMOY tape ministry. The whole set of Old Testament and New Testament books is now complete in both audio-cassette and CD formats. This could also be one of the lasting legacies for future Christian generations. BSOP has been involved with the MINISTERS’ WELFARE FOUNDATION (MWF) to look after the needs of pastors and Christian workers through educational subsidies and medical assistance. BSOP is also one of the founding members of Asia Graduate School of Theology (AGST) with the goal of training Asians in Asia.
Our world is forever changing as technology advances in leaps and bounds. BSOP trusts the God who stays the same, yesterday, today and forever. Every good and perfect gift comes from Him, who does not change like shifting shadows. Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Founder of our faith, we at BSOP face the challenges of doing effective theological training to meet ever-increasing needs from the pulpit to the teaching halls, and much more in this millennium. BSOP will continue to move on where the Spirit of God leads, forward into the coming years. God has proved Himself faithful to His Word and His people; may He find us faithful in His work!
1 Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Years Teach One,” in It Gives Me Great Pleasure collected by Herbert Prochnow (London: PIATKUS, 1991).
2 Elder Henry Co See Cho, “The First Twenty Years of BSOP,” written in commemoration of BSOP’s 40th Anniversary.
3 “Construction Completed,” BSOP in FOCUS, March 1998, 3.
4 Dr. Joseph Shao, “On to the Next Millennium,” special 40th Anniversary Issue, December, 1997.
5 BIOP Biannual Bulletin, 23 March 1975 issue, 3.
6 Wesley K. Shao, “Moses – Model of a Godly Servant,” BSOP in FOCUS, April 1988.
7 See footnote #2.
8 BSOP in FOCUS, March 1993, 5.
9 BSOP in FOCUS, June 1995, 11. BSOP has been offering the Master of Divinity degree major in Biblical Studies, Christian Education and Pastoral Counseling.
10 BSOP in FOCUS, October 1995, 10.
11 See footnote #2.
12 BSOP in FOCUS, June 1995, 9.