Engaging Lived Theology around the World with OMSC’s Online Certificate Program - Princeton Theological Seminary

“Madoka Miguchi (Japan), Esther Okiror (Uganda), and David Dwi Chrisna (Indonesia) are three of the dozen students from around the world who have participated in the first two years of OMSC’s online certificate program“

Madoka Miguchi’s work teaching at an elite Christian girl’s school in Japan was challenging and rewarding. But she couldn’t figure out why students who had been given such a thorough Christian education almost never sought to be baptized.

Was it a theological issue? Was it the way the junior and senior high school-age girls were taught? She wanted to know more but she needed guidance to explore these questions more systematically. She found the tools she needed when she joined the inaugural cohort of Overseas Ministries Study Center’s (OMSC) online certificate program in Lived Theology and World Christianity.

OMSC’s new initiative selectively accepts up to 10 students from or based in the Global South each academic year. The idea for a fully online certificate program emerged in 2020, led by Dr. Easten Law, when he was hired by the 102-year-old institution during its relocation to Princeton Theological Seminary.

“OMSC has always been a platform for engaging the lived experiences of the global church and I wanted to build a program that would promote the study of lived theology in parts of the world with limited access to this perspective,” Law shares.

The perspective turned out to be exactly what Miguchi sought. During her online course of study, she received introductory training in qualitative research methods and theological reflection, including one on one advising from Dr. Law.

Miguchi’s research explores why graduates of private Christian high schools in Japan choose not to join churches (photo by Stephanie Hau)”

Miguchi then applied her learning by interviewing alumna from her school to explore the influence of Christianity on their lives after they graduated. She learned that the girls had clearly learned and adopted Christian ethics – for example, love your neighbor. She learned that they knew how to pray, and often did. But what stopped them from joining a church or seeking baptism was Japanese culture’s collective pressures, which frowns on Christianity as an anti-Japanese sentiment.

“The cultural context prevented them from baptism,” Miguchi says. “Non-religion is their religion. Some of the findings from her research were subsequently published in the March 2024 issue of Mission and Theology, a Japanese language journal published by the Joint Research Institute of Tokyo Union Theological Seminary.”

Esther Okiror, ordained in the Anglican Church of Uganda, came to South Korea in 2021 to pursue a Master’s in Practical Theology. She recently graduated and is now a Children’s Pastor. A former OMSC student recommended the program as a way to ground her theological questions in the experiences of the Ugandan diaspora.

“I was drawn to apply because I seek to deepen my understanding of how lived theology bridges faith and daily life. I am eager to explore how theological insights can be practically applied to foster a more profound, transformative engagement with my community and ministry,” she says.

As student of the certificate program, Okiror worked with Dr. Caroline Yih, an OMSC course facilitator based in Hong Kong, to develop a research plan to understand how brief TikTok videos with Christian content produced in Uganda influenced the spirituality and daily lives of Ugandan diaspora in South Korea.

Okiror’s research asks how Ugandan Christian social media influences the faith of the Ugandan diaspora in South Korea (photo by Derick Anies)

“This exploration revealed the significant impact of digital media on faith practice and community engagement among Ugandan Christians abroad. Studying lived theology has been instrumental in this research, allowing me to connect abstract theological concepts with practical realities,” she says.

David Dwi Chrisna, currently a PhD candidate at Baylor University, also participated in the OMSC program this past year. He joined to gain new tools and perspectives for his dissertation research on the history of an indigenous Christian movement in Central Java (Indonesia) in the late 19th-early 20th century.

“Chrisna’s research examines the lived theology embedded in the church structures and worship of the Gereja Kristen Kerasulan Indonesia tradition (photo by David Chrisna)”

“This indigenous church, which later became Gereja Kristen Kerasulan Indonesia, has developed a unique culture because it has adapted the Dutch Reformed and Apostolic theologies and ecclesiastical structures into Javanese Muslim culture,” he says. “This lived theology perspective has sharpened the questions and analysis that I use to enrich and strengthen the historical research of my dissertation.”

Chrisna got more from the program than he expected, especially from the one-on-one online advising. “The conversations helped me sharpen and expand my attention to things I had previously not paid attention to,” he says.

Miguchi agrees.

“I was surprised to get to know about myself and my culture through this program. I was very surprised to know that I could discern myself and where I stand so much better than before,” she says.

OMSC’s certificate program in Lived Theology and World Christianity is the first of many new online initiatives. The program, which runs from September through June, features coursework introducing the foundations of lived theology, world Christianity, and qualitative research methods. It features a combination of pre-recorded lectures from leading scholars and discussion boards designed to foster cultural self-awareness and reflection on church and society.

“The work is challenging,” Law says. Participants should expect content at the advanced master’s level. Students with an interest in doctoral studies have excelled in the course, juggling the rigors or their existing work with the additional research.

Dr. Easten Law, who designed and directs the program, considers it a work in progress. Its first two years, students from diverse backgrounds have participated from Hong Kong, India, Japan, Kenya, Nigeria, South Korea, and the United States. It has shown that an online approach can work but that high-touch interactions and relationships are also vital. This past year, Law hired part-time course-facilitators based in Finland and Hong Kong to assist with advising across time zones. 

In the coming year, the program will implement new “learning hubs” with partner institutions at the Sanneh Institute in Accra, Ghana, and De La Salle University in Manila, Philippines, to create small group cohorts that can meet for in person for discussion and advising.

The program’s cost is currently set at $600, but is worth significantly more when compared to other programs of its kind. Law takes pains to keep the costs as low as possible to open opportunities to those who don’t have much extra cash. Discount and scholarships are also available.

This program is just one part of OMSC’s growing commitment to creating more accessible learning resources for those around the world studying the church and its people.

“OMSC’s work, writ large, is to bring the voices of Christians from the Global South to the table. That’s where our mission is,” Law affirms, “and my hope is that this online certificate program will equip emerging Christian leaders from around the world with the tools they need to uncover important lessons that we, in the Global North, need to hear.”