As the crow flies, it is about 9,000 miles from Coffs Harbour, Australia to Deerfield, Illinois.
Coffs Harbour is located roughly halfway between Sydney and Brisbane. The pastor of nearby Sandy Beach Baptist Church, Terry Allen, has never set foot on the campus of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
But graduation records for May 2019 show Allen receiving a Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MA/TS) from TEDS, earned completely online from his small office in Coffs Harbour.
Allen’s interest in TEDS dates back more than 25 years, when now-Emeritus professor of New Testament Don Carson’s writings first captured his attention.
“I noted on the dust jackets of professor Carson’s books that he taught at TEDS,” Allen says. “When I discovered Ravi Zacharias studied there in the 1970s, I thought ‘wow, this has to be some Bible seminary!’”
Years later when he discovered TEDS offered a fully online MA/TS degree Allen applied immediately. TEDS director of masters programs John Simons took on the challenge of bridging the cultural gaps. Allen had difficulty understanding the TEDS class schedule.
“In the first year, I had no clue as to how it all worked,” Allen recalls. “For example, Australians do not celebrate Thanksgiving, but TEDS almost seems to shut down for a week during that time.
“John kept me in the loop with deadlines for each semester and guided me through course selection,” says Allen. “Without John, I would have messed up so many important things.”
Some would question the need for such efforts, given the options for theological education available in his native land.
“There are Bible seminaries in Australia offering equivalent courses now,” Allen says, “but I wanted to study through the organization which had fed me all those wonderful books.
“It was one of the best decisions of my life.”
As he was working on his MA/TS degree online, Allen also embraced a ministry opportunity in Nepal. Pastors there were leading midsized congregations with no training. Many of these pastors had converted to Christianity themselves only a year or two earlier.
“It lit a fire within me,” Allen says. “I could see the opportunity.”
The congregation at Sandy Beach Baptist raised money for his trip to Nepal, which came as Allen had just completed an online TEDS class in homiletics. He immediately applied that training to the preparation of 200 pastors in Nepal.
“They desperately needed to know how to prepare Bible studies and sermons,” Allen recalls. The need he observed prompted plans for a second Nepal trip.
“I had them preach to me, and attempted to give them feedback through my interpreter,” Allen says.
Faculty members in Deerfield were impressed.
“Terry was a delight to have in class,” says James Moore, TEDS associate professor of educational ministries. “He evidenced immediate application of his online educational ministry classes both into the life of his local church and his cross-cultural mission context in Nepal.”
“I have always felt frustrated that I have not been able to attend Bible seminary in person,” Allen says. “Now I am in contact with another group of Christians who cannot attend Bible seminary and I know I can help them.”
Allen never planned to attend his own graduation ceremonies in Deerfield. One day, perhaps, he will visit the campus where he earned is MA/TS degree. For now, Allen’s travel plans point to Nepal.
“I believe it is a calling on my life to go to them and to give them, free of charge, what I have been so fortunate to receive from TEDS,” says Allen.
“Like never before, I am aware of how great the harvest is, but also, how few the number of available workers.”