For most Kiwis, retirement is about retreating to the bach to grow tomatoes, watching the sun set over a good pinot, and taking sojourns to Auckland to spend time with the grandkids. Not so Rod and Denise* Edwards. “Opportunity to live in Asia challenged us. Two years in an ordinary Filipino neighbourhood exposed us to Asian perspectives; it was to shape our retirement,” they share.
With that immersion in Asian culture came another shock: Christian leaders leaving for post-graduate courses stay overseas (95% of them). The concern to address this became the ‘retirement’ mission for this energetic couple. Both highly qualified and experienced specialists in their fields, Rod and Denise now spend the greater part of their time working across four of LeaDev-Langham’s Partner Schools in India, Myanmar and Papua New Guinea. They support Christian leaders in the Partner Schools to have greater impact, by improving in-country theological education and training, assisting Christians with post graduate qualifications, retaining them in their countries and committed to local church discipleship and evangelism.
As a couple, they have a passion for learning. They are all about quality Christian education, which is why volunteering their time and expertise to LeaDev-Langham is such a good fit. “There was a strong sense of the matching of LeaDev-Langham’s needs and focus areas with our competencies, skills, and desire for mission, so it really works.”
A vocational educator, with a doctorate in Education, Rod’s work history includes 33 years with the Bible College of New Zealand (now Laidlaw College) where he was Student Dean and Head of Department, Practical Theology. He has been a Council Member for the Churches’ Education Commission (30 years), on the CLTC NZ Advisory Council and the Slavic Gospel Association, as well as the Chair of the Board of Directors for Bethlehem Tertiary Institute in Tauranga.
“I am working to encourage a biblical culture of ongoing learning, where learners understand, internalise, think and act.
This is particularly important for a deepening of faith and discipleship in the church, and to defend it against erroneous teaching and cult-like pressures.”
Dr Rod Edwards
At LeaDev-Langham’s Partner Schools, Rod mostly supports the faculty to gain depth in an understanding of learning and skills in teaching. In cultures where learning is mostly by rote, critical thought and analysis – even on a tertiary level – are hugely lacking. To improve the quality of courses offered to students, this pedagogical rigour with the lecturers and teachers is very important.
“Many lecturers are teaching from their own study notes, now over a decade old,” shares Rod. “What I am working to encourage with the faculty staff, is a biblical culture of ongoing learning, where learners understand, internalise, think and act. This is particularly important for a deepening of faith and discipleship in the church, and to defend it against erroneous teaching and cult-like pressures.”
Denise trained as a nurse, but after obtaining a MA Social Science specialising in Human Resource Leadership, moved into senior management at Laidlaw College, as Human Resources Manager and later also as Quality Assurance Manager. She then became LeaDev-Langham’s Admin Manager, and was also the Chair of Pioneers for several years. Understandably, her speciality support area with Partner Schools is quality assurance and accreditation – an absolute essential if they are to attract and keep local students, and gain credibility in the global education arena.
“Partner Schools aspire to offer quality, globally aligned theological education that is compliant with accreditation standards. To help achieve this, I work with faculty and admin staff to encourage a culture of continuous improvement, moving from ‘being happy’ to developing the capability of self-appraisal and ongoing growth.” Again a big challenge in an educational setting where questions have historically had only one right answer!
“Partner Schools aspire to offer quality, globally aligned theological education that is compliant with accreditation standards.
To help achieve this, I work with faculty and admin staff to encourage a culture of continuous improvement.”
For eighteen months, up until June 2016, Denise worked closely with MEGST (Myanmar Evangelical Graduate School of Theology) staff on an allied flagship impact assessment process: PEP (Programme Evaluation Project). One hundred and thirty seven alumni who graduated between 1998 and 2015 were surveyed to see what impact their time at MEGST had had on their lives and ministries, with key points for improvement being incorporated back into the MEGST programmes. Read more here.
Rod and Denise’s roles mesh well together, and sometimes so do their flight times! In the past few years, they have both spent almost more time out of New Zealand than at home – what a way to spend a ‘retirement’! Why?
“Well, it’s simply a matter of ‘to whom much has been given, much is required’,” responds Rod. “In the west, we have much more than others; we need to respond accordingly.”
They encourage other skilled Christians to volunteer through LeaDev-Langham: “Go for it! The needs are huge, but the rewards are also huge.”
* In Loving Memory: Denise passed away in October 17 after a battle with cancer.