It was May 2008 – 15 years ago. I sat in the auditorium of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary for assignment day. My name was read, “Jonathan Bare, Graduate Mission Associate – East Asia.” By the middle of the next month, I had been commissioned and was on a plane to Asia. Asia became my new home, the place my wife Kim and I would meet (she was serving there as a Friends Network missionary) and get married, where our son Josiah would be born, and where we’d serve until taking a call back to our new home in the U.S. in 2016.
Fast forward seven years. In January this year, my family moved “back home” to a new home in Asia. My current call is to serve as the president of Asia Lutheran Seminary and the Integrator of the Asia One Team. Before my arrival, Asia Lutheran Seminary was asked to transition from being a seminary for only East Asia to being a regional seminary for all of Asia. To facilitate that pivot, my family and I are stationed in Chiang Mai, Thailand, which serves as the hub of the Asia One Team.
So, what’s it like to be “back home” in Asia? First off, many things have changed.
There’s the obvious – my family situation has changed. When I moved to East Asia in 2008, I was single. An international move meant boxing up a few belongings that would stay in my parents’ basement, packing two suitcases, and getting on a plane. Now Josiah is ten and we have a six-year old daughter, Elina. Moving meant giving away trailer loads of stuff, packing up a few dozen boxes that would be stored, selling vehicles, and finding a way to get 12 suitcases to the airport (not including our carry-ons). Moving meant tearful goodbyes to family, friends, and coworkers and finding a new house, a new school, a new car. . . the list goes on and on. In the process, God taught us to be patient and flexible every step of the way. He still teaches us that a bit more every day, it seems. Moving “back home” with a family means a daily resetting of expectations, working through sadness over the loss of friends, and figuring out new lives in Thailand.
The team has changed. Missionaries have come and gone – some to new calls or retirement in the U.S., and a few, home to heaven. East Asia was its own field in 2008. Now all of Asia is served by one WELS team of missionaries. The Asia One Team serves over 16 different countries with a unified vision for reaching out and serving all of Asia. The work of the team is divided into three main branches: Explore, this includes following up on new opportunities and expansions. A second branch is Asia Lutheran Seminary, which coordinates the training and equipping of leaders throughout Asia. Finally, support, which provide the tools and expertise our missionaries and our sister churches can use to carry out their work. It’s a growing team too – this year alone, two new missionaries have already accepted calls to join us. God willing, by the end of this year we’ll welcome three more to their new home in Asia!
Asia Lutheran Seminary has changed. When I first arrived, Asia Lutheran Seminary was focused on training in Hong Kong. That expanded to East Asia and our first cohort of East Asia students graduated in 2016. Since that time, Asia Lutheran Seminary became a fully-accredited, Master of Divinity-granting seminary serving all of East Asia, and now Asia Lutheran Seminary is pivoting to serve all of Asia (all while continuing to focus on Hong Kong and East Asia). We have initial plans in place to establish a regional branch of Asia Lutheran Seminary in Chiang Mai. We’ve also created a Regional Theological Education Program within the seminary to assist with meeting the needs of our sister churches throughout Asia. And in addition to all those changes, I came in and am now the president of these efforts – humbling, to be sure.
But not everything has changed, this is still home – and it’s good to be “back home.” We know it’s home because it’s the place that God has called us to be. He has placed us here – and we know that he is with us each and every step of the way. It has not changed that his word is still going out to all the world – and we are still his witnesses. As his word goes out, he is accomplishing his purpose through it and strengthening us for the task in front of us. Because of that, it’s good to be “back home.”
Written by Rev. Jonathan Bare, president of Asia Lutheran Seminary
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