This fall, students began taking classes in a Mandarin language master of divinity degree program at Tyndale University College & Seminary in Toronto. Fifteen students participated in the inaugural semester, which included five classes offered entirely in Mandarin, the principal language of immigrants from mainland China.

The Canadian Chinese School of Theology's board is raising funds for new faculty positions and new library resources in the Chinese language. (TYNDALE UNIVERSITY COLLEGE & SEMINARY)

The new program was the result of a need expressed by Toronto's Chinese. The Mandarin-speaking population in the region has seen rapid growth over the past ten years. Leaders from the Chinese community approached the school about offering a Mandarin language program so that Chinese students without a mastery of English could obtain seminary training in their native language. The school was interested in partnering with them and launched a project called the Canadian Chinese School of Theology at Tyndale Seminary.

Dr. Brian C. Stiller, president of Tyndale, explained the need for a Mandarin degree program: "Historically, Cantonese-speaking people of Hong Kong have a British background, so they are oriented toward English in their early childhood experience," he said. "The Mandarin, coming from mainland China, don't have that advantage. Given the number of churches that are actually exploding throughout the city Chinese churches the Mandarin influx is demanding pastoral service in the Mandarin tongue, and those who are given to pastoral ministry in the Mandarin community tend not to have the skill in English as the Cantonese do. So we've developed a seminary within the seminary."

Dr. Janet Clark, academic dean at Tyndale, was instrumental in getting the program up and running. She explained that the core requirements are no different from the school's regular classes. "We are offering the same courses, the same syllabi, similar standards, only we're having it taught in Mandarin," Clark said."We're taking our current M.Div. template, and allowing some of these courses to be taught in the Mandarin language and allowing for students to be able to complete their assignments in Mandarin taught by an adjunct professor who teaches in Mandarin. The courses that are being offered have passed through all of our standard academic scrutiny." Mandarin-speaking members of the faculty were a key resource for developing courses.

Classes are being created and staffed as students progress through the program. The current focus is on core classes. "In our elective space, we will be having ministry-based courses that will be focused on the immigrant church," said Clark. "They will specifically target issues like ministry in multicultural contexts and strategies for Chinese ministries. So that's where we are going to see the real uniqueness of the program."

Toronto — a multicultural context

Toronto is sometimes called the most multicultural city in the world. From 2001 to 2005, the metropolitan area received more than half a million international immigrants. "In Toronto, we speak 166 languages," President Stiller said. "Our school reflects that. In fact, in most of our churches you will find that same kind of diversity."

The school itself mirrors the city's multicultural population. Koreans and Chinese comprise 40 percent of Tyndale's seminary population. Only 44 percent of the seminary student body is Caucasian, making white students the largest visible minority.

One of the fastest growing communities in the city is made up of immigrants from mainland China. Stiller explained, "After 1997, there was a relaxing of international relationships with China and the world, and Canada has had a particular kind of relationship with China over the years. It has resulted in a very, very strong migration." 

(Above and below) The Canadian Chinese School of Theology is a seminary within the larger seminary. Classes are taught in Mandarin. (TYNDALE UNIVERSITY COLLEGE & SEMINARY)

Clark concurred: "We are receiving large numbers of newcomers from mainland China, and the Mandarin-based ministries in the city of Toronto are proliferating. There's a profound need expressed in the Chinese community for the training of leaders for Mandarin-based ministries in our city and also in the world."

The Chinese Christian community

The seminary's relationship with Toronto's Chinese community goes back to the mid-'80s. In 2000, the school established the Hudson Taylor Centre for Chinese Ministries, and in 2005, in partnership with the Association of Canadian Chinese Theological Education, it launched the Canadian Chinese School of Theology.

The board of the Canadian Chinese School of Theology is composed of representatives from Tyndale and the city's Chinese population. In addition to their work developing the Mandarin language program, the board raises funds within the Chinese community for faculty positions and library resources. "Because Tyndale wants to design and deliver a program that is responsive to the needs of Mandarin ministries, we listen carefully to these partners in shaping a program that is consistent with all our academic standards, but at the same time is responsive to their ethnocultural context," said Clark.

"Because we're a transdenominational school and evangelical, and given that most of your Chinese churches, regardless of denominational stripe, are evangelical, they have found Tyndale to be a good center for training," said Stiller.

In addition to their essential role in developing and funding the program, the Chinese community has also been a source of qualified faculty. "Because of the pool that exists here in Toronto, we've been really successful at getting instructors," said Clark.

The future

In the near future, the school plans to hire more full-time Mandarin-speaking faculty. Though preparing classes a semester at a time, Tyndale is committed to growing the program. "We're committed to offering all of our M.Div. courses in Mandarin eventually, with the commitment to offer a full degree program," said Clark.

"We see this as a long-term project," said Stiller. "Of course, second- and third-generation immigrants tend to resort to the language of the local community, but we expect for the next 10 or 15 years, we will have a demand for people trained to minister in the Mandarin language."

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