By Samantha Adams, Staff Writer
The annual Global Opportunities Week at Union University featured speakers, ministries and mission opportunities — including 19 mission trips for students that university faculty and staff will lead in 2012.
The week centered on three chapel addresses. Dr. Ingunn Breistein, associate professor of church history at Ansgar College and Theological Seminary in Kristiansand, Norway, spoke Sept. 19. Andy Pettigrew, student strategist for the International Mission Board in Botswana and one of the missionaries in residence at Union, gave the other two chapel addresses Sept. 21 and 23. Both the theologian and the missionary challenged students to engage with their culture and to share the Gospel with others.
The first speaker, Breistein, set the tone for the rest of the week.
Breistein said her goal in speaking to students during Global Opportunities Week was to introduce the Union community to the European church and to remind students of God’s plan for Christians to be missionaries where they live.
In addition to giving two addresses in chapel, the female theologian came to Union as a visiting professor to teach philosophy classes for two weeks.
Breistein is a member of the Free Church, an evangelical, non-state-dependent denomination in Norway. In addition to teaching, she serves as a research director for seminary students. She is married and is the mother of three daughters.
Ansgar Seminary is in the early stages of expanding into an institution with several departments, Breistein said. An exchange agreement between the seminary and Union first brought Breistein to guest teach in the School of Theology and Missions during the 2009 January term.
“We feel we have many things to learn from Union,” Breistein said. “On the other hand, I believe this exchange is useful for Union, too, since we can bring a European perspective into the teaching here.”
Julie Bradfield, director of student mobilization in Union’s Office of Spiritual Life, said Breistein was a benefit to GO Week because of her insight on the state of the church in Europe, a key place in influencing the whole world through the Gospel.
“Europe is a strategic place for mission work because (Christians) have freedom to go there,” Bradfield said. “We have access to people there who have moved from other countries where we cannot go.”
Breistein said state churches in European countries create a perception of Christianity as a cultural and historical aspect of society rather than a community of people who have personal relationships with a redemptive God.
European students are taught the values and history of the state church in school, but often by teachers who do not believe it themselves, she said.
As a result, only about 5 percent of the Norwegian population attends a Free Church regularly.
Even in such an apathetic culture, Breistein said she works to engage people in a discussion about the Christian faith lived in the context of the local church.
Breistein said one way she is endeavoring to serve the church is by sitting on a Norwegian government committee. The committee was formed to assist in determining how the government should interact with religious groups after the Lutheran state church is abolished in 2012.
She also said writing a column in the local newspaper provides her the opportunity to explain how her seminary knowledge and Christian theology relate to life in a world governed by sin.
Because of her experiences as a woman who served as a youth pastor for three years, earned her doctorate and now works in a male-dominated field, Breistein has developed a passion for supporting other women in theology and ministry.
“I have always believed, and it is the tradition of my church, that God needs both men and women in ministry in order to reach all the people with the Gospel,” Breistein said. “A service in the church is not about people working in a hierarchy, but it is men and women working in partnership in order to bring people the message of God’s saving grace and to his glory.”
While visiting Union, she sought out opportunities to encourage the female students in the School of Theology and Missions.
Amanda Bennett, an English literature and philosophy double major, is in the Modernism and Postmodernism class Breistein co-taught with Dr. Greg Thornbury, professor of philosophy and dean of the School of Theology and Missions, during the past two weeks. Bennett is one of the students Breistein
spent time with outside the classroom.
Bennett said she benefitted from hearing Breistein’s European perspectives on government philosophy, and from talking to her about working in a male-dominated field.
“It was helpful to hear (Breistein) talk about how she has experienced struggles,” Bennett said.
“It is tempting to feel the challenges women face in having higher education is only a Union problem, an American problem, but it is good to realize it is going to be a problem forever and that we should be prepared. And it is helpful to see that she has overcome those challenges.”