Student Stories

From South Wales to South East Asia: Tom King's next steps

Tom King finished his BA in Theology at Union School of Theology this summer, ahead of a big move to Thailand in September with his wife Nerys. Read here what he’s learned over the last three years, and how it will equip him for the future.

“As I sat in my last ever exam at the end of the three year BA in Theology at Union School of Theology, writing about Paul’s view of the law in Galatians, I was reminded of just how good our God is.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

How awesome is that?! Our sin is dead and gone because of Christ’s death and resurrection in our place, and now we live, having been raised with him, with him living in us because he loves us! Praise God! It was an odd thing to leave an exam smiling and having thoroughly enjoyed the previous two hours of essay writing.

"It was an odd thing to leave an exam smiling and having thoroughly enjoyed the previous two hours of essay writing."

Luther (who has kind of become my theological hero) said, “The Epistle to the Galatians is my epistle. To it I am as it were in wedlock. It is my Katherine.” I’ll raise a pint of Wittenberg beer to that.

And there, in a nutshell, is the beauty of the last three years. Having felt called to mission in South East Asia for a number of years, I arrived at Union thinking I’d learn how to be a missionary. And whilst I’ve been hugely shaped and influenced by opportunities to think through and grapple with various missiological issues like the theological justification for work among vulnerable women, how preaching can be effective in oral cultures, and how I even begin to study and learn about folk Buddhism with the intention of explaining the gospel to Buddhists, it’s been much, much more than that.

"I have gained a greater appreciation for what it means to think theologically."

Greek helped me appreciate the New Testament with fresh lenses. Church History helped me make new friends like Luther, laughing out loud in the library as I read him talk about farting, and being close to tears as I read his accounts of how God sustained him as he sat with his daughter on her deathbed. Systematic Theology helped me understand how the church has understood subjects like the Trinity, and the Person and Work of Christ, over the last 2000 years, and rejoice in who God is and what he has done for us in Christ. Biblical Studies forced me to wrestle with issues like understanding Matthew, Mark and Luke alongside John, how we know that Isaiah wrote Isaiah, the structure of the covenants, and what exactly Paul meant by ‘faith in Christ’. I could go on: lectures on Pastoral Theology, and Preaching, as well as all the other stuff like pastoral workshops, preaching feedback sessions, and – to be honest – just sitting and chatting over lunch or a coffee.

The truth is that all these things will contribute to my effectiveness in cross-cultural mission. I definitely don’t have all the answers, but as a fellow student put it, I have gained a greater appreciation for what it means to think theologically. I have been immensely privileged to study at Union School of Theology. The lessons I’ve learned will impact the way I think about, preach and teach the Bible in a cross-cultural context for the rest of my life. But the most important thing is that over the last three years I have learned to love God more, be more grateful for his love for me as I realise how undeserving I am of it, and rejoice all the more in his goodness, and grace, and love.”

Student Profile: Roberto Vaca Herrera

Originally from Mexico, Roberto Vaca Herrera and his family have been in the UK for six years. He is one year into his BA in Theology at Union School of Theology and talks here about his experience so far.

“My wife Annie and I lived in Mexico for a couple of years after we were married, before deciding to move to West Wales (where my wife comes from) to raise our family. We have two children who are now aged six and three, and we have been here for six years. When we moved, I began working nights in a finance position, but ever since my conversion I had always felt God's call to ministry. The recommendations of my church leaders, as well as friends who had graduated from Union School of Theology, led me to resign from my position and apply to UST.

From my first visit to UST I felt at ease, and was welcomed by the friendly and professional staff. I was instantly impressed by the wealth of experience and international recognition of the teachers and lecturers, and this continues to be the case.

"I know that Union will provide me with the spiritual and practical guidance, support and encouragement I need to prepare for my future ministry"

I am currently at the end of my first year of the BA in Theology and am serving in my local church alongside my studies. I run a weekly youth group with my wife and preach on a regular basis. The training I have received so far at UST has been hugely beneficial to my ministry work, and I have grown in knowledge and confidence in areas such as youth and children´s ministry, and doctrine.

The BA course is a comprehensive and in-depth, and covers all areas of ministry preparation. UST succeeds in balancing intellect with service to promote all-around individual development: I feel that studying at UST has widened not only my academic horizons but also provided spiritual growth.

It is in my heart to be a missionary pastor, starting in my local church. I know that Union will provide me with the spiritual and practical guidance, support and encouragement I need to prepare for my future ministry, and I am praying that through these three years of study God will direct me to where he wants to place me.”

With all your mind: How training at Union helps students think theologically

Stephen Unwin and Tom King have just come to the end of three years on campus at Union School of Theology, studying for their BA's in Theology. In these short interviews, our Provost Ian Shaw chats to them about their time with Union and their plans for the future.

"Because of the shape of the programme, and because of the lecturing staff, I’ve left with the ability to think theologically."

Ian: Stephen; you’re just about at the end of your studies here, and you’re awaiting your results. What brought you to Union School of Theology?

Stephen: My wife Kate and I were part of a church in Norwich which had a great vision for training people up and sending them out. They got alongside us when we were there, and eventually there came a point – a sort of crossroads moment – when we started to ask, “What’s next?”. Training for ministry seemed to be a very good thing for me, and Kate got a research position in Cardiff. God was very gracious in giving us both an opportunity in the same place, so we moved across to Wales!

Ian: So you’ve done the BA programme full-time: what have been the high points during these three years of study?

Stephen: There are three things. Firstly, the community element is fantastic. I’ve made life-long friendships with other students, and with the staff. It’s a wonderful privilege to be able to go away and read the books of the staff members who are now my friends. Secondly, from an academic perspective, I expected to come to college and leave with better knowledge; knowing more things. But actually – and I think more importantly – because of the shape of the programme, and because of the lecturing staff, I’ve left with the ability to think theologically. And that’s far more valuable than just filling your head with stuff, because it’s a life-long skill for ministry. Thirdly, and most importantly, in the final sentence of my final exam I was able to write, “Because of the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ we can come to our Father and cry Abba.” That is the most tangible truth from my time here. It’s the best thing ever.

Ian: Thanks so much for sharing that. Tell us – what’s the next step in life and ministry?

Stephen: This past year I did a dissertation which Bob Letham very kindly supervised. It was called, “Grace and Gratitude in the Theology of Karl Barth”. I loved seeing that Christ is the grace of God, and that our response is just utter gratitude. I also loved and thoroughly enjoyed the dissertation process, so my hope is to do some further studies, ideally alongside some form of pastoral ministry. What that might look like right now I don’t know, but that is the general hope.

Ian: Thank you Stephen – we will be praying for you and Kate as you explore these ideas and take your next steps in ministry.

"I felt huge joy in writing about God’s goodness to us in Christ."

Ian: Now, Tom, it’s been great to have you here, too. You’ve done quite a bit at Union, being Student President as well as studying. What is the thing that will stand out in your memory when you go away from here?

Tom: I echo everything that Steve said! Learning to think theologically – training your brain to think in a certain way; thinking about things you wouldn’t have otherwise thought about; reading books by random dudes from 200 years ago and being challenged by their thinking – has been invaluable. And, similarly again, in my final exam last week I felt huge joy in writing about God’s goodness to us in Christ. I left that exam thinking, “I really enjoyed that.” Which was an odd feeling for me!

Ian: Tell us about being Student President. What did that look like?

Tom: This year in particular it has meant lots of meetings about Open University validation, and lots of report writing for the QAA (Quality Assurance Agency). It has also involved trying to make sure that everyone on campus is OK, and being a link between students and staff. It has been a real privilege to serve our brothers and sisters at the college.

Ian: What are your plans for the future when you move on from Bridgend?

Tom: I arrived at Union School of Theology three years ago with a very definite plan. My wife Nerys and I want to move to Thailand, and seek to bring the gospel into the lives of men, women and children who are caught up in the sex industry in Thailand. We are moving out there in September, with a Christian mission agency called UFM (United For Mission), and in partnership with our sending church, Highfields Church in Cardiff.

Ian: That’s great news! Thailand is a very beautiful country – I’ve been there – but it’s quite hard in terms of gospel witness. How are you preparing for that?

Tom: We’re praying a lot. We’ll spend the first year, or maybe year and a half, doing full-time language study. If I want to open up the bible and preach to and teach the Thai people, I have to be able to speak Thai. Nerys is a Trauma Counsellor and she’ll be delivering all of her counselling in Thai as well. So language is really very important to us. The church situation in Thailand can be quite difficult: there are really, really excellent churches, but unfortunately, there are also some not very good churches, with lots of influence from the prosperity gospel in particular. I’m not really sure over the long term whether we’ll be planting a church, or whether we will be working in an existing church, but I certainly see myself in church-based ministry, preaching and teaching, and making Christ known to those who don’t know him.

Ian: What sort of skills and knowledge have you gained here which will stand you in good stead as you go into your future ministry in Thailand?

Tom: The modules I particularly think of are mission-based modules. I’ve been trying to really think through how to communicate the gospel in a way that is faithful, but accessible to Thai people. There are certain concepts and ideas that we kind of take for granted in our western understanding of the world that actually make no sense to someone who lives in Thailand. So these mission-based modules have been particularly useful in helping me to prepare for ministry in a really different context.

Ian: Thank you so much for sharing all of this with us. We will be praying for you and Nerys as you prepare for such a big move in September and embrace a bold and exciting new ministry together.

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