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Originally from a blue-collar family in northern Michigan, Vic Anderson, associate professor of Pastoral Ministries, climbed the corporate ladder as an engineer before giving it all up to teach the Scriptures in the urban and rural landscapes of Ethiopia.
“The Lord cursed me with success,” Vic says of his work as a software engineer. “I was 29, had my own office as director of engineering on the twenty-sixth floor of Williams Square in Los Colinas, making more money than I ever thought I would. [My wife], Cindy, also was working full-time as a teacher. We were double income with no kids and a house in the suburbs, two cars, life by the tail, working part-time at the church, playing softball at night. Life was very good. But after a few years I began to wonder what I would really accomplish with my life. I was running out of challenges that I wanted to pursue.”
At that time Steve Strauss (Th.M., 1980) presented Vic with a challenge of a different sort: to help him develop leaders for the Ethiopian church.
“For a reason I can’t explain, God just made that very appealing to us,” he says. “They couldn’t get us into the country as missionaries. It was illegal. But they could get Cindy in as a schoolteacher and I would go as a spouse. So we said okay. I’ll never forget walking into the president of our company and saying, ‘Here’s my resignation. I’m going to Ethiopia to teach Bible school.’ You could see this wave of incredulity coming across his face.”
In 1991 the couple headed to Ethiopia with the agency Serving in Mission (SIM), just months after the Ethiopian government collapsed.
“When we arrived, there were tanks in the streets, curfews at night, and guns everywhere,” Vic says. “But in that environment we were able to move [our Bible study] from an attic to a campus, which has become one of the nicest in all of Africa.” The Evangelical Theological College of Ethiopia, located in the country’s capital city of Addis Ababa, is now fully accredited, offers a Bachelor of Theology degree, and enrolls 350 students.
But the challenges of teaching Ethiopian students in a Westernized, urban context of Addis Ababa, which means “new flower,” caused Vic to move south of the city in order for something new to bud.
“My students could learn to preach the way we teach our DTS students, but the problem was this was not everything they needed in order to preach in rural Ethiopia,” he says. “How do you teach people in a Westernized formal setting to go back out and preach well in a rural, oral-aural, pre-modern context?”
To try to answer this question Vic began teaching in the Amharic language and analyzing Ethiopian preachers.
“Over the next year and a half I came away with 53 sermons delivered by Ethiopians down in this rural context. They would not know I was going to be recording, so it was a very natural setting,” he says. “Part of my Ph.D. dissertation is to analyze what they are doing and why they might be doing it. I have 900 pages of transcribed Amharic sermons.”
“Vic is a man of high energy,” says Mark Yarbrough, who shares pastoral duties with Vic at Centerpoint Church in Mesquite, Texas. “He has a passion for preaching the gospel and what he is saying is, ‘How do you communicate to oral learners?’ I think it’s a fascinating subject.”
A bridge between countries
Although much work remains to be done in Ethiopia, Vic decided to accept the Seminary’s invitation to join its faculty in November 2005.
“It’s difficult leaving when you know there’s a hole,” Vic says of Ethiopia, where he and his wife also adopted their two children: Julie and Philip. “But more and more churches in the United States are multicultural, or trying to become so,” he says. “And there’s such a range of cultures within the U.S. climate now that to preach in a way that touches the lives of different kinds of people is critical. It’s something that I’ve been doing for 15 years in Ethiopia as one of the main teachers at the International Evangelical Church. During those years I was preaching most Sundays to a congregation of about 1,500 people who came from 45 different countries. That’s a preaching lab par excellence.”
And it’s a lab that Vic, who remains connected to SIM, plans to bring to DTS students. In the near future he hopes to offer a credited course in which DTS students can travel to Ethiopia and learn alongside Ethiopian students.
“I’m hoping that God will use us to be an ongoing bridge for DTS students and faculty,” he says, “to go overseas all the time.”