Institutions, like ideas, adapt to changes in culture and context. When two of the world’s oldest institutions, higher education and the church, become united, staying flexible and current can be challenging.

In 2014, the Index of Cognitive Skills and Educational Attainment ranked South Korean education number one in the world. Its foundation was three schools in Seoul established by American missionaries in 1885 and 1886: PaiChai School for Boys, founded by Rev. Henry Gerhard Appenzeller, Ewha School for Girls, founded by Mary F. Scranton, and YonSei medical school, founded by Dr. H. N. Allen, later becoming YonSei University, one of the leading universities in Korea.

This educational excellence occurred, in part, because the missionaries working in this region recognized the needs of the people they served, building schools before churches, and healing the sick before they preached the gospel. They used education and medical skills as tools for evangelism to meet the needs of people based on the redemptive spirit of Jesus Christ. If Methodist missionaries in the 1800s were able to build educational institutions in countries where they did not even know the language, why can’t organizations today build effective models of development that advance their mission, regardless of the setting?

The mission of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) within the United Methodist Church (UMC) is to establish the best online educational system in the twenty-first century. The UMC has built a network of Methodist-related seminaries and higher education institutions around the world. The inclusion of different races and cultures within that network will accelerate in the future due to the development of communication technology and fast transnational travel. Developing a relevant globally-accessible educational system is urgent.

Research conducted in 2007 by GBHEM showed the cost for continuing education was too great in a declining economy. We recognized that many UMC clergy were seeking high-quality continuing education materials, but were struck by the realities of economic circumstances. UMC Cyber Campus was designed to meet this need.

UMC Cyber Campus is based on this vision: evangelize the world through higher education by using our connections as a worldwide church and a gateway to higher education based on our Wesleyan heritage. It provides a single entry point through an online catalog and aims to enhance global access to affordable high-quality, church-related educational resources. GBHEM established this online educational system to develop confident and knowledgeable Christian leaders on an ongoing basis.

UMC Cyber Campus includes the following features:

  • One stop learning: videos and online consortia on the same site.
  • Multilingual: the entire site can be translated into 80 different languages using Google Translation. Videos have 56 multilingual captions available through YouTube translation.
  • A phone app enhances access to UMC Cyber Campus for countries where the internet is not streamlined.
  • Institutions and teachers can submit online course and degree material at umccybercampus.com.
  • Schools and programs can reach a global community by advertising through UMC Cyber Campus.

Just as our forebearers recognized the needs of the mission fields they served, so progresses our work today.

New technology allows UMC Cyber Campus to be a twenty-first century response to John Wesley’s vision, “The world is my parish.” This program will nurture grassroots leadership from a distance and empower local leaders by making disciples of Jesus Christ through education based on our Wesleyan heritage.

Any organization that wants to see their message and impact spread must understand the context and needs of those whom they desire to carry their message and serve. Asking the big questions, seeking great impact, and responding with solutions that meet the needs of the intended community is how relevancy is maintained in an ever-changing world.


HiRho Y. Park, Ph.D., D.Min., is the Director of Clergy Lifelong Learning for the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of The United Methodist Church. She oversees the continuing education and spiritual formation for clergy and provides support for United Methodist clergywomen in theological education, enlistment, and research. She holds a Ph.D. in Practical Theology from the Boston University and a doctor of ministry degree from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. This article was adapted from WellSprings journal, 2015. www.umccybercampus.com/

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