Stephen Unwin and Tom King have just come to the end of three years on campus at Union School of Theology, studying for their BAs 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 Katy 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 Katy got a research position at Cardiff University. 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 Katy 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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