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SummerFall 1999
Volume 4 Number 2

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Danks’s connection with Kenya began when he met Bernard Muindi, a PTS Th.M. graduate, Class of 1963, and the two became good friends. "Our home was his home," Danks remembers. Muindi went on to become the secretary general and then moderator of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa and their friendship continued. "Muindi traveled to Connecticut to say goodbye to Barbara when she was dying," says Danks. After her death and his retirement, Danks asked his friend if his theological library would be of any use in Kenya.

"I remember his answer clearly," says Danks. "He said that very few Kenyan pastors own a single book."

So Danks, with the financial help of a church member, shipped his more than 5000 books to Kenya. Immediately Muindi invited him to accompany the books to Kukuyu to work in the library there to expand, develop, and classify their collection.

Danks also brought fourteen computers donated by American churches to help with the classification, and last January got a laptop that gave the school its first connection to the Internet.

The Pastoral Institute, part of the Presbyterian Church in East Africa, trains pastors for the Kenyan church, the fastest-growing church in the world. In 1945, there were nine million Kenyans, 20% of whom were Christians. Today the nation’s population has swelled to thirty million, 80% of them Christians.

Danks has never been happier. "I’ve been fascinated by Africa since I was an eight-year-old kid," he remembers. "My favorite stamps were the one from British East Africa, they were so large and pictured giraffes and lions. Then I went to Houghton College, and its emphasis on missionary work intrigued me. So this 'calling' to Kenya has been brewing for a long time.

"Now this is where I live and where I belong," he says. "If I were writing the script, my wife would be here with me. But still, I have never known such inner contentment and harmony."

The simplicity of his lifestyle and its rhythms are largely responsible for his feeling. He lives on $2400 a year, or $200 a month, $100 of which he gives to a Kenyan family. "I earn in a year what an attorney at home makes in an hour," he says. He lives like the people he lives among: no cars, no television, no desserts. He eats sustenance meals twice a day, consisting of the corn, potatoes, beans, and cabbage the school grows. The only tutor living at the school, he breakfasts on tea and bread with his students at 7:00 a.m. At 8:00 they go to chapel, then he spends the morning working in the library, with a break for tea and conversation with the faculty. Lunch is at 1:00, work resumes from 2:00 to 6:00, with another break for tea, supper at 7:00, and then he reads for an hour before bedtime.

"It’s about downward mobility," he says. "I don’t need more than I have. I ask God everyday for grace, for discernment to be able to identify more and more with the people I live with."

Danks attends church every Sunday, though he does not preach. "I still have much to learn about Kenya" he says. "My sermon examples would still be about baseball and movies that they would not understand." He finds Kenyan worship alive and dynamic and puts it this way: "The Christian faith has a lot in common with the Kenyan people." In spite of dealing with a pandemic AIDS problem, poverty, and infant mortality, Kenyans, Danks believes, respond with grace and hope.

How long will he stay? His appointment as a PCUSA mission volunteer is until July 2000, and he has applied for an extension. The term system at the institute provides three months of vacation in December, April, and August, allowing Danks to travel home to visit his children and grandchildren. "I see them more frequently and for longer periods of time now than I did when I was in the pastorate," he says.

Danks’s unanswered question is what he will do and where he will go when he finally leaves Kenya. He has sold his home in Connecticut. "I don’t know the answer yet" he says. "I’m a wanderer now with no real home and that’s OK. So, I guess home is where I am, and for now, that’s Kenya."

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Which he did, studying at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, and also at its campus in Israel, focusing particularly on the origins of apocalyptic literature and chapters 24 through 27 of Isaiah. He spent fifteen years at the United Bible Societies in Miami translating the Bible, including working on two new translations in Spanish, with trips back to Israel, time writing, and a second doctorate from the South Florida Center of Theological Studies.

Then his alma mater called him home to become its academic dean from 1982 to 1985 and, in 1995, its president.

The job fits him well. He is a serious scholar, writer, and teacher who has written three books on Isaiah and enjoys teaching courses on the Suffering Servant songs. But he also likes to know how things work and to make them work better, going back perhaps to his pragmatic background in engineering. Those are good skills for any president’s main job — administration.

"I have four priorities at ESPR," he explains with an energy that is palpable. "First, to create an international spirit, to move toward globalization. Second, to review the curriculum with more attention to the contextual needs of the Puerto Rican and Hispanic churches. Third, to develop our new doctoral program in Religion and Theology with the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico, and finally to institute a Total Quality program in all that we do academically and administratively."

Pagan is results-oriented. He asks questions like What are churches expecting from the seminary, and What are churches saying about theological education. He is not afraid to set goals and to be judged by how well he meets them.

Ministers in the twenty-first century must be aware of what’s going on in the world around them, Pagan believes. "There is a thirst for spiritual things in the culture," he says. "But there are many different spiritual voices. We must fine tune the Christian message and make sure it is heard well. We must do the best job possible communicating the transforming power of Jesus Christ. That includes doing things with efficiency and quality in the church."

Pagan practice what he preaches. A man who loves the Bible and who knows how to make systems work (traits not always found in the same person), he disciplines himself to spend Tuesdays and Thursdays doing research, reading, and writing. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are for administration: talking with faculty and students, raising money and friends, doing institutional planning.

Yet with all his practicality, he is not unlike the figure of Don Quixote, statues of whom literally fill his office, gifts from friends all over the world. "Some are in silver, some ivory, some wooden; this one from El Salvador, this from Kenya," he says pointing out each one and telling its story. Like Quixote, Samuel Pagan has a dream — of quality education for the church in his area of the world that will make that church strong and effective for generations to come.

If anyone can do that, and help future ministers do it, one imagines that Pagan can.

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