Mason Norman’s goal was to teach ministry at the college level, but to do so in the United States, he’d need a Ph.D. So he got creative. In April 2016, less than two months after getting married, Mason and his wife Haley, moved to a new continent.
Mason, who earned his undergraduate degree in biblical studies from Freed-Hardeman University in Tennessee, had also preached full-time during college at a small congregation. He wanted to continue his education while still working in ministry. So he applied to graduate programs while also applying to teaching positions. He knew he’d have more flexibility in the job hunt if he started attending an online Master’s of Divinity (M.Div.) program.
His search ultimately led him to ACU Online, and then, three months later, to east Africa. Today, he teaches at a preaching school in Tanzania. He works with about 10 English-speaking students, and the school also offers its studies in Swahili.
Choosing ACU Online for His Master of Divinity
Once Mason was certain he wanted to pursue an M.Div. and take most courses online, he seriously considered three schools. ACU stood out for several reasons, including an attractive financial aid package and the school’s emphasis on contextual education. Contextual education allows students to solve problems or apply a theory to a real situation.
“Ministry in context was important to me,” he explained, recalling many of his undergraduate courses, while important subject matter, weren’t always delivered in a hands-on way.
Mason is impressed with ACU’s faculty, too. “Their credentials are greater than any Christian school I know of,” he said.
He’s also, at times, found the coursework to be personally beneficial. He recalled a time where he felt he was struggling with some things. At the time, he was taking a spiritual formation class, where they discussed praying Psalms. He’s been keeping up with that for several months now.
“It was a very traditional spiritual discussion, but one that’s been very meaningful to me,” he said.
Mason’s Experience as an Online M.Div. Student
Mason enjoys the conversational nature of online interactions with instructors and classmates, such as bouncing ideas off each other in a discussion board or sharing feedback on sermon videos. Being an ocean and many time zones away from ACU’s main campus has not hindered his need for getting support from staff members, either.
“I’m eight thousand miles away, but people go out of their way to help me,” he said. “Just an email back goes a long way. The small things have made [the program] successful for me.”
ACU Online’s Master of Divinity Program also requires a few residencies, which are on-location courses held in various places around the globe; so far, he’s attended them in Abilene, Dallas, and Swaziland, Africa. He says these in-person meetings have been valuable because he’s been able to meet fellow students from China to Honduras.
Opening His Eyes to New Cultures Through Global Ministry
Aside from honing his ministry skills, Mason’s experience in Africa has also opened his eyes to life in other cultures. While he had previously visited Africa for two weeks, living there is a different experience.
“I realized I am very American,” he said. As an example, he explained he realized he wasn’t as patient as he thought.
“Life is slower here, less schedule-oriented. There’s a lot to do, but it’s less busy. That’s good for us, and also a challenge to get used to.”
Mason commented that while his region of Africa has a large population, one aspect of it feels like his small Tennessee hometown.
“In [Cornersville] we had one flashing yellow light. There are hundreds of thousands of people in the district of Arusha, and there’s still only two to three lights.”
Preparing for a Career in Ministry
Mason’s serving a three-year contract at his present school in Tanzania. He’s not sure where he and Haley will end up next. For now, he wants to learn as much as he can, and use that knowledge in his current position.
“I want to be the best resource I can be. That’s the main thing all ministers should focus on: being a good resource,” he said.
If Mason’s story inspired you, consider how you could also advance your ministry education and career. Learn more about ACU Online’s M.Div. program.