SEAN began at a real 'grass-roots' level, and that's where we try to keep it - but adaptable enough for all to use!
The seeds of the idea came and were developed initially in a rural area of southern Chile by Tony Barratt working for SAMS (South American Mission Society). He saw the need to set up a Bible institute-cum-agricultural training centre for local indigenous Mapuche Christians with leadership potential.
They were intelligent, able and keen but, with their minimum primary education (and that in Spanish, their second language), it was impossible for them to meet the entry requirements of the national church for standard theological training. Also, in their poverty, they couldn't leave their small-holdings and families to go away to an alien environment for a year or more theological education.
Tony recognized the potential in the students - and also the total unreality for them of the normal entry requirements, curriculum, vocabulary, costs, etc., of 'traditional training'. He experimented with new methods and courses, also using them in a Christian Missionary Alliance Bible Institute and in another mission's Theological Institute in a nearby town, Temuco.
Both here and later, when he transferred to Paraguay and then Argentina, Tony gathered a team of teachers to develop programmed, self-study materials, combined with weekly group tutorials. At that time, TEE (Theological Education by Extension) had emerged from Guatemala and Tony quickly realized that the only way to prepare people for leading the growing numbers of congregations was to use TEE methods to take the Bible College to the local church members, instead of the other way round.
Gradually, the new SEAN team developed the materials - initially Abundant Life and the 'Life of Christ' Compendium. This was tested in depth with different groups in the city and in the Chaco. And it worked; leaders were trained and began to take on the pastoring of churches. Tony continued to write special programmed courses and leaders' manuals which were first field-tested, then used for preparing pastors and leaders in the local churches and, later, in other denominations too.
This was no easy task in the early days! Every 'frame' (teaching paragraph/question) had to be typed onto wax masters for reproducing on a Gestetner ink duplicator. On testing with volunteers, whenever a 'frame' was found to be ambiguous or deficient in any way, that whole master page had to be re-typed and, if the change was radical, usually all the subsequent pages had to be re-typed, too. It's been calculated that it would often take up to 600 hours to produce one study/lesson before publishing!
Initially, everything was done in Tony's home. Writing, testing, duplicating hundreds of copies, collating, stapling, storing, dispatching, etc, involved the whole family, even visiting bishops and dignitaries where not spared doing their shift of collating books!
From the very beginning, SEAN (then known as the Seminario por Extensión ANglicano) has always run on a shoe-string!
SEAN never publicised its courses, but gradually word spread from mouth-to-mouth, thus creating an ever-increasing demand from potential users all over the world. Printing, storage and dispatching material became a nightmare to the small team. Eventually, the idea for SEAN to concentrate only on writing courses and to license others to print and use them saved the day.
When, eventually, Tony and his wife returned to the UK, SEAN (subsequently called Study by Extension to All Nations) became an International Foundation and Registered Charity.
Currently SEAN courses are used in over 100 countries and in 70+ languages. Tony was 'called home' on January the 6th, 2010, but the small SEAN team continues. Even today, modifications and updating are still in progress and new courses are in the pipeline. From typewriter to computer, and now, to Internet, SEAN, as a ministry, continues to expand.
SEAN is a mission society - but without missionaries; it's a ministry - without many ministers! It doesn't send people overseas to teach and train nationals for ministry. Rather, it provides Missions and Churches with the means - TEE tools (SEAN courses) - for enabling the local church to evangelise, nurture and disciple, to teach, and to train leaders. In fact, to DO mission and ministry themselves!
Using SEAN, local programs train students WHERE THEY ARE:this can be in Outer Mongolia or Mozambique, in Yakutsk or York, in Uzbekhistan or Ulster, in Albania or in Axminster (and these are just a few of the places where there are SEAN students).
We thank the Lord for the way that, from that first vision, He has caused this ministry to grow and expand; and thank Him, too, for the hundreds of thousands of students all over the world who are committed to growth and ministry in His service within the SEAN extended family.
[Gloria Dean - SEAN International Coodinator]