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Remote Learning

Adam Cheney overcame a range of challenges as a church pastor in rural Kenya to earn his online degree from Moody
  • Nancy Huffine
  • June 5, 2023

Adam Cheney pastor in Tsimba, Kenya

Adam Cheney's church meets in his home in Tsimba, Kenya. Photo courtesy of Adam Cheney

Adam Cheney never dreamed he’d go from putting out fires in San Jose, California, to planting churches in Kenya. He had been working as a firefighter and then a fire captain for more than a decade when the Lord opened a new door.

In 2015, Adam moved to Africa with his wife, Heather, and their children to join Africa Inland Mission serving the Digo people and church planting near the coast of Kenya. “Up to that point, I had an associate degree in fire science but nothing along the lines of a biblical education,” Adam says.

Life in Kenya was instantly filled with linguistic, cultural, and spiritual challenges. “I started to realize that I was experiencing a lot, and I needed some avenues to help process some of that,” Adam says. “It was my AIM team leader who recommended that I get some further education.”

Connecting with Moody

When Adam began looking into Moody’s online learning program in 2017, he was a bit concerned about how much of his previous course work would carry over. “Most of my credits transferred, which I appreciated because I didn’t really want to go back and do math again at this stage of my life,” he laughs.

Dr. Andrew Beaty, Moody’s associate dean of online programs and faculty support, says distance learning guidelines have enabled Moody to accept more transfer credits. “Our online programs have had more flexibility to accept credits from other colleges, universities, and seminaries since we work more with non-traditional students who are more likely to bring courses in from other schools,” Dr. Beaty says.

Adam elected to apply to Moody because “I could get my degree in good Bible theology with an emphasis in cultural engagement, 100 percent online. That was what interested me—the cultural engagement aspect of the Bible classes.”

Getting a ‘traveling’ education

The fully online nature of the program allowed him to pursue his studies despite a travel schedule that took him outside of Africa.

“I can remember doing assignments in Spain, in Saudi Arabia, in Canada, and in Tanzania,” Adam says. “I submitted assignments from probably six different countries and several states throughout the US. There were multiple times when I was doing work from wherever I was in the world.”

Dr. Beaty is always glad to hear that online students like Adam are able to study and submit assignments no matter where they live or travel. “The number one thing is always flexibility,” he says. “People are excited to get a Moody education, but many aren’t able to move to Chicago to take a program in person. By giving them the flexibility of studying anywhere around the world, they’re able to get an education from Moody in a time frame that works well for them.”

Overcoming technical difficulties

Adam’s home base in Tsimba, Kenya, added a whole new layer of meaning to “remote” learning. “I had a lot of technical difficulties,” Adam recalls. “Sometimes I had to go out of my village into town (for internet access) to be able to finish an assignment. I always completed all of my assignments at least a full day in advance of when they were due because I could never count on the electricity. Sometimes I wouldn't have electricity. I got a battery pack for my computer so that I could at least always type for a few hours.”

Dr. Beaty remembers talking with Adam about some of those difficulties. “Adam had some internet issues,” he says, “but he would always talk to me ahead of time and let me know that he had a plan to work from an internet café in order to get his work done. During the time he was in my class, he continued to accomplish his schoolwork.

“I had just completed my doctoral dissertation prior to having Adam in class,” Dr. Beaty recalls. “It focused on the use of technology to train church leaders in developing nations. So it was a very significant time for me to have Adam, a church leader in a developing country, using technology to accomplish his educational goals.”

As the church Adam planted and pastored took root and grew, the needs of the congregation grew, too, challenging Adam’s time for studying. “It was a small village, and ministry would come to our door all day long and into the evening,” he says. “I just made it a focus to get the assignments done.”

Mornings were an ideal time for that study-centered focus. “I would do schoolwork every morning for maybe two or three hours because the village was still kind of asleep, and it wasn’t usually as hot,” he adds. “By evening, it would just be too hot to do any sort of studies.”

The right classes at the right time

Adam Cheney, wife and children in Tsimba, Kenya

Adam Cheney, his wife and children in Tsimba, Kenya. Photo courtesy of Adam Cheney

For Adam, the practical nature of his intercultural studies through Moody online was literally a godsend. “We had a small church plant, and when I was trying to look at the leadership of that, there would be a class on leadership. (The courses) were always—wow—exactly what I'm doing right now . . . live.

“It really did feel like every class was just right where I was in ministry,” he continues. “It just seemed that God always brought me to the right class at the right time to challenge my next steps or even to help me look at something differently.”

Along with courses that fit perfectly into Adam’s work in Kenya, one uniquely focused class quickly became a favorite. “Of course, I really liked all of the cultural classes, but one of the classes that stood out to me was God and Politics. Professor McLaughlin always sent me extra reading. He pushed me a lot. It was challenging but challenging in a good way.”

'It absolutely went hand in hand with my ministry'

Adam began studying online with Moody in 2017 and completed his Bachelor of Science in Theology and Cultural Engagement in 2020.  Looking back, he says he now knows something very important: how much he didn’t know.

“When I went into ministry overseas, I thought I was ready for it,” he says. “I had been a Christian for most of my life. I had grown up in a church. I really thought I had a broad understanding of everything. But the more I started learning, the more I realized how little I knew, including the terminology that missionaries use. With Moody, I began to get a framework for what I was actually experiencing. Each class was very uniquely situated for what I was needing right then. That was really helpful.

“Moody online gave me the backing of actually having the degree to go with what I was working on and learning in real time on the mission field. It was certainly worth it. It absolutely went hand in hand with my ministry.”

About the Author

  • Nancy Huffine