Holding Each Other by the Hand
By Kelsey McFaul
Zenet Maramara walks the steward’s path at Asian Theological Seminary
Zenet Maramara’s first steps on the steward’s journey were a conversion experience. While she didn’t hear a voice from heaven, she was convicted by a question: “Doesn’t everything you’re raising, all the money and fundraising, belong to God?”
“I was the chief fundraiser for Asian Theological Seminary (ATS)* at the time…and I would go to bed thinking about how to raise money. I wake up the next day thinking about the money, as if the responsibility of providing for ATS belongs to me.”
In 1995, Zenet was studying for a master’s degree in journalism from Regent University in Virginia Beach, VA, to strengthen her role as ATS’s development director. She thought she knew everything about raising money and donor relations.
“That simple statement was life-changing for me. Before I would treat fundraising as a transactional activity. I would look at donors as means to an end. When I surrendered everything to God, I understood that He is the owner, and therefore He is also the provider. My responsibility is just to be a faithful, obedient steward.”
What Zenet calls her “second conversion” marked just the beginning of her path as a steward, a path that’s been characterized by lessons in patience.
Upon her return to Quezon City, Philippines, where ATS is based, Zenet was excited to share her newfound insights with her peers.
“I was still full of myself, full of pride knowing that I knew everything about fundraising. I felt I was pulling everybody with me, including the leadership, and I got impatient.”
So impatient, in fact, that Zenet resigned as ATS’s director of development for a time.
“Later on, I came back to realize that the work of transformation really takes patience and really takes time. It was a really difficult journey in the beginning. I think it took seven or more years before I really released everything to God.”
Surrendering even our knowledge about stewardship is an-often unexpected part of a leader’s journey. While our expertise on stewardship, and even our efforts to see it adopted in the lives of others, are good things, they too must be surrendered to God.
“I felt that I was more in front and more mature in my walk as a steward leader, and I really needed to walk others by the hand, including the leaders who are above me. I had to learn, in terms of management, to surrender everything to God, not to pursue my own agenda.”
Zenet’s faithfulness to stewardship principles bred fruitfulness, first in the founding of the seminary’s Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) in Biblical Stewardship and Christian Management in 2003, a degree program she designed and led.
“You see, you can’t just change people. That’s the role of God. I found that I really needed to practice patience with people, and grace. We are all on this journey together, and we need to hold each other by the hand.”
In 2007, with Zenet’s encouragement and mentorship, ATS adopted stewardship as one of its core values.
“You can’t change people but you can influence them and walk alongside them, journey with them in this walk of stewardship. And I think change is happening in terms of the commitment of the school to stewardship, and one of the tangible concrete expressions is the creation of the Center for Biblical Stewardship.”
The Center for Biblical Stewardship is one of three professional development centers at ATS, alongside the Centers for Continuing Studies, and Community Transformation. Together, they make up the Strategic Leader Development Center (SLDC), an endeavor Zenet led even as she was completing her doctoral research at Bakke Graduate University in Seattle, WA.
“That was a convergent point in my life, and God just put it all together. At BGU, they are sincerely interested in your goals, your journey. It’s an academic institution, but it was very different in the way they approach dealing with processes and people, giving to them, empowering them, making them the person that God wants them to be. That was what culminated my thinking about what a real steward is.”
Back at the SLDC, Zenet brings those insights to bear in the MBA program (which she herself completed), the MA of Ministries, and a collection of certificate programs delivering curriculum to Filipino pastors in rural areas.
“We bring ATS to the different places around the Philippines, in the provinces, in the far-flung areas where there are pastors who cannot come to ATS.”
This includes training on the seven marks of a steward leader developed by Scott Rodin and transforming the way pastors define success in their congregations.
“For church growth, you measure attendance, building, and collection. But we tell them, it’s really not about those things, it’s about fruitfulness–transforming lives so that they’re fruitful. The focus is not on doing but on being, and if you focus on the being the numbers will follow.”
That’s a lesson that stretches all the way back to Zenet’s fundraising days and forward into the future. Now that she’s reached mandatory retirement age in the Philippines, her vision of steward theology is being carried on by a new director of the SLDC.
“I tell people: focus on growing people, focus on growing them as faithful stewards. And this person that I mentored to take over is now in place, and I’m very happy that he’s embraced the theology and practice of the steward leader.
“I physically built that Center with my hands. But I know it’s God’s work, it’s not mine, and work has to continue after I leave.”
Such fruitfulness is evidence of her faithful pursuit of the steward’s path God placed her on many years ago.
“I think that God uses small people, even a person like me, to influence an institution. When God has formed me, my relationships are transformed, and my workplace is also transforming.”
Zenet’s influence remains evident at ATS, where she advocated for the recent inclusion of a “Steward Leader Theology and Practice” course as a required component of the MBA.
And she just keeps going. Zenet’s long, patience- and surrender-filled journey has already identified its next sphere of influence: the 10-12 million Filipinos living and working in the diaspora, commonly called overseas Filipino workers, or OFWs.
“You know, there’s really no retiring with the Lord. I will continue working at ATS as adjunct faculty and in the Center for Continuing Studies, so that I’m able to touch base with pastors around the Philippines. And we’re starting a program for OFWs, so I hope I will be able to influence them also toward being stewards as well.”
*Asian Theological Seminary (ATS) is an evangelical, interdenominational, and multicultural seminary training and equipping servant-leaders to transform society and the world for the glory of God. Its scholars’ fees are subsidized by donors and churches around the world, and graduates are strongly encouraged to return home and apply their theological education to their national ministries.