Sunday, December 20, 2015

Newsletter, December 2015

I have been meditating on a prayer in a book of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, [1] and thought I might use it as a framework for this newsletter. As we have come to the end of our first semester and, indeed, nearly the end of 2015, my mood is more contemplative and reflective as I look back over all the many things that have happened since we started back in August.

Sovereign God, Thy cause, not my own, engages my heart, and I appeal to Thee with greatest freedom to set up Thy kingdom in every place where Satan reigns; Glorify Thyself and I shall rejoice, for to bring honour to Thy name is my sole desire.

Four years ago, as we began to sense the Lord’s gentle yet persuasive tug on our hearts to return to the foreign mission field, we surrendered ourselves to His will to go wherever He sent us, asking only to be sent where no one else wanted to go. Gambella was the answer to our prayers. Not only do we now see the wisdom in our Lord’s sovereign decision to send us here rather than to any of the other very needy places in His world, but we also see His heart. Gambella is a place on the periphery…the people who live here live very much in the margins and have, for the most part, been forgotten and neglected. We see this especially in the field of education. While many have certificates and diplomas the evidence of what their papers declare is lacking. If children actually do go to school they receive a substandard education in comparison with the rest of the country. As far as the church is concerned, Satan has used this to his advantage as lack of proper theological training has resulted in either a continuation of traditional practices or some or other form of syncretism. The Christians here recognised this and asked for a Theological College…this year has been a year of fulfilment of that request.

I adore Thee that Thou art God, and long that others should know it, feel it, and rejoice in it. O that (people) might love and praise Thee, that Thou mightiest have all glory from the intelligent world! Let sinners be brought to Thee for Thy dear name!

But the College is not here simply to educate…it is here to bring glory to God. It is here because we are jealous for God’s Name and desire to see all in the Gambella People’s Region come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. So we teach some in order that they might teach many. To this end we have built into our curriculum a Field Education Program in which our students are required to use what they have learned in class to teach in their respective churches. But more than that. We also have a Spiritual Development Program and a Servant Leadership Program in which students are trained in the disciplines of the Christian walk…Bible reading, study, meditation, memorization, prayer, and service of others. We desire to see our students not just talk the walk, but walk the walk in the Spirit.

To the eye of reason everything respecting the conversion of others is as dark as midnight, but Thou can accomplish great things; the cause is Thine, and it is to Thy glory that (people) should be saved.

There is little we can teach our students about evangelism…in an oral culture, sharing good news is as natural as breathing…so the news of free salvation by grace through faith in Jesus’s finished work spreads like wild fire, and people are responding by the hundreds! This is the work of the Holy Spirit and we rejoice in it. To our Lord, these people are precious and most certainly not in the margins of His book! Reason alone fails to explain the phenomenal growth of the Anglican Church in this area…this is His cause, not ours. He is moving and we are simply following in His wake.

Lord, use me as Thou wilt, do with me what Thou wilt; but, O, promote Thy cause, let Thy kingdom come, let Thy blessed interest be advanced in this world! O do Thou bring in great numbers to Jesus! Let me see that glorious day, and give me to grasp for the multitudes of souls; let me be willing to die to that end; and while I live let me labour for Thee to the utmost of my strength, spending time profitably in this work, both in health and in weakness.

Living in Gambella makes one very aware of the frailty of human life. Death is commonplace here and the reality of our own mortality is clear. Everything in this world is transitory and temporary. We are not owners here. But this realization spurs us on to be used by our Lord to share life in a kingdom that cannot be shaken by war or by disease…the urgency to preach the Gospel here is pressing. For many, tomorrow will never come. The deepest desire of our hearts is to see the people of Gambella among the multitudes around our Lord’s throne of mercy and grace for eternity and so this part of the prayer is especially meaningful to us.

It is Thy cause and kingdom I long for, not my own. O, answer Thou my request!

If we came to Gambella out of a sense of moral duty we are doomed to fail. Life is hard here. Those who have come to visit us, even for a short space of time, can testify to this. But we are not here for ourselves, nor are we here even for the people – no, rather we are here for God and His cause and it is this that keeps us here. Everything we have done since coming to Gambella is for the sake of His kingdom, as that is all that is worth living for as that is all that is real and eternal. God loved His world enough to send His only Son to die for it. That is what Christmas is all about and that is what our work in Gambella is all about. His cause…His Kingdom…His glory.

We are truly grateful for each of our partners in this ministry. We know that it is His cause that motivates you to support us and we praise Him for that. May His Spirit continue to work in and through us all to bring His kingdom to bear upon every place where souls remain imprisoned.

Louise and I will be in South Africa visiting with her mum and family and also one of our children and our grandchildren for the rest of December and part of January. This will also be a time for reflection and evaluation for me as far as the College is concerned. I have applied for Affiliate Status with ACTEA (The Association for Christian Theological Education in Africa) and have to work on our application as well.

Give thanks with us for the safe delivery of our third grandchild, Amelia Rose.
Give thanks with us for the successful and blessed completion of our first semester.

Pray with us as we reflect on our work over the past year, for wisdom to know how to shape the curriculum in the future, and for humility to discard our “bright ideas” for His better ones!

Much love and tons of blessings.

Johann and Louise

[1] The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, Bennet, Arthur Ed, The Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, PA, 1975.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Newsletter, November 2015

“I have never started a Theological College before,” Bishop Grant told the Area Assembly this past week, “but I have found that it is easy to do so.” A number of people chuckled as they saw my expression of incredulity. “ All you have to do,” he said, “ is find the right person to do it.” Everyone broke out into spontaneous applause and the Nuer delegates began to sing.Kind words from our Bishop, but I am not so sure they are deserved. There have been many times when I have blundered on in the dark, trusting the Lord that He would lead me forward or fix my many mistakes along the way. All praise and honour and glory go to Him as He alone could do what has been done! Louise and I have simply been willing and ready servants.

This has been a wonderful month of learning and spiritual and physical restoration for both Louise and myself. We attended the International Council for Evangelical Theological Education consultation in Antalya, Turkey. There were 420 representatives from Theological Education Centres from 72 countries around the globe. Needless to say, we met many, many people and made many new friends and contacts. We also managed to sign up with Langham Literature, an organisation that helps College Libraries get the books they need for their students at affordable prices. Louise also attended two workshops on College Libraries that she enjoyed thoroughly. I met quite a few Deans and Principals of other Colleges and learned much from them. We also bought a number of books for the College – what a wonderful feeling to stand at a book table and buy books again!

After the consultation, Louise and I took a short break to rest before returning to Gambella. Thanks to Bishop Grant and Stewart Wicker of SAMS who made the break possible – and who insisted we take it!We returned in time for the Annual Area Assembly, the dedication of the College Chapel, and the official opening of St Frumentius’ Anglican Theological College. Archbishop Mouneer Anis, Bishop Peter Tasker from the Diocese of Sydney, David Mansfield from Anglican Aid Australia, Luke Sherman, a videographer leant to us by the Tropical Health Alliance Foundation, as well as various representatives from other local denominations and organisations were present. Bishop Grant joked that while we were a bit early in dedicating the chapel as it is not yet complete, we were a bit late in opening the College as it has been functioning since August, so we are just right in our timing. It was a joy filled time for all. 236 clergy, lay-leaders, Mother’s Union, and church representatives attended. Please see my attached report from this Assembly below.

Our students received gifts of the Africa Bible Commentary as well as copies of Exploring Theological English made possible through the generous donation of a new friend to the College, Dr Larry. It was so moving watching them receive the books – some bent down and kissed the covers.We said goodbye to most of our visitors this morning. Bishop Grant and Dr Wendy leave for Egypt this afternoon. They will be at the clergy gathering of the Diocese of Egypt and will meet our dear friends, Kerry and Cynthia Buttram who have just been appointed to the English Speaking Congregation at the Cathedral in Cairo.

Prayer Requests:

There is no water available in the whole of Gambella town. Our main water tank has been empty for a week now and all our rainwater tanks save one are empty as well. Please pray for rain – even though this is the dry season – and for the municipal water to be turned on again.

Pray for our students as they come to the end of their first semester. They still have papers and exams to write before the College closes for the December holidays.

We give thanks for all our ministry partners…you are a great source of comfort and encouragement to us. Seeing your names listed on our monthly donor reports from SAMS reminds us that we are not alone in this ministry. The Lord has raised up a great team for us and we are grateful.

Many blessings and tons of love.

Johann and Louise

SFATC Report: Annual Area Assembly 2015

Greetings to:
Our honoured guests, Archbishop Mouneer Anis, Bishop Peter Tasker, David Mansfield of Anglican Aid Australia, representatives of other denominations, mission societies, and organisations, local government officials, and other friends.

Area Bishop Grant LeMarquand, Dr Wendy LeMarquand, General Secretary Rosemary Burke, Office Manager Meaza Tefera, St Frumentius’ Anglican Theological College Faculty, Anglican Centre staff, all Clergy and Delegates.

Special thanks to the translators.

---------- o -----------

Louise and I went to an ICETE consultation recently and one of the questions we were asked to consider was simply this: “What will the world be like when our students graduate in three years’ time?”

Unfortunately, this simple question does not have a single simple answer.

Things are changing so quickly all around us and so, as a Theological College, we have to ask ourselves, will we have prepared our students to deal with these changes and will they be equipped to help you, their people, understand the Gospel message in the midst of those changes? With the arrival of cell phones and the Internet – with things such as Face Book and You Tube a mere ‘click’ away – many of our people in the Gambella Region have been exposed in an instant to cultures and ideas and teachings and manners and behaviours very different to their own ancient and traditional ways.

If we at SFATC are not helping our students to think about these differences critically and to evaluate them in the light of the Scriptures, then we will have wasted their time, and our time, and we will not have served you, our community, well at all.

So, we have questions…and we will seek answers to these questions – and, no doubt, discover many new questions as we go along and as we learn from our students as much as they learn from us. But, God willing, when our students graduate in three year’s time, they will know the Lord well and they will know His Word well and they will know how to use what they have learned to serve the church and the society in general here in the Gambella Region.

As most of you already know, Louise and I arrived more than a year ago and we have spent that year asking many of these types of questions. After much thought, prayer, learning, and preparation (which included two intensive English Grammar and Reading Courses in the summer), we started SFATC in August this year with 13 full-time students (one of whom is from South Sudan, another is from the Lutheran Church) and 12 part-time students.
We also offer training for our lay leaders who struggle with the English language.

Unfortunately, one of our full-time students graduated from this life and went to be with the Lord he loves so much. We will always remember Ojulu for his desire to know His Lord and His Word better so that he could serve the church better.

Another full-time student could not cope with the financial pressures and decided to join our 12 part-time students instead, changing the numbers to 11 full-time and 13 part-time students. (Student introductions)

At present, we offer three programs: a Certificate in Theology, a Diploma in Ministry, and a Diploma in theology.

We have completed three classes so far this semester. Introduction to the Bible and Biblical Interpretation, Introduction to the Old Testament (I), and a course on Healing, Prayer, and Deliverance which was taught as two one-week intensives, with instructors from the UK, Ethiopia, the USA, and from Kenya. We still have three classes to be completed before the end of the first semester. African Traditional Religion, Theological English (I), and Biblical Theology (I), the last of which will be taught as a one-week intensive course. Our 13 part-time students join our 11 full-time students for the intensive courses.

God willing, along with our regular classes, we will offer two more intensives next semester, the first on Bible Story Telling and the second on African Church History.

We have four full-time faculty members. Karen Salmon, who teaches our Bible courses, is currently in Ireland doing all the paper work necessary for her to return to teach in Ethiopia. Karen also heads up our Servant Leadership Program in which our students learn to serve by doing various chores on and around Campus.

Jeremiah Maet Paul teaches African Traditional Religion and will be teaching on Islam and various other subjects in the future. Jeremiah is also the head of our Field Education Program in which students get the opportunity to work with some of our senior clergy in their churches. We have already had one very successful Field Education week and have received good reports about our students. I wish to thank all our clergy and church councils for their help in making this program successful. Without you this program would not be possible. Jeremiah also oversees the student Spiritual Development Program, in which he counsels our students, prayers with them, and teaches them wonderful new songs.

My wife, Louise, is our acting librarian and has catalogued more than 1,500 books by hand…she has 3,500 books to go. She has had some expert help in Barbara Hathaway and Muriel Teusink, for which we are grateful…and our students have been most helpful as well.

Along with the position of Dean/Principal, I teach Basic English Grammar as well as Theological English, in an attempt to help our students learn the kind of theological words and terms they will read and hear while studying the other courses. Another part of my position is to raise funds for student scholarships (with lots of help from Rosemary Burke), for buildings and furnishings, as well as for books both for our students and for our library.

Special thanks to all donors: Anglican Aid Australia, CMS Ireland, Crosslinks, IVP-UK, IVP-USA, Langham Literature, many individual donors and churches.

At the recent ICETE consultation, I was able to establish a few good contacts with individuals and groups such as Langham Literature, the Executive Director and the Executive Admin Assistant of the Association for Christian Theological Education in Africa, various members of the Middle Eastern Association for Theological Education, and many others from all over the world who have and who will continue to help us in the future, whether through the provision of books, scholarships, advice, or other forms of valuable assistance. So, please do pray that the Lord will continue to lead us to those who will be willing to invest in the great work the Lord is doing here in Gambella.

We are especially grateful and honoured to have Bishop Grant LeMarquand serve as part-time faculty and as advisor and mentor to us all. Bishop Grant will be teaching an intensive course on biblical Theology in December.

We will be taking in a new group of 1st year students next year, so if you believe the Lord is calling you to enter into Christian ministry you need to pray about it, talk to your pastor or church council, and then talk to me as soon as possible. We would like for you to be recommended to us by your pastor and/or your church community. Then, you will need to pass an English entrance exam before taking the English Grammar Course in the summer. After that, the Academic Committee will interview and evaluate those who pass the English exams before any will be admitted into the College as students. We do want to make sure that those who come are called by the Lord and are serious in wanting to serve Him and His Church.

Of course, we are open to taking in students from other Christian denominations as well as other countries, but scholarships are limited to those who are Ethiopian Anglicans.

As always, we welcome your input as the church community at any time. It is encouraging to hear good reports from churches where our students serve. Please pray for us as we seek to equip those who will be your leaders in the future. Thank you.

Respectfully submitted

The Rev Dr Johannes W H van der Bijl
Dean/Principal of St Frumentius’ Anglican Theological College
Gambella, Ethiopia

Monday, November 2, 2015

Prayer Letter: October 2015

“…lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.”

It was the methodical beat of a small drum, the singing of the St Barnabas Choir, and the wailing of women that heralded the arrival of the body of our brother, Ojulu, Obilla Ojaho. Bishop Grant had asked the family’s permission to have him buried in our newly consecrated College burial ground and they had graciously granted it. Many came to pay their last respects to a man who was, in many ways, larger than life. In his years as a follower of Jesus, Ojulu had been a church lay-leader, a TEE tutor, a Mother’s Union Literacy Trainer, an assistant librarian, an excellent interpreter, Anuak tutor (for us), and a student, and he was looking forward to being ordained to the Diaconate this November. But most of all, Ojulu will always be remembered as a gentle, kind, compassionate friend of all. “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”


In conjunction with the Area Deans, our Field Education Director, the Rev Jeremiah, selected specific areas around Gambella where our students served in various capacities for one week. Students were assigned to work with certain lay-leaders and/or pastors in supervised roles in and around the church. We have heard nothing but praise since, for which we are grateful. The Lord is doing such a deep work in these young people and to watch them grow and mature so rapidly is very rewarding.

A team from SOMA-USA came to compliment the teaching our students received on Trauma Healing this past September. For us personally it was a wonderful time of fellowship with dear friends from Camp St Christopher in South Carolina…but for everyone of us it was a time of blessing as the team not only taught the students about inner healing and other related subjects, they also prayed for them repeatedly. Two of the team members were from Kenya. One said that the College reminded him of where he comes from, ten years ago – that small beginning is now a full-scale seminary. What an encouragement! But I think they also provided the students with a glimpse of what can be done in Africa by Africans!

Karen Salmon has completed her two courses on Interpretation and Introduction to the Bible and Old Testament Introduction (I) and she will be returning to Ireland at the end of this month to start her re-entry process. Please pray that the Lord will provide for whatever she will need in order to get a work visa and residency for her new adventure with us in Gambella! Jeremiah continues to teach African Traditional Religion (the students love him!) and I continue to teach English (I) as well as try to be the Dean of the College (!). Bishop Grant is preparing to teach Biblical Theology (I) in December and we have given the students various reading assignments already for this course.

Building on the compound continues as generous donors from all over the world give to further the Lord’s work here. Work has started on the compound wall (praise the Lord!) as well as Jeremiah’s home! We have had some issues with power recently – one whole section leading to the library burned out and needed to be replaced. Water has also been a huge problem…the town pump broke down last week and we have not had any water coming into the compound since then…this means that no-one in the area has water and we have to watch our precious rain water tanks as they can emptied in a jiffy if we are not careful. But thanks be to God! He has sent us rain almost on a daily basis and we have not run out yet.

Louise and I leave next week for Addis and then on to Turkey to attend the International Council for Evangelical Theological Education consultation entitled, Engaged and Effective: The Impact of Theological Education. Pray for us as we meet Theological Educators and others from all over the globe. There is much we both need to learn! Thank you to each one who gave to make this trip possible.

At the final Communion service last week, Bishop Grant reminded us, “The ministry in this place is a battle.” The SOMA-USA Team challenged us to constantly put on the armour of God. We know that you all pray for us and that is such comfort. Thank you.

You remain in our hearts.

Johann and Louise

Introducing our Students: John Chuol Tuoruok

John Chuol Tuoruok was born in Malakal, South Sudan on 11 October 1972. In 1982 he was baptised following his conversion to Christ and joined the Sunday School. By 1994 he was working as an evangelist leading others to Jesus. In 2007 he was made a lay-reader.  In 2008 he was ordained to the Diaconate and was ordained to the Priesthood that same year by Bishop Nathaniel Garang. In 2012 he attended Renk Theological College, but was forced to flee when the war broke out on 15 December 2013. He is married to Elizabeth Nyathuok Reat and has three children, Turuk (11), Nyamal (7), and Gatlang (2). His family lives in a refugee camp in Kenya. He serves under an absentee Bishop, Bishop Peter Gatbel, who lives in Australia.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Prayer Letter: September 2015

“His brothers killed two of my brothers!” I listened in stunned silence as one of our students told me that the evening before, the brothers of his roommate, another fellow student, had shot and killed two of his brothers in a clash between two clans of the same tribe. There were many other casualties, five of whom subsequently died of their wounds in hospital.

Providentially, we were in the middle of a “Healing the Wounds of Trauma” workshop presented by SIL and the American Bible Society. I immediately got all the participants to sit down so that we could first of all tell them what had happened and so that we could pray. As I was praying, I felt the Holy Spirit prompt me to get the two students to pray for each other, their families, and their respective clans. At the end of their prayers, the rest of the usually unemotional men present were weeping as well. Amazing love was expressed as each one reached out to each other as brothers in Jesus – a bond stronger than that of clan affiliation.

This was probably the most emotionally draining week we have ever experienced. It started with one student asking for permission to leave as his best friend was critical and not expected to survive the night – he died the next day from hepatitis. Following closely in the heels of this crisis, was the news that another participant’s mother had just died. The next day I received an urgent telephone call to say that one of our full-time students had been hospitalised and was critical. (This student is better now, but we have had to face the facts that he will never recover.) Then the clash…

But all through this workshop, we heard our students tell of their personal wounds of trauma. I know each of these men personally, and to hear them talk about the war – of being raped as boys, or seeing their mothers, sisters, brothers being raped, their fathers shot before their eyes, being taken away from their families to serve as child soldiers, and other horrors – as well as present painful events like the death of their infant children or the experience of being displaced and impoverished, was extremely painful for me. One of our part-time students, whose name means “the unwanted one”, wept as he told me of the curses heaped on him by angry fellow tribesmen for his being an Anglican priest. I prayed that the Lord would turn every one of those curses into ten-fold blessings. “Weep with those who weep,” Jesus counselled…surely listening, tears, hugs, love, and words of affirmation are the only appropriate responses one can give.

But, as the Psalmist says, “weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning”, I believe our students emerged from this exhausting week all the stronger for it as they experienced each other’s pain and prayed with and for each other. All I can say is thank you Lord for allowing us to be part of Your healing touch on these men at this time.

Please pray for the continued healing of wounds of the heart in our brethren in Gambella and South Sudan. We have really only begun to scratch the surface here. We will be hosting another spiritual healing event in October (SOMA-USA) and ask for prayers that there would be a deeper healing that takes place during that week. The same students will be present.

Our Bishop and SAMS Director have both counselled us to take time off soon so Louise and I are planning to go to Bahir Dar, a quaint town in the north, for a week in early October…the week before the arrival of the SOMA Team. I have wanted to visit a Bible College there and this will be a great opportunity to meet with the Principal and perhaps sit in a few classes. We also hope to visit a few of the historical sites in the area if possible.

We are also planning to attend the 16th Triennial consultation of the International Council for Evangelical Theological Education to be held in Antalya, Turkey, 6-11 November 2015. Many of the College Accreditation Agencies will be present and it is important for us to meet with them for the future accreditation of St Frumentius. There are also many useful workshops on oral learning and College Libraries that will be great to attend. We do ask that you will pray with us about this event and also prayerful consider helping us fund our flights and consultation fees.

Please continue to pray for the College and our students. We have eight full-time scholarships now and one part-time scholarship. We now have only 11 full-time students as one is seriously ill and another had to leave due to family pressures regarding financial support. Many men often support more than just the immediate members of their own families and his allowance was simply too small. However, they may continue to study as part-time students.

We love you all and appreciate you so much. While I know this sounds weird, there are times when we feel your presence with us as it is because of you that we are able to be here…we believe that you are as much part of this work as we are.

Thank you for being faithful to Him and His Kingdom.

Many blessings

Johann and Louise

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Introducing our Students: Ochalla Ochan Othow

Ochalla Ochan Othow is the son of one of the few remaining Presbyterian pastors trained by legendary Missionary to the Sudan and Ethiopia, Don McClure. Born on 21 February 1982, Ochalla followed in his father’s footsteps at an early age, and says he feels that he and his father are “the same to Abram and his son Isaac”. Currently he is the lay-leader of a Mission Centre in Abobo and already has several church plants under his belt. He is actively engaged in an outreach ministry to the previously unengaged Majenger tribe. Ochalla is married to Ariet Obang Akea and has four children, one daughter and three sons.