Ministry Report: August 2014 to April 2015
When compiling a report of our work here in Gambela, I am struck by how “unromantic” much of what we do may sound to the average Westerner. While many may view mission work as the pure joy of evangelism and church planting, the reality is much more down to earth and mundane. Often life consists of dealing with the needs of ministry as they arise and one does what has to be done as best as one can regardless of gifting or training!
However, for the sake of clarity, I have listed four major areas of responsibilities.
1. St Frumentius’ Anglican Theological College:
I am the Dean of St Frumentius’ Anglican Theological College, due to open its doors as the first Theological College in the Gambella People’s Region this August. Up until now, most of our work has been in preparation of this reality. The College aims to train new pastors and lay leaders to deal with the explosive growth of the church in this region and in the rest of Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa and will offer a two year Certificate as well as a three year Diploma in Theology. At present, we have 87 churches in the Gambella People’s Region alone with only 16 active clergy…the need is staggering.
Language Studies – Living in an area where seven different languages are spoken can make life rather interesting. We have jokingly said that we communicate with signs and wonders – we make signs and people wonder what we are trying to communicate. This, of course, works both ways. However, Louise and I have been learning bits and pieces of three of these seven, namely Amharic, Nuer, and Anywaa.
Building Program – We live on a compound a few miles outside of the capital of the Gambella People’s Region, a town by the name of Gambella. There were a few existing buildings on this property when we got here. The Bishop’s home, a guesthouse, a canteen, a lavatory and shower block, one small classroom that also serves as the meeting space for the St Barnabas Anywaa congregation, a library, a small office building, and three smaller structures that serve as guard house, gate house, and workshop respectively.
The office building was renovated and has become our home. The library needed to undergo some rather extensive renovations as well. Both projects have now been completed. At present, the College Chapel, which will serve as the meeting space for St Barnabas as well as for the Annual Area Assembly, is being built. We are also raising funds for the renovation of the existing classroom, the building of two new classrooms, the changing of the workshop into a one bedroom flat, and the building of an additional new small faculty home.
Curriculum development – As we are starting this College from scratch, I have had to work on developing a curriculum. This has been a challenge as we are seeking to be culturally relevant, but also academically challenging with subjects and standards equal to other colleges. We visited other Colleges and Seminaries in the country and one in South Africa to see what was being done and how it was being done. Most of the larger accredited seminaries seem to be based on a Western model while the smaller country Bible Schools tend to be more flexible and contextual with an openness to an oral learning approach. As Gambella appears to be in-between two worlds, the literate world and the oral world, we think it best to attempt to accommodate both styles of learning. This will call for creative lesson planning and creative teaching, but I do believe it can be done.
Government permission – We also had to make appointments with various government officials to seek permission to open the College in Gambella. Thankfully the separation of Church and State is so strict that we do not need additional approval as long as our Diocese is licensed and recognised.
Recruitment of students – As our goal is to train new clergy and lay leaders for work in the existing and future parishes, we have sought the aid of our pastors and church councils in the selection of possible candidates. All students must have the approval of their pastors and their local church. The cut-off date for applications is the 28th of April, as decisions have to be made so that we may apply to various sources for bursaries.
Fund raising – Gambella is the poorest region in Ethiopia and nearly all of our funding comes from external sources. This means that we have to raise money for student bursaries as well as all other costs for the operation of the College. Much of our time is spent writing to possible future partners as well as reporting to current partners to keep them up to date with the progress of the work they are funding. Trying to do this with an Internet as temperamental as ours is interesting.
Administration – I have never viewed myself as an administrator, but part of the reality of mission work is doing things you generally would not do anywhere else. We have been busy setting a budget for the College, working out an academic schedule, fixing dates around the many Ethiopian holidays as well as the excessive heat of February and March, and writing general rules and regulations for staff and students alike. Thankfully, we now have an amazing Church Administrator who has kindly assisted me in crunching numbers and generally organising myself to look and act more like a College Dean than a parish pastor.
Staff – I interviewed a possible future faculty member and am thrilled to say she will be joining us in August! I will be chatting with another future faculty member when I am in Cairo in May.
English Language Teaching – As the primary teaching and learning mode at the College is through contact lectures and small group interaction in the English language, we thought it necessary for prospective students to be proficient in English – including reading, writing, and comprehension. So, all students will be required to take intensive English language classes before registration as well as the English language classes offered each semester. I have written and will be teaching the first of two Intensive English Grammar courses set for June and am organising the teaching of the second in July by a visiting lecturer from the US.
Intensives – As many of our existing clergy need training themselves, we are including intensive training courses as part of our College curriculum. These classes will last for one to two weeks, which will allow pastors and other church leaders who may not be able to be full time students to take the courses for credit. Other than Bishop Grant, whose duties as Bishop for the Horn of Africa will cause him to be absent from the area from time to time, we will use various visiting lecturers, both local and from abroad.
Library – Bishop Grant donated his large personal collection of theological books to St Frumentius and the mammoth task of cataloguing over 4000 books has largely fallen on Louise. We have also written to various publishers asking for the donation of books for use in the library and I am happy to say that IVP-UK and IVP-USA have been most generous. We are also grateful for other donors, both churches and individuals.
2. Local Outreach:
We are part of an Anywaa community as the compound is situated in their area. Louise and I have been trying to make friends with our neighbours as best we can, again mostly using the signs and wonders method of communication, but learning the language as we stumble along.
We also offer film evenings on Fridays, which are very well attended, as there is no form of entertainment here other than watching the cattle being slaughtered every evening across the way from our gate. We have shown the Jesus Film in Anywaa several times, the Passion of the Christ once, as well as The Gods Must Be Crazy. The audience has ranged from 86 to 300. The demand for more has us scratching our heads. As there are no films in the Anywaa language other than the Jesus Film, what can we show them that will not need excessive translation? We have decided to show documentaries such as the various BBC Richard Attenborough series and perhaps some cartoons thrown in for good measure and are making appeals to our partners for DVD’s. Some of the children in the area do not go to school and this may serve as a form of education for our church folk.
3. The Jesus’ Film:
We have shown the Jesus Film to the Anywaa, Majenger (a sometimes unreached people group – otherwise considered unengaged), the Nuer (many of whom are refugees from South Sudan), and the Opo (who came to Christ 8 years ago). The Jesus Film has not yet been translated into Opo, so the film was shown in the Amharic and Nuer languages. We have asked the Jesus Film folk to consider coming to Gambella to record the film in Opo as another people group in South Sudan shares their language.
We only have one projector at present (we have another one waiting for us to bring over from the US) and we can barely keep up with the demand for showings. The average audience at these showings ranges from 200 to 1,500 (our record so far!).
At a recent showing, there were so many people that we placed the screen in the middle of a large field so that people could watch the film from both sides!
As we are dealing with many oral learners, the Jesus Film serves as both an evangelistic tool as well as a teaching tool. Few people can read, especially in the more rural areas, and so the film serves as a copy of the Gospel. We were amazed to hear a few teenagers reciting the words of the actors during the showing of the film. Apparently, a Nazarene church used to show the film in their area and they learned the dialogue off by heart!
We also serve the larger Diocese as well from time to time as needs arise.
Preaching – I have preached on several occasions at St Matthew’s, Addis Ababa, St Luke’s, Gambella, St Barnabas, Gambella, and at Bethlehem Anglican Church in Abobo.
Teaching – I have taught at a St Matthew’s Retreat, and at various Clergy Training events, and Louise has assisted Dr Wendy LeMarquand in teaching at Mother’s Union Health events.
Visitation – We have had the privilege of accompanying Bishop Grant on some of his Episcopal visit around the area.
Reports and articles – I have written a few articles for use in newsletters, annual reports, and websites of various partners around the globe, as well as an article for my alma mater, George Whitefield College in Muizenberg, South Africa.
Staff devotions – Whenever Bishop Grant is absent from the Anglican Centre or otherwise indisposed, I lead the staff devotions every morning.
Synod – We will be attending the Diocesan Synod in Cairo, Egypt this May as well as visiting with the Principle of the Alexandria School of Theology.
Conferences – I attended the Clergy Conference in Luxor, Egypt last September.
Guesthouse and visitors – We have many visitors, both local and from abroad, and Louise helps to keep the guesthouse in tip-top shape. This also involves a lot of cooking, cleaning, and general hospitality. We love our visitors and want them to be as happy as possible while they stop with us!
Compound – We also assist in general maintenance jobs around the Centre as well as doing odds jobs on “work days”.
Refugees – While we have been kept from entering many of the camps all around the Gambella People’s Region, Bishop Grant has been able to visit most of our people in the churches, and we have been able to distribute clothing to some. We have also managed to give some food to unregistered refugees.
I have tried to give a general overview of what our work at the Gambella Anglican Centre involves and I am very aware of the lack of detail in most of this report. It is hard to describe a “day in the life of” Johann and Louise as each day brings different challenges and demands. There are days when most of our time is spent trying to get water into the Centre as the local municipal pump has broken or the pipes have silted up - or in getting the “Power Company” to turn the power back on after having to give away our precious supply of frozen food only available in Addis or abroad – or in killing snakes, dealing with minor cuts and scrapes on the legs of our local children who play soccer at the Centre, getting rid of bats in the ceilings, recovering from malaria or other less glamorous illnesses, and many other such oddities.
We do pray that you will prayerfully consider supporting us again in the future, as we simply cannot do what we do without your partnership in this ministry.
Johann and Louise van der Bijl