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.

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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.