Thursday, April 10, 2008

Theological Education in Sierra Leone

Having had a wonderful experience at Fuller Theological Seminary (http://http//www.fuller.edu/) and being months away from completing my Ph.D. in New Testament at St. Mary's College at the University of St. Andrews (http://http//www.st-andrews.ac.uk/divinity/), theological education is something which I am, of course, passionate about. However, while ministers in the West like myself have been able to benefit from some of the best evangelical scholarship in the world, many pastors in second and third world countries are much less fortunate. It is encouraging, therefore, to see some organizations facilitate missionaries who want to teach theology on the mission field. For instance, my friend Kelly taught at a seminary in Costa Rica for 4 years with an organization dedicated to theological education in Latin America called ESEPA (http://http//www.esepa.org/). Or consider the neat work Geoff Pound is doing through Theologians Without Borders in connecting seminary teachers with institutions on the mission field, mostly in Asia (http://http//theologianswithoutborders.blogspot.com/). Like everything else in Sierra Leone, theological training began to suffer beginning with the onset of the war and continues to suffer today even though Sierra Leone is at peace.

We visited two main centres of theological education in Sierra Leone. Fourah Bay College began in 1827 as an Anglican missionary school and is the oldest western-style academy in West Africa. (Their JFK building is in the picture on the right.) From 1867 it began an affilliation with Durham University in England (which today is still a powerhouse for theological education) and in 1966 became a constituent of the University of Sierra Leone. Fourah Bay College gained a reputation for training in theology and education, churning out missionaries who went into other parts of Africa and garnering the epithet, "The Athens of Africa." Fourah Bay trained many influential leaders including the first Prime Minister of Sierra Leone, Sir Milton Margai, as well as the current President, Ernest Bai Koroma. Today, however, many evangelicals in the country feel the college has lost its missional roots. In addition, although the campus has an active InterVarsty Christian Fellowship as well as an Anglican chaplain dedicated to the faith, the Muslim influence there seems to be gaining dominance.
The college chaplain, Canon Emmanuel Thompson, is sitting on the right in the picture to the left.

The second place ministers go for theological training is The Evangelical College of Theology or TECT. This college was started by Wesleyan and Baptist missionaries. The Christian leaders I met seem to feel TECT has stayed grounded in its evangelical and moral roots. It survived the war admirably, but its academic rigour has suffered since. The missionaries who began the college left during the war for reasons of safety, and with them went precious funding. During this time the college also stopped receiving up-to-date journals and books. TECT learned a valuable lesson from the war which they kindly passed on to us: mission work must empower nationals. Western missionaries are appreciated and needed, but they must train and empower nationals to stand on their own. Just above on the right is a picture of me talking theological education with the Dean and other administrators of TECT.

Most pastors in Sierra Leone have barely finished secondary/high school. It is rare for a pastor to have bachelor's degree, much less a master's or Ph.D. What if Leaders 4 Life could provide a high calibre of leadership training and bring an intellectual and spiritual vigour back to Sierra Leone by providing some of the best theological education possible? Wouldn't it be an amazing act of empowerment to unleash an explosion of highly trained leaders who could not only stand on their own but also empower others?