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Strengthening African Theological Institutions

Betty Musau
October 24, 2012
Some of the representatives of the United Methodist theological institutions who worked on plans to strengthen theological education in Africa during a meeting in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo by Betty Kazadi Musau.

Support for two possible Ph.D. programs in Africa, an online peer-review journal, and exchange programs for both students and faculty are among the plans for meeting the needs, challenges, and opportunities facing theological educational institutions in Africa.

Fifteen participants from 10 African countries gathered for the second meeting of the Africa Association of United Methodist Theological Institutions. During the Sept. 2-5 meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, members of the association shared the vision of coordinating and guiding all United Methodist theological institutions in Africa by offering relevant studies for Christian leaders of the African church.

“Strengthening African theological institutions is liberating African churches,” said Dr. Kasap Owan, president of the Katanga Methodst University in Mulungwishi and president of AAUMTI, who chaired the meeting.

He noted that it was just one year ago that the association was officially launched at Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe.

The association supported two possible Ph.D. programs needed to educate faculty for the African institutions. One program under consideration would be offered in French at the University in Mulungwishi. Another program would be offered in English at Africa University, which is partnering with The Theological School, Drew University, on the Ph.D. program.

The association stressed developing an African United Methodist identity through the promotion of a culture of writing and reading through the online journal and a possible e-newsletter.

The Rev. Yatta Young, dean of Gbarnga School of Theology in Liberia and vice president of the Africa Association of United Methodist Theological Institutions, says the work of training leaders empowers the church. Photo by Betty Kazadi Musau.

“We need to identify and value African writings. We need to build staff and church leader capacity in order to stimulate young people for ordained ministry,” said Kongolo Tshijika, dean of the university in Mulungwishi.

Owan thanked the Rev. Rena Yocom, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s assistant general secretary for global theological education, and Bishop Patrick Streiff, chair of the Francophone working group which developed the French language Course of Study for training pastors, for their commitment to making the theological institutions association possible.

The 2012 General Conference established a $5 million fund for Central Conference Theological Education and approved a commission to oversee it. Yocom gave the group information about the survey that each institution will be asked to complete to help the commission assess the needs and establish priorities.

“This research will inform the new commission of the vision, strengths, and challenges facing each theological institution,” Yocom said. She added that she was pleased with the outcomes from the meeting.

“This meeting was a wonderful synergy for ministry and leadership that will impact the future of The United Methodist Church across the continent of Africa,” Yocom said.

The group noted many challenges: lack of libraries, publishing houses, and a need for Ph.D. programs at UM institutions to develop teaching faculty for the continent.

The French Course of Study is being used in new areas. Representatives from the North Katanga Episcopal area gave a report on the most recent training session for local preachers, deacons, and laity. These resources will continue to be used as teaching resources in other annual conferences.

A Course of Study for Portuguese-speaking Africa in Angola and Mozambique is expected to be finished soon, Yocom said. The objective is to develop resource material to equip church leaders who do not have access to formal theological training.

The English-speaking conferences are working with their bishops to write and publish contextual materials that would be relevant to the African churches. Such writing would also be important to those studying in other parts of the world.

Participants named common priorities for developing human and printed resources, and strengthening opportunities for faculty development. There should be a common approach in terms of infrastructure and Internet access in order to improve the educational system in Africa. The benefits would be seen in distance education and e-learning, and expanding access to theological curriculum and electronic libraries.

The association talked of the importance of exchange programs within African theological institutions, both faculty and students. This would build trust and leadership across national boundaries. It would also strengthen the theological curriculum.

The AAUMTI voted to establish an electronic peer-review journal. The online publication will enable seminaries around the world to benefit from the insights of African Christian leaders. The editorial board will be chaired by the Rev. Sidney Cooper from Sierra Leone. Other members are Professor Nathanael Ohouo from Côte d’Ivoire, Dr. Maraidzo Mutambara from Zimbabwe, and Dr. Cleivy de la Caridad Benitez Rivalta from East Angola. The goal is to have the articles available in English, Portuguese, and French.

The proposed theme for 2013 journal is “Wesleyan Heritage and the African Culture.” The discussion concluded that this theme could be addressed by any academic discipline and should be a perspective on the current African context.

The association exhorted its members to center on the quality of education in Africa so that individuals do not think they have to leave the continent for their training. There is strength in connecting the institutions through the association.

The Rev. Yatta Young, dean of Gbarnga School of Theology in Liberia, and vice president of AAUMTI, reminded the group of the importance of their work.

“Training leaders empowers the church. We are trainers of the trainers.”

*Betty Kazadi Musau is the North Katanga Conference communicator.