John and Elias from South Sudan have been studying theology at George Whitefield College (GWC) in South Africa to gain skills that they can use to train pastors back at home. This is part of a partnership AID has with Bishop Gwynne Theological College (BGC), Juba, South Sudan and CORE Training and Development, which seeks to strengthen the Church in South Sudan by training pastors. Vanessa Khlentzos from CORE caught up with John and Elias recently to find out how they were getting on in their studies. Here are some highlights.
Vanessa Khlentzos (VK): Could you tell us a bit about yourselves? Tell us about your families and where you grew up.
John: My mother died earlier. My father is still alive but I even took something like 4 years now when I’ve never met him. I have one brother then 2 sisters, and I also have a step brother as well. One of my brothers is in Uganda in a refugee camp. He’s very close to me because it’s our last one, so as the elder brother I have to be close to him and in any way I can support him.
Elias: I was born in a refugee camp. Most of the time I was in a refugee camp. I was not born in South Sudan because when war broke out in 1970 my parents went to Uganda. One of the most things that I can remember is when I lost my father in the refugee camp. As a refugee status things really were not running well in terms of food, health, but because that was the only option we have to keep going. We are 4 in the house; I’ve got 3 brothers and 1 sister.
VK: What sorts of things have you been studying at GWC?
John: (In his second year of studies) the Gospel of John, and preaching as well, plus Hebrew.
Elias: (In his first year of studies) I’m covering Greek then the biblical theology, introduction to Mark’s gospel and then Study Skills. I found study skills more interesting because it can help in dealing with other subjects.
VK: What has been the best thing about the course so far?
John: I really enjoy many of the courses including biblical theology where you are exposed to texts and how to preach in a different style. I also studied some other subjects: preaching, exegesis and I actually learn it in detail, now I will actually be able to read my text and see what does the text mean to me, what should it mean to others.
Elias: One of the best things is, I found it very, very interesting as I’m studying languages for the first time and actually Greek being one of them, and that it’s very interesting because it will let me know the context of New Testament, the background better. Also GWC really exposes so much to the text and it really teaches us to deal with the text so I think I’m feeling that preaching is one of my best gifts.
VK: How has your personal faith been affected through your studies?
John: I think, one of the things I actually learn apart from involving in academics and other issues, is fellowship. There are different groups whereby people fellowship and you free to one another you share your ideas, you pray together.
Elias: I’ve got to understand God better at GWC
VK: Is there anything that has been challenging about your studies?
Elias: When I first came to GWC I was affected negatively back home as my family were being displaced because of war, things happening, so I was not confident in that week.
VK: What difference do you think well trained pastors could make in South Sudan?
John: In South Sudan like 80% are Christian, they love God they go to church… People are Christian but they do not yet know God. I think in South Sudan God will also use the church. God will send the church, people like pastors, people like me, out to go and preach to his people so that the lives of the people are changed and when people understand the Gospel the whole country will be able to reform, reconcile with God and with one other.
Elias: There’s [a] very, very great difference that trained pastors can have in South Sudan because at the moment we have very many of them but really they are not well trained so, as someone who is trained, I think [I] will be able to correct some of the mistakes that are happening and this will help even the society to grow spiritually.
VK: What do you see as South Sudan’s contribution to the world in the state that the world is in at the moment?
John: South Sudan, I think, experienced a lot of things especially the invasion of Islam, who came to the country and wanted to convert the whole country to Islam. That is why we fought for something like 21 years because they want us to be Muslim and we told them no we are Christian, you can be in the same country as Sudanese but we don’t want to be Muslim.
VK: What are your hopes for the future?
John: I’m willing to go back and teach my country. This is my desire: to go and teach. I’m very happy to go and teach my fellow pastors and Christians as well, and also to go and preach the Word of God. This is what I’ve realised I can do. We need some capable pastors who can be able to preach and teach the people of God so the whole society is brought back to God.
Elias: I really keep on remembering Bishop Gwynne College, in terms of imparting the knowledge that I’ve gained at GWC to my colleagues. So in the future I’m helping them grow spiritually, teaching them how to know God better and how to expose the text better.
VK: What would you like to say to your supporters?
John: Your work is not in vain. You are supporting the church, you are supporting the nation of South Sudan to be a very good nation in the future. You are not supporting John as an individual, you are supporting the whole nation because when I’ve finished I will be able to transform million lives.
I need your prayers as well because being here is not easy, I separated with my family, I need your prayer that I can be able to be very strong and grow in faith and concentrate on my studies.
Elias: Please pray for my family and our people. Thank you for this opportunity, we are really so much grateful we pray that you will be blessed.