During a visit to South Africa, Chris (a board member of AID) was able to chat with Samuel Marial, principal of Bishop Gwynne Theological College in Juba, South Sudan. The college is supported by AID in collaboration with CORE Training and Development. In this meeting, Samuel was able to share how he came to be principal of the college, how things have grown since then and his own needs, and the college in times ahead. Please continue to pray for these things from the transcript below:
Samuel, can you outline your role at Bishop Gwynne, and give us an idea of what it’s like to be on the staff of your college at this time of great uncertainty and instability in South Sudan?
Samuel: Well thank you so much Dr Chris for this opportunity of interviewing me regarding the work that I’m doing in Bishop Gwynne College. I joined Bishop Gwynne College in the year 2011 immediately after coming from the USA where I did my graduate level. I knew God was calling me into teaching ministry but one thing I did not know was that I was going to Bishop Gwynne College! Originally I thought I would be teaching at one of the universities in South Sudan, to the point of submitting my documents to the University of Juba! But no one really bothered to respond to me about that. A week later I met the Bishop Gwynne College principal; the late Joseph Tabun, in a conference. In that conference he was introduced and I heard ah, Bishop Gwynne’s college principal is here. At that conference I met him and I was asking him about the college, and he said Bishop Gwynne College is now based in Juba (because I used to know that Bishop Gwynne was in Mundari – a town that is far away from Juba).
So I said, ‘Ok let me help and I will love to meet you in your office.’ The next day I was able to meet him in his office, I started teaching in Bishop Gwynne College in that very year of September 2011. A few months later, in January, the principal himself recommended me to become an academic dean and I was helping him in that capacity. But unfortunately he became sick so the board of governors had to ask me to act on his behalf as the acting principal. So, it was a daunting task and I did not really know what to do but it is always a supporting thing to have Stella, my wife push me through it and encourage me with words and prayers and I was able to go through it without any fear because I knew what I was doing was God’s work.
What has been particularly encouraging for you at BGC, in those years that you’ve been giving leadership?
Samuel: My encouragement in those years was the advancement of development; the physical infrastructure in the school, and also the development of the student body, growing from a very small number to a much bigger number. When I joined in 2011, it used to be 19 students and at the time when I started working as a principal it was 32 to 34 students. But now we have 170 students in the college!
Also, the building of the faculty members. All along we have been relying on our part-timers and we had a lot of people who were highly qualified to help us in teaching but [were] part-timers; it is discouraging to see someone being sent away by his other workplace to maybe attend a conference somewhere and we were left stranded without knowing what to do. So, for that reason, we are blessed to have four more, full-time now, plus myself and an academic dean so the college now is growing in terms of full time membership.
By God’s grace we have also been able to start the reconstruction of one historic building that is now hosting our library from the upper room. Meanwhile on the ground floor, is a multi-purpose space for lectures and also for chapel and conferences during the holidays. God has also connected us with friends around the world and they have brought some particular books to us when our library was only 1500 books, so that now we have almost 9000 books. We are now undertaking construction of the chapel, trying to use the local income [by renting out buildings owned by the college] and now the chapel is on the roofing level. This is something that we are encouraged to see, what God is doing through us at work!
Chris: And you’re training these people in conjunction with George Whitefield College here in South Africa. What impact is that scheme having on your goal of building up the college and building up these full-time faculty members?
Samuel: That scheme is the dawning future to us! And also, to the church of South Sudan, especially the Episcopal Church of South Sudan. It is a hope. It is a hope because these people who we are training, who we are sending to George Whitefield College, they are young people.
Chris: What age?
Samuel: Twenty to thirty. So it means the life-span for their ministry is long and these students that we sent to George Whitefield College, they are actually coming from different regions in South Sudan, because we are envisioning that these people will make Bishop Gwynne College to be a hope for all. These issues of tribalism are real in the country, so we are now tasked to build a community that belongs to all of us in the country.
And for that we have already seen the fruit! One of them being John Jal who was able to graduate from George Whitefield College and he has come back, he is now teaching at Bishop Gwynne College. So, the experience that he had from Bishop Gwynne College was a base for him, as a foundation, plus the experience that he had and learned also in South Africa from another removed culture, is now helping him in his teaching. So far we have not had any expression of disappointment that John Jal is not able to handle a class at the college. He is able to do his work, and we really appreciate that kind of training.
And what are the challenges that you are facing in training these 170 students in South Sudan, which is so volatile at the moment?
Samuel: So, the challenges that we have in the country are the challenges that have been triggered by war, and the main thing about them is the economy. Before the war, the South Sudanese pound used to be very strong. It used to be one of the strongest currencies in Africa, but due to war there has been a huge inflation. The money that we use, even to get from the rent, became of no use anymore because the value really went down. And even the developmental plans we had we had to put them aside. So we have students that are coming from other dioceses, some of them are not even able to pay their school fees. So the question is, do we have to send them away or do we have to sustain them?
Chris: And are they all resident in the college? Where do they sleep these 170 students?
Samuel: So half of that number sleeps on the campus.
Chris: And you have buildings for them?
Samuel: We have what we call dormitories; these are temporary structures that we put up you know, to address that issue. Because you know Juba has not developed so that a student can have a hostel somewhere or rent a house somewhere because in Juba the rents are very expensive.
Chris: And so by temporary do you mean tents or tin sheds?
Samuel: Yes, iron sheets.
Chris: That must be hot!
Samuel: Yes, iron sheets, yes of course! During the day they cannot be in those houses so they have to be using those houses during the night because those iron sheets can easily get cooler during the night, but during the day it can really get hot. So, for that, we have those challenges on the accommodation in the future. What can we do? Because it is a growing, learning community. You know, this growth is coming because the demand now is that all our churches are really aiming to train their own students to become better pastors in their churches. So the demand for training as an initiative by the church is on high demand! And this is a challenge that we have to face, accommodation for these students is going to be an issue for us. It is something that we see as the biggest challenge.
And also accommodation for the staff members, because we also believe that as a community we have to grow together. So we need a community where the students and the professors are able to live together – a community where we need the students to access the professor, and to pray [for them]. This is what we call a part of our formation; our spiritual formation, we help to deliver our theology together. We help to live together in that. And that cannot be done without proper accommodation for the staff members on the campus. So this is one of the challenges that we have. On the campus we only have two classes. And those two classes are not enough for this growing community so we also need bigger and more spaces for lectures.
Another challenge that we also face is that South Sudan is a place where international organisations are actually competing. Our fear is we may train these people to come but the international organisation may come and fish on those that have been trained by us and take them because they can pay them more money than we do. So we need people on this team that realise the work they are doing at Bishop Gwynne College is not an employment. They have to perceive this work as a calling. Like myself, I had to leave the government job to do this work. In the government job I had a lot of privileges; I had a car; I was a director in the government position in the ministry of electricity and dams, I was doing an administrative part of the work in the ministry. But when the time came for my church leadership to say, you can help us at Bishop Gwynne College as acting principal. So I had to relinquish, I had to leave all of that, and I had to work with no car. Because I knew this is what God has called me to do.
So the question is, how are we going to maintain them? How are we going to motivate them in what they are going to do? This is a question that I’m still wrestling with.
So we need to pray!
Chris: We need to pray for the provision of proper buildings, especially for the students’ accommodation, faculty and space for teaching the classes. We need to pray for building up of this community, because you’re obviously a key factor in South Sudan in bringing together people from these tribes that have often been at each other’s throats. And also the partnership with George Whitefield College; that the people going there come back and share the same motivation, that your graduates are not seduced by other organisations and instead devote their energies into working with you to build up the church here.
Chris: What else shall we pray for? For you and your family, tell us about your wife [who] was obviously very important in this, in encouraging you. Tell us a bit about your wife and your family.
Samuel: Yeah, my wife now she’s an agriculturalist; a plant scientist, in the wheat area. So at the moment she’s still holding a job with National Agriculture, a research organisation in Uganda. She comes from Uganda.
Chris: So you live quite separately then?
Samuel: We live quite separately.
Chris: That is a challenge!
Samuel: It is a challenge so this is one of the prayers; we need you to pray for us. Pray for her to come and be able to get a job that would also suit her career in this stage.
And also for my PhD programme in the aspect of discipleship. I’m looking at that area of discipleship because South Sudan is highly ranked to be a Christian nation, but at the same time it is also known for violence, for war. And the question is, who is fighting? Who are fighting there? Are those people fighting non-Christians? Or other people from African-based religions? You begin to realise that it is actually Christians fighting one another, and they have divided themselves along tribal lines and political lines. They are just killing themselves. And the Church, especially the Episcopal Church of South Sudan, has a huge population of believers. If people from Episcopal Church of South Sudan are genuinely Christian, maybe the violence in South Sudan can reduce in a way. So amongst those questions are, what are our churches doing? What kind of people are there teaching in the churches? What kind of pastors do we have? And what did we lose? What did we lose in the process of discipleship?
So for that I’m seeing discipleship as a way we can change our nation. Now that change has to be done through a learning institution like Bishop Gwynne College, because we want to orient our students to go and make [disciples], not only, to preach to just some people only. We need to encourage them to make disciples in our churches, and for anyone to make disciples one has to be a disciple. We believe that a part of what we’re doing at BGC is actually making disciples.
Chris: Well we pray for you for God’s hand on you and all your 170 students, and your faculty members and wife, and that He would have his good hand on you and the nation as you seek a resolution to the difficulties facing you all.
Samuel: Thank you.
Pray with us for Samuel, Bishop Gwynne and the students studying at the college. If you would like to give towards supporting the college and the sending of students to George Whitefield College, South Africa, you can do so by clicking here. Simply specify your giving as ‘Theology Training and Bishop Gwynne College Support’.
Thank you for your support of AID and our partners across East Africa!