Monday, 21 October 2013

Bishop Gwynne College

The history of Bishop Gwynne College has been beset with a series setbacks ever since its beginning in the 1940s. The way to fulfilling the dream of Bishop Llewellyn Gwynne and Revd Fred Carpenter in 1945 of training South Sudanese men for the ordained ministry has encountered many obstacles. Some have been because of government opposition and some because of war (it was the last civil war in 1987 that drove BGC out of Mundri where it had been since 1948). Then there was the tragic death of Canon Benaiah in 1992. Then finally we had the problems that resulted in the suspension of the college in 2009. But after its re-opening in 2010 we hoped for a smoother passage. The CPA (Comprehensive Peace Agreement) of 2005 was holding and the referendum due for 2011 actually took place. International support for the college was increasing.
It was a real joy to announce we had found an excellent man to be the new principal. Joseph Taban Lasuba was experienced, well qualified academically and someone who was passionate for the Gospel and the formation of theological students. He understood humility and service. He was once asked how his training of future church leaders was progressing. He replied that he did not seek to train leaders but servants. The respondent retorted, “Servant Leaders.”“No,”returned Joseph, “just servants. The rest is up to God ...” The nation became independent in July 2011, Joseph Taban took the college into its next stages in September of the same year.
Things were not easy. Much had to be negotiated and many challenges faced but, by the grace of God, the new principal overcame them. Within two semesters new buildings had emerged, the educational standards increased and the college made noticeable progress. Under Joseph's influence local income soared and the institution became financially stable for the first time for decades. In September 2012 Joseph put in hand a new building programme that involved the hotel development adjacent to the site. When we negotiated the least of the site we had no idea that their plans included two hotels – one of six storeys and one of twelve! As these building began shooting to the sky we came to an agreement for the construction of a two storey building in exchange for our former dormitory. It is just now approaching completion. Joseph embarked on claiming the college site back from the workshop that had used the site during the war. He renovated buildings for the students to use as dormitories and a common room. The budgeting was tight but sound. It contained contingencies of 10% and we thought that would be sufficient to see us through. Sadly we did not anticipate what happened next.
On the final day of the 2012 term Joseph became very ill. Realising how sick he was he drove himself to Juba Hospital. The problem was located in the brain. Various ideas were suggested and treatment given for infection. When he continued to deteriorate he was rushed to Nairobi where a brain tumour was detected and operated on. He made a remarkable recovery and underwent a course of radiotherapy, but in May 2013 he developed complications and died in Nairobi hospital at the end of that month.
For the five months that preceded Joseph's death, the college had to continue without a principal. The students still had to be taught, the decisions still had to be taken and expenses had to be met. A great deal of finance had to go into the support of Joseph and his family while he was undergoing treatment in Nairobi. BGC is grateful to those who helped bear the burden. The absence of a member of staff meant new teachers had to be brought in and Samuel Galuak who had been sharing out his time with a government job decided to put everything into the college. This was a brave decision because he gave up a good income and a government car. A small second-hand vehicle was bought and Samuel took up the role of acting principal.
A review of the finances revealed a looming shortfall in the months of May to August when the new rents and fees were due to come in. An appeal to our international partners was launched and, as always, they came good at the right time. A combination of good management under Samuel Galuak, the generosity of people both inside and outside the country, a favourable dollar exchange rate and the grace of God has seen the college through. (By the end of September 2013 the college had 23,000 SSP in hand. Although the provident fund remained to be paid, the projected income for October will see that put right. The crisis has been averted. A budget for the current academic year is attached to this report.)
The death of the principal came just as the exams were due to take place. They had to be delayed. Joseph Taban Lasuba was laid to rest on 22nd May 2013 on the New Site of his beloved BGC. The college ceased its normal activities for one week. The students were magnificent in supporting the family and an enormous number of people came to All Saints' Cathedral and down to the New Site. A magnificent tomb has been erected over the grave –a feature that was not envisaged in Joseph's plans for BGC development. The students sat their exams in the following weeks and they have done the college proud. Everyone passed including those who were sitting their finals.
The graduation of the first cohort of students who began in the new era of the college and studied for the Limuru Diploma is due to take place on 26th October 2013.
So once again, BGC has overcome yet another setback and emerged even stronger and an even greater witness of the grace of God. Some people in the West, though not here in South Sudan, have posed the question of why God seems to work in this way. Why could he not have just intervened and cured Joseph or even prevented the illness in the first place? All we can say is that for Christ nothing ran smoothly. There had to be a cross. God replied with a resurrection –this is the way of things. (For those who are interested, I have put together a short dissertation, Suffering and the Presence of God, triggered by these questions and which incorporates some the South Sudanese approaches. It is directed at those who think critically but who may not have had any theological training. If you want it, I will be happy to send you an electronic copy.)
The new building is due to be finished in the next few weeks. The upstairs will become the library. We have money from the Slavanka Trust in the UK ($7500) to purchase some of the new furniture needed. Chairs are being bought by donations from the staff who are each putting in 150 SSP. Even some students are contributing. The Theological Book Network in the USA are sending us a container load of books which is already on the high seas and is due to arrive next month. The new full-time librarian will have his work cut out moving the existing library and shelving all the new ones. A new working relationship has been set up with World Vision, our neighbours at the Old Building, who are resourcing even more books as well as seeking to help us in other ways.
The Prayer Partners list continues to grow. And we are pleased to report more of you coming this way. Jesse Zink made a very welcome visit last month. You might like to read his new book Backpacking the Anglican Communion due out in January which is currently available for pre-order. He tells us that the whole of Chapter Five is devoted to BGC! Thanks Jesse – can't wait!
May God bless you all as you keep us in your prayers.

Trevor Stubbs
BGC International Consultant

PS Pictures to come. They take too long to upload from a simple dongle!

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