Report of Visit to Bishop Gwynne College, Juba
This report to the Bishop Gwynne College Prayer Partners follows the visit of the international consultant to BGC at the end of October 2014. The general impression is that the college is in very good heart despite the terrible situation of the country. The site is clean and free of the detritus left by the former workshops. The neighbouring hotels continue to be built although relatively slowly. The new building is in full use for worship and lectures with the library upstairs. The new showers and toilets are very much appreciated.
The welcome was enthusiastic, the worship vibrant and the faith clearly present. There is much evidence of hard work on behalf of students and staff.
Ten students graduated on 25th October 2014 with a diploma from St. Paul's University Limuru. Nine men and one woman. A majority of these had begun at the college with a foundation year in 2010 – some as early as the re-inauguration on 31st January 2010. The standard of the pass was impressive with some coming out with distinctions and credits in a number of subjects.
The college now has forty-two students of which over half are in the August 2014 intake. Four of these are women which brings the number of women students to five. SPU is no longer running a Special Entrance Exam. Instead they require a secondary school certificate. This is not good news for us because nearly all of our students come from a background of disrupted and patchy schooling. However, an internal entrance exam was set. The results indicated that only ten were up to the standard we deemed necessary to undertake the diploma and certificate for SPU. The other students have however been offered the opportunity to study for a BGC diploma in theology.
One of the significant things about BGC is that it draws from many of the dioceses of ECSSS including Kadugli (Nuba Mountains). It is also open to applications from other churches. Interest has been shown particularly from the Presbyterian Church. In among representatives of a large number of tribes and language groups studying and living alongside each other, we have both Dinka and Nuer, the ethnic groups between whom there has been the most serious tension following the political in-fighting that came to a head last December (2013). This enables us to ensure the students understand that under Christ there are no ethnic divisions. We along belong to Jesus Christ wherever we came from. This has been a long standing ethos of the college dating back to its inception. Students stick up for each other. (The famous story of a student from one tribe facing down a drunken soldier intent on killing his fellow from another tribe in the early 1980s when the college was in Mundri is often told). Of recent, one the students (from Nuer) who fled to UNMISS during the crisis was encouraged by the Principal to come out and joined his colleagues to complete his studies. He had graduated with is colleagues and now helping at BGC Canon Benaiah Poggo Library.
Justice, Peace and Reconciliation
This has always been of concern to the college and our application of the SPU syllabus has been done in the contextually taking full cognisance of the South Sudan situation. However the emergency following the 15th December 2013 has left the country in a state of insecurity, trauma, displacement and humanitarian need. The BGC principal has been anxious to expand the use of the college to assist in initiatives within the ECSSS (Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan) and SSCC (South Sudan Council of Churches). An opportunity arose in July-August to run a two week workshop for pastors and others at the college. This was funded by AFRECS (America Friends of the ECS). AFRECS have also offered finance for the employment of a part-time teacher in the area of peace building and trauma healing for our regular students.
Currently the college teaching is done mostly by part-time staff that the principal has managed to attract. These are are of good quality and the standards remain high. We are fortunate in our location we can access these people from Juba University and among our church leaders. However it is recognised that this is not a satisfactory situation.
There is an urgent need for the appointment of full-time staff. We need at least an academic dean and an additional tutor who could act in a pastoral capacity as well as teacher. Finding such suitable people has not been fruitful to date.
We also need to review the salaries of all staff including the support staff as the rates are falling behind those for Juba which is an increasingly expensive place in which to live. Food prices and rents are rising all the time. Inflation is high.
The college is blessed with a top quality administrator in the form of Esparansa Emil Karl. She is intelligent and efficient and is determined that the college goes ahead. Although she is well qualified and experienced as a teacher and could command a salary far in excess of what she gets at BGC, she is committed and highly respected. Without her hard work the principal would not be able to cope with the pressures of running a college in a very difficult situation.
We are most appreciative of our gifted and highly motivated principal, Samuel Galuak Marial. He has a vision for the college that includes both practical training of humble pastors for the church in South Sudan and the advancement of academic standards. In talking with him one becomes aware that BGC is an academic institution fit for its place in the academic world with intellectual standards, without compromising on the need to train priests to work in parishes and dioceses in every corner of the country.
In addition to his learning Samuel excels at communication – a gift not often seen in South Sudan. His attention to detail has won him friends among supporters of the college around the world.
The college is in a better position than it was a year ago. The crisis of December 2013 did not help since the college relies heavily on rents from it houses and offices which, if they are unoccupied or tenants do not pay, means we have a crisis in income. In 2013 the college had an overall income of $246900 USD of which just over twenty percent ($50542 USD) came from overseas. This reveals just how vulnerable we are to local changes. However, things have picked up since February and currently all our property is occupied and rents are coming in.
Inflation has been noticeable however. Food and fuel are increasing. The cost of medicine has also gone up. Transport is a major cost to the college as it it all has to be hired in. Up until now it has not been possible even to contemplate the purchase of a vehicle and a driver.
I have undertaken to resume my efforts to attract further donations for 2015. I am grateful to our partners in the UK (Good Books & Services, Peter Green), the US (Diocese of Virginia – Mary Anne Bryant) and Australia (St Mark's Church, Warwick – Peter Johnson) for their work in collecting donations small and large. (If any of our Prayer Partners are aware of any organisation or grant-making body that might support BGC, I shall be delighted to hear from you.) This year we received a donation from the UAE for the first time – our supporters come from around the world.
BGC has a wonderful new library situated upstairs in the new building. This is its fourth home since 2008 – each time growing in size and beauty. The present hall was equipped with $10,000 USD worth of shelves – mainly from a grant from the Slavanka Trust. The Theological Book Network has sent a large number of second hand books from the USA, and Dorothy Lowe has given a car load of books from her husband's library. John Lowe died in 2013. Dorothy and John served the BGC in the 1950s and 60s up until the time they were forcibly removed by Khartoum Government 1964 with all other white mission workers. The proportions of this new library means that it can host 18,000 volumes of books and still have a long way to get 13,000 books more. We are always grateful for visitors willing to bring books in their suitcases. We have average of receiving 4 to 5 books per a day.
Thanks to World Vision, BGC is now the proud owner of ten desktop computers that are established in the new library. The world Vision Program happened to be taught by professor taught our Principal from different seminaries in the US and through that connection, we got those wonderful gifts to equip our future leaders. Tuition in their use is being given after school in the evening when the generator comes on-line. During the day we have no power except for the occasional and unpredictable bursts of city power. Our dream is to put solar panels on the roof and this will give us twenty-four house use with all the benefits that modern students have of accessing material on-line. (Bearing in mind that V sat is not like fast broadband.)
I shall upload pictures of BGC and it students to our picture website here.
If anyone would like to be included in the regular Prayer Partners email please let me know at email@example.com. You might like to ask your friends. Please don't be shy of telling people about BGC and including us in the your prayer meetings.
Please feel free to circulate this report to anyone who is interested. It will be published on our website: www.bishopgwynne.juba.anglican.org/
Bishop Gwynne College,
6th November 2014