Sunday, 16 July 2017

July 2017 Update

Dear Prayer Partners,
Thank you for your patience and persistent prayers throughout the technical communication problems. Here is the latest on BGC. It is long, but comprehensive and I think it is time for some details.
Thank you all so much for your prayers. As you will see there is so much to give thanks for as well as pray for. The important thing for us to understand is that, despite all the mess in South Sudan, our prayers are being answered!

The college closed the academic year last month with 70 plus students sitting end of term exams. A total of 25 students sat their finals and a graduation is planned for 29th October 2017. These include both those on the internal courses and those on the external Limuru University diploma course, who will know how they have got on at the end of September.

A former student, Elias Bonga, has joined John Jal at George Whitefield College in Cape Town, South Africa. This year, by God’s grace, we shall be sending another four students. One is from Eastern Equatoria (Kashmir Ofuk), one from Western Equatoria (Alex Frazer Paul), one from Central Equatoria (Joy Keji Beshir), and another from Lakes State area (Samuel Makuac Mayom).

There is a deliberate policy of encouraging an inter-tribal community at BGC which welcomes all, whoever they are, from everywhere in South Sudan (and beyond).

Amazingly, this year 90 candidates have sat the Special Entrance Examination. Most of them at the BGC main campus from the 4th to 7th July 2017, with others in Yambio, Rumbek, and Ayillo Two Refugee Camp in Uganda. The principal and staff were impressed to see so many young candidates fresh from high school seeking theological education. The principal comments: “In our view the future is beginning now through them.”

In line with the Episcopal University project, the college will begin an ambitious Bachelor Degree in Theology (B.Th) programme. This is an exciting time.

The target number for this year’s intake is 55 students and that will mean an overall total of 115 students. In mid-July, the board will meet to screen the 90 candidates. They will find this process difficult because they do not like turning people away, but even at 115 new students this poses enormous challenges of accommodation and food.

Samuel writes:
We still purchase the college food items from Uganda despite the rebel activities. Once they are bought into Kampala, they are put on ECO Bus to Juba as we have been doing all along. However, there have been a number of serious incidents on Juba-Nimule Road which involved the loss of lives but that did not stop the effort of the government security agents to give scout to the convoys. In avoidance of more cost, we write letters requesting the custom service to exempt the taxes on the food items purchased from Uganda.”

The staffing situation remains critical but the quality and commitment are high. In addition to our principal, Samuel Galuak, we have the full-time services of Rev. Daniel Deng Anhiany who has worked in theological education for many years in Khartoum and latterly in Juba. Canon Undo Elisa was formally appointed as part-time staff but appears to be putting in a great deal more than that. Samuel comments: “the work he (Undo) does for the college is commendable as both the tutor and academic dean.”

The board is considering the employment of another tutor and registrar to work with the academic dean. They already have someone in mind for this post.

Abraham Maker, the former librarian is now doing his M.Div. at African International University in Nairobi. The plan is that he return as a tutor. A new library manager has been appointed subject to official confirmation. In addition to these, the administrator, Esparanza, continues in the office. Being in Juba offers us the chance of getting some highly qualified part-time tutors.

In April 2017 the board and the council met to look into the welfare and pay-levels of both teaching and non-teaching staff of Bishop Gwynne College. Inflation is a major concern. The sources of income for the college were reviewed and it was deemed possible to increase the salaries by 50% but that still does not address the real need. The principal shared his concerns with individuals including Tim and Shanna, the American couple who donated the money for food last year, and they promised to send a one-time gift for the staff members.
The same appeal went to Darien Klentzos from Australia, based in South Africa, who is going to look into it.

For many years the college has been sustained by rents and local gifts but these are less effective in the climate of severe inflation. Most of the lease agreements signed by BGC and its tenants were in SSP. About two years ago, the rents were doubled but that is now of little impact. However, we shall keep revising them but it has to be done gently as everyone is a victim to inflation. The main support has been the rents from ALARM at $1500 per month and the house next to ALARM used by ESICO (the one formerly used by Vets Sans Frontières) was paying $2000 per a month but they moved out in June 2017 to another bigger building nearby, so that is vacant again and is another setback. There is a need for prayer that a new tenant can be found.

The BGC annual day of prayer is 8th August. The Dioceses of Juba, Torit, and Mundri, that have given gifts and we pray that that may continue.

Samuel Galuak spend a month after the end of term in the USA – mostly in Michigan, the guest of the diaspora there, and made several new useful contacts – including one philanthropist who gave $15,000 towards the continued building of the chapel. He then moved on to Washington DC and Virginia where he was met and entertained by Virginia Theological Seminary.

Samuel was absent during the TEU workshop last April, but I am happy to report that BGC was represented by our Academic Dean, Canon Undo Elisa and the Reverend Daniel Deng, and is committed to the process (see above). and

Getting money out to BGC is proving a serious problem. The banks in Juba are receiving the funds but not releasing them. The principal understands how difficult it is for people in the West to send cash to individuals. Samuel reports:
It is sad that we cannot access the funds through our official account with Equity Bank, and I hate to speak about it with the people, because it is not everyone who can understand our situation in South Sudan. It is a shame that we have $4144 in our Dollar Account with Equity Bank and there is no way to use it.”
Things are very different in a cash economy.
Good Books & Services, which provide the financial services for BGC in Britain, have managed to get money to Samuel when he passes through Uganda. Currently, a large proportion of what is given in the UK is going to the supply of food.

The communications from BGC are encouraging. The challenges, however, must not be underestimated. Juba and South Sudan are living in desperate times. Instability, insecurity, violence, fear and hunger are the norm. Last January the solar panels on the BGC old building near the cathedral were stolen overnight. Not having power in the main offices severely affected the administration and morale for a time. But as an outside observer, I cannot but be impressed with not only the resilient of these people but the hope with which they live. The popularity of the college for young people coming out of high school is enormously encouraging.

Thank you all for your prayers.

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