Dr. Sue Dickson, associate professor of Religion who teaches classes in practical theology and global Christianity, spent part of her summer in Kenya. She was there for the graduation ceremony of the first class of Ezra Christian College —a remarkable seminary that Dickson helped found. Here is her account of the experience:
Four years ago, fifty rural pastors from western Kenya gathered in a dirt-floored, tin-walled church building in Busia, Kenya. They had traveled by bus, or on foot, or hitched rides to participate in a seminar on the New Testament that I was teaching during my senior study leave from AU. Most of them could read and write. A few had graduated from eighth grade. Even fewer had taken high school classes. They served small congregations in remote villages; congregations that paid them with chickens, and firewood, and cooking oil. They loved the Lord. They were called to preach. But, they needed—they desperately wanted—training.
After the seminar, a group of pastors met with me and said they wanted to continue their studies. I encouraged them to do that—and they did! They found volunteers from universities in Nairobi, and the U.S., and Australia, to teach them. I went back twice to teach and help them organize. They convinced a local high school to provide them with space. They named their college and invited a board to direct it. They obtained official registration from the Kenyan government. Pastors from Uganda, Rwanda, and Tanzania began satellite campuses because they couldn’t afford to travel to Busia. The idea of providing academically sound, affordable, and directed training for rural pastors caught fire.
This May, I went back again to celebrate with twenty-three of those pastors who were graduated with the equivalent of an undergraduate certificate from Ezra Christian College. I was privileged to speak at the graduation and when I reflected on the beginning four years ago—no resources, no money, no space, no teachers, no curriculum—I could hardly believe what God had done through the vision and perseverance and faith of these pastors in four years.
On graduation day, the graduates and their escorts, guests and family, some local government officials, milled about at the meeting point: hugging, shaking hands, comparing rented robes, taking photos on their phones—like graduations everywhere. We were all bursting with excitement and pride. A ragged, but enthusiastic, brass band struck up a jazzy rendition of Onward Christian Soldiers and the procession began. The energy and dancing and singing lasted the whole way to the field where the ceremony took place and throughout the rest of the festivities. I even learned how to do an African “whoop.”
A group of us assembled at a local restaurant afterwards. Laughing, recounting of the day’s events, dreaming of the future. Ezra Christian College’s president was head to head with a government official discussing the new campus that was to open in the North. Two graduates were talking about continuing their studies in Nairobi. The Rwandan contingent was sharing about a new class they had planned. I stood off to the side for a minute and listened. What was that wetness on my cheeks?
When I think about Ezra Christian College, and these pastors, I know that the Body of Christ in the world is thriving. God is at work. There are people of Christian faith on every continent who are loving God and their neighbors, who are building community, who are figuring out what will make the world a better place in their context and, with God’s help, making it happen. I am humbled and grateful to have been a minuscule part of this truly amazing demonstration of God’s love and human faith in action—and I give thanks to God for his goodness.