Living right on the beach and studying through SATS! At night I could hear the gentle lapping of the waves against the sail boats anchored in front of our house. Sometimes I would glance up from my work and see the light of a ship passing in the night. These are some of my memories of night time studies towards my SATS degree. But these are not all the memories I have of my studies …
In the year 2000, my wife, my two children and I had followed God’s calling to go into the mission field. The Lord guided us to an unreached Muslim people group on the east coast of Africa. Most Christians do not realize that 18 African countries are majority Muslim, and 12 more are entirely Muslim. Many of these people live along the Africa rim, starting in central Mozambique on the east, and going right around to west African nations like Nigeria.
By 2003, we’d learnt to speak two new languages fluently, and were translating evangelistic Bible stories into the local dialect. As part of the translation process, we had to adapt the lessons to reflect local customs and address the world-view of Muslims. I soon realized that in this process, I was having to make theological decisions. I wanted to do the best I could (2Cor 5:10). So I determined to study theology.
On our next visit to South Africa, I evaluated various courses and institutions, and chose SATS. Initially, I thought I would do only the certificate and get some basic knowledge. I met with Dr. Peppler, who asked me about my previous studies. I already had a Masters degree in an unrelated field; and to my surprise, this allowed me to enrol in the M.Th programme. But before the thesis, I had to do almost 128 undergraduate credits. I found this quite daunting, as many of the courses were on 3rd and 4th year level. But I decided to go for it, even though I realized it would take me many years to complete.
There were many challenges doing the studies whilst living in a remote village. Our Internet connection was primitive to say the least, being a very slow dial-up connection that worked about half the time. And that was only when the electricity was on, which was also about half of the time in the early years. When I was studying at night, the lights would be a dim brown colour, as the voltage was at 170V most of the time. But from time to time, we thought that the glory of the Lord was upon us when it rose abruptly to 360V – all the lamps would go very bright! We would have to run and quickly switch off things before they blew up.
I found my studies were not the “dead theology” that so many people had warned me of. Quite the opposite, actually. All the time we were ministering to the people, my studies helped buoy me up and helped me grow spiritually.
The studies were really challenging – anything but a breeze. But a breeze is what I would have loved to have – when the electricity was off in 40oC heat and 90% humidity conditions, the fans would stop; papers would stick to my sweaty arms, and because of wet hands I would sometimes get light shocks from the computer.
I’d never been good at taking exams; each time I became a nervous wreck beforehand. My invigilator and I had to choose our times carefully. We had the only vehicle in the community, and sick people would arrive at any time night or day asking for a lift to the clinic. This service gave us huge acceptance in the community, and we were never misused. But it did present a challenge come exam time! We soon realized, however, what the ideal time was – at 12 on Fridays, when everyone goes to the mosque!
Of course, there was no theological library in this place. So we had to be creative to get our reading materials there – when flying, we had severe limits on the amount of heavy paper we could carry. One day I realized that the word “photocopy” could be split into two words: “photo” and “copy” – from then on, when visiting the SATS library once a year, I would take photos of the pages of the books I would need for my research with a digital camera. The same copyright principles apply as to paper copies, and a memory stick is much lighter to carry than a heap of papers! This helped a lot while I was writing my thesis.
Well, after seven long years of perseverance, I got the long awaited letter from SATS that I had succeeded in completing my M.Th degree!
I found the knowledge I got from my studies has helped me to present the gospel clearly to the people we serve. Over the last few years, I have also become involved in training workers whose “ambition is to preach the gospel where Christ is not known” (Rom 15:20). Having a formal post-graduate qualification has helped increase my credibility among trainees, but also in mission and church circles. Even though it will be hard work, I’m seriously considering continuing and doing a doctorate.
The Lord has now sent us on to our next assignment, where my wife and I will again be involved with Muslims, whilst simultaneously building out our training role. Some of this work is sensitive, therefore this article has been written anonymously.