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Theology under a mango tree as South Sudan's seminary comes home

Posted on: January 4, 2016 2:10 PM
Students at the Bishop Allison Theological College study theology under a mango tree at the college's new home in South Sudan
Photo Credit: CMS

[CMS] Amid a year of turbulence in South Sudan, there was some good news. After decades of displacement in Uganda, Bishop Allison Theological College (BATC) was relocated to Yei diocese – where it was meant to be. And CMS mission partners are in the midst of the action.

BATC is now in its second semester of equipping much-needed Christian leaders for South Sudan. CMS mission partners Derek and Jane Waller have been teaching at BATC since it reopened in February 2015.

BATC, named after the last British (and CMS) Bishop of Sudan – Oliver Allison – was the vision of Seme, the first Bishop of Yei. In the 1980s, Bishop Seme saw the need for better trained pastors to lead the Church and began plans to build a training college.

The Sudanese civil war forced staff and students to take refuge in northern Uganda. “It was literally tested by fire as hostile Ugandans burnt the college down,” said Derek.

“BATC moved to a more secure site in Arua, Uganda, where it flourished for a time and trained some of the pastors who are working in South Sudan today,” he explained. Sadly, the Ugandan site closed in 2011.

However, Bishop Seme’s vision was not extinguished. Bishop Hilary, the present Bishop of Yei, dreamt of planting BATC in Yei.

So under the energetic leadership of BATC’s acting principal, the Revd Peter Taban, a site was found, and staff (including Derek and Jane) and 21 students were recruited.

Four of the students live in Yei; the remaining 17 come from around Yei diocese and live on the compound. Twelve men are housed in a classroom turned into a dormitory; four are in a converted office. Some classes currently meet under a mango tree while staff and students pitch in to make existing buildings usable.

The Wallers say funding the college, feeding the students and providing water are ongoing challenges which staff and students share.

“But we are kept going by the warmth and enthusiasm of the students. Their insights into Scripture, their desire to apply their learning to serving their people . . . is a delight,” Jane said.

BATC’s importance cannot be understated as the Church in South Sudan urgently needs trained pastors. Many of the present pastors have little education and are nearing retirement, according to Derek.

Uganda-based CMS mission partner and building consultant Garry Ion is helping survey the land for future development.