Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.
[2 Timothy 2:15 NRSV]
The first of the several groups that I met with during my week in South Africa was a contingent of 12 theological students who are being lodged in the guest house of the congregation of Phodisa Ditshaba. [Click on any image to enlarge]
If you want to become a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Africa your education will cost you nothing. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Africa pays all expenses for its seminarians.
However, in recent months, their education was discontinued due to some complex economic issues, and the students were sent home from the seminary to their respective dioceses.
Bishop Sihlangu and his staff made the decision to keep them together, lodging them in the guest house. Here they study together, they are in community, they are fed and housed, and serve congregations. At some point hopefully in the near future, they will return to the seminary, where they will again have lecturers and professors, which is their biggest need right now.
“If they were to return to their homes,” Bishop Sihlangu said, “we would have lost some of them. Some come from homes where there is no electricity. They would not have been able to study at night. Here, we feed them, we house them, we care for their basic needs.”
We were scheduled to meet for only a couple hours. Instead, we spent the entire afternoon together. I wanted to hear their stories, I wanted to know why they felt this strong call to ministry, especially when they could have found more lucrative employment in other professions.
They shared their stories with me. One of the young men felt called from the time he was nine years old. A couple of them were children of pastors. Yet another, turned his back on a career in information technology, which he had decided to pursue simply to please his parents.
It was a fascinatingly enjoyable day. Though my heart ached for their current setback, I was inspired by their perseverance and determination. Throughout our time together, they never once sounded a note of unhappiness. On the contrary, they radiated hope, the likes of which the apostle Paul speaks of in Romans 5: We boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
One of the ways they share that hope and that joy is by singing. They have formed a choir which becomes a means of evangelism. They visit congregations and sing at services. We were treated to a command performance which was moving, to say the least. We offer here a small sample of their praise in this video.
We closed out the day in prayer. It was purely spontaneous on my part, but I felt it was the least I could do at the moment. This encounter set the tone for the rest of my time in the Northern Diocese.
Please keep these students in prayer. When they return to normal classes and how the economic situation will be resolved is yet to be determined. But it hasn’t dimmed their faith. And for that we say, “Thanks be to God.”