Back to school?

Posted by Sarah Caughey on Thu, 04 Aug 2011 | 0 comments | Bookmark: digg this Post this to Post this to Facebook

For many of us, school is just a fond memory of the past on which we have closed the door. We are no longer obliged to stay up late finishing essays or spend time trying to learn our lessons. We have moved on and are busy living the rest of our lives. So, what would make a 57-year-old man give up a year of his life, move away from his job and his family, and pick up the books again?

Shyogwe Diocese in Rwanda places an extremely strong emphasis on training. This applies to all individuals within the diocese, but is particularly important for those called and chosen to be the leaders of the church. Training for these leaders takes place at three levels – university for a handful of senior leaders for undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, basic training conducted within the diocese for leaders of cell groups and small churches and then finally, a two year training programme, for intermediate leaders, who will be ordained and sent to lead local churches. This middle level of training is delivered through the Canon Trapnell Bible & Development School (“CTBDS”), based in Shyogwe Town.

This year, for the first time, the Bible and Development School welcomed candidates over the age of 35 into its classroom, much to the delight of Augustine Nikombabona. Already serving the Lord in Cyeru Parish, Augustine had wanted to come to CTBDS for the last two years as he had heard of their extensive training programme and wanted to be better equipped to serve in his ministry, but had been prevented by their upper age limit.

“I may be an old man but I still have a long time to live, especially in these modern times,” he says shyly. “Even if I’m old and cannot help physically, I can still help people with my mind by giving advice.” And Augustine’s mind is anything but failing. When asked if he found it difficult to return to studying again, he simply shook his head. “To study is a continual process,” he explains. “We are always studying. So no, I cannot say it is hard. It is the same.”

Augustine’s attitude is encouraging and challenging, and his classmates comment that he is an inspiration to them. But, perhaps more importantly, the impact of his training will be extensive within his local community. “The information I’m learning here is very interesting. I’m gaining knowledge that will not only help me in Cyeru Parish but will also help my family. We all benefit.”

His determination to learn means he not only greets Old and New Testament classes with enthusiasm, but also welcomes the challenges of English and French classes with youthful vigour. Augustine smiles, “And I’m learning English. I’ve never learnt English before. It does not matter if I’m an old man – now, if I meet an English speaker in my parish, I can greet him in his own language. I couldn’t do that before.”

The training provided at the Bible and Development school is holistic in nature. Time is given to theology, church history and pastoral care, but basic healthcare, community development and HIV/AIDS awareness are also covered. This emphasis reflects the holistic nature of the mission of the church, but also recognizes the important role that an ordained minister has within local communities.

The church is Rwanda is actively involved in tackling a legacy of violence, poverty and conflict. Within Shyogwe Diocese, training is at the heart of that effort. Through institutions like the Bible and Development school, and with individuals like Augustine, the church is seeking to offer a new story to the people of Rwanda.

Thanks to Niall Manogue, CMS Ireland and Hazel White, STEP volunteer June 2011 in Shyogwe Diocese for this article.

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