Photo: Fltr: Drr Len Hansen, Jonathan Iorkighir, Tersur Aben (TEA Chair) & Jurgens Hendriks
Report of TEA (Theological Education in Africa) –West Africa 2017 conference in Jos, Plateau-State, Nigeria. 22-26 May 2017.
Drr. Len Hansen & Jurgens Hendriks, NetACT / SU
Venue: TCNN, Bukuru (Jos)
Theme: Public Theology in Africa: Taking Christian faith into the public space.
Planning: In October 2016, four Nigerian NetACT Board Members as well as representatives from the NetACT Office attended the GNPT (Global Network for Public Theology) consultation “Democracy and social justice in glocal contexts” at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. TEA Nigeria consulted with the GNPT executive as well as with representatives from the Beyers Naude Centre for Public Theology. Dr Tersur Aben of TCNN had the responsibility to organize the Nigerian TEA meeting. It focussed on addressing the endemic conflict and corruption challenges of Nigeria. They invited Nigerian Christians serving in Central and Federal Government, business, the Nigerian military & police, academia and the church to present papers and / or attend the meeting. The latter would take the form of a consultation between these stakeholders and think-tank on work-ethics.
Nigerian visas: Difficulties in procuring Nigerian visas resulted in only Drr. Hansen and Hendriks attending from the South African side. The main issue, besides the exorbitant visa fees, was that the Nigerian Consulate in Johannesburg refused to receive visa applications from clergy or other church representatives. Fortunately, the Pretoria Nigerian Embassy eventually approved the visa applications.
The program. The interdisciplinary nature of the program was a blessing and was a logical outcome given the theme of public theology. Christians from various disciplines and fields accepted the challenge to discern, in a missional way, the realization of the Kingdom of God in a broken world filled with conflict and corruption.
- Some presentations focussed on scriptural principles that apply to the topic (McCain, Hendriks, Ishaya);
- Some presenters used a Systematic Theology approach (Hopkins, Williams);
- Others focussed on the new “discipline” of public theology (Forster & Hansen) while Dabin, a political science and economy lecturer, looked at the electoral and political cycles in Nigeria;
- In the Nigerian contexts contextual analyses of the history of Islam in Nigeria and the influence of Boko Haram (Gaiya, Turaki), [causing intense emotional vibes in the meeting] were especially appreciated;
- Yet other presentations were on challenges to and in the economy and business world (Bature, Vander Steen, Chikan),
- One discussion (Harley) was on the ecology with an outstanding video presentation that surveyed ecological disaster areas in Nigeria – this presentation was shocking to say the least;
- Two presentations took the form of case studies of Christian witnessing in different spheres of life (the former Federal Minister of Education, Ochekpe, and the former head of airports, Bature);
- In a fascinating presentation the history of Sierra Leone and the Amistad legacy that illustrated the power and influence of art on public discourse was greatly appreciated! A paper that did so in a similar fashion with reference to the popular song “New Nigeria”, by Stellenbosch PhD candidate, Anthony Ishaya was equally well received.;
- Finally, Agang engaged the role of theological education in social transformation.
Some remarks on the program and visit:
- We are convinced that theology needs to be done interdisciplinary if it wants to be Trinitarian and missional in nature. Attending a discernment meeting like this one is inspiring and generates hope – notwithstanding the dreadful situation of conflict, corruption and religious violence in Nigeria.
- We often marvelled at the way in which one begins to understand the Nigerian context and culture, as well as our Nigerian students in the Faculty of Theology at Stellenbosch, when one is in Nigeria, exposed to the history, stories and realities of the country.
- Nigerian society is facing deep divides and much pain and anger. One clearly senses the precarious position of the church and Christians in a context where Christian-Muslim tensions may and do easily and often erupt in violence.
- We also began to understand the respect and gratitude many of the Nigerian Christians in the Middle Belt and North felt towards the missionaries and the role of, for instance, the Dutch Reformed Church’s missionary efforts in the region. Islam and British Colonialism left many tribes with strong feelings of inferiority and as if they were second degree citizens. The missionaries helped to restore human dignity. The assistance with economic and especially educational development the missionaries offered were and remain key aspects in restoring the human dignity of many of Nigeria’s tribes.
- During the visit, we were able to build new and strengthen existing relationships with various key leaders of churches, NGO’s and academic institutions that will be of benefit to NetACT and Stellenbosch University. We paid JETS (Jos Evangelical Theological Seminary) a visit and met with alumni, library staff and the executive staff of the seminary.
We are thankful for travel mercies and the privilege to journey and cross boundaries.
Jurgens Hendriks and Len Hansen.
Papers by Stellenbosch University staff and students:
Rev Anthony Ishaya (PhD student): New Nigeria, prophetic envisioning. (paper read on his behalf)
Dr Dion Forster: Public Theology: the South African Experience. (paper read on his behalf)
Dr Len Hansen: On “learning to speak” and “speaking in tongues”; public theology as a multilingual endeavour.
Prof Jurgens Hendriks: Speaking the truth to power.
(Papers and program available on request, email firstname.lastname@example.org ).
31 May 2017