Even before the official opening of the academic year, about thirty students completed one of two intensive courses offered at the Pretoria Centre.
The first intensive course was for six full days during the first two weeks of January. BTh degree students from Pretoria and Johannesburg took the module Christian Apologetics, taught by Prof. Henk Stoker of the Theological School of Potchefstroom. Then on 12-14 and 19-21 January, Honours students were taught the module African Christian Theology by Dr Collium Banda, who recently completed his PhD at NWU.
Such intensive courses have proved to be very popular with our students. The students are immersed in these aspects of biblical studies for the duration of the module. They also benefit from the engaging classroom discussions between themselves and the lecturer.
A week later than planned, due to the new lock-down, Mukhanyo’s opening ceremony took place on 18 January. In the meantime, two intensive courses had already taken place and nearly all normal activities have commenced.
Good Theology for Africa
Rev. Maarten van Helden, chairman of the Mukhanyo board, referred in his opening address to Colossians 1. Similar to the time when the Apostle Paul wrote this letter, we live in an evil era, full of false prophets, false teachings and heresies. One can even expect that things may become worse. Therefore, Mukhanyo must keep the faith, be prepared and awake, and take up the challenge, not getting despondent or frustrated.
The heresy of our time is that many people believe in a god of their own making. But God reveals Himself through His Word. It’s necessary to study and teach Good Theology and to proclaim that Jesus Christ is in control. Christ must be taught and glorified as King. Africa has been and still is flooded with the prosperity gospel and many other forms of heresies. Good Theology is the only answer.
The Practical Need for Good Theology
In the principal’s address at the opening ceremony, Dr Brian DeVries underlined the needs for Good Theology, and especially the importance of training pastors and church leaders in Africa:
Therefore, Mukhanyo must continue to be an academic institution with a missional heart, as a multi-campus institution of higher education with a decentralised network of training centres across South Africa and beyond.
In current circumstances, Mukhanyo’s immediate challenge is to navigate COVID-19 distractions so that quality teaching and mentoring can continue. Another priority is to improve the technology and support systems for lecturers and students, as well as introducing additional focus areas of study such as the new education modules in the Higher Certificate in Bible Teaching. Other matters for special attention this year will be media management adjustments, increased pension contributions for paid staff, and the provision of more than R1 million for student bursaries.
Dr DeVries concluded his address by recognising that 2020 was a difficult and unusual year, but that the Lord graciously provided. We all trust that God will provide for Mukhanyo’s needs in 2021 as well. “We thank Him and honour Him because He does great deeds”.
We thank the Lord for His gracious hand over Mukhanyo and His wonderful provision during 2020. God has provided in many ways and, apart from the initial lockdown, we could continue with the ministry of training church leaders for ministry. Praise His Name!
During the many months of the COVID-19 lockdown and the various restrictions, Mukhanyo has been able, not only to continue most of its work, but also to continue serving students and developing study material – even while working from home.
Yes, of course, many adjustments had to be made. Lectures had to change to various forms distance communication. Many of us had to work from home, especially in the first few months since March. Some students did not have the facilities such as laptops, smart phones or internet and could not keep up. Remunerations of staff had to be supplemented through the government unemployment insurance fund for several affected workers during the hard lockdown.
Despite these challenges, however, Mukhanyo’s staff received on average the equivalent of 100% of their salary, even during the lockdown months! Mukhanyo also received extra small “food voucher” donations, which were distributed on several occasions to all staff, who in turn could pass them on to people in dire need.
We thank the Lord that the 2020 curriculum of all Mukhanyo programmes could be completed, and year-end examinations took place according to plan.
On an even more positive note: Mukhanyo’s Rustenburg and Durban advanced learning centres have been established soundly and expect strong growth next year. While the number of students exceeded a thousand last year (including the students at some 80 distance study groups and the education programmes), the number could well pass 1 250 next year.
We thank the Lord for all these blessings and pray to Him that we may continue this important work in His name.
In the Old Testament, God repeatedly told Joshua to be strong and courageous. He also enabled Israel to do what He ordered them to do. In a way, the same applies to Mukhanyo. God has enabled Mukhanyo to be strong and courageous throughout 2019, and also through a very unique first half of 2020. And now the second semester of 2020 has started well in all five centres!
God’s provisions for Mukhanyo became clear from the annual report and the somewhat belated Annual General Meeting (AGM) which took place on 24 July, using the Zoom facility. The online format this year was an advantage; Mukhanyo’s member churches and friends could participate from many places: Canada, the United States, and the Netherlands, as well as churches all over South Africa.
The message of the principal, Dr Brian de Vries, was that regardless of challenges in 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Mukhanyo has been able, by God’s grace, to overcome various obstacles and still extend ministry activities. Now the second semester is well underway with most centre-based modules offered again in contact mode and only a few online.
According to the Annual Report 2019, the total number of students for the first time surpassed one thousand. Other main features of 2019 include:
Regardless of various challenges, including the recent lockdown, Mukhanyo has been able to continue improving, although with some adjustments. These improvements include matters of academic quality and spiritual mentoring, material development outputs with more upgraded study guides and videos, additional modules and programmes, and the further expansion of supporting technology.
Given the COVID-19 pandemic, the College has much to be thankful for, especially committed staff, donors and students. Various technological improvements have become a part of everyday life, and they will certainly continue to be so after the pandemic.
Operationally, Mukhanyo is doing very well. The library is growing with another 15 000 new books this year. The new student information system (SIS) and learning management system (LMS) is being further expanded. Learning material is being improved and technology will be utilised to a greater degree, with mentoring as a point of focus going forward.
In respect of all the distance and regional centres, Mukhanyo has been increasingly decentralising its services. The pandemic is accelerating this process and will continue to do so. But as Dr Brian emphasised, technology will never replace lecturers or personal contact.
At the date of the AGM, only about 5% of students discontinued their studies (mostly COVID-19 related reasons) with all the others completing the first semester. But several new students joined at the beginning of the second semester. The budget was reduced by only 10% as a precautionary move, which was less than feared at first because donors were mainly able to continue their support.
Here are some interesting facts:
Now it is official. Mukhanyo’s big Johannesburg branch has recently been approved by the Department of Higher Education (DHET) as a campus. Until this point it was only an advanced distance learning centre.
The Reformed Church of Johannesburg was discontinued in 2002 and the building was then donated to Mukhanyo who has been using it as a distance learning centre for a number of years. Thanks to some substantial donations, it was upgraded in 2018 with a library and several additional lecture rooms and offices. The number of students has increased to some 30 students who have been using the facilities and receiving instruction.
The new status as campus will enable the continuation of the growth in the number of students, also enabling them to be full-time students with contact lectures weekly from Tuesdays to Thursdays. Most students are involved with church work at their place of residence over weekends.
These campus facilities are located in the heart of Johannesburg and close to train and bus stations. The renovated building has the capacity to facilitate far more students than the present – more than 100 full-time and part-time students. Let’s pray that the status as a full-grown campus will draw in an increasing number of students.
Note: This article was written just before the lockdown started in March. While many things have been delayed, Mukhanyo’s plans and vision for the greater Durban area remains strong and committed and, by God’s grace, will continue to develop.
A year ago it was an idea. Soon it became an initiative. Late last year it became a possibility. A centre manager was provisionally appointed to start doing preparatory work. And, believe it or not, in January 2020 the centre started with eleven BTh students and three part-time lecturers. Our Father in heaven blessed all the work!
Without many formalities, the orientation programme was completed in January and lectures started. An open day is planned for later in the year, once everything has been arranged and running smoothly.
Of course funding had to be found. But our Lord provides and He has done so once again. The Pharus Foundation in the Netherlands (through De Verre Naaste) will be funding a major part of the Centre’s budget for the next three years.
Durban is the third largest city in South Africa, with a population of nearly four million people. Yet despite its size, there are hardly any theological institutions in the city, and certainly none that are Reformed. Pentecostalism and prosperity-type churches dominate the city. There is therefore a big need for quality, biblically-orthodox, gospel-centred theological education to serve the churches of Durban and beyond.
The present venue is the church building and amenities of the Gereformeerde Kerk in Pinetown, some 20 kilometres from the Durban city centre. Pinetown is very central in the Durban metropolitan area, and easily accessible to most residents of the city.
The parsonage can be converted into a campus, while the Gereformeerde Kerk Pinetown continues to use the church hall for services and other activities. There is plenty of space (and parking facilities) for growth.
Students are from diverse church backgrounds including Baptist, Pentecostal, Charismatic and Reformed churches. But the modules are fully biblical in character and content.
In the first semester the following modules are being taught: Greek 1, Story of the Bible, Books of Moses, Synoptic Gospels and Acts, and Theology of Missions.
The potential impact of Mukhanyo’s Durban Centre is huge. Because of the lack of theological institutions in the city, Mukhanyo has the potential to be the institution of choice for local and regional theological study.
Let us all pray that Mukhanyo will have a significant impact on the churches of Durban by providing training that would produce biblically sound pastors who are passionate to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Rev Antonio Coppola is the manager of the Durban centre. He worked for the Anglican church for nine years, then studied at Westminster Seminary California from 2014 to 2017. He has a passion to see biblically-orthodox theological education taught across Africa and to see Reformed, gospel-centred churches being planted in Durban and throughout South Africa. He is currently also engaged in planting the Covenant Waterfall Presbyterian Church in Durban.
Now is the time to tell a good story, not only because it has ended so well, but also because it is the end of four years of hard work, stress and suspense. And above all: It is another amazing story of God’s work!
This real-life story goes like this: Over five years ago Mukhanyo was informed by the authorities that its popular two-year Diploma in Theology had to be phased out. It could be replaced, though, by two separate Higher Certificates, at the same academic level, both of one year each: one in Bible Teaching and one in Church Ministry.
The catch, however, was that Mukhanyo had to design these certificates from scratch and once again apply for accreditation with the education authorities.
Here it must be remembered that accreditation in the African context is important to students. To them an official accreditation, authorised by the authorities, is a sine qua non. There are too many fly-by-night so-called colleges promising everything but disappearing with your money without notice, leaving the student without a qualification.
“O well”, we thought, “let’s go through the motions and apply”. So we did, and more than four years ago the application, together with everything it entails such as the broad outlines of the curriculum, was handed in at the Council for Higher Education (CHE).
What we didn’t know, was that it would be the beginning of a long struggle. But we did know that as from the beginning of 2020, no new diploma students would be allowed to be enrolled in the Diploma programme.
When we started the process, we told our partners, staff and churches that we expected it would take about two years – more or less the normal time it takes to have a new programme accredited by the CHE.
But the CHE had questions, demands and a protracted bureaucratic process. Site visits were conducted at Mukhanyo three times (2016, 2018, and finally 2019). And these inspections implied many things: Do you have the necessary in-house staff, academic and administrative? Are the numerous required policies in place and up to date? Does your library have all the necessary books, prescribed and others? Are your facilities up to standard for higher education? Are your finances such that the institution is sustainable? And so on.
Also a number of visits to the CHE’s offices were necessary to explain and plead. Several times the CHE made procedural mistakes that further delayed the process. Twice the application was partially rejected for unspecified reasons. Then there were new demands and questions. And, in the meantime, the deadline loomed closer and closer.
At present Mukhanyo has some 600 students actively enrolled in the Diploma. If no new students could enrol in either the old Diploma or in the new Higher Certificates, then it would certainly imply a serious decline in the number of students, which would hinder the ministry of many churches. Talk about living dangerously!
Of course, we pleaded with our Father in heaven, again and again. On 6 November, Mukhanyo held another special day of prayer to ask God to direct the process. The CHE met the day following to decide the outcome, presumably based on the report of the latest site visit and on their scrutiny of the latest responses submitted by Mukhanyo.
On 8 November, Mukhanyo was informed that the application was successful and that the new qualifications were fully accredited by the CHE. We thanked the Lord! We still do. The year 2020 will be a good year, because we have a good Lord!
The two Higher Certificates open the door to other opportunities. For example: a few elective modules will be added to one of the qualifications so that it will be more suited for training Christian teachers. And while formerly the two-year Diploma was a requirement for entrance into the BTh degree, now a one year Higher Certificate will do the same.
This was only the climax of many developments in the past year: The completion of considerable improvements to the buildings of the Johannesburg and Pretoria centres, the extension of the Rustenburg study centre into an advanced centre, and the initiation of a Durban centre which, Lord willing, will be launched in January 2020. Also, the BTh Honours programme had a small but sound start.
Additionally, Mukhanyo’s new Focus programme (unaccredited church-based training) has advanced to such a level that it will be fully functional in 2020 at many distance sites. The upgraded BTh Degree in Theology, with almost 100 students, now runs smoothly in several centres. And the roll-out of the upgraded Higher Certificate study guides is making good progress. Some of our international partners recently visited the Pretoria and Johannesburg centres and were very impressed by the improvements.
The Lord has been very good to us. He has made all this possible. So let’s honour Him for all He has done and continues to do for Mukhanyo. But we know it is ultimately not for Mukhanyo’s sake, but for His almighty greatness and honour. May we continue to serve Him the way He wants to be served!
Just a good story? No. It is a great story! “Clap your hands, all you nations, shout to God with cries of joy. How awesome is the Lord Most High, the great King over all the earth” (Psalm 47:1-2).