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Hermeneutics and roof-raising singing in Swaziland

Ira Hill teaches a class on business principles at African Christian College near Manzini, Swaziland. (Photo by Erik Tryggestad)

Blogging live from Tubungu, Swaziland
This tiny kingdom, nestled between South Africa and Mozambique, seems an unlikely place to hear a debate on whether or not Jesus violated the Sabbath when he healed a man.
But that was the topic in Friday morning’s class on hermeneutics (the study of interpreting Scripture) at African Christian College. I’m here on a reporting trip, gathering more stories for The Christian Chronicle’s ongoing “Global South” series.
Some students argued that, yes, Jesus was breaking the Sabbath law by “working,” but it didn’t matter because God made the law. Others said that Jesus only violated the Pharisees’ interpretation of the law.
It reminded me of my hermeneutics course back at Lipscomb University (I got a B, and that was a.gif?Action=thumbnail&Width=460&algorithm=proportionalt).

Wendy and Kurt Platt on the campus of African Christian College (Photo by Erik Tryggestad)

Of course, in this class, everyone in the room was African — even the teacher, Kurt Platt. A native of South Africa, Kurt serves as academic dean for African Christian College. Chronicle managing editor Bobby Ross Jr. interviewed him last year at a Bible lectureship on the campus of Southern Africa Bible College in Benoni, South Africa, where Kurt studied.  I got to talk to Kurt briefly before he and Behki Mamba, a local minister and part-time faculty member at African Christian College, headed northwest for an annual church leaders’ retreat in Botswana.
African Christian College, formerly Manzini Bible School, began training students for ministry in 1966. Today 41 students are enrolled here. I spent the afternoon talking with students and staff from Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi.
In the U.S., it’s hard for me to walk into a Church of Christ without finding someone related to someone I know. Turns out it’s the same way in Africa. I met Misozi Mhango, the campus librarian. She’s the sister-in-law of Rabson Mhango, a minister I interviewed in 2008 at the Africans Claiming Africa for Christ conference in Nigeria. We talked about the rapid church growth in her home country, which will host the ACAC conference in 2012.
I also found some common ground with Stanley Shereni, a student at African Christian College from Zimbabwe. He’s a former reporter who now is a minister. Stanley, fellow Zimbabwean Ruregerero Nyahore and Malawian Moses K. Banda talked to me about the challenges facing Churches of Christ in southern Africa. Growth here remains strong, but many churches are poor and can’t support full-time ministers.
But Stanley doesn’t see the solution simply as more dollars from America. In many cases, foreign support for preachers is a destructive force that is “slowly assassinating congregations,” he said.
Instead, he wants to see churches in the U.S. partner with entire congregations — not just preachers — in specific projects. Doing so will help African church members see themselves as stake holders in the work, he said.
African church members also have been unwilling to evangelize among the region’s emerging upper class, and that needs to change, the students said.
It was a fascinating conversation that defied a lot of my expectations about the African church.
Still, my favorite part of the day was African Christian College’s chapel service. In a mixture of English and one of the local languages, the students sang inspiring, roof-raising songs of praise. I’ll try to post some video soon. It’s the kind of awe-inspiring singing I’ve come to expect in Africa. Once again, Christians here didn’t disappoint.

  • Feedback
    Swaziland has been a favorite mission field for many of us from Albuquerque. Our dear friend Ann Hallford is very involved in supporting it. Glad to hear more about it.
    Patricia Barber Brannan
    August, 7 2010

    Great Story on African Christian College. I know most of the names you mentioned. They are diligent workwrs for the Lord. HMM
    H M Motsinger
    August, 11 2010

Filed under: News Extras Travel Reports

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