Theological education is especially important here: An interview with Glen Taylor in The Gambia

Jul/Aug Faith Today profiles the work of Wycliffe College professor Glen Taylor, and the four year degree in Christian Studies he helped create in The Gambia, West Africa. We interviewed Taylor (GT) via email, while he is in The Gambia this summer to find out more.

Professor Glen Taylor and his class this summer in The Gambia.

FT: Glen, what have you learned from the Church in The Gambia?

GT: Probably the biggest lesson concerns the depth and vitality of faith in Jesus. More church folk here seem unquestionably faith-full than at home. It is almost like they have extra powers of perception to see the living God in everyday life. One reason for this is that many Christians (and others) make so little money that making ends meet is often a miracle in itself.

FT: What is the greatest need of the Church there?

GT: Probably resources and a greater sense of cooperation across denominations. Regarding resources, the Anglican bishop lamented to me that if capital was available the diocese could, for example, construct an office building to house its diocesan office, rent out space to others and be able to generate revenue. In other words, it takes money to make money. The lack of the former is exasperating to those who can imagine a different economic scenario. As it stands, money is short and church buildings and such seem only to get more dilapidated.

FT: What do Canadians need to know about the Church in Africa?

GT: Regarding cooperation among denominations, since the political crisis in January (when the ousted dictator was threatening not to leave), the Church has come together as never before. They held joint prayer meetings for a peaceful transition of power at the local sports stadium for example. But this seems to be still the exception rather than the norm.

Thus, the Anglicans, Methodists, Roman Catholics, and independent evangelical churches mostly operate within their own spheres, having astoundingly little knowledge of what the other is up to. This seems especially inappropriate in a country where Christians make up about 5% of the population.

I can’t really speak about Africa in general, having spent time in only two West African countries (The Gambia and Senegal). Canadians need to know that the Church is in many ways like the Church in Canada. Mainline denominations face the same challenges in both: there can be a lack of vibrancy in them compared to the more evangelical independent churches. (The more evangelical mainline churches are noteworthy exceptions to the trend, just as at home.)

Canadians need to know that although Christians in The Gambia enjoy good relations with their Muslim neighbours (who outnumber the Christians 9 to 1), relations have the potential to sour either if Islam becomes more radical or if Western Christianity gains notoriety for compromising on traditional moral (particularly sexual) issues.

FT: What is the most rewarding part of this work for you?

GT: The most rewarding part of the work for me is functioning in an environment where it is possible and (given the large number of needs) “easy” to make a difference. Many Christians here have a voracious appetite for learning more about the faith, which makes them receptive, grateful and affirming. It feels rewarding to me to be on the receiving end of the joy-filled faith and shameless devotion to Christ that many here have.

FT: Why is theological education like this so important?

GT: Theological education is especially important here because there are churches popping up everywhere, yet many of the leaders have no formal training and are thus often prone to adopting shallow (even heretical) understandings of the Christian faith.

Theological education in Africa is an especially important investment because belief in God and the Christian Church are alive and well in Africa, leading many to predict that the growth of the Church in the future will emanate primarily from the continent of Africa. (For example, one of the largest churches in the Ukraine today is Nigerian in origin.)

FT: How can people here in Canada help?

GT: Probably the best way, in addition to prayer, is to find someone who has direct, first-hand knowledge of a grass-roots ministry in Africa and who can thus verify that the ministry is credible and effective. I think many Canadian Christians are open to helping, but don’t know of a good cause that they can be sure is spending their money the way it should be spent.

Glen Taylor is professor of scripture and global Christianity at Wycliffe College, on the University of Toronto. Faith Today features the work of Taylor in The Gambia in the Jul/Aug issue. To subscribe to Faith Today, and access excellent Christian journalism in Canada, click here


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