In 2005 my wife Elizabeth and I were sent by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) to work in an isolated Diocese in the centre of DRC- the Diocese of Kindu on the Congo River. On arrival Masimango Katanda, Bishop of the Diocese and now Archbishop of Congo, appointed me head of theological education in the Diocese. He pointed to block of land looking like revegetated jungle and told me to start a Bible School so that parish-based gospel workers could be trained. The country had been at war for seven years and not much had survived. All church buildings, Bibles, books and other resources had been destroyed.
Building anything in such a country brought logistical challenges. In this isolated part of Congo building materials were scarce and expensive and a functional institution was an unknown quantity in a country where nothing else was functioning. However, as planning for the new Bible School got under way we realized that an even bigger challenge was designing a suitable curriculum that would prepare people for word-based ministry.
A key issue that confronted us as we prepared the curriculum was the low literacy level of our prospective students. Christianity, especially evangelical Christianity, is a word-based religion and so models of ministry are word based. On the one hand, literacy is not a prerequisite for salvation as oral learners can hear the Bible taught and learn to follow Jesus faithfully. On the other hand, words need to be read and comprehended by some in the community if faithful ministry is to happen.
While in Australia we take for granted that our schooling system will produce people with good comprehension skills and critical thinking, in Congo and in many parts of the majority-world, this is not the case. A typical student starting at our Bible School would have completed three or four years of high school. If asked, students could read any passage of the Bible aloud. However, when asked questions about the passage, most would be unable to interact with the Bible text to find the answers. Any answers given would be based on information previously learned in another context. Despite years of education, our students start Bible School as semi-literate (or functionally illiterate).
Hence, the task of learning basic word ministry skills is difficult. An example would be learning to preach or prepare a Bible study. While in our context we would assume the ability of the student to comprehend the big idea of a Bible passage as a first step in preparation, this is not the case for those with limited literacy. In some cases, teaching people to find the big idea of a passage is a months or years long endeavour.
Context Dependant Learners
A further issue in curriculum design is the recognition that most of our students are “context dependent learners”. This means that information for information’s sake is not retained easily.
Learning is facilitated when the student has a context for the information being received, that is, he or she can easily see how the information will be used now or in the future. It is estimated that at a sizable proportion of those from western cultures are contextual learners while this figure is closer to 90% of people from majority-world contexts.
For example, the traditional design of a Bible School syllabus would include streams of information in Biblical Studies, Christian Thought and Ministry, without integration principles for current or future ministry. For context dependent learners, something more integrated but still solidly Biblical is needed to properly equip students.
How can the Centre for Global Mission (CGM) at Moore College help?
Back in 2005, together with the team in Kindu, I developed a 3-year syllabus for our Bible School that took these issues into account. The Bible School is still functioning and has trained well over half the full time ministry workers in the Diocese. Anecdotal evidence would suggest that the graduates are better prepared for ministry than previous ones taught with a more traditional syllabus. They are now able to effectively use the word of God in their regular ministries. That syllabus and all the courses were written in Congolese Swahili and now requires a full revision.
CGM is a ministry of Moore College that seeks to serve the wider church by providing theological education resources. We receive requests from churches and organisations around the world asking for help with resources to train ministry workers. The main resource we currently offer is the translation of the Moore College Correspondence Course material (better known as “PTC”). This resource continues to be an effective tool in many contexts, and we remain firmly committed to its development.
However, there is a need for different training material in some contexts that take into account literacy and context dependent learning. In these places, the current Moore College material is not the solution that people need. If we are going to respond to these requests for help, we will need to find, identify or develop training resources that are context appropriate.
The need for such resources is not isolated to the majority world. Many involved in parish ministry in Australia will recognise that the same issues apply in their ministry contexts where church members do not possess high-level literacy skills and may well be context dependent learners.
If we are to find a solution to these requests for help, it will take an extended time and significant investment. We would value your prayers and partnership as CGM how to address these issues.
For more information about CGM, go to cgm.moore.edu.au