Last night student of Lutheran theology Immanuel Ennosa Ataroba from Sudan received the sad news that his brother, who had been suffering from illness for the past three year, had been called home by our God the Lord over life and death. This is a very difficult time for our Seminarian so far away from home and without the option of taking part in the funeral and burial rites back home. Studying is challenging as it is – and not only because of the cold winters in South Africa and the general strangeness and foreignness of this distant place. It’s the heavy load of learning, the very many new things that have to be absorbed, accommodated and worked through – and now this added burden. We pray that our good Shepherd Jesus Christ will take care of our brother and his family in these stressful times and that they will be comforted by the good news that we sang together in chapel this morning: “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer … in his arms he’ll take and shield thee; thou wilt find a solace there.”
You may recall that the senior student of theology Simon Ishaya Gyang from Nigeria (2nd from left in the picture in happier days with friends at LTS) lost his brother to armed assault by the Boko Haram terrorists and that they buried him yesterday and the student of diaconic studies – Trinah Simakoloyi from Zambia – lost her sister just before the June examinations in the past quarter. This again goes to prove my observation here at Seminary that our people in Africa are faced with a high mortality rate – and that even most of my students have to cope with levels and intensities of remorse, mourning and trauma that we can hardly imagine. As pastor of a German congregation in the rural hinterland I had an average of about 2-3 funerals per annum and only a small fraction of these deaths was not due to old age. Here at Seminary however nearly every student has so many deaths to mourn in just his/her own family. It is very difficult to imagine, what this means to our people – especially if they are so far away from home and are not able to go through the normal rites of farewell and mourning together with their families and next-of-kin. It stresses again the importance of hearing the life-saving and life-giving gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who overcame sin, death and devil for us and our salvation and that he has opened up the way to eternal life and home to the heavenly Father through his victorious resurrection from the dead on the 3rd day after his crucifixion on Golgotha. Thanks to him and thanks to his most precious gift of holy Baptism we now have the confidence and blessed hope, that everybody who believes in him and is baptized will be saved to eternal life with him in heaven. It is therefore not just ritual or liturgical pastime if we daily start our Seminary procedures with the confession of the apostolic creed – the baptismal creed of the Church – “I believe in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life + everlasting. Amen.” Even if this stands firm and solid due to the triune God’s most gracious promises, our faith is sorely tested and we are tempted again and again by our weakness, sinfulness and mortality. That is why we need to pray more than once every day: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven … lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
While these stories are the serious backdrop of our lives at Seminary and the framework of our temporary callings and walks in this world, our attention is drawn to this and that less serious daily business – like fixing leaking taps and getting electric earth leakages attended too. Thanks to competent helpers and friends at Seminary like son Christoph and electrician Otto Johannes. Emily Ngubeni really has added a nice touch to the Seminary facility by attending to flower beds and general tidiness of the place. While Seminarians go about their regular routine of worship, lectures, teaching, learning, listening and talking, playing Volleyball and resting in front of the TV or just sitting in the pleasant afternoon sun – there is time and again something new and extra-ordinary. Like the visit by Rev. Davis Wowa from a Lutheran Church in Malawi to Seminary this week – or the meeting by the fundraising task-team at PWC Sunninghill, Johannesburg – or the consultation with the dean of theology at the University of Pretoria. All that does add some extra spice and flavor to the common generalities of Seminary business.
For me this comes also by reading the captivating book “Congo. A history” by David van Reybrouck. Since I couldn’t gym this week, I had a few hours extra. Fascinating how that adds up. The similarities and differences to a South African history are simply astounding. It’s high time for me to get into and concentrate more on these stories from the continent as I try to figure out more and more what studying theology in Africa is really all about. It’s really not just about politics, but about so much more. Off course theology, missions and church, sects and spiritualism has got much to do with it too – since the early days of Stanley & Co. Reybrouck has a gift of story telling – and he gets into the lives of many Congolese in a close-up and telling way. Hope I get to finish that soon – and even more I hope I still have time to reflect on this mesmerizing account from the heart of Africa.