A Story of Restoration that has yet to End
Prisoners in South Africa involved in Theological Education by Extension
It started with the founding of a small college in South Africa in 1976. The apartheid policy of the government of the day, together with time, distance and expense was preventing potential pastors and lay leaders from getting the theological education they needed to serve their growing church community. So, based on a model borrowed from Guatemala, the Theological Education by Extension College (TEEC) began operation with the support of all major mainline denominations within South Africa and of Global Ministries’ parent organizations.
Several thousand students and countless multilingual courses later, 2004 graduate Rev. Jogra Gallant became an Anglican priest and took up her call to serve at St. Alban’s, a maximum security prison near Port Elizabeth, South Africa. In 2006, she introduced some of the prisoners there to the learning available through TEEC and they joined in with gusto.
By May 2012, Melvin and Cecil earned their Diplomas in Theology – an 18-course program that takes four to six years to complete in a distance-learning context. Nine more inmates are on track to finish in 2013. But that’s not where this story ends.
These inmates and their brothers in the St. Alban’s Prison Theological Study Group are ministering in their own context. The social workers in the prison call on them to help with the restorative justice meetings of perpetrators and families of victims. They do evangelism, HIV/AIDS counseling, intercessory prayer, small group support, bible studies, life skills classes for juveniles and pastoral counseling …not only for fellow prisoners but for the warders (correctional officers). Several have earned the right to go to medium security facilities but one turned down the opportunity so he could continue his ministry at St. Alban’s. Another who did move has begun similar ministries in his new facility. And yet, the story still does not end.
George, one of the TEEC students, stabbed his good friend from across the street. They scuffled and he didn’t mean to kill his friend, but his friend died of his wounds. The victim’s mother turned her back on George’s whole family and refused to open his repeated letters asking for forgiveness. Yet she kept them.
Not long ago, the mother came to know Christ and consented to have a reconciliation meeting with George in prison. She brought the letters, still unopened. George spoke of his new life. In that room a miracle of God’s love occurred. The mother said, “I had closed my heart to those people,” but finally forgave George. “I have lost my son, but now I will take you as my son,” and with those words adopted him. Now she is planning the neighborhood party for his October release.
TEEC is but one of the many life-changing programs supported through your gifts to Global Ministries. The school offers five different programs ranging from a certificate to a bachelor of theology. Many courses have been translated into languages such as Zulu and Xhosa to serve the more than 3,000 students enrolled. The programs are hybrids of correspondence course materials and local ministry partners that provide tutoring and mentoring. Twelve denominations have students in the various study programs at TEEC. Eight denominations are members and 25 international partners help support the college – an ecumenist’s dream come true. In May of 2012, around 300 students finished one of the five different awards, certificates and degrees and about 100 celebrated their graduation with their families in a Johannesburg church.