Friday, May 25, 2007

Our South Africa trip: May 1-15

We have just returned from a short trip to South Africa in which we sought to build bridges between universities in Nigeria and South Africa. Since we work primarily with masters and doctoral students, our concern is to enable students to get a good degree in Nigeria, if possible. This is often difficult for a number of reasons. Very few schools offer more than a handful of courses in philosophy. And seminaries do not have the necessary resources to offer a good doctoral degree in theology, since their faculties are limited and their libraries are inadequate.

One of the gates of the University of Potchefstroom

Main library of the University of Potchefstroom

During this two week period we visited three universities, North-West University (NWU, with four campuses, including Potchefstroom and Vaal Triangle), the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein (UFS), and University of Stellenbosch (US). There we made presentations, gave lectures and led seminars or workshops. We also talked with deans, faculty members and deans. Everywhere we went we not only received a very warm welcome but also an excellent reception for our request for help.

Seminary of the Reformed Churches of South Africa

Wendy speaking in the Department of Philosophy

We arrived on Tuesday, May 1, a public holiday, and were picked up from the Johannesburg airport by a member of the Department of Philosophy of the Potchefstroom campus of NWU, Prof. Michael Heyns, whom we had met a number of years earlier in Toronto. That evening Prof. Bennie Vander Walt (emeritus professor of philosophy), who is a friend from way back, and Michael and his wife welcomed us with a lovely supper.

Wendy with Prof. Viljoen in front of church that is on the grounds of the seminary of the Reformed Churches

Wednesday May 2 was spent with the Faculty of Theology, NWU, representing the theological school of the Reformed Churches in South Africa, which started Potchefstroom University. We met Prof. Francois Viljoen and the Dean, Prof. Andries du Plooy. Adrian presented the main points of his paper Theological Education in Africa: Exploring Opportunities and Possible Cooperation. He gave an informal explanation of the situation in the universities of Nigeria, and more specifically the nature of work in the Department of Religious Studies of the University of Jos. After lunch Wendy presented her paper, Hellenization Revisited: The Hellenistic Context of Judaism, Gnosticism and Early Christianity.

Adrian with Prof. Hans Van Deventer at Vaal campus of NWU

On Thursday May 3 we visited the School of Philosophy of NWU, where Adrian made a power point presentation, Building Bridges through World Views. In the afternoon Wendy introduced a paper, Developing Christian Philosophy in Nigeria. She presented the need to develop a Christian philosophy which will be responsive to current needs and challenges of Nigerian society.

The two of us with Profs. Rabali and Van Deventer

We spent Friday May 4 at the Vaal Triangle campus of NWU, about an hour’s drive from Potchefstroom. Our hosts were Prof. Hans Van Deventer and Prof. T.C. Rabali, both of who attended the NABIS in Ekpoma, Nigeria, last July. The campus is more modern than that in Potchefstroom, and the proportion of black students is also much higher. Here we made our main presentations on "Building Bridges" and "Hellenization."

Wendy with Prof. Strauss and his wife

On Saturday, May 7, Prof. Pieter Potgieter drove us to Bloemfontein. We got some sense of how big a country South Africa really is. On Sunday Prof. Danie Strauss, a friend from our time in Amsterdam and our host here, picked us up for the Sunday morning service (in Afrikaans) at the local Dutch Reformed Church and took us around Bloemfontein after the service.

One of the many Dutch Reformed churches in Bloemfontein

Entrance to the University of the Free State

Monday May 7 was spent at the University of the Free State, in Bloemfontein. Wendy started by presenting the theme, Developing Christian Philosophy in Nigeria. In the question period concerns were expressed about ‘imposing’ our views, as Christians, on the students. We responded by explaining that we are not imposing views, but there is a need for Christian insight on issues, such as politics, family and corruption. Adrian then gave an abbreviated presentation of the topic, Theological Education in Africa: Exploring Opportunities and Possible Cooperation. In the afternoon we visited the Anglo-Boer war museum.

Memorial to the women who died in the Anglo-Boer war

The next day we left for the airport and took a flight to Cape Town. We spent one day in the centre of Cape Town, much of it at the waterfront. This city was founded by the Dutch East India Company. By noon of Wednesday, May 9, we got on the train for Stellenbosch, a trip of a little over an hour.

Theological Faculty of the University of Stellenbosch

Emblem of the Theological Faculty of the University of Stellenbosch

At the University of Stellenbosch (US) we had accommodation on campus at a guest house of the faculty of theology. Our stay there was quite different from that in Potchefstroom and Bloemfontein. We met with Johan Botha, who is director of missions for the Uniting Reformed Churches (which includes the Dutch Reformed Church and its ‘daughter’ churches), and who had recently visited Nigeria. His grandfather was the first missionary among the Tiv in Nigeria. We also met Prof. Hendrik Bosman, whom we first met as well at the NABIS conference in Ekpoma. We also made contact with a student from Nigeria, a Tiv, Jonathan Weor, who is enrolled in doctoral studies at US. Bosman is his supervisor.

This Dutch Reformed church is located just outside the campus of the Theological Faculty

It is called the "Mother Church." It was founded in 1686 and is the second oldest church in South Africa

We attended Prof. Xolile Simon’s class in missiology on Thursday morning, May 10. We enjoyed interacting with his presentation on African religion. After that we joined Johan Botha for a brief lunch at a student drop-in center connected with one of the oldest churches in Stellenbosch. Johan expressed appreciation for our efforts in building bridges. We spent much of the rest of the afternoon in conversation with Jonathan Weor.

Wendy with Jonathan Weor, a Tiv doctoral student from Nigeria

We started the next day, Friday, May 11, with a brief conversation with the Dean of the Faculty of Theology, Prof. Elna Mouton. We had lunch with Prof. Hendrik Bosman at a lovely spot some distance outside of Stellenbosch. We took Jonathan out for supper that evening – he enjoys pizza! – and had a final discussion yet with Johan Botha on Saturday morning, before Hendrik Bosman took us to the airport, and we headed back to Johannesburg.

Adrian with Prof. Bosman at lunch in a restaurant outside of Stellenbosch

We spent what we thought would be our last evening in Johannesburg with a former colleague at Unijos, Dr. Rosie McNeil, who is at present working on her doctorate in anatomy at the University of Witwatersrand. On Sunday morning she had barely dropped us off at the airport before we discovered that the flight to Lagos had been cancelled. We had to wait for the next flight before we could get out. The airline put us in a nearby hotel for two days. On Tuesday, May 15, we made the trip back to Lagos and Abuja, and were grateful to get back to Jos by car on Wednesday morning.

Wendy with Dr. Rosie McNeil, our neighbor and colleague at Unijos

If there is one impression that remains with us from this two-week visit it is that of good timing for the reception of our message about building bridges between Nigeria and South Africa, and more specifically, our request for cooperation on the future of Christian education, especially in theology and philosophy.