Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The tragedy of the ‘brain drain’ in evangelical theological education in Africa

The tragedy of the ‘brain drain’ in evangelical theological education in Africa

For many decades evangelical theological education has been promoted in Africa in order to produce leaders who can effectively disciple people so that they get a better grasp of the Gospel and the teachings of Christ. To some extend this drive has been successful and where there were only a handful of evangelical theologians in Africa with a PhD only three decades ago, today there are many more. However, all is not as rosy as it may seem. Evangelical PhD graduate face enormous difficulties once they leave seminary or university. They are confronted with family members who have been investing in them for 12 years or more so that they could complete their studies and who now have high financial expectations. There may be loans to be repaid as well.

Some were confronted with political violence, repression and censorship but also treated with suspicion by less educated fellow-Africans in our churches and less-educated missionary colleagues who perceived them as a threat to their position of authority. While all of the African Evangelical theologians I know were dreaming of contributing significantly to theological training in Africa, the realities on the ground made it very difficult for them. In many of our Bible colleges and theological institutions they were mistreated as second-class teachers because they needed a salary while their western colleagues proudly presented themselves as offering their services for ‘’free’’ in spite of receiving a much higher income and driving around in big landrovers or landcruisers while their poor African colleague had to use local transport. In spite of struggling to make a living with small salaries of 500 US$ or less per month without medical aid or hope for a future pension these African Evangelical theologians carried heavier workloads than their western colleagues and yet they were so much more effective in teaching, preaching and social outreach.

I have witnessed first hand how some plodded on for years, lecturing and preaching, and even managed to write some theological articles, start new projects and conduct many leadership seminars in their churches. However, eventually the strain became too much and started to take a heavy toll on their health, marriages and families. As a result many of them ended up leaving Africa with heavy hearts to take up lowly but better paying secular jobs in the west in order to make ends meet. For example the four evangelical PhD’s that I personally knew in Zimbabwe, only one has managed to remain in Africa and he is teaching mostly middle-class white students at a relatively well-to-do Bible college in Cape Town, South Africa. The most brilliant of them with a PhD from Aberdeen University and one of the most intelligent persons I have met in life is now a part-time community worker in a village in Scotland. As much as the others would have loved to continue to the spiritual growth of the church in Africa, they were simply not empowered to do so. Although all of them made great personal sacrifices, in the end they had no choice but to emigrate to the West so that at least they could do well in their most important ministry and that is looking after their families.Doing jobs way below their abilities they are now at least able to take care of their families and to build up a small pension for the future.

It is very easy for someone who has not experienced the poverty and the humiliation they have experienced to judge them, after all we do not have to worry about how to feed our families, pay for our children's school fees or whether we will retire in abject poverty. Nevertheless, the truth of the matter is that they work in the diaspora, not because they wanted to leave Africa or wanted to leave theological education, they were simply failed by the failure of their rich fellow Evangelicals in the West to support and empower them. This applies to their missionary colleagues who closed their eyes to the needs of their African colleagues and did not share their riches (1 John 3:17), but also to the rich body of Christ in the West. Considering the amount of funds available within western evangelicalism it would have been possible to provide each African Evangelical PhD Theologian with a stipend of 1500 $ per month which would have been enough for them to continue to do their work in Africa with joy and which would have been only a fraction of supporting a less effective western missionary with the same credentials (2 Cor. 8:7-15; 1Tim. 6:17-19).

Dr. Erwin van der Meer, The Hague, Netherlands

2 comments:

Robert J Priest said...

Even theological work requires material underpinnings. In the US we have a two-tiered system of higher education. Some people teach as professors, with living wages, sabbatical structures, professional development funding, limited teaching loads, etc. Others teach as adjuncts and would have to teach 30 to 40 courses a year to earn what other faculty earn teaching 6 to 8 courses a year, or less. Not surprisingly one is not likely to provide top intellectual leadership through research and writing if living the life of adjunct. Similarly, in much of the world, there is a two-tiered system of higher education within theological education. There are those who come from elsewhere with full support packages (from Korea, England, US) and there are those from the local country doing the work of theological education. And those who are local often struggle to make ends meet financially, lack resources for books, limited access to quality libraries, limited professional development funds, limited sabbatical support, etc. Like adjuncts in the US they do not regularly produce high quality scholarly writing. It is not that people of Peru or Gambia are incapable of high quality scholarly work, but that they cannot produce high quality work from within the educational structures of their home country. That is, Samuel Escobar did not become a top theological writer from within theological institutions within Peru, or Lamin Sanneh from within theological institutions within Gambia. The challenge you raise is how to foster at least some high quality theological educational institutions within the continent of Africa, that are high quality precisely because the material underpinnings are in place to allow for top levels of theological work to be done.

Africa Outreach said...

I think it us more important to foster a global evangelical christian culture of solidarity which emulates the example of Paul's collection for the poor in Jerusalem. The aim is not that some should be hard-pressed, but that there might be equality. Not an equal division of wealth at the point of a gun as the communist tried to do, but one done voluntarily because we have been taught to be generous and to be doers of the word and put into practice what it means to do unto our brothers in need what we would like to have done to us if ever we would be in that position. After all what we do, or do not do to them, we do to Christ.