‘I’ve eaten the cow, but I’m struggling to finish the tail’ – Langham Scholars meet in Africa
The first ever Langham Scholars in Africa Consultation was held in Nairobi in December 2013: four days of prayer, fellowship, teaching and encouragement.
It was challenging, often moving to hear of the circumstances in which these scholars work. They spoke of children missing their parents, pressures from seminary, church, relatives – all of which have to be accommodated alongside academic research.
One scholar who married partway through his programme joked, ‘I had to choose between making room for my books or for my wife!’
Three other scholars had to be urgently evacuated from the disintegrating social and political situation in the Central African Republic.
Some scholars are well supported by supervisors; others felt they were battling on alone. ‘I’ve eaten the cow, but I’m struggling to finish the tail,’ one lamented.
Abel Ngarsouledé from Chad, who recently completed his doctorate in Bangui, encouraged them as he spoke of his own experience: ‘You need patience, humility, and confident trust in God to succeed as a Langham Scholar.’
James Nkansah, Professor of Theology at Africa International University (formerly NEGST) in Nairobi, reminded them that completing their degrees would be only the first of many challenges. Being an African scholar can ‘make or break’ you, he cautioned: ‘Be wise as to when to say “yes” and “no” … “PhD” often begins to be spelled “Principal” soon after graduation!’ They will face great expectations and many responsibilities in their communities once they have graduated.
Delegates to the consultation came from 11 different countries in Africa: 15 current or recently completed Langham Scholars and 10 scholars supported by ScholarLeaders International, a Langham partner organization.
They represented 9 different doctoral programmes. Langham has been supporting scholars in ‘in-Majority World’ programmes since 2007 (before which all scholars studied in the West). Our support not only benefits the scholars, and the colleges where they will be teaching in future; it also contributes to the infrastructure of the universities where they are studying.
These men and women are at the forefront of a new ‘reformation’ – in the West seminaries may be in decline, but in the global south the explosive growth of Christianity has sparked a sharp demand for local theological education.
One scholar is relating the writing of the German theologian Jürgen Moltmann to Southern African realities, seeking to construct an effective African Christian theology of work to counter the prevalent ‘health and wealth’ gospel.
Another is looking at why some Christians in the Congo are reverting back to primal religions.
Several are studying Islam in Africa to be able to train pastors more effectively – one scholar from Guinea is surrounded by a population that is 85% Muslim.
Many focus on Old Testament studies because that is so relevant to their African context.
What they all have in common is this: determination to succeed, ‘to finish the tail’, and to glorify God by the way in which they do it.
In Africa, that is not easy.
Let us not forget them.
by Ian Shaw, Associate Director of Langham Scholars