A popular Beninese proverb says: Man proposes, God disposes. It basically means that even with our best-laid plans, things don’t always work out as planned. That certainly seems to be the case at the Benin Bible Institute (BBI). At the same time, we find that if we don’t insist on doing things our way, but leave ourselves open to the moving of the Spirit, things work out – maybe even better than we had planned!
The original vision for the leadership training at BBI was to add to the basic seminar program, a more intensive full time program for pastors. The seminar program which has been running since 1994 is a general program of 27 classes that teach biblical and theological knowledge in order to better equip pastors and lay leaders to build up the body of Christ (Eph. 4:12). Every three years we begin a new class and every time we have to cut off enrollment at 250 students! It is a very popular program.
A full time program that ran over 9 months following the Beninese school year began in 2004. The first year we began with 7 students, but one withdrew for health reasons. The second year we began with 5 students, but 2 did not finish the program. The third year we did not have any students. The fourth year we had one student, not enough to justify running the program! On Nov 1, 2008 we graduated all 9 students who had finished the program and received a Baccalaureate in Theology. Was this the end of the program? The lack of students forced us to rethink what we were doing. What were the obstacles preventing students from enrolling at BBI? Why was the seminar program so popular, while the full time program suffered from lack of students?
The graduates front and center
At the same time, BBI had plans to offer training in pastoral counseling. The program would enable people who felt called to that form of ministry to obtain specialized training over 1 or 2 years. Such a program does not currently exist in Benin. To that end, BBI sent a young couple off to the United States to pursue training in the field. When the couple did not return as planned in 2005, it provoked a lot of reflection. What should be done? We still wanted to offer a specialized training, but how should we go about it?
After much reflection and discussion between the administration and the teaching staff, the decision was made to try a new format for the “full time program.” We decided that a more flexible program, similar to our seminar program, would better meet the needs of our potential students. Since they did not feel able to abandon their ministries for 3 years while studying, we needed to create a format that would enable them to study and still carry out their responsibilities. So we changed the format from full time classes over nine months to two six week intensive sessions. The students attend class for nine hours a day (yikes!) for six weeks. Then they return to their regular activities, but we send them off with some research projects to complete before they return for the next six week session. This change, along with a reduction in the cost of the program (we reduced the cost by one third) has led to the enrollment of five students. We are very satisfied both with the number and the quality of the students we have before us.
Abel and Timothé, two of the new students
Last April, when the administrator of the Benin Bible Institute and Nancy traveled to Canada, they met Richard Ouillette in Montreal. Richard has begun a ministry called Reseau Compassion International (International Compassion Network). He teaches seminars that help people overcome their hurts and address their problems in order to overcome them or to live with them without being overwhelmed by them. Richard came and taught a weekend seminar at BBI in October. The seminar was entitled “Living my life to the fullest: healed of my past, happy with my present and confident about my future.” It was very well received by the students. In further discussion we have outlined a potential return for Richard in Sept 2009 at which time he will lead a three week seminar that will be the beginnings of a program in pastoral councelsing. How this will happen and what it will look like needs to be worked out in fuller detail, but we see already the hand of God as we move forward toward this goal.
Prayer and Praise
- Praise God for the graduation of nine pastors who now have a Baccalaureate in Theology. Pray that they will be effective instuments in the hands of God.
- Thank God for the five students who have enrolled in the new BAC in Theology program. Pray that God will encourage them and strengthen them as they pursue their studies. Pray that nothing will hinder them from completing the program.
- Thank God for the seminar led by Richard Ouillette in October. His teaching brought healing and comfort to many. Pray that God will continue to guide Richard, Reseau Compassion International and BBI as they seek to provide training and counseling in Benin.
- Pray for Ina Fray, Nancy’s mom, who will be spending the month of December in Benin. Pray that she will remain healthy, tolerate the heat and experience special bonding with her grandchildren.
- Pray for Nancy as she teaches “Foundational Biblical Teachings” December 5-12. This is the first time she will teach this seminar.
- Pray for the students (they are 5 in number) in the distance education course in Anabaptist History and Theology that Bruce is directing with Ghana Mennonite Church leaders. He will meet with participants Dec. 18-19 to assess their progress thus far and introduce the new assignements.