I can’t tell you how exciting it is to get these photos. To some it might look like an ordinary photo of an everyday scene – the sort of thing that happens in nearly every country in the world. But for those of us who have been involved with KEST (Kampala Evangelical School of Theology), this was a moment that seemed far off, if not downright impossible, on the bleaker days – but dreams do come true sometimes. And these pictures are the evidence.
The seeds of KEST were sown in 1989 by some visionary Ugandan leaders – at a time when life was still particularly tough in Uganda. Museveni had only come to power 3 years before, and before him the country had been plagued by a cycle of lethal regimes and unrest. The genius of the dream for KEST was the realisation of the need to teach and train future generations of pastors and Christian leaders in an integrated and holistic, African-oriented and inter-denominational setting. No one else in Uganda had that vision – and it remains almost unique in that part of the world. But the struggles and hurdles sometimes seemed mountainous. We battled with issues of accreditation, student recruitment and inter-denominational balance, money, resources, staff recruitment and salaries, property, thefts, etc etc etc. Nothing unusual there then.
But i always had a strong conviction that the Lord was in this thing. A verse that i ripped out of context but which seemed to apply to the work was Philippians 1:6 (because even though Paul meant it for the work God was doing in the lives of Philippian individuals, it did seem to be applicable to other things that God gets involved in, simply because we know his character. He never gets bored or does a botched job – he might stop something when it has served its purpose, but it always seemed to me that in the early days, KEST hadn’t yet had its chance fully to serve a purpose and fulfill a potential). Miracles were not uncommon. We were able to buy the property outright in the mid 90s; we were given significant gifts to develop the library and computer resources at the school. We’d examine the finances on or around the 15th of every month and realise that paying salaries that month looked impossible – and every month they seemed to get paid. We very quickly drew in some impressive men and women to come and train – with what was a very ambitious curriculum for a college so young and fragile. We taught everything from Pastoral Ministry to Christian Counselling, Christian Development Studies and Communications. Seems crazy looking back on itall. But it all still happened somehow!
You may perhaps be wondering why i use the word ‘we’ – well, Rachel & I with 2 very small children moved to Kampala in the summer of 2001 as associate mission partners of CROSSLINKS. I was to join the KEST faculty as lecturer in Biblical Studies in time for the commencement of full-time training that September. It was all fairly chaotic and rudimentary – no one actually knew when that first term would actually end, for example! And we only had around 14 students and a not very clear idea of what was actually IN the curriculum! But still, it all happened. We grew pretty quickly – doubling student numbers for the next couple of years (not hard when you start small, i know!). I got sucked out of the classroom, first to become Academic Dean and then Acting Principal. Shame really as i loved the teaching and getting to know some of the students (like the ones in the 2nd photo, all of whom i taught at various points). But it was the right thing to do at the time and for a time – and I was able to have a small part to play, alongside many others, in the building of the school.
One of the constant questions i would be asked by the students was when will we have the Graduation. I used to dread it – because i could never say with certainty – so many things depended on it and yet having it depended on so many other things, some of which were completely beyond my control (like our academic accreditation for one thing). But at last the dream has become reality – and KEST has its first class of graduates! I only wish i could have been there last month – but this blog posting will have to suffice as my expression of commitment and partnership with them all. (This last picture was taken at a Langham Partnership Refresher day conference – when free theological books were given out to all the delegates. Here with Isaac Sanyu, who is now pastoring in downtown Kampala.)
SO CONGRATULATIONS to Principal, Rev. Dr Solomon Nkesiga, and all the faculty and, above all, GRADUATING STUDENTS. This is a mighty achievement! But of course, the real work starts now – because this was what it was all about in the first place: training for ministry. ALLELUIA!
Grateful to Steve Smith who sent the graduation photos to me today; he’s part-time with KEST & AMG Uganda.