While teaching at a seminary in Africa, I met a distinguished president of an evangelical denomination and chairman of his church’s African seminary. He too was a visiting professor teaching in the area of practical theology, and as visitors shared meals together, I spent several hours with him. He seemed very stoic to me. Perhaps he grew up in an earlier, harder generation, where joviality was not common because of the harshness of life. But my personality is inherited honestly, many say, from my grandfather, who was also born a poor farmer in Oregon. So harshness of life is not always a good measure of humorlessness. Perhaps this man’s personality or his culture are responsible–I don’t know.
Therefore, I wasn’t much surprised at his refusal when I asked him if they needed visiting professors in New Testament at his African seminary. I asked him if it was because I was not a member of his denomination, and he suggested as much. But it could be that he just didn’t like me very much. I wasn’t hurt or disappointed. Now as the director of a scholarship program, I am hesitant to offer scholarships to candidates who will benefit a single denomination, perhaps to the detriment of others, because our resources are limited, and we wish to maximize our efforts towards helping pan-African, interdenominational institutions. There is also an “affirmative action” in denominational schools selection of candidates for higher studies–they would tend to promote their own members above the best candidates. Thus, when that seminary presented a candidate for a scholarship program, we were reluctant to move the dossier forward for two reasons: (1) it would benefit a single denomination; (2) the candidate’s transcripts appeared relatively weak in the field that he was applying for, causing my suspicion that another more talented person, not belonging to the denomination, may have been overlooked.
A number of years ago, I knew of student who became a professor. The school then promoted him to doctoral studies. Later, I learned that he won’t return to the school but apparently used his promotion just to make a better life for himself. This sort of thing happens all the time. My father, a retired physician, went to medical school with a man with a scholarship from his church, with the expectation that he would become a missionary doctor. When he graduated, he refused to go.
Scholarship programs for Africa should primarily promote neither individuals nor denominations, but the Kingdom of God. We recognize that a scholarship may also benefit an individual and a denomination, but we will only be happy if that promotion advances the cause of the Kingdom of God in Africa.