A New School in Africa
By Awake! correspondent in Nigeria
IN JULY 1990 a letter was read that caused great excitement among the more than 400 volunteers, Jehovah’s Witnesses, who live and work at the Watch Tower Society’s branch office at Igieduma, Nigeria. The Ministerial Training School, instituted in the United States in 1987, was coming to Africa, and the first classes were to be held at Igieduma!
In the months that followed, the Bethel family prepared for the first class.a The students and instructors would require accommodations. The existing guest rooms would not be sufficient; 15 additional rooms were needed. So the Witnesses set to work converting storage rooms into attractive residence rooms. This involved tiling the floors, painting the walls, and hanging curtains. The carpenter shop built and installed beds, cabinets, and desks. Finally, chairs, reading lamps, and bookshelves were brought in. The shelves were filled with theocratic publications.
Additionally, the family room was converted into a classroom and library for the students. One of the infirmary bedrooms became a temporary office for the instructors and was furnished with desks, tables, and other office equipment. Meanwhile, as news of the upcoming school was made known throughout the country at conventions and assemblies of Jehovah’s Witnesses, hundreds of applications began to pour in from prospective students.
By the first week of February 1992, everything was ready. Two instructors, Michael Purbrick and Peter Nicholls, had arrived from Britain to teach the first class. In addition to the 22 students, three prospective teachers also came, Isaiah Mnwe, Isaiah Olabode, and Pius Oparaocha. These were Nigerian Witnesses who were to be trained to teach subsequent classes.
Purpose of the School
Throughout Bethel, there was an air of anticipation and excitement. Why? Because of the positive impact the school would have on the disciple-making work in Nigeria. Long ago Jehovah foretold that he would provide “gifts in the form of men.” (Psalm 68:18) He did this in apostolic times, even as the apostle Paul wrote at Ephesians 4:8-11. Today, Jehovah is also providing gifts in men. The Ministerial Training School is a loving provision to equip some of these men to take on further organizational responsibilities.
In the country, there are over 160,000 Witnesses in more than 3,000 congregations. Some of these congregations have only one or two elders and few ministerial servants. Other congregations have vast territories where the good news is not extensively preached. Hence, there is a great need for qualified men not only to take the lead in the evangelizing work but also to shepherd the flock and teach in the congregations.
The aim of the Ministerial Training School is to train brothers to care for these responsibilities. After graduating, some of the students take up special pioneer work or traveling work, areas of service in which there is a great need in Nigeria. Others return to their congregations to give help and encouragement to local brothers. What a blessing such well-qualified men are to the congregations they serve!
Although the Ministerial Training School is an extension of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, which trains missionaries for foreign service, its curriculum is unique. During the eight-week school, students undertake an intensive study of the Bible. They carefully consider a wide range of Bible teachings, including counsel on shepherding responsibilities and guidelines for handling problems in Christian living. They also learn what the Scriptures teach about administrative, judicial, and organizational matters. They receive specialized training in public speaking and receive personal attention from caring instructors, who assist them in their spiritual development.
In all, the average student receives 45 classroom assignments, and he benefits from 256 hours of classroom instruction. In addition, he spends 140 hours doing homework and 14 hours taking examinations.
While the main textbook is the Bible, the students are asked to bring to school their personal copies of 16 other books, Bible study aids published by the Watch Tower Society. During the school, students also dig deeply into other publications available in the well-equipped Bethel library. Clearly, they need to be good readers.
Apart from schoolwork, students work 45 minutes each day in one of eight Bethel departments: cleaning, dining room, grounds maintenance, housekeeping, kitchen, laundry, shipping, and trucking. They rotate jobs so that by the end of the eight-week course, each one has had experience in all these departments. One student remarked: “My working in various departments made me understand that Jehovah is the supervisor of the work.” Another said: “The overseers are ready to teach and correct in love.” And another commented: “Bethel work is something that everybody should taste and see that it is good.”
How did the brothers respond to the training they received? One said: “[It was] a school of all schools.” Another enthusiastically exclaimed: “What a superlative arrangement!” With hearts filled with joy and appreciation, the students of the first class wrote in a letter: “Our resolve is . . . to build every fiber of our lives around the message of the good news.”
Comments From the Field
During the first part of 1992 and of 1993, the first four classes of the Ministerial Training School in Nigeria were conducted. In a letter of appreciation written to the Governing Body, the students of the second class wrote: “Truly, we have never attended any school better than this. The course is much better than a university program. We thus find it easy to agree with William Phelps that ‘a knowledge of the Bible without a college course is more valuable than a college course without a Bible.’ In all of this, your genuine interest in us is clear. So we are determined to make the full-time work our career.”
How have the graduates been received in their new assignments? A traveling overseer wrote a letter concerning two graduates of the first class who are serving as special pioneers: “Meetings are now appealing, encouraging, enjoyable, and meaningful. Activities in the field service are increasing . . . The congregation is bubbling with joy . . . When I interviewed some brothers as regards these special pioneers, the presiding overseer answered with tears of joy, saying: ‘We thank Jehovah and his organization for sending sound and effective helpers to our congregation.’”
Attending the Ministerial Training School in any country is a marvelous privilege of service, a wonderful blessing from Jehovah. Unquestionably, this training helps students increase their stature as spiritual men and equips them to be used more fully by Jehovah.
Understandably, the requirements are high. In order to qualify, applicants must have served as elders or ministerial servants in the Christian congregation for at least two years. Preference is given to those in regular pioneer service. All must be single and between 23 and 50 years of age. They must not have been judicially reproved or disfellowshipped during the past five years. Applicants need to be able to read, write, and speak English fluently, and they need to be in good health, not requiring special care or diet.
Outstandingly, those who volunteer must be ready, willing, and able to serve wherever they may be needed. This calls for not only a strong desire to do God’s will but also the spirit of Isaiah, who eagerly offered himself to do a special work, saying: “Here I am! Send me.”—Isaiah 6:8.
Do you have a similar spirit? Are you in a position to reach out for this privilege of service? Those who have done so have no regrets. Wrote one graduate of the school who is now serving as a circuit overseer: “For me, the Ministerial Training School was a gift that has no compare. It has proved to be the pinnacle of my spiritual life. If I had the opportunity to live my life again, I would never choose a different course.”
a “Bethel,” from the Hebrew for “house of God,” is the name given to each branch home of the Watch Tower Society.
[Pictures on page 16, 17]
Instructors Isaiah Mnwe and Pius Oparaocha
Classroom discussion group
Doing research in the library
[Pictures on page 18]
Working in the Laundry and in the Shipping Department