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‘A bright spot’ in South Sudan


Amid challenges, students and staff at Nile Theological College remain focused on fulfilling the Great Commission

by Tammy Warren | Presbyterian News Service

Junior students take a quiz in a class taught by the Rev. Bob Rice at Nile Theological College in Juba, South Sudan. (Photo by Bob Rice)

NEW WILMINGTON, Pa. — Just as one country became two with South Sudan’s independence in 2011, Nile Theological College, offering both Arabic and English curriculum tracks, also split into two campuses in two countries the same year.

The Arabic track stayed in the north at its founding location in Khartoum, Sudan, while the English track moved more than 400 miles south to Malakal, South Sudan.

It was a time for new beginnings, a time of much hope.

Both campuses are working to bring peace to their struggling countries — one theology student and one graduating class at a time — just as they have been doing since the central Khartoum campus was established in a small, rented house in May 1991.

“NTC began as a joint venture between the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC) and the Presbyterian Church of Sudan (PCOS),” said Dave Dawson, a member and past convener of the Sudan/South Sudan Mission Network. “Nearly 30 years ago, these two churches recognized the increasing demand for Christian ministry in the then united Sudan.”

To establish the first institution of higher education to offer three-year diploma and four-year bachelor’s degree programs in theological education for the Sudanese people, SPEC and PCOS reached out to the Rev. William B. “Bill” Anderson, long-time Presbyterian mission co-worker who served in South Sudan and Ethiopia with his late wife, Lois, for nearly half a century. Anderson not only founded NTC in Khartoum, but he also served as the college’s first dean of studies in its early years.

NTC in Khartoum, Sudan, and NTC in Juba, South Sudan, have many things in common, especially their faithful and resilient perseverance toward peace and reconciliation for all people in their war-torn countries.

In 2013, a civil war erupted in South Sudan, with heavy violence and much loss of life, decimating NTCs campus in Malakal and forcing its 100 students and staff to scatter for safety and security reasons for several months.

The Rev. Santino Odong, principal of Nile Theological College’s Juba campus, welcomes Sharon and Lynn Kandel, PC(USA)’s regional liaisons for the Horn of Africa, as well as visitors from the World Communion of Reformed Churches, including General Secretary the Rev. Dr. Chris Ferguson, at right. (Photo by Kristi Rice)

In July 2014 NTC-Malakal’s principal, the Rev. Santino Odong, visited Malakal to assess the damage and determine what, if anything, could be salvaged and brought to its new location in South Sudan’s capital city, Juba. Odong learned that the administrative offices, including all documents and equipment, had been completely destroyed, but the library had survived. A few books had been taken, he said, but about 85 percent of the books were intact.

Odong stored the books in Malakal for several months while looking for a way to transport them to the college’s new location in Juba. He knew the only way to transport the books would be by air, which would be costly. But without the books the college could not operate.

Cargo planes were arriving in Malakal full of supplies and returning to Juba empty, which prompted Odong to ask an airline if they could transport the books from Malakal to Juba. In March 2015, the airline transported the books at no charge. “We just want to help you,” airline officials told Odong.

About a week after the books were delivered by cargo plane to Juba, violence broke out in Malakal. Looking back now, Odong sees the hand of God was at work: That was the last plane to go in or out of Malakal for two years.

The miracle of the rescue of the library books prompted Odong and others to think about reopening Nile Theological College in Juba. They started making contacts to gather their 100 students back, but only five showed up.

“What do we do with five students?” Odong said. “Do we begin, or do we wait?” Through prayer and conversations with administrators and staff, they decided to reopen. “If we wait, the students will be waiting where they are,” Odong said. “So, let’s begin.” They reasoned that those students who did not initially return would be encouraged to come back if they heard the school was operational.

Students at Nile Theological College in Juba carry their chairs in preparation for instruction. (Photo by Bob Rice)

In summer 2015, NTC-Juba reopened in the bakery of a former orphanage with five students. The following year there were 17 students, and today there are 85, 10 of whom are women. Currently the college is in the process of renovating a government facility with the renovations being accepted in lieu of rent for three years. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has provided some funds to assist in renovating the facility.

“It feels as though God’s Spirit is at work,” said the Rev. Bob Rice, PC(USA) mission co-worker and instructor at NTC-Juba. “Most of these students have been displaced from their home regions and 10 of them currently live in Internally Displaced Person camps in and around Juba. Most of them face challenges communicating with family who are either in refugee camps in Ethiopia or in rebel-controlled regions of South Sudan.”

Odong said he gives thanks to God that the college has been able to acquire a small piece of land in Juba to establish a more permanent campus. The hope is that a new multi-level facility can be built; then, in three years, NTC can move to its own land.

Mission co-workers and members of the Sudan/South Sudan Mission Network pray for the Rev. Santino Odong, principal of Nile Theological College in Juba, South Sudan. Odong was part of the first graduating class at NTC’s Khartoum campus in December 1995. (Photo by Tammy Warren)

On his first trip to the U.S. recently to attend the Sudan/South Sudan Mission Network annual gathering, Odong, had an opportunity to express gratitude to NTC’s founder in person. The brief meeting, at Anderson’s retirement community in South Carolina, was meaningful for Odong, who was one of the first students to enroll in NTC-Khartoum in 1991, and among its first batch of 24 graduates in 1995.

“My spirit sings when I think of colleagues and students at Nile Theological College (NTC) where I teach,” Rice said. “I laugh to myself when I think of Paulino, the night guard and a diploma student at NTC who likes to sing 1980s love ballads in English. I am inspired and blessed when I think of senior student Daniel Achwil and consider all that he and his family have experienced through the crisis and his courage to come for his studies here in Juba. I give thanks when I think of Revs. Santino Odong and Michael Aban, considering their sacrifice and faithfulness in reopening the college in 2015 as the civil war ground on, starting afresh with only five students and helping the college grow to the level where we are today.”

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Support the work of Nile Theological College in Juba, South Sudan (formerly in Malakal)

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PC(USA) mission co-workers the Rev. Bob and Kristi Rice have served in South Sudan since 2017, and prior to that in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. Bob teaches theology and ethics at NTC-Juba and Kristi serves as economic development advisor for community development projects of the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church.

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