We continue our series on South Sudanese scholarship students at George Whitefield College in South Africa; this time focusing on Alex who is in his second year of his Bachelor of Theology. Alex had much to share about his life and studies in South Africa, so this is an extra-long interview. Enjoy!
How are you doing in your subjects, Alex?
I’m really happy with the Gospel of John subject. The way I used to read John’s Gospel, before I came to the college, was completely different. As we went through it I realised it is very profound. Understanding just how John wrote about who Jesus Christ is, the Son of God, what he came to do, and what he has done — it really captured my heart. Because of this, I put a lot of emphasis on reading John’s Gospel in my quiet time to have a deeper understanding on what Jesus has done for us.
We used to sing the seven ‘I am’ statements of Jesus Christ in John’s gospel, but not have a good understanding of its meaning. But now this subject has helped me to look at it from a different perspective — how the ‘I am’ statement comes all the way from the Old Testament. What does Jesus mean when he says ‘I am the light, I am the resurrection, I am the good shepherd’? Also the seven signs that Jesus performed in John’s gospel? John summarised that it is for us to believe that Jesus is the Son of God. And whoever believes will have life eternal. I’m really enjoying John’s Gospel and I look forward to having a deeper understanding of who Jesus is.
How have you been finding the ethics subject?
Ethics is ok, but most of the topics covered are more from a South African context, like apartheid, the war in South Africa, and also the recent elections. So it’s not engaging with some of the practical things we face in my country, and we have no idea of how to respond to them. It’s difficult for us to participate.
Though we can give some examples from our country, how we handle things there, how the government does that. So like today we have been discussing the relationship between the church and the state. How does the Bible view the relationship between the church and the state? Should they work together? We’re looking at this kind of thing from a different context. It’s interesting though that this topic captures all countries within Africa, so we’re able to fully participate discussing this, because we see the relevance.
We must go through all the countries within Africa and see their concept. And even go back to history—how did they view the relationship between the church and the state? And see through the mind of the church fathers, people like Martin Luther, Calvin and even the position and view of the Catholic church. This kind of topic engages all of us from Africa to come together and to see how the church works together with the state to ensure that there’s justice, righteousness, and people are living in harmony.
What challenges have you been facing this semester?
One of the challenges is living away from my family. It’s tricky sometimes if you hear that things are not happening well. Maybe the children are sick, and it can really brings us down in terms of studies. But we do thank God that he’s always with us. Whenever we pray he hears our prayers, and our holidays are coming up so we’re looking forward to seeing them in June. That brings joy in our hearts and we are working towards that.
The second challenge is that we are still struggling to cope with our studies, English being a third language. Sometimes it takes a long time to understand some books. The writing is tough. We have to do a lot of work to get the point and to make a clear argument.
Also, the weather in South Africa is completely different. In South Sudan we are living in hot weather, but here it is cold, so the difference in weather is a challenge. We have to put on jackets all the time. [Laughs] These are some of the minor, minor challenges, but they are not all that hard. We praise God that these challenges are a ladder for us to reach that dream that God wants to accomplish through us. All we need to do is we continue to trust him and pray. He is with us and will get us through our studies.
What have been the successes and breakthroughs for you over the past few months?
I’m really enjoying the cross-cultural diversity—coming together from different countries, sharing and learning from one another. That has been helping me because in South Sudan, we can only know who we are in South Sudan. But now the college has exposed us to see other people from Zimbabwe, from Zambia, countries from Africa coming together. It has been so much grateful to me.
One of the other things I also enjoy is preaching. We’ve got preaching class in expository preaching, where we have to preach the gospel faithfully. When I used to listen to preachers in those days, they didn’t do much expository preaching. But my preaching now is expository preaching and I’m really enjoying seeing God speaking, allowing God to speak to the people through his word—that has been a big breakthrough for me. To allow God to speak to people, rather than me using my own words or just speaking my own mind to people. I’m really grateful and give thanks to God that he will continue to open up my eyes as I see his word faithfully preached to people so that he can change people’s hearts.
How’s your fellowship group going?
Our fellowship group is really helpful. We meet twice a week. On Tuesday, we meet to share our testimonies—how you grew up, where you lived and how God called you. It’s just interesting to hear from different people and how God has been faithful, calling us from different situations. So it has been really so encouraging to me to hear how God is working things out of nothing. People are sharing testimonies like you couldn’t even believe, but God worked it out and now that person is in the ministry. And that continues to encourage us that God is gracious and he is faithful.
On Wednesday we call it a preaching fellowship where, if some of the students have got assignments to preach on something, you have to do your practice. Then other fellow students will help you and say, ‘okay, you’ve got the point here but you need to do this’. That has been helping us a lot. So now when you go to class and you present your sermon, you’ll always present a good sermon because you have been helped by your fellow brothers.
Also, if you have been struggling in terms of catching up with work, and you don’t understand the assignments, you can ask members of the fellowship group because the group is a combination of first, second and third years. If you’re in first year, you have the privilege to ask someone who’s in second year or third year to help you to do your work. That has been really helpful for us.
Can you share with us something that you have learned which was new for you?
Let me kick it off with the Hebrew. When I heard this semester I’d be learning Hebrew, I had no idea what it’d look like. The first time I saw Hebrew, it was really something new to me. How was I going to go about learning it, you know? Then, as we continued to go through, I have started now to uncover some of the ideas. That’s something that surprises me now, seeing that I can read the Scriptures, at least one or two verses in Hebrew. That has been so wonderful.
As we continue to do translations we are able to discover what the original meaning is for the words that we are seeing today in the Bible. That has been a big revelation to me—you read translations with a fresh view, now having a background of what’s going on. That gives me a much better understanding of the Scriptures as I continue to read God’s word. I thank God for the opportunity to study Hebrew, God’s word in the original language.
How are things going home with the family?
My family is all doing well. The challenge is my wife is studying and I’m also studying, and tomorrow she will start her exams. So we are all working hard. Our elder daughter is also in school. So it’s just a hard time for us in terms of work. But they are doing well and we do communicate with them through WhatsApp. The challenge is that last week, her phone had some problems, but as soon she finishes from her exams, she’ll be able to recover her phone and then we’ll continue keeping in touch with one another.
One of the things I appreciate about my wife is that she is gracious and she understands why I am away from them. She doesn’t take it like I’ve run from my responsibilities, but she understands that I’m here because of God’s work and she has taken up the responsibility of taking care of our children in my absence. As a man, it’s not easy to be away for six months from your family. All the responsibility remains on her. But just thank God for her. She’s also studying and taking care of the children. So it’s really a challenge, but we trust God that he is in control.
We hope you enjoyed that glimpse into Alex’s studies and his current situation. Why not take a minute to give thanks to God and pray for Alex? We have included a summary of prayer points below.
You can also check out the other interviews we did with other students in our series: Elias, Kasmiro, Seme and Philip. We also did a bonus interview with John, a recent graduate who is passing on what he has learned at college as a lecturer at Bishop Gwynne College, South Sudan.
Give thanks for…
- The graciousness of Alex’s wife who is caring for Alex’s family in his absence
- The amazing things Alex has learned from God’s Word in the book of John and Hebrews, in their original languages
- Opportunities to fellowship and learn from other cultures amongst the diverse study body at George Whitefield College
- Alex’s preaching group and the growth in his preaching, particularly expository preaching
Please pray for…
- God’s protection over Alex’s family and for Alex and his wife’s studies
- The ability of Alex and the other students to adapt and thrive in a new culture (South Africa), climate (colder) and English (a third language)
- A time of refreshment and rest after exams when Alex and the other students return to visit family and friends
- The church in South Sudan, that what Alex learns here will come to be of great benefit and blessing for it