Seminary with a unique identity @ 30
There was every indication the 30th anniversary of the West Africa Theological Seminary would be glorious. A three-floor building was in view for dedication, about 130 students of the institutions were waiting in the wings to be conferred with various degrees and certificates, an erudite professor of Adult Education and former Nigeria’s Permanent Ambassador to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, was to deliver the anniversary lecture. All these put in one, gave an inkling of how the anniversary event would look like.
Indeed, by the time the event commenced on Saturday September 14, nobody was left in doubt about the future of the 30 year-old institution. The founder of the school, Dr. Gary Maxey and his wife Emma-Lou who was conferred with a honorary doctorate degree at the event were elated to see the dream of the institution come to fruition year after year.
Both Gary and his wife had left the comfort of their homes in the US and travelled to Nigeria in 1982 with a vision to come help train church leaders in Africa. That vision has been tested and tried. They literally went through the mill to get to where they are today. From Portharcourt to Owerri and then to Lagos Airport Road before they finally got to Ipaja, the story of the seminary is one laced with all manner of adventure.
But the celebration was not about where and what they have been through, it is about the glory ahead of the institution that the Lord helped them to start 30 years ago. So, it was more of a recap of their story and the projection to the future. When the guest speaker at the event, Emeritus Professor Michael Omolewa mounted the rostrum to deliver the anniversary lecture, it was clear that he fully understood the trajectory of the institution. His delivery was breathtaking as he took his listeners through the lecture titled, Riding the storm to glory.
Omolewa’s enchanting lecture drew applause and sighs from his listeners as he declared that “30 years of toil would qualify for an admission to glory. The seminary has come of age. Glory to the God of Israel. Thirty is very special because it was the age Joseph appeared at the palace of Pharaoh after much tribulation, deception, treachery and abuse to miraculously take over the administration of Egypt.
“We will also recall that the Lord Jesus himself began his ministry when he was 30. Thirty is thus an age for launching forth and moving forward. We can therefore safely invite the seminary to be confident as it turns around for the next phase of its mission, to win souls for the kingdom while staying true to its vision to train men and women for holy living, for carrying the gospel to the unreached and for catalyzing national spiritual awakening.”
Doing further justice to the theme of the lecture, Omolewa noted that storms are everywhere and cannot be ignored stressing however that “storms are often not expected thus making their arrival painful. The suddenness disrupts normal life, provokes fear, intimidation and distraction.” He went ahead to cite instances of storms across the globe. He also cited the examples of Bible characters who experienced storms while also observing that storms have no respect for anybody.
He gave the classic example of the famed Bishop Ajayi Crowther, Africa’s first Bishop of the Church Missionary Society. He notes, “First he was captured and sold as slave, separating him from his family members. Then he became part of the mission work of the CMS where he was confronted by the open hostility of the imperialist George Goldie and later by his colleague missionary, David Hindereer.
“Later he faced the challenge of being accepted as Bishop by a European team that no longer believed during the advent of colonialism, that the black could hold power over and above the white person. During the last years of his life he faced real humiliation of life. It was during the height of his storm that he had a stroke from which he did not fully recover until his death on the New Year eve of 1891”
Omolewa who was Nigeria’s ambassador to UNESCO and who has had the rare privilege of meeting about 170 world leaders stated in his lecture that when the destination of one’s journey is to glory, “riding the storm should be done with joy and profound pleasure. It is the terminus not the bus stop that should preoccupy the mind of the traveler.
He explained further, “the pilgrim who has everything easy throughout life must be wary. For indeed it is known that the true character of a person is often revealed during crisis and turbulence.”
While praising WATS for weathering the storms of life in its 30 years history, he stated, “There is no going back. The Lord asked every one of us to go the field. He did not make provision for a return. So please let us prayerfully ride the storm to glory, with the master by us and in us.”
Dr. Maxey while speaking with reporters expressed optimism that the institution would continue to make giant strides. He stated, “I am happy that the school is not only going on but that it is achieving its purpose. We thank God for this. We know for sure that over 2000 people who have graduated from WATS have collectively impacted churches and indeed the nation.
He opined that the school has a responsibility to help churches to build their workforce. “It is the primary duty of the church to train its workforce. But then we do have scholarship programme for students who are not able to meet their expenses. So far I can say we have achieved respect from mission churches and the Pentecostal and charismatic churches. We are pleased with the relationship with churches. We train the heart and the head and it is reflected in our courses and spiritual formation activities.”
The Provost of the school, Pastor Femi Martins corroborated Maxey’s position on scholarship in the school disclosing that about 173 students of the 500 student population are on scholarship. He stated further that WATS is the only seminary in Nigeria where denominational differences make no meaning. “We don’t need to pray the prayer of unity in WATS because we have the virtually all denominations in WATS and we relate quite well. Our graduates are ambassadors for character and societal change. We maintain respect for all churches.”
The Chief of Defense Staff General Gabriel Olonishakin who was earlier billed to be the main speaker but could not make it to the event sent a representative in the person of the Chaplain of the Defense headquarters, Abuja, Second Lt. Col. Chukwudi Oji.
Olonishakin urged church leaders to look beyond the church wall in their evangelical drive noting that stewardship in the 21st century goes beyond church budget and church building projects.
He said it was important that Christian leaders in the 21stcentury began to look beyond the church world and connect with everything that God is involved in, in this world.
He also pleaded with the graduating students of WATS to embrace a larger perspective of stewardship which connects more with the people. His words, “As Christian leaders in the 21st century I urge us to embrace the larger views of leadership which reaches beyond church budgets or church projects. It connects everything we do with what God is doing in the world”
He said further that “Christian leaders need to be faithful stewards of all that God has given us within the opportunities presented through providence to glorify him, serve the common good and further his kingdom.”
About 130 students graduated from the school with degrees ranging from BA, MA and Doctor of Ministry. Nine students bagged a first class degree in Bachelor of Theology. The high point of the convocation was the dedication of a three-floor hostel facility donated to the seminary by the founder of Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministry, Dr. Daniel Olukoya.
Pastor Martins described Olukoya’s gesture as amazing noting that he volunteered to carry out the project without being goaded “when he saw the impact the school had made on pastors of the ministry.
“It was not that we asked him to build for us. He was just excited and happy that the school has been a blessing. We trained 43 of his pastors who have become our ambassadors in the church. That was why he opted to do something for the school. Incidentally, we already had a plan for an L shape hostel accommodation. He was the one who volunteered to build for us and here we are with the building commissioned today. We are indeed grateful to God for him and for his support.”