Greetings, dear Saints of God!
I’ve been in South Africa for a little over a week now—thanks to you! Teaching is going very well! I have fifteen students (including several graduate students who are just sitting in) from lots of different African countries. More on them in another mailing.
Rather than try to write everything at once, here are just a few items from the first day or two. The flight to South Africa was reeeeeeeeeeeally long—fifteen hours. It’s a six hour time difference from Fort Wayne (or Westminster) to South Africa. I slept maybe four interrupted hours on the flight, so I was seriously jet lagged for about a day. Fortunately, I arrived late Tuesday night local time and didn’t begin teaching until Thursday morning, by which time I felt pretty normal.
The temperatures are just what we were told to expect for their midwinter—perhaps dipping into the upper 30s at night but warming to nearly 70 in the daytime. That’s certainly not Massachusetts or Indiana winter, but the buildings aren’t that well insulated, so it does feel pretty chilly. I’m proudly wearing a Reformation 500th Anniversary hoody when I’m casual, so we’re really quite fine.
I delivered twenty copies of Walther’s Law and Gospel to Dr. Wilhelm Weber, my host, the director of the seminary, to distribute to the students (one whole checked suitcase full). They were supplied by our seminary and Concordia Publishing House. Bringing books as luggage, I’ve learned, is the cheapest and best way to deliver much-needed theological resources—though getting around the airports with an extra REALLY HEAVY bag was a little clumsy! This is the book that I’m teaching these weeks, so it was quite necessary for the students to have them, and they were very appreciative! As you might guess, money for purchases like that is in very short supply for nearly all of the students. You folks are really to thank for the books, too!
I began Thursday morning by preaching for chapel at 10:00. It’s really very much like the chapel services at the seminary in Fort Wayne . . . but on a much smaller scale. It’s a pleasant, nicely appointed chapel, with perhaps a total student body of forty (including deaconess students), plus other faculty and support staff—and nearly everybody’s in worship. We use LSB, Matins and other orders, led by a student liturgist with a faculty (or other pastor) preacher. Most of the services are sung a cappella, and the folks really sing quite well. My sermon text (assigned to me as part of their regular schedule) was II Timothy 4:1-8, which just happens to include our CTS-Fort Wayne motto, “Preach the Word” (II Timothy 4:2). Great text for future pastors!
After chapel, my class is 11:00 to 1:00 each day in a very nicely appointed classroom—tables in a square, whiteboard, chalkboard—just the right size for our number of students. My students are the “seniors”—in the last two years of their program. They’ve already had classes in the earlier morning before chapel, and the “junior” students (first two years) are also having a class in the other classroom at the same time I’m teaching. It’s a good, solid academic program, and I can tell from the class discussions that these guys are well prepared to be faithful, confessional, and skilled Lutheran pastors.
The students really are appreciative and eager to learn. A couple of them are pastors doing graduate work; most of them are preparing for ordination in their home countries. “Home countries” is significant, because the seminary in Pretoria has been the primary advanced theological education for confessional Lutherans for most of Africa. All the students are black African, but they come from many countries: South Africa, of course, but also Namibia, Zambia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Liberia, Uganda, Sudan, and others.
It’s been remarkable to hear the stories of all these students! Each day after class a talented cook, assisted by some of the deaconess students, provides a really delicious lunch for everybody. (Most of the students live on campus, a few with families, so this is like the dining hall, except it’s always outside in the beautiful weather.) Well, one day I was sitting around the table with six students (one of them a deaconess student), and I asked how many different countries they came from. Counting myself, the seven of us came from five different countries. Then I asked how many different first languages we all had. Counting myself: seven! Every one of us had a different first language! Even the two from Zambia had different first languages, as did the two from Congo. We were speaking English, of course, and I teach totally in English without a translator, but English is (at least!) a second language for almost all the students. This tells you how sharp these guys and women are! Most of them know many languages! Think of what that means for theological studies: these folks are way better at learning the biblical languages than we are! They—including the deaconess students—take their Greek and Hebrew at the same time! The deaconess student at the table, a delightful young lady from Zambia named Hope, said her first year of Greek was hard, but by the second year she got it fine. Oh, how we all wish we could say that!
Then to hear their stories! Some come from cities, some from very small villages. One student’s grandfather was a witch doctor . . . who became a Christian shortly before he died. That student asked me if we had witch doctors in the U.S. The student from Uganda, Humphrey, really has a remarkable story, only bits and pieces of which I’ve heard so far. Tiny village, as primitive as we sometimes picture. Very oppressive government—even now, almost forty years after Idi Amin. No way he or anyone would have foreseen him studying confessional Lutheran theology at a very high level to become a pastor. (By the way, most of the students—like Hope and Humphrey—have helped out guys like me by happily inviting us to use their Christian names that we can pronounce. But I also have Dumisani and Nkosikhona, and Stanley grinned and told me he prefers to be called Mokone. I was pretty good on these by the second day.)
The students are processing Walther’s Law and Gospel very well. Doing a great job on the daily quizzes. Asking excellent (hard!) questions, always right on point. Answering my lines of inquiry so that they invariably finish my thought at just about the moment I’m expecting them to get it. Really very much the same types of Q and A as my students in Fort Wayne. Again, it’s amazing to me that these guys can read a difficult text and engage in discussion so well in a language that isn’t their first. Hmm. I think I need to let my American students know they ought to appreciate how easy they’ve got it. (Occasionally they do think I’m a little tough, you know!)
Once more, thanks so much, folks, for making this possible. Yes, it’s been a lot of fun, but the best part has been helping to equip future pastors of Christ’s church to preach His Gospel to all of us who fall so far short of keeping God’s Law. The men were wonderfully appreciative—wish I had a recording of the closing “thank you, Dr. Fickenscher” speech Mokone delivered on behalf of the class—and that means they appreciate YOU!!!
Yours in Christ Jesus!
Rev. Dr. Carl C. Fickenscher II, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana USA