Minute # 22 of a meeting of the East African mission staff on 18 January 1938 records that the “mission favors that a Training School for Christian workers be begun.” The next day, missionary Alta Hoyt was named a teacher in the Christian Workers Training School. In May 1939, funds were allotted to use in beginning the school.
Recorded on 17 November 1939, minute # 47 states: “Africans are asking about recording of ministers and other problems that require authoritative organization of the Christians here.” By May 1941, with the sympathy of the American missionaries, African Friends were asking for a Bible School.
On 9 September 1941,
Jefferson Ford reported that the Comm. to plan for a Bible School, which the Elders Meeting appointed in July, met today and suggest the following . . . the eleven Mo. Mtgs. unite in building a mud and grass classroom and two small dormitories. These with equipment estimated at Shs. 800; also to pay one African teacher Shs. 600 per year; plan on 2 students from each Mo. Mtg. who are old enough to know what they want to do, students to supply their own clothing and blankets, Mo. Mtgs. or individuals to care for their food. J. W. Ford was asked to head up the school and therefore the temporary buildings to be built at Kitosh. The missionaries suggest that there be certain educational requirements for students and that the choice of students be on the basis of call and spiritual status. The Mission approved of Jefferson Ford working with the Africans along these lines in view of beginning the school the first of next year.
Friends Bible Institute did indeed begin offering studies in the next year and at a meeting of the missionaries in Easter week 1945, Ford requested that the achievements of the first graduating class be recognized at the Annual Conference.
At the October 2013 meeting of the General Board of Friends United Meeting in Africa, we received a request from an alumnus, now a yearly meeting leader and pastor of the FTC alumni association, for an annual celebration of the birth of Friends Theological College. The birthday celebration would be primarily focused on an annual African fund-raising for the college and having a target to ensure that each current student’s fees have been paid in full.
Any one of the dates identified here, the date the first students reported on campus, the date the first lectures were given, the first African teacher was hired or many other significant milestones could be singled out as the birth date of our theological school. The date of the decision to proceed to establish the college, 9 September 1941, might have the best claim to being the date of the college’s birth. Yet, this date is too close to our current formal graduation ceremony that is held on the third Saturday in October to be a practical choice for a birthday celebration.
In response to this helpful request, then, we are proposing to the FUM General Board meeting in Africa to approve a symbolic date marking the birth of the college. We are proposing to celebrate the birth of FTC each year on a Saturday soon after Easter, coordinating the date with the study schedules of the residential and school-based programs.
The outlines of the present day funding of FTC were already visible in those earliest plans for the college. Students were to provide for their own personal needs, such as clothing and blankets. Today, as the majority of our students are married with children, we include airtime to keep in touch with family back home.
African meetings and individuals were to take responsibility for the students’ on-campus living expenses. Today we might add travel expenses, medical care fees and student non-academic activities, such as games and joint fellowships events to the cost of meals and staff to prepare them.
Mission funds were used to pay for instruction and capital investments. But what may not be obvious as we read mission minutes today is the fact that in those long-ago days, mission funds did not only come from gifts from abroad. In addition, the mission made money in its industrial department with which it supported its ministries.
More than a 110 years ago, the Friends Africa Industrial Mission sent Edgar Hole, Arthur Chilton and Willis Hotchkiss to what is now Kaimosi with the intention of creating a self-supporting, self-extending, native church. As I reviewed balance sheets and audits of the mission in the archives the other day, I was struck by the similarity of our current production department with those earlier days. Forestry and tree farming, tailoring, printing, and the cultivation of coffee dominated then. After some trial and error, we have now come to focus particularly on tree farming, tailoring, our bookshop, and larger tracts of sugar and tea, in addition to the local vegetables, fruits, and dairy farm.
The early days of what has become Friends Theological College were supported not only by gifts from abroad but also by agricultural investment, industrious production and the sustained, generous commitment of African Friends to the education of Africans for ministry. As we would say it now, it was a global partnership.
In recent months we’ve seen that spirit of partnership bearing fruit once more. The USFW of Elgon Religious Society of Friends (Lugulu) supported students in the Lugulu-site program with a helpful gift. Students in that program with greater financial capacity have committed themselves to helping those with lesser financial capacity keep up with their fees so that everyone can move forward with their learning together.
Three yearly meetings that had not been sending in their Kshs. 10,000/= annual subscription fees regularly have recently sent in those supporting gifts. Quaker Men in the United States have matched those gifts 2 to 1 to assist our investment in tea. What a great example Vokoli, Chavakali, and Vihiga Yearly Meetings have set for other African yearly meetings.
Yearly meetings such as Kakamega, Nairobi, and East Africa Yearly Meeting North have led the way in asking what fees students from their yearly meetings still owe. The harder task lies ahead for them in finding ways to support and encourage local meetings to fully meet the obligations they undertook in agreeing to sponsor students who have come to college with such high aspirations for their studies and future ministries.
In the early years our students were mature men and women but we believe that by today’s standards the educational level of the studies is likely to have been at a pre-college level. There are still theological schools in Africa operating at the primary school level. Over the years the level of instruction and performance at FTC has risen.
Nearly a decade ago, our college joined the collaborative diploma in theology program of St. Paul’s University, Limuru. Our residential diploma in theology students study a curriculum created collaboratively by members of our faculty and those of schools across Kenya and eastern Africa. In 2005, our students were new to the more advanced and challenging performance expectations of this program. Their average mark was 52, far below the mark of 62 that is average for the whole group. Now, we too have an average of 62. In some courses our students now far exceed this international average, achieving class averages of 66 and 67. We are proud that teachers who themselves studied in our bachelor’s degree program are leading others to these higher levels of performance.
As a heritage of the Friends Africa Industrial Mission in the 1970s students at Friends Bible Institute were each required to train bi-vocationally. In addition to theology and ministry skills students studied printing, secretarial, or other skills. This dimension of studies was later removed from the curriculum.
But Friends pastors in eastern Africa are still often severely underpaid. Pastoral ministers are often called upon to advise and support income generation groups within meetings or on behalf of meetings. We have recently restored the work-education element to the curriculum. Beyond the foreseen economic benefits, we have seen that work education brings positive experiences in team work and service learning to pastoral education.
Your support of FTC and of my ministry at the college has made lifting academic performance and restoring work-education to the curriculum possible. As I come to the conclusion of my term as principal at FTC, we are aspiring to complete improvements in the finance and administration offices of the college in order to better support the global partnership that undergirds the economic well-being of the college. Thank you all so very much for the many ways you have supported and continue to support these efforts.
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