Editor’s Note: Chad has long been marked by armed conflict. On 20 April 2021, Chad’s president, Idriss Déby, was killed by militants while he was on the front lines commanding soldiers against a rebel group in northern Chad. Déby had survived several coup attempts and uprisings. After his death, Chad’s parliament was dissolved. A transitional military council, led by Déby’s son Mahamat, formed in place of the government. At the end of this article, Ngarsoulede mentions his own leadership role in Chad’s national political transition.
Any project of theological education begins with a shared vision executed by dedicated people. Such is the case of the Shalom Graduate School of Evangelical Theology (l’Ecole Supérieure de Théologie Evangélique Shalom)(ESTES), now known as the Shalom Faculty of Evangelical Theology (Faculté de Théologie Evangélique Shalom)(FATES), located in Chad and founded in 1989.
As an institution of theological education in Francophone Africa, FATES is often compared to the Bangui Evangelical School of Theology (Faculté de Théologie Évangélique de Bangui)(FATEB) in Central African Republic. This is because FATEB is considered by some to be the region’s premier theological institution. Indeed, FATEB’s founders intended that it would be the only theological institution for the Francophone African Church. Before 1977, African churches sent their students for theological education to Europe or the United States. After FATEB was founded in 1977, churches began to send their students there instead. I myself illustrate one of FATEB’s ongoing benefits for the Francophone African Church: FATEB trains faculty and administrators for other Francophone theological schools. I traveled to FATEB in September 1998 for my Master’s of Divinity. In 2005, I was among the first students to earn a PhD from FATEB. In January 2012, FATES welcomed me as Academic Director, a position in which I served for 3 academic years. I then served as FATES’s President, a role I could not have held without the extensive training I received at FATEB.
In the decades after FATEB’s founding, churches in Chad began to see challenges with sending students so far away for theological education. Even students who did not travel as far as Europe but who went to FATEB in nearby Central African Republic faced hardships: the cost of travel and life abroad was too high for many, and the time away from family, church, and community hampered ministry when students finally returned home. Over time, Chadian churches realized that they had enough capacity locally (i.e., nationally) to do the same work that FATEB was doing. They convened a general assembly of the Entente des Eglises et Missions Evangeliques au Chad (EEMET) in April 1988 to consider the possibility of theological education onsite in Chad. The assembly unanimously voted to create a theological school in and for Chad. They called all local Bible and denominational schools to close and send students solely to this new institution. Such dedication would feed the institution, ensure uniformly quality education for Chadian Christian leaders, and unite churches across Chad.
With its national, rather than regional, focus, how does FATES compare to FATEB? In Summer 2021, the InSights Journal for Global Theological Education published a brief history of FATEB’s early years by Jack Robinson. In light of that history and both schools’ current situations, my article reflects on FATES’s history and ongoing work. At a deeper level, it illustrates why multiple theological schools at different levels are needed for the Francophone African Church to thrive.
Continental Versus National Vision: A Comparison of FATEB & FATES
Like FATEB, FATES was established for a purpose; like FATEB, its history, partners, and original program designs influence its current ministry.
FATES’s mission is to provide the Chadian Church with leaders rooted in the Scriptures, capable of defending their faith when faced with objections, able to serve in a diverse society, and equipped to respond to Chad’s particular challenges with evangelical truth. Its primary purposes:
- Train by the Word and by example
- Stir passion for service to God and to neighbor
- Promote faithfulness to God and to others
These purposes are somewhat similar to FATEB’s. FATEB was founded by the Association of Evangelicals of Africa and Madagascar (AEAM). According to Robinson, in 1977, the President of AEAM, Samuel Odunaike, said that FATEB was founded to put Christian theology into contemporary African idiom, to promote unity in the Francophone African Church (as opposed to what FATEB’s founders saw as unhealthy divisions in the Western Church), and to provide high standards of academic excellence alongside true spiritual and practical ministerial preparation (Robinson 2021). FATEB was intended to confront universalism, syncretism, and mediocre theological understanding in Africa at the time. FATEB’s founders hoped that it would stir Christians’ evangelistic zeal, sustain and deepen Christian unity, and emphasize practical service in local churches (as opposed to lofty intellectual academic projects).
If their missions are somewhat similar, FATES and FATEB are very different in their founding. FATEB’s founding body was AEAM, an organization of all the churches on the African continent (regardless of language). AEAM developed FATEB as the Francophone twin of an Anglophone school that it established in Kenya. It intended these sibling schools to serve all Christian leaders across Africa. Thanks to this background, FATEB benefited from AEAM’s broad network. Western missions supported it; AEAM encouraged churches across the continent to feed students to it; various outside experts provided guidance; and some faculty came from abroad. Thanks to AEAM’s influence, FATEB opened on its own land, over a hectare granted freely by the Central African government. Campus expansion followed.
On the other hand, FATES is the work of EEMET, a Christian organization specific to Chad. In 1976, a year before FATEB’s founding, the churches in Chad had set up an evening training program for church leaders. This training did not meet academic standards; in direct response, FATES’s establishment in 1989 strengthened the capacity of church leaders to teach lay persons.
FATES’s more local founding constrains its physical assets as well as its finances and faculty. Member churches, located solely within Chad, support FATES. To sustain it, denominations within Chad have to send an annual quota of students to FATES. Faculty also come from within Chad alone – not internationally, as at FATEB. In addition, FATES began on the premises of a private college belonging to one of the founding denominations and did not have space of its own. It stayed in this denominational facility from October 1989 to December 1995. By the grace of God, thanks to local efforts, FATES acquired 10 hectares on which it was able to build its own campus, where it has been located since January 1996. However, due to lack of funds and the exorbitant local cost of building materials, FATES has not been able to develop its site fully: over 2/3 of its land is not yet used. FATES does not have sufficient on-campus accommodations for students, and it does not have any official accommodations for outside visitors (i.e., non-resident faculty, donors, etc.).
Because of their different backgrounds, FATEB and FATES have benefited from very different networks. At administrative, financial, and academic levels, FATEB has received help from many international organizations, such as Overseas Council, Langham, and ScholarLeaders. Tuition at FATEB is not burdensome to many of its students because FATEB has received significant grants that offset its costs.
Unlike FATEB, FATES benefits only from five church “families” located within Chad. Three other denominations joined EEMET later, alleviating some of the expense. Because FATES does not have the global, diverse partnerships from which FATEB benefits, it is more financially constrained. In fact, its financial survival depends entirely on students paying tuition. These students in turn depend entirely on the spontaneous (and sometimes unreliable) generosity of local churches, on a few kind individuals, and on denominations. Churches who recommend students for training at FATES are solely responsible for supporting them. (I will discuss this in more detail below.)
From its inception, FATEB focused on graduate-level education. While it did eventually add a Bachelor of Theology program, its first degree in 1977 was a five-year Master’s through which all students had to progress. It has continued to expand its graduate offerings to include multiple Master’s degrees and a PhD launched in 2005. Now, FATEB has accredited Bachelor’s, Master’s, and doctoral programs (a DMin as well as a PhD). It has also begun to offer lay education in the evenings and on weekends on campus. It opened a campus in Yaoundé following the hostilities of 2013-2014. Despite difficulties of all kinds, FATEB continues to train men and women for the work of the Lord in Africa and beyond.
Whereas FATEB began as a graduate school, FATES began as an undergraduate school and gradually added further training. FATES started with a three-year Bachelor’s program, its core for almost 25 years. For this program, students come from Chad and Cameroon (one has come from Benin; in 2020, one came from Central African Republic). For many years, if students wanted further education, they went to FATEB, UPAC in Cameroon, FATEAC in Cote d’Ivoire, or even Europe.
After many years, FATES’s board began to notice how expensive it was for students to travel outside Chad for graduate education. International Masters- and PhD-level studies burdened students and their churches. Local churches strongly expressed a desire for graduate-level training because of numerous interested candidates, but the cost of supporting families to live far away during graduate studies was a burden for churches, and sending students away from their families for two to five years is an obvious relational burden. So, in 2015, the board decided to open a Master’s program at FATES: they saw an ongoing local demand for this training and determined that they had sufficient faculty cover the need. (It was at this time that FATES’s name changed to reflect its expanded programs.) Although FATES drew inspiration from FATEB’s experience during this process, it developed its own approach to offering graduate programs. Chad’s national Ministry of Higher Education guided FATES’s board and followed FATES’s growth into graduate programs. A desire to meet public needs also motivated the board during this process of evolution.
Over the years, FATES has developed stronger academic networks that have allowed for other programs. In addition to its basic theological degrees, FATES has created an emphasis in African languages thanks to collaboration with SIL-Africa. Two years ago, it established a one-year program to train church planters. In January 2019, FATES opened a training and research unit under the supervision of the Council of Theological Institutions of Francophone Africa (CITAF) and with the encouragement of Chad’s Ministry of Higher Education. (CITAF’s oversight at FATES now parallels AEAM’s guidance for FATEB.)
Both FATEB and FATES emphasize whole-family and non-ordained ministry. Both have training programs for students’ wives to equip them to serve alongside their husbands. In addition, like FATEB, FATES provides training for non-ordained Christian leaders and those who cannot enroll full-time. As president, I helped to guide FATES toward this this diversity of programs, a direction that grew out of my own initial training at my denomination’s Biblical Institute, coupled with my ministerial experience and my training at FATES and FATEB. My time at FATEB under several teachers of different nationalities enriched my leadership goals so that, when I returned to FATES, I was prepared to attend to these non-traditional programs. All these programs depend on the selfless commitment of full- and part-time faculty and on Christian goodwill locally and internationally.
FATEB and FATES are most different in their capacity to offer training online. FATEB has just put its Masters online for students who cannot join face-to-face. However, FATES’s socio-political and cultural contexts do not allow it to offer online education. The Chadian government occasionally suspends internet access in order to control social movements and constrain violent conflict. Additionally, Chadians are not sufficiently familiar with technology (despite the fact that fiber optic infrastructure was installed 10 years ago); indeed, internet is too expensive for many. Thus, online education remains outside FATES’s reach.
Lessons from FATES in Light of FATEB
As it faces the hardships of the Francophone African context, FATEB continues to stand as an example and inspiration. FATES has learned from FATEB as it engages its own realities.
Lack of funds constrains theological education.
In its finances, FATES benefits from donations. Although FATES is more locally focused than FATEB, international donors, such as Overseas Council, ScholarLeaders, Langham, and others, have given grants for FATES’s operating costs and for student scholarships; international missions donors include French and Francophone African missions organizations. Individuals and local churches occasionally give during special worship services or ceremonies. In addition, some organizations have sponsored specific projects at FATES. These include buildings (supported by Cornerstone Trust and Egyptian foundations, among others); a market garden (SEL-France is the main supporter); and office supplies and two-wheeled vehicles for staff (European foundations support these items). Further, FATES receives some third-stream income from a high school it hosts, room rental, and sale of books.
Yet FATES has significant problems because it depends primarily on tuition to pay faculty and staff salaries and administrative costs. Each year, its budget is covered at best by two-thirds (and sometimes only by half). It is always striving to overcome a deficit. During Chad’s economic crisis, FATES lowered tuition, which meant that operating costs were even more strained.
Even in economically healthy times, students often fail to pay tuition because the local churches that support them do not maintain that support: local churches often cut students adrift. This situation hinders student motivation and affects the quality of their studies, as well as harming FATES itself financially. When churches do not support their students, this worsens FATES’s financial position, leading to accumulating arrears of staff salaries and taxes. The weight of the institution rests on the shoulders of its leadership, and the board does not help FATES raise funds. This results in frustrations and conflict.
Denominational tensions are inevitable.
The African churches that founded FATEB have, in the years since its founding, withdrawn and created their own denominational schools. Sometimes a denomination may even have two or three schools within a single country and with the same programs. This split away from one large regional seminary toward many smaller local or denominational schools has led to a sense of competition within theological education.
Of course, FATES is a product of this trend, which might be looked upon negatively from FATEB’s point of view. FATES has itself suffered from this tendency to split apart. Some EEMET churches no longer recommend that their leaders attend FATES. Others only recommend FATES for graduate students. Churches more and more withdraw, preferring their own local/denominational training. For example, in 2014, a major denomination within EEMET created its own school in southern Chad; it issues pastoral licenses there. In 2021, another denomination established a school in N’Djamena, the city where FATES is located, with the same Bachelors program that FATES offers. (The faculty for these new schools all work at FATES as well as part-time teachers.)
The reason for this reorientation of training at the denominational level is that FATES’s programs respect universal evangelical standards but do not account for specific denominational differences. Church leaders fear that FATES students will return to their churches without respect for local denominational traditions and practices. So churches train individuals and enlist them to serve internally without thinking about the opportunities for learning and unity offered by FATES. As a result, FATES’s enrollment decreases every year, and its financial burden becomes increasingly heavy. We at FATES begin to wonder what criticisms can really be leveled at FATES on doctrine, ethics, or organization that would truly prevent churches from sending their students to our university.
Denominational rivalries fuel conflict within FATES itself. People ask, “Why do these particular churches seem to benefit the most from FATES? We are supporting the school too; we should benefit also.” Others say, “Because we don’t have any students at FATES, let its administrative and financial burdens fall on the denominations that do have students there.” Others ask, “Isn’t there someone else who can run this school? Can’t we find a better leader?”
Often, individuals do not clearly express their objections or disagreements. They see diversifying academic programs, but they do not want to support FATES’s activities and encourage its staff by giving to it. However, FATES’s staff remain open to collaboration and would welcome churches’ involvement.
Intentional spiritual development for faculty is absolutely necessary.
Just as at FATEB, FATES has learned the hard way that spiritual formation is essential for faculty. FATES has had to dismiss two teachers because students complained about their teaching. One teacher was judged incompetent to teach at a university level; he flagrantly and scandalously disdained students. The second teacher could not design his own course; he plagiarized from others’ books and admitted that he could not adapt his course for another level. Dissatisfaction with both these teachers led to a loss of student motivation. In the end, students complained to FATES’s board, demanding that the teachers be released. In another case, a teacher resigned because of conflict with my predecessor as president. The teacher became insubordinate and challenged authority. Attempts at reconciliation were unsuccessful, so this teacher went elsewhere.
FATES’s leadership has been aware of these situations for several years and has watched them very carefully. In some cases, reconciliation has happened (in external environments, after the teachers in question have left the institution). After considering these cases, FATES created a mechanism to promote faculty spiritual development: the chaplain mentors faculty; faculty go on spiritual retreats together, and faculty communicate with one another during worship. These activities develop spiritual vitality among faculty – which not only deepens the faculty’s spiritual unity but also enables the faculty to serve as true spiritual models for students.
A narrower target community allows for richer theological engagement.
In terms of community engagement, FATES benefits from its narrower focus. In 1993, FATES initiated a conference for pastors and denominational heads in Chad (COPREAT). This conference is uniquely interdenominational. Speakers have come from Chad and other African countries; they have discussed pastoral, ethical, cultural, and economic themes. Because participants have been so pleased with COPREAT, FATES continues to organize it, to invite speakers recommended by organizations and denominations, and to structure it with opportunities for spiritual renewal. The last conference was in 2016; the next one was supposed to be in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic prevented significant gatherings.
In addition to this national conference for pastors, FATES has organized two public conferences, one in 2015 and one in 2018. The 2015 conference focused on political succession; the 2018 conference on political engagement in oppressive and discriminatory social contexts. The second conference was so successful that an article was removed from the Chadian constitution that had prevented Christians from accessing positions of political responsibility. Christians across Chad have denounced evil and have been strengthened in their faith by watching their political leaders do the same.
Furthermore, at the end of August 2021, Chad’s Ministry of Higher Education, Research, and Innovation and the Evangelical University of Chad approached me. Alongside EEMET and Christian and secular leaders, they asked me to build a team of academic and theological experts to develop documents for inclusive national dialogue. This team’s mission continues as we seek to participate in the renewal of Chad’s national government. In conjunction with this team, I serve on the organizing committee for the thematic group, “Peace, Social Cohesion, and Reconciliation.” We guide discussions during national dialogue and support Chad’s transitional institutions.
During my training at FATEB at the feet of leaders of different levels of academic training, with varied personalities, and from diverse cultural backgrounds, I acquired wide experience. I learned patience, gentleness, compassion, how to maintain relationships, a spirit of service, a strong work ethic, etc. from different individuals. The sum of these experiences influences my character and shapes my leadership at FATES.
Overall, despite many challenges, FATES’s initial vision has evolved positively. FATES has maintained a Doctoral Training and Research Unit for three years as part of its licensed program. Such development is not free from difficulties, conflicts, or failures, but as a team, FATES’s faculty and staff continue to honor its founding vision, even as we have diversified its programs and opened new partnerships. We uphold the school’s statement of intent, its two strands of responsibility inspired by Colossians 1:28: To instruct every man in all wisdom and to present every man fulfilled in Christ to God. Thanks be to God for His faithfulness that supports our work so that we can continue to train leaders for His Church.
Robinson, Jack. “Early History of Faculté de Théologie Évangélique de Bangui (FATEB): FATEB’s Precursors, Founding, and First Five Years, 1966-1982.” InSights Journal for Global Theological Education 7, Supplement (August 2021): 14-17.