The Stellenbosch Theological Institute

Historically it has always appeared that the Traditional and the Charismatic churches have been at odds with each other because of theological and liturgical differences. Yet with the proliferation of liberalism in and out of the Church, Christians with a Biblical worldview and correct theological application of the Word of God are uniting – from all sides of the denominational spectrum.
An example of this on our doorstep would be the new found relationship between two significant role players in the Body of Christ, who have partnered together to form a Bible-based Theological Institute in the heart of South African Liberaldom. JOY! found out more from the stakeholders, extracted below.

“There are many combinations in life that just work and seem to form a better product in the end: peanut butter and jam, salt and pepper, boerewors and pap. Yet somehow the Anglican Church and the Shofar Movement don’t immediately jump to mind when considering successful synergy.
So how then can an Evangelical Charismatic pastor from Shofar and a priest from an established Traditional Anglican Church see eye to eye on anything? We’re talking chalk and cheese! But add a Mighty Lord, two intuitive, God-fearing wives and a prophetic word – and you’ve got yourself a great friendship that has led to significant and strategic things.

It all started several years ago when pastor Fred May received a prophetic word during a Sunday service in Stellenbosch that the Lord was going to send them ‘unlikely bedfellows’ or ministry partners. In another part of the Cape, Father Gavin Mitchell a local Anglican priest, was experiencing what can only be described as persecution in the politics of his local church.  Disillusioned and disappointed, Gavin contemplated moving to the Church of England or leaving the ministry entirely. Eventually he accepted a posting to another church to relieve the pressures of ‘local church politics’.
At this time, Gavin and Fred’s wives “coincidently” met each other. Lynn and Lucille, both God-fearing women, served as the catalyst for their husbands’ friendship.

As the relationship deepened, both Fred and Gavin realised that despite their different ministry environments, they both laboured for the same Almighty God and that the areas of agreement far outweighed the points of disagreement. They shared convictions about truth, the authority of Scripture, and the centrality of Christ, His Spirit and His Word. After all, the core beliefs of both Shofar as a charismatic renewal church and Orthodox Anglicanism are Evangelical. Both men were “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”  and “to equip the saints for the work of the ministry for building up the Body of Christ…” 
With an urgency to see the Kingdom established, the men acknowledged that in a broken world they would need to fight side by side in God’s army.

In the years since the providential meeting of these two friends in faith, the Anglican Communion has been thrust into a world-wide crisis over the position of Scripture as the final authority for both doctrine and morality. The Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA) was formed in response to the crisis by Orthodox Anglican leaders from across the world and Father Gavin was appointed as Secretary of FCA Southern Africa in 2009.
The so-called ‘Anglican Crisis,’ which has been well documented in previous issues of JOY! Magazine and has crystallised around moral issues, continues to be about the authority of Scripture and whether God, through His Word, has the right to tell us what is morally acceptable or not (Biblical Christianity), or whether people have the right to decide for themselves (Secular Humanism).

Was this the battle that God had intended these two men, representing two spiritual streams, to engage in? Their ‘coincidental’ meeting had been orchestrated by God years before and His reason for doing so was becoming apparent. Shofar has always been eager to stand with those who stand for the Gospel, and that meant amongst others, standing with the FCA in the battle for the Bible.

In light of this, both leaders have identified the need to deepen the Theological training of Pentecostal/Charismatic pastors and to re-establish the centrality of the Bible in the Theological training of Anglican clergy, as priorities. For this reason they have jointly launched the Stellenbosch Theological Institute (STI) as an academic training institute which endeavours to be Bible-based, contextually relevant, and academically excellent.
So, like peanut butter and jam, these two streams seem to work well together in the form of STI, drawing from the established and the emerging.
With the January intake for academic centres looming, we spoke to Hennie Swart, Director of the Stellenbosch Theological Institute to find out about their mission and mandate.

Why have you become involved in theological education?
I come from a tradition that is rather suspicious of theological education because of the damage done by many liberal theologians, but I also read a Bible in which the greatest church planter of the early church is a theologian – the Apostle Paul. Theology clearly isn’t all bad, and the remedy for bad theology is not no theology, but rather good theology. For my tradition, therefore, theological education can and should be redeemed.
The Stellenbosch Theological Institute (STI) is intending to do just that by providing accessible education and training that is Bible-based, contextually relevant, and academically excellent.  We seek to develop leaders with the competence, character, and courage to engage their cultures in a constructive way. Another defining feature of STI is that it’s a collaborative partnership between Shofar Christian Church – a Pentecostal-Charismatic church movement, the FCA Southern Africa, which is part of the mainline Anglican Church, and the Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life – a UK based research centre.

Why did the role players start STI?
Most of the modern world no longer has a reading culture and many, if not most, Christians are Biblically illiterate and don’t have a Biblical Christian worldview.
The most effective way to address this problem is to develop Christian leaders with a love for the Bible which they can impart to those around them; the Church needs Scripturally trained leaders.

Can anyone study with STI?
Any graduate, even from a non-theological discipline, can study with STI.  We cater for those who are in full time ministry as well as Christians in other fields ((such as business, politics, media, or education) who are passionate about Scripture and its application in their personal and professional spheres. Because the course is internet-based, it is accessible and affordable.

Why start another theological institute; aren’t there enough in SA?
Many state-funded institutions are becoming more and more liberal and eventually end up as schools of comparative religion. Much of the Church seems to be losing faith in these liberalising institutions and no longer trust them to train their future leaders.
STI, in contrast, will be held accountable by the Church so that it can continue to produce leaders who are actually useful and beneficial to the Body. In addition there are few, if any, institutions that currently cater for a Pentecostal-Anglican convergence and facilitate dialogue between these traditions.

How does the School of Anglican Studies fit into the programme?
The Anglican studies leg of the programme is in development and will be nested in the generic Honours in Theology.  Anglican students will be required to complete certain prescribed options like Anglican -foundations, -worship, -mission, and -ecclesiology when doing their degree.

Who is involved in STI?
Shofar Christian Church, FCA Southern Africa (Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans) and OCRPL (Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life) are the founding partners of STI. The following world class lecturers will be presenting the different modules:
• Dr. Rollin Grams: is an Associate Professor of New Testament at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in America
• Canon Dr. Vinay Samuel: is recognised internationally as a mission theologian. Together with Dr. Chris Sugden, he founded the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies in the UK. He is the Executive Director of the Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life which he presently leads
• Canon Dr. Chris Sugden: is an ordained minister of the Church of England. He was part of the founding team of the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies. He serves as secretary of the Anglican Mainstream Network and several other organisations
• Dr. James B Krohn pastors Cates Hill Chapel in Canada. He taught theology for more than a decade at two of South Africa’s most respected theological colleges after completing his Masters Degree under Prof JI Packer at Regent College in Canada, and his Doctorate at Stellenbosch University. 

For info call: 021 809 9400

Fred May
• Biography: Fred and his wife Lucille founded Shofar Church in Stellenbosch in 1992.  He has been committed to ministry establishment since his high school years.  The dynamic of cultural and generational integration has always been a mark of Shofar’s ministry where the focus areas are disciple making, leadership development and church planting.  At present there are 29 Shofar churches in South Africa and abroad – besides scores of missions partner churches planted in Africa and Asia.  Fred and Lucille have two sons, Stephan and Matthew.
•  Contact details:

 Gavin Mitchell
• Position: Secretary of Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans – Southern Africa. Director of the Anglican Studies programme of the STI. An Anglican priest presently serving in the Cape

• Qualifications: BSc (Wits), Dip TH (St Paul’s). 26 years ministry experience in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa

• Comments about The Stellenbosch Theological Institute: “This joint initiative for training is one of the most exciting developments for the Church for more than 50 years. For two such different traditions to work to provide church planting and mission focussed leaders for our churches is truly of God.”

• Contact details:
• Courses: In January we offer an Honours in Theology in partnership with SATS (The South African Theological Seminary).  The course is structured as a part-time, distance learning programme which is internet based

• Prerequisites: The Honours qualification mentioned above is a conversion course, in the sense that students do not need an undergrad degree in Theology to be admitted to the programme.

• Exceptions: Students will be admitted providing they graduated in a cognate degree like Humanities/Social Sciences or have sufficient ministry experience and a non-cognate degree

• Format: The programme is an internet based course, available locally and internationally

• Future plans: In the short term, we intend to develop Masters, PhD, and possibly undergraduate programmes and have them accredited by the relevant authorities. Long term we may launch a Business-, Media-, and Leadership School

• Contact details: To register for an Honours in Theology (Bth Hon) visit

Stop Fighting About Christmas

It’s bad enough that rabid secularists hate Christmas; it’s tragic that some Christian purists judge others for celebrating the holiday.

What the Christmas critics say:
When I wrote about how God worked in the lives of people in the Biblical Christmas story, several readers jumped in to remind me that the modern celebration of Christmas is a pagan holiday that is luring unsuspecting, gift-giving revellers to hell itself. One person ‘David’ wrote in an online forum that he “isn’t comfortable celebrating Christmas” because of its demonic origins.
You probably know there are many Christians who boycott Christmas for various reasons – some factual and some quite debatable. These people insist:
• The holiday has become too commercialised and promotes greed (I would agree)
• No one knows when Jesus was born (True – and the Bible is silent about the date. However, ‘David’ and other anti-Christmas purists insist Jesus was born on Sept 11 in 3 BC, during Rosh Hoshanna)
• The Dec 25 date was chosen to ‘Christianise’ the pagan celebration of Saturnalia, an ancient winter solstice festival (Maybe true – but is there anything wrong with Christianising something? I’m glad a pagan celebration was replaced!)
• Christmas trees are a pagan tradition, since Druids believed evergreen boughs were magical and had the power to scare away demons (‘Thursday’ is also named for the Norse god Thor, but that doesn’t mean I worship him when I use the word)
• Dec 25 is the birthday of Nimrod, who later became known as the pagan god Baal, who later became known as Nicolas, who later became known as Santa Clause. For this reason, we can be sure that demons lurk behind all wreaths, candles, ornaments, fruitcakes, sleighs or anyone dressed in red and green!

A time to celebrate Christ
In all fairness to these Christmas critics, I must admit I never led my children to believe in Father Christmas. This was not because I was afraid he was Baal, Nimrod or an ancient Turkish bishop in disguise, but because (1) I felt I would be lying to my kids if I told them Father Christmas brought them gifts; (2) I hate standing in lines at the shops; and (3) the prospect of inviting a strange man into my house so he can ‘check’ on my sleeping daughters is creepy. But I unashamedly love Christmas.
I love the trees, the ornaments, the lights, the smells, the foods, the music, the gifts and the family and friends who share the celebration with me. All the decorations point me to Jesus – from the bells on the front porch to the angel on top of the tree to the plastic manger scene. For me, Christmas is a wondrous time of year when I ponder the miracle of Christ’s birth and, hopefully, get lots of chances to share His generous love with people who are less fortunate than I am.

A battle continued over the ages
People have been fighting about Christmas for a long, long time. Christmas gift-giving was condemned by the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages because of the pagan origins of the holiday. Then, anti-Catholic Puritans declared war on Christmas in England and banned it from 1647 to 1660, calling it “a popish festival with no justification.” In America, Puritans outlawed Christmas in one state from 1659 to 1681, and it was an unpopular holiday after the Revolutionary War because Americans associated it with England.
Today, in spite of the fact that Christmas, for many people, has morphed into a meaningless mush of secularised cards, trees and year-end sales, the Scrooges of our day want to remove the remaining Christian spirituality out of it. I expect atheists to hate Christmas. I know they will try to ban nativity scenes from public spaces, or remove Christmas carols from stores. But it is downright tragic when Christians – who should welcome every opportunity to bring the miracle of Jesus’ incarnation into public life – start boycotting (or even demonising) the holiday. Keep Christmas in your own way, by all means. If it is offensive to you to hang decorations or to send a Christmas card to friends, then don’t.
I won’t judge you for that. But please don’t judge other believers simply because they want to celebrate all that is pure and decent and meaningful in this special time of year. P.S. – Merry Christmas! 

The Miraculous Birth of Christ

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the Government shall be upon His shoulder. And His Name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His Government and peace, there shall be no end…” Isaiah 9:6-7

A miraculous birth
The Bible is a supernatural Book. Over 2000 specific prophecies have already been fulfilled in history. Jesus Christ fulfilled 333 of those prophecies during His ministry on earth. One of those prophecies was of the miraculous birth of Christ in Isaiah 7:14. Sacred Scripture records the supernatural birth of Christ: The Holy Spirit came upon the Virgin Mary and the power of the Highest overshadowed her (Luke 1:35).
The Angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and told him that which was conceived in Mary was of the Holy Spirit.  “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His Name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet saying: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son and they shall call His Name Immanuel, which is translated, ‘God with us’.” Matt 1:21-23

A miraculous life
A miraculous Book predicted the miraculous birth of the most miraculous Person in all of history. Jesus healed the sick, made the crippled walk, the deaf  hear, the dumb speak and the blind see. He raised the dead. There never was anyone who taught as Jesus did, who lived a perfect life, and who died such a death, taking our sins upon Himself. Yet His life did not end with His death on the Cross. Three days later He rose from the dead. The tomb of Christ is empty, Jesus lives today. 
Jesus Christ was not born a prince, or an heir to the throne. He is the only One who has ever been born a King. The Wise men from the East, asked: “Where is the One who has been born King? We have come to worship Him.” Matt 2:2

The menace of the manger
King Herod felt that his lavish lifestyle and comfortable political position was threatened by the new born babe. Gripped by selfishness and a lust for power, Herod sought to murder the Messiah by massacring all babies still in the manger, in Bethlehem.
Herod sensed Christ’s power: “For unto us a Child is born, to us a Son is given. And the Government will be upon His shoulder…” This was very threatening. Herod declared war on the womb, he saw menace in the manger.

The message of the Manger
We no longer worship a babe in a cradle (though many secular people like to view Jesus this way – especially at Christmas time). He is the Son of God who died on the Cross. The day will come when He will return to this earth wearing the Crown of the Sovereign Lord of the universe.
We will all stand before His throne and give an account of our lives. Unless we have turned to God in faith and repented of our sins, we will face eternal condemnation.
When the Bible speaks of “the Government”, it is always talking about God’s Sovereign Rule. We are unbiblical when we attribute sovereign powers to civil authorities. As Jesus declared to the Roman governor Pilate; “You would have no authority over Me unless it had been given you from above.” John 19:11. This is the Message of the Manger: Jesus Christ is Lord! He is Lord over all aspects of life: King of kings and Lord of Lords!

Magnificent Messiah
Scripture says that Jesus will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
•  Wonderful Counsellor: He is all-knowing. He embodies absolute wisdom. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He hears our prayers and guides His people
• Mighty God: He is all-powerful. He is God Himself. Jesus Christ is the Incarnation of God. He is fully God and fully man
• Everlasting Father: He is Eternal. As a Father He is compassionate; He cares; He provides and He protects
• Prince of Peace: There is no peace without the Prince of Peace. Only in Christ will we as individuals, families, or nations, find true and lasting peace with justice.

Victory belongs to the Lord
“Of the increase of His Government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over His kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.”
The ultimate victory and triumph of Christ’s Kingdom is inevitable.

Crib, Cross and Crown
“In the time of those kings, the God of Heaven will set up a Kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.” Dan 2:44
This is the message of Christmas – not only of the Crib, but of the Cross. Not only the Cross, but also the Crown. As Isaiah 11:9 declares: “The earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” “Every knee will bow, every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” Phil 2:10-11.
Do you rejoice that a Child has been born?
Do you recognise that He is Immanuel – God with us?
Do you submit to His Government?
Do you obey Him as Lord of your life?
Is He your Wonderful Counsellor?
 Is He your Mighty God?
 Is He your Everlasting Father?
 Is He the Prince of Peace in your life?
If so, rejoice! His Government will never end. His Kingdom will endure forever. Of the increase of His Government and peace there will be no end.

Note from JOY!
Regardless of whether you celebrate Christmas or not, we would encourage all Christians to use this time of year to invite unsaved friends and family to Christmas services and the various Christmas outreach events that take place.
Many people are more ‘open’ to the Gospel at Christmas and Easter time, and this is a wonderful opportunity for believers to remind others of the “Reason for the Season”. 


As the holiday season approaches again this year, many people may be dreading the prospect of in-laws visiting during their vacation, especially when they tend to be overbearing. Avoiding the in-laws is not the solution, but how then do we as Christians deal with meddling family, who are demanding, controlling, and intrude into the lives of their adult children?
Dealing with difficult in-laws can be an overwhelming challenge. Paul describes certain women as being “busybodies” in first Timothy 5:13. The meaning of the Greek word for busybody in this context is “a self-appointed overseer in other men’s matters.” Having in-laws overseeing your marriage and family is very annoying, and not what God intended for the family.

The importance of leaving and cleaving
In Genesis 2:23-24 God’s plan for family life is explained where we are instructed to “leave our parents and cleave to our spouse”. In this regard the husband needs to take responsibility, according to Ephesians 5:25-33, by loving and protecting his wife. A husband who allows his mother or his mother-in-law, or anybody else, to interfere with his marriage is not living up to the commandment given to husbands in Ephesians 5.

How do I deal with overbearing in-laws?
Parents and in-laws should be treated with respect and love, and we can choose to adopt this attitude, irrespective of their behaviour. In choosing to respect them, we honour God above all things. We may not be able to change the way others behave, but how we respond to their behaviour is our choice. It may be tempting to gossip, hold silent grudges or withdraw from troublesome in-laws but keep in mind what Paul teaches in Ephesians 4:22-24 “…to be made new in the attitude of your minds…created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
We can make a choice not to be offended by our in-laws’ overbearing behaviour (Prov 18:19). How you respond to this type of situation determines your frustration. We can allow the actions of other people to get to us (offend us), or we can see it as an opportunity to grow in righteousness.

Set reasonable boundaries
The purpose of a boundary is to protect yourself and/or your marriage. It is a way to show someone how you will or will not allow yourself to be treated. The reality is that people treat us the way we allow them to treat us. If we permit them to intrude on the sanctity of our family, then that is what they will do. No one, not even our extended family, has the right to invade the privacy of our home, and it is the responsibility of the husband to guard that privacy.
Husbands need to take the lead to gently explain to your in-laws (or own family) that what they are doing is overstepping the boundaries. Remind them that God has given you the responsibility for your family and to relinquish any of that responsibility to anybody else (other family members) is to disobey God.

Assert your opinion with love
As Christians we need to learn how to confront people in love, doing things God’s way. Communicate your needs assertively, but in a gentle way. Speak in an authoritative manner, sending a very clear message. Use key phrases such as, “You’re entitled to your opinion, but this isn’t up for discussion” or, “I’m sorry you’re upset, but we’re sticking with our decision’’ assuring them that such behaviour cannot be tolerated.

Do not accept manipulation
Learn not to be perturbed when your in-laws are ‘upset’ with you. When it becomes evident to them that you will not allow yourself to be manipulated, your in-laws may choose to be offended and try to make you feel guilty for having needs that conflict with theirs.
What not to discuss
In-laws with healthy behaviour will respond appropriately when you communicate your needs and draw reasonable boundaries. Be firm and refuse to be emotionally manipulated.
“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Heb 12:11.
Our Father is delighted when we live in peace with each other! Peace is defined as ‘’the presence and experience of right relationships’’. To obtain peace, we need to be honest in all our relationships with our parents and in-laws, not avoiding any issues, just because it will cause unpleasantness. Honesty in relationships creates intimacy.

Change can happen. Don’t lose hope; trust God!
 If your in-laws are extremely overbearing, to the extent that you think they will never change, be encouraged that words spoken in humility and true Godly love, have the power to change hearts and bring about positive change. We cannot make friendship and love happen, but we can make space for them. 

Here are a few practical tips one can employ for good relations:

1. Establish what should not be discussed
Both partners should agree on the information that may be shared with parents. This will keep you from divulging information that your partner wants to keep private. Many conflicts arise between marriage partners because this boundary is violated. According to Scripture some things should remain private: “Debate your case with your neighbour, and do not disclose the secret to another” Prov 25:9

2. Set time limits
Many husbands and wives fight because either their in-laws are constantly visiting, or one of the spouses visits their parents’ house too often, neglecting responsibilities in their own home. Incessant phonecalls from in-laws to find out what the family is doing will also impose on the privacy of your marriage. It is important to agree on a reasonable amount of time to spend with both sets of in-laws.

3. Stay loyal to your spouse and your decisions
Both partners must determine that decisions in the marriage are to be made without having to consult the in-laws first (for example what schools to send your kids to, whether you should emigrate, etc). As a couple, your attitude should be one of trust and obedience as you commit your decisions to God in prayer and search out His Word concerning issues.
When a husband and wife have reached a consensus, they should not allow their minds to be changed if the in-laws voice their disapproval. Should a decision be extremely difficult to make, it’s wise to get spiritual and practical counsel from the godly leaders in your life who can contribute important insight, answer questions, remove doubts and confirm inclinations. Choose people who will offer Biblical advice and remember not to be disloyal to your spouse in favour of your parents.

4. Keep to the rules
Children are easily confused when the standards of discipline vary between their home and that of their grandparents. Additional conflict can arise if a spouse refuses to politely correct their parents when boundaries have been violated. A helpful hint would be to remind parents and in-laws of your rules and what the children are allowed to watch on television, what treats they may eat, etc. When your children stay over at your in-laws’ home, your rules should be reinforced.

5. Maintain open communication
If one spouse fails to keep a boundary (such as those listed above), it will confuse in-laws, because they’re receiving different messages. In addition to this, when one partner fails to keep the agreement, the trust of the other is violated.
If this does happen, sit down with your partner and discuss the issue, ask for forgiveness and clarify your concerns. In a Biblical marriage, both partners should be honest with one another and remain committed in every area of life, working together as a team. When one person’s desires or personality is squelched and the other always gets their way, the couple are not working together.
The world teaches us to remain focussed on having things our way, but as we walk with Christ we learn that this should not be the case. In a marriage both people must submit to each other as is taught in Scripture: “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord…Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church…each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” Eph 5: 22-33

6. Deal with repeat problems
When every symptom seems cured, but we fail to search out the root cause, we can be sure that the same old problems will resurface. Understanding why both partners have allowed intrusions in to the home is essential. One of the important things to realise is that the relationship with your parents changes once you get married.
They may have manipulated your decisions in the past, or you may have feared displeasing them more than you did your partner, but once you are married and start your own family, your primary loyalty needs to be with your spouse and children.

7. Let His love guide your actions
Many issues can be resolved when we find out what makes our spouse and our in-laws feel loved and begin expressing our love in a way that is meaningful to them. Make Jesus the centre of your marriage and reach out for His help in difficult situations.
Pray for your in-laws and for the tensions that consistently arise. Praying for the problem will change your heart toward the person! 

The Silent Scream

David Attah had been raised in a Muslim home; with a sensitive and pleasant face, and wearing wire-rimmed glasses for nearsightedness, David carried himself with the look of a man with gentle intelligence. Inside he had hurt for many years. As an only child, his mother had died when he was a boy; he had never been wanted by his cold, stern father. Friendships had been few. This changed at university though, when David found himself surrounded by companions. His loneliness left.

Discovering a God Who loves
David had always believed in God, but the  big question he battled with was, “What kind of God is He?” His Muslim family had taught him that Allah was absolutely sovereign; that all was planned before it happened. The best anyone could do was accept his fate because “Allah willed it.”
But David had been fated to be a lonely boy, and he rejected this. He was ready to receive the Christian God, Who said, “You must be born-again”. At a revival meeting in his town one night, David found his second chance in Christ. All of the harsh Muslim beliefs that he had picked up along the way seemed to fit the personality of his earthly father: unloving, unyielding, and uncaring. By contrast, Jesus revealed a Heavenly Father who had sent His Son to die for the world. The choice seemed clear.

Hope of a new life
He raised his hand and repeated the sinner’s prayer. “Now my new life of friends and fellowship would last forever…” he thought.
But, everything changed. As David walked to class one morning, a woman sped through an intersection, striking him down. The woman was arrested and charged with driving under the influence. David knew nothing; he remained unconscious with severe head injuries, broken bones, and internal bleeding. When he opened his eyes again he was in hospital. He heard a familiar voice say, “You’ve been out for two days.”

Unable to speak and all alone
He discerned the shape of his friend Jonah near his bedside. They were roommates, and were scheduled to graduate together – final exams would begin in a few weeks. From the extent of his injuries, David knew that he would not recover in time to finish school. His dream of starting a career in communications had a huge setback. How could God have chosen this time to decree such an evil fate for him? “Perhaps Allah was god after all”, he lamented…
David wanted to ask the nurse the extent of his injuries, but as he attempted to form the words, no movement or sound came from his mouth. He thought that the bandage on his head might be too tight across his jaw, restricting his speech. He tried again to speak, but nothing came out. Fear swept through his mind like wildfire.

Begging for food and medicine
A neurosurgeon from Makurdi General Hospital tested David’s speech and discovered that he still had marvellous language skills and was able to write. But David had totally lost the ability to make his mouth utter, even whisper, a single word.
In the weeks of rehabilitation that followed, David gained the use of his right hand. He communicated his thoughts by notepad. The hospital bills mounted and within a few weeks, his money was gone. The hospital required patients to pay for meals, but he could not afford to purchase them anymore. David began to ask for scraps and leftovers from his fellow patients. People liked him so much that they actually kept back food for him and he managed to eat for awhile…

Deserted by friends and family
Meanwhile his classmates at the university graduated. They became busy seeking new lives and careers. He had visits from Jonah and other students in the days following the accident, but after spending some hours at his bedside, they grew impatient. The David they had known was quick-witted and full of bright conversation. Now, all of his answers had to be written out, and he seemed to have lost his ability to bounce back. In frustration, Jonah accused him of faking the dumbness. “Why don’t you just get over it?” he shouted, as he left the room, never to be seen again. To pay for his prescriptions, David decided to sell his belongings. He sent someone to collect his things from the house that he shared with fellow students, but when he arrived, his room was bare. It seemed his old friends had stolen everything. This hit him hard. The new life he had made for himself in Makurdi, surrounded by friends, had been a mirage.
Perhaps he was fated to be lonely after all, and nothing had ever really changed. Old things did not pass away; all things did not become new. He plunged into a depression.

Attempting suicide
With no place to go, no immediate family to welcome him, David stayed in the hospital. Weeks turned into months. One day a national television crew came and filmed a story about him. David’s name and face was seen across Nigeria and funds were raised for an operation. He went for an MRI scan and was told that through surgery, scar tissue near his brain could be removed, and may restore his speech.
David was ready to take the risk, but at that time the political situation in Nigeria went through a sudden upheaval. The neurosurgeon fled the country with his family and all  plans for David’s surgery were abandoned. David had enough; he wanted to end the pain and disappointment. He prepared a lethal dose of pills to take later that night and sat down to pen a suicide letter, thanking the staff for their help.

An angel appears…
He placed the letter inside his Bible, which he laid on the nightstand. He would take the pills at night when the ward was asleep. But God has bigger plans for him…
A beautiful girl with large, kind eyes, walked into his room. At first David thought he was dreaming. She was not a member of the nursing staff. “Can I talk with you?” she asked. Her voice was soft and warm. “I know you can’t speak,” she said. “But they tell me that you write very well. My name is Rita, I am training to be a nurse,” she said. “So they sent you to practise on me?” he wrote. “No, I am curious about you. I saw you on television and I wanted to come see you.“
She reached out and picked up David’s Bible. “Are you a Christian?” He nodded. “I knew it!” She exclaimed. “So am I.” Her smile was full and lovely.  She opened his Bible and saw the note he had just written. “May I read this?” David froze inside. He wasn’t sure why he wanted to give her permission to read his suicide note, but for some reason, he did. He nodded and then watched as her expression changed to one of alarm. She looked at him, her brows darkly knit. “You must never, never do this!” she said. “I want you to promise me that you will not do this terrible thing.” David looked away. He could not promise her. He shook his head. She became offended and spoke sharply.
“Do you really believe in God, David?” He nodded. “Did God give you life? It’s not your life to take David. It is His.” David took his pad and wrote, “My family is gone. My friends have betrayed me. I have lost everything I own. My education has become worthless. I cannot pay my debts. I am alone and not even God cares.”
As Rita read this, she heard a voice speaking in her spirit: “If you want David to keep this promise, you must make a promise to be his friend.” Rita spoke slowly and deliberately, “God cares very much about you David. He sent me to you today.”

A life-saving promise
“If you promise me that you will never take your life, I will promise you something in return…I will be your friend as long as I live.” David could not believe she was saying this. He had never once heard anyone make such an intimate proposal to a complete stranger. He took his pad and wrote, “how can you promise me anything? You don’t know me.”
“This is not a promise to you, David. It’s a promise to God. He will help me to keep it.” In her words, David heard what he longed most to hear – a pledge of unconditional loyalty. Could it be that God had sent this girl to break him out of his silent prison?
The next day, Rita came to his hospital room with a prepared meal. She came the next day and the next. She ran errands for him. She did his laundry. They began long hours of conversation, her talking, him writing. She treasured his wonderful way with words, so she brought three files to keep his writings in. Months passed and Rita helped David with his legal proceedings.

When was Jesus Born?

No one knows the exact day Jesus was born, but the precise date of Jesus’ birth is not critical, and senseless speculation and controversy about this topic can cause Christians to lose focus.

The reason for the season
It is important that we rejoice and celebrate the central events in the life of Jesus Christ because He is the foundation of our Faith. When we think about and ponder His birth, there are many issues that are mysterious and profound for us. God came to us, taking human flesh, dwelling with us, so that we might be saved. He never stopped being God, but He also became human, He was born of a virgin, and began His human life as a helpless baby, just as we all do. How and why He did all of that for us is beyond our comprehension, but it is a subject that never ceases to cause us to marvel and to worship. Every December believers (and many others who are not Christians but hear the Gospel message nonetheless) centre their lives in the miracle of the birth of our Lord.

Calculating the month
Though no one knows the actual day that Jesus was born, attempts to calculate an exact date often fall into two schools of thought. Both methods depend on counting from the ‘course of Abijah’ – a course was a specific time when priests served in the temple. The first method begins with Luke 1:5-8 where we read that Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, was serving in the ‘course of Abijah’ in the temple. 1 Chronicles 24:7-19 indicates that there were 24 courses. The assumption is that the eighth course was the ‘course of Abijah’ and that this period of service started in early June. Presuming this conclusion to be accurate, some believe that we can count forward to discover the dates of birth for John the Baptist, and then by deduction, Jesus (born about six months after John – see Luke 1:24-36).
Therefore, assuming that Elizabeth became pregnant right away, and that the pregnancies of both Mary and Elizabeth were normal in terms of length, John the Baptist would have been born in March, nine months after his conception in June. According to this calculation, Jesus might have been born in the month of September. For some, the fact that the autumn festivals of the Old Testament begin at this time adds credibility to these calculations. If all these assumptions are correct, the conception of Jesus when Mary was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35), would have happened in December.

How scholars reached a date
The second method of trying to fix a date for Jesus’ birth counts backward rather than forward. When the temple was destroyed in AD 70, the priestly course of Jehoiarib was serving. If the priestly service was unbroken from the time of Zechariah to the destruction of the temple, this calculation has the ‘course of Abijah’ in the first week of October. Some early Christian writers (John Chrysostom, 347-407) taught that Zechariah received the message about John’s birth on the Day of Atonement, which falls in September or October.
This would place John the Baptist’s birth in June or July, and the birth of Jesus six months later, in late December or early January. Some advocates of this second method believe that December 25 is the correct day of Jesus’ birth, while others believe that January 6 is the correct day. Luke 2:1-7 mentions a tax census ordered by Augustus Caesar. The census records were eventually taken to Rome. Cyril of Jerusalem (348-386) requested that the true date of Jesus’ birth be taken from the census documents. He reported that the date he was given from these documents was December 25. Unfortunately, these records are no longer available.

The date is not the point…
So what does all this mean to you and me? It means that no one knows for sure when Jesus was born. The exact date of the First Coming of our Lord is much like the date of His return. No one knows the exact day or hour of the Second Coming (Matt 24:36,42,44,50; 25:13). Despite this, many Christians have become enthralled with predicting the date of His return, often losing sight of Jesus Christ and the Gospel in the process. Even though we do not know the exact date when Jesus will return, we may celebrate and look forward to the Second Coming.
We can celebrate His return on any date we choose, and it is possible to do so without becoming sidetracked with predictions and speculations about an exact date! The Bible does not command us to celebrate either the First Coming or the return of Jesus Christ. However, believers and followers of the Lord are permitted to rejoice because of the significance and meaning of these two events.

Why we celebrate
Jesus is the reason for the season. We do not celebrate a day, but rather we celebrate the fact that God, in the person of Jesus (Immanuel – which means God with us; Matt 1:23) came to save us from our sins. It was in Jesus that God gave us the greatest gift. He came to save us, and offer eternal life. He gives us that gift freely, by the riches of His grace. We celebrate the extravagant and lavish love of God that is demonstrated by the birth of Jesus Christ.
Regardless of when Jesus was actually born, our hearts overflow with thanksgiving and joy that God chose to send His Son into the world for our redemption. The Gospel does not require the celebration of Christmas, nor for that matter, that any particular festival occasion be observed.

Let us not condemn
It is fitting that we come together as Christian brothers and sisters to celebrate God’s love whenever we meet. Whether it is on Christian festivals such as Christmas and Easter, or some other annual occasions, we are free to joyfully give praise and honour to God as His beloved children. Every celebration is an expression of our love and devotion to God. Let each of us learn how to celebrate ‘unto the Lord’ without condemning those who do so in a different way. 