ACR chats to Uni ministry campus director Ryan van der Avoort about what compelled him to move from South Africa to Sydney to study at Moore Theological College.
1) For a bit of context, how would you describe the state of the church in South Africa?
I can only comment from my pockets of experience but overall, like many places around the world, it’s messy. That’s a good reminder to me that ultimately only the Lord keeps us: we’re creatures of his mercy from first to last, as individuals and as local church communities.
One common thread is that the Scriptures are poorly taught, and so Christ is often poorly proclaimed in all his sovereign beauty. Cultural Christianity is still very much a thing in SA, although that’s shifting in some parts. Charismatic and Pentecostal forms of Christianity are the most widespread and fastest growing. Several denominations and expressions of Christianity seem to be dying a slow death under the combined weight of liberal theology, syncretism, division, poor leadership or simple corruption. And the prosperity ‘gospel’ is rife, as is the case in much of Africa. Cults continue to worm their way in – especially some newer ones from South Korea.
Although they are not the only proclaimers of the gospel, I’ve been encouraged by small groundswells of what we might call Reformed Evangelical belief, with their desire to point to Christ from the Scriptures. I’ve been particularly heartened by the godly and zealous leadership of REACH-SA (formerly CESA) as a denomination, and theological colleges such as George Whitefield College in Cape Town, as well as Mukhanyo College and Johannesburg Bible College have also been sources of encouragement. There have been some encouraging fresh movements of the gospel out into the township and rural areas of SA, as well as onto university campuses. The main drivers there often seem to be heavily influenced by some well-known American pastors like MacArthur, Sproul, Piper, Washer and a few others– YouTube has extended their reach! Do pray that some of the next younger generation so keen for Reformed theology will have their zeal matched by consistent godliness, gentleness and compassion.
2) You chose to move to Australia for four years of theological training (at Moore College in Sydney). How did you first hear about Moore and what made you decide to move?
Moore was floated as a potential option when I was still studying at my local Durban university. But while I was doing my ministry apprenticeship it became clear that it was too expensive and so it was quickly shelved as a pipedream. In God’s providence however, a Sydney Anglican minister came out to South Africa and through him, with the support of my local minister, Moore became a reality. I ended up at Moore for four years, provided for mostly by generous Australian Christians who retain my deep gratitude.
I went because of the tremendous opportunity. Moore is, in my opinion, one of the finest theological colleges in the world. It has a rich history of encouraging its students to carefully read and wrestle with the Scriptures and Christian theology. Its resources, even just in the library, but not to forget its impressive faculty, are massive.
3) What were some of the challenges in moving so far to study?
Being quickly surrounded by warm and kind Australian Christians from Moore and my local Sydney church made my move easier than perhaps for others. It certainly helped with homesickness – which is a challenge. I found navigating a new culture to be something, but not overly taxing. I’d say overall moving felt more like a great adventure than a great challenge.
4) What aspects of your time at Moore have most impacted your ministry in South Africa?
Originally I had not wanted to do live-in theological education. I wanted to do it via correspondence while continuing with local ministry. But looking back, that relational and residential element of Moore deeply shaped and impacted who I was when I returned to SA.
Secondly, while I went with some groundings, Moore grew me theologically most of all. It equipped me for careful exegesis in practice. I loved the push to engage with a wide breadth of theological thought. Moore gave me the tools to keep growing theologically even now.
5) On reflection, was moving overseas for training worth it?
When I went, I prayed that God would use my time, not only to shape me in my knowledge and love of God, but also that the theological training, my experience of Christianity overseas, as well as the relationships and partnerships would benefit my local region when I returned. I would say it was worth it because the areas I prayed for were richly blessed!