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Powering theological education in the Solomons

Rev Dr Robert Bos, Consultant, Seghe Theological Seminary and his wife Ainslie Bos. Photo supplied by UnitingWorld

PAST Director of Pilgrim Learning Community Rev Dr Rob Bos is taking up the challenge in his retirement of training ministers in the Solomon Islands.

He has just left for a one month teaching stint at Seghe Theological Seminary in the Solomons, where he will focus on how Scripture can be used to respond to issues affecting Solomon Islanders today.

Several years ago, Dr Bos participated in an official assessment of the theological education at Seghe conducted by the church.

"I realised how much there was to be done, and felt that in my retirement I had something to offer," he says.

Enrolments at Seghe Theological College are robust.

"The students are very committed. Because of the distances and poor communications, it's hard for families and local church communities to provide moral or financial support for the students. But they persevere, and make a lot of sacrifices to graduate."

The United Church in Solomon Islands accounts for about 80 to 90 per cent of the country's population – and about 60 000 people in the Western Province, where Seghe is located.

"In most villages the United Church is the anchor both spiritually and socially," says UnitingWorld's Bruce Mullan, Associate Director for Church Solidarity (Pacific).

"Along with the village chief, the minister is the key person in the community, and probably also one of the most educated. So it's important to ensure that theological education is of the highest quality."

Dr Bos says despite the challenges, belief in the transforming power of the Gospel to bring about change for the people of the Solomons is strong.

"The faculty are committed to the use of the Scriptures to deal with big-picture issues like globalisation," he says.

"There's concern in the Solomons over logging and mining."

And what does he believe he can offer students who have sacrificed so much to study at Seghe Theological College?

"I hope that I'll help them ask the right questions of the text. They really only have the Bible – no internet or commentaries! I hope they'll acquire some skills in biblical interpretation to make the text relevant."

Dr Bos and his wife Ainslie, also a retired minister, will live on campus, relying on the help of neighbours for their meals.

"Food is what you grow and catch yourself," Dr Bos explains.

"There are some shops, but just for provisions such as white rice, noodles and canned corned beef. The weather will also be an adjustment – at 8 degrees south of the equator, it's unrelenting."

Dr Bos is taking small solar packs for lighting to Seghe Theological College and accessing generators for modest items like mobile phone chargers.

Diesel for larger generators is difficult to procure and electricity remains a luxury outside the larger cities such as Honiara.

"I have 22 years' experience in Aboriginal work and while the Melanesian setting is different, there are some similarities," he says.

"I imagine that when I teach from the prophets Amos and Hosea there'll be dialogue about where this teaching illuminates what's actually happening for people right now."

The Uniting Church in Australia supports theological education for the United Church in Solomon Islands through UnitingWorld.

Theological education is also supported in Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, Zimbabwe, Fiji, Tonga, India and West Timor.

For more information, contact Kathy Pereira at UnitingWorld.

Photo : Rev Dr Robert Bos, Consultant, Seghe Theological Seminary and his wife Ainslie Bos. Photo supplied by UnitingWorld