By Reuben van Rensburg

As we come to the close of 2016 – the year of our 20 th anniversary and “20 years of God’s grace and favour”, it has indeed been a very significant time. Every month we have marked the occasion with a special event, which has involved all our staff. We stand in awe at what has been accomplished since our humble beginnings in 1996. From our first home in a prefabricated building in the grounds of the Lonehill Village Church to the very beautiful premises we now own in Bryanston, God has provided all we needed in each phase of our growth. He is indeed a gracious and amazing God!

Shrinking liberal institutions

The trend internationally is that evangelical institutions are growing while liberal institutions are shrinking. SATS exhibited at two of the pre-eminent conferences in the US on Christian higher education this month. Our discussions with a number of students confirmed this trend.

US growth opportunities

The landscape of theological education is changing incredibly fast, and it is clear that SATS is well positioned to capitalise on current developments. SATS’ doctoral programme is extremely competitively priced (see our blog post on show in San Antonio/ ) particularly for the US and Canadian markets, and we are receiving an increasing number of enquiries from students wanting to do their PhD’s through us.
We are delighted by this and give God all the glory!
A growing number of our graduates are also enrolling for a second or third qualification with SATS, which is encouraging and confirms their confidence in us and that their qualification has met, and hopefully surpassed, their expectations.

Distance learning advantage

When Chris Peppler took the monumental decision 20 years ago to start a distance education seminary, many frowned upon the wisdom of providing theological education online. As we review the current status of seminaries globally and the struggle to provide affordable education, particularly among those that are campus-based, we are grateful for his original vision and foresight. This year alone we have over 2100 active students from over 75 countries.
Our Postgraduate School continues to expand, and although we have only been accredited for the PhD in Theology for eight-and- a-half years, we already have 94 candidates enrolled currently, with a further 41 having graduated. In addition to the strong partnering with SATS, which we forged in earlier years, 2015 saw the addition of eight new partnering with SATS, including one each in Korea, the US, the DRC and Brazil.
This year we have added a few more, including Hatfield Church, and others are under discussion. The South African Department of Higher Education and Training has been clamping down on unregistered institutions, as well as on partnering with SATS between some private institutions and public universities, and we expect that one of the results will be a greater interest among churches and smaller institutions to consider partnering with SATS.

Revisions to our curriculum

Good progress has been made on redesigning the structured MTh programme, as well as the redevelopment of some of the Honours courses, while many of the BTh courses are being rewritten as part of our curriculum review process. We continue to work on a new programme called the Higher Certificate in Christian Leadership.
Each year we add new programming to our purpose-written software and this year has been a bumper year in that regard.

As we speak we are in the final phases of programming, which will result in more efficient administrative processes for our students and major improvements to the MySats user experience, which means that from the start of their journey to its completion, students will be able to do absolutely everything online, even from a smartphone.
These processes will free up our staff to be able to strengthen inter-personal relationships with students, even further. We have also upgraded our audio-visual system to enhance the communication system with staff and other contacts.

Chinese and Islam opportunities

During the year we received a number of special guests from different parts of the world, including a delegation from the China Christian Council, who were most impressed with our modus operandi. Our hope is that at some stage they will begin to send us some doctoral students, for whom we have a generous scholarship fund available.
We have also placed a heavy emphasis on Islam this year, especially as the events surrounding the Middle East have escalated. We are developing a new course on Islam and we recently announced the winner of a doctoral scholarship (part of our 20th anniversary celebrations), which is focussed on Islam. (See our blog post ground-with- new-course- on-ministry-to- muslim-people/)
So you can see it has been a very busy year. I would like to particularly commend our amazing staff, who have worked incredibly hard to accomplish the things I have mentioned and far, far more. I would also like to pay tribute to staff who at one time in our 20-year history worked for us and then moved on, but who made a significant contribution towards getting us to where we are today.

Future plans

What will the future hold? There are many new possibilities to explore, but the most important thing is that we are open to hearing God’s voice and responding accordingly. It is very clear from the many opportunities that are coming our way, that God has His hand on us and we look forward to continue serving Him and playing our part in extending His Kingdom.
Thank you students for your support and belief in us and for your ongoing prayer. We will continue to strive to serve your best interests in all our endeavours.