EBCoM hits 50


EBCoM hits 50 - but what of the future?

Revd R.E. Barr - EBCoM's first principal -  and family

"Thank you each one for your faithfulness to us. So often we have been conscious of prayer uplift as some of you have prayed. This is especially for prayer about a new project. The Mission has been given property just outside of Blantyre which we hope to develop into a site for a Bible Institute …  Yet, ‘Where HE leads, we will follow’.”

The words of Revd R.E. Barr , writing in The Africa Evangelical Fellowship’s (AEF) South African Pioneer magazine - before he took on the rôle as first principal of a new Bible College which had been set up in Blantyre. Revd Barr served with the AEF, which later merged with SIM International, for more than 40 years in Malawi.

The year he wrote those words was 1964. The Beatles were about to take the USA by storm on their first tour, playing to stadia full of screaming fans. In Africa, the latest nation to gain independence from Britain, Nyasaland, was about to become Malawi. On the outskirts of Blantyre, in that same country, a farmhouse owned by the AEF was about to open as the Likubula Bible Institute (LBI). Today that fledgling Institute is one of the principal Bible Colleges in Malawi and has been instrumental in service to the Malawian Church for half a century.

It was in the year 2000 that LBI became known by its current name, the Evangelical Bible College of Malawi (EBCoM), but while the name changed the work and commitment of the institution remained the same – preparing men and women to serve God as Pastors and Lay-Leaders across a range of denominations.

Indeed, the South African Pioneer of September/October 1970 stated that: “… the Likubula Bible Institute provides Bible training in the vernacular and prepares men, called of God, for the ministry of the Word to their own people.”

EBCoM - 50 years of serving the church in Malawi

Over the years, LBI/EBCoM has developed from that single farmhouse to a campus housing staff and students and offering a range of courses in both English and Chichewa (‘the vernacular’ of the 1960/70s!), preparing not only men but also women and even children - through its nursery programme - for future ministry.

So as EBCoM prepares to celebrate its Golden Anniversary we share Revd Barr’s gratitude to God and the many faithful supporters who have enabled the College to arrive at this milestone.

However, 2014 finds EBCoM facing a major crisis in terms of funding and the fabric of the facilities. As with many other institutions in Malawi, EBCoM has been hit by the global financial crisis. Devaluation of the Kwacha, the local currency, and inflation has meant that the finances of the College have become more precarious. In addition, the increased costs associated with the introduction of a new degree programme and some significant outstanding bad debts which must be written off mean that the financial position of the College has worsened dramatically over the last two years.

“EBCoM has been serving the Church in Malawi faithfully for 50 years and is rightly celebrating this achievement. The College finds itself in a sort of ‘chicken and egg’ situation. The annual costs of running the College in terms of local currency – equivalent to about US$86,000 – have risen because of the economic situation, but this same economic situation means that the students who want to come to the College and their local sponsors are less able to afford the fees,” said SIM Malawi’s Jacky Hammond who is involved in the anniversary celebrations.

The future - graduates in 2013 receiving congratulatins from friends and well wishers

“This makes it difficult to raise the fees to keep up with rising costs because that would mean even fewer students. The churches are trying to help but they are impacted in the same way, as their costs rise while their income, at best, stays the same, but too often diminishes.”

So, rather than marking the Golden Jubilee with lavish events, EBCoM is looking to launch a campaign to raise its profile to help bring in funds, both from inside Malawi and further afield, to help alleviate the immediate funding shortfall and to look at future developments.

“It is an ambitious campaign but we are praying that many will be willing to invest in theological education for church leaders by helping to underpin the future of EBCoM both in the short term and also over a longer timescale,” said Jacky Hammond.

“The details of the campaign are still being worked out and we hope to be able to launch it in the next few months.”

So while the immediate future is looking problematical, lessons from the past prove that God has met the needs of the College; the prayer is that He will do so again.

To mark the 50thAnniversary, Malawi Amoto will run further articles looking at the history of LBI/EBCoM in coming issues.