May-June-July 2020 Newsletter

On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand

Edward Mote

Dear Friends and Family,

It has been a few months since our last newsletter. As you know, I usually make every effort to write at least once a month. However, nothing much changed as we remained under a strict lockdown here in South Africa. So I did not write because I felt (perhaps incorrectly) I had nothing to share. However, a lot has happened in the past few weeks, so this month’s newsletter will be quite long!

Before I report what is happening, as always we would like to thank all of our ministry partners for your faithfulness to us during the COVID-19 crisis. We know of many people who have faced severe hardships as a result of recent events, but through it all God has remained faithful to us as I know he has to you as well. Your prayers and notes of support have been encouraging, and your gifts in support of our ministry have allowed us to continue our ministry without interruption. So we give thanks to God and to you for your generosity!

Our House in South Africa

This note might be of particular interest for those who have visited us in Cape Town. We live in Fish Hoek, a town that was founded a century ago by a few brave souls who built houses literally on top of the sand dunes that extend far back from the nearby beach. A local newspaper reporter recently wrote a newspaper article about a property development across the street from our house. As part of her research she contacted the local historical society, who unearthed some century-old pictures of the area that show what our house looked like when it was built. The picture I’ve included in the newsletter shows our house (under the red arrow) from the back. In an unusual coincidence, a daughter of the family who built the house grew up to become editor of the same newspaper as the reporter working on the story!

In reflecting on the history of our house, which turns 100 this year, I thought about how God has sustained it despite its location on top of a sand dune (in fact, the original name of our house was “Sandhills”!). In Matthew 7:26 Jesus cautions about building your house on the sand. We often act like that foolish person by making choices that don’t merit God’s favour, yet God continues to show us grace that we don’t deserve. So perhaps our house attests to God’s undeserved sustaining power in our lives.

SATS Ministry Update

Ministry at the South African Theological Seminary (SATS) continues despite the lockdown. My role at SATS should ultimately be more focused on research and supervising research students, but for the next little while I continue to focus on changes to SATS’s IT systems. We are nearing the end of our first term in Canvas. I have recently spent most of my time working on changes to the Student Information System. This week we will be giving all our lecturers access to new tools that will enable them to manage their courses, quickly identify struggling students so that they can be proactive in giving help, and and facilitate end of term processes such as course moderation, student course evaluations, and the submission and approval of grades. Within the next few weeks I hope to complete changes to a new user interface that will automate many of the tasks needed by our academic administrators. This has been a long project but we are beginning to see much fruit from it. Tomorrow evening I will be presenting an overview of these changes and my vision for the future to the SATS board of directors. Please pray that this will go well, for God’s glory.

Despite the heavy IT burden, I am continuing to work with students. Just recently one of my Masters students completed their programme when their thesis was approved by the internal and external examiners. I received a very touching note from the student (“I very much appreciate your help”) who included this in his acknowledgements: “I deeply appreciate my supervisor, Rev Dr Timothy Churchill for excellent and helpful chats, his dedication to quality and his encouragement.”

New Ministry Opportunity?

Our family experienced many changes over the past year as I took up a new position at SATS. I recently began to assess my ministry now that I am more familiar with what life with SATS looks like. I can say that my role at SATS exactly fits my personality and my gifts, so I am thriving in the position. However, since my work at SATS is entirely remote, the lockdown has also driven me to consider how I might also get involved with a more “hands-on” ministry in our community. So I began to pray that God would provide such an opportunity. Just this week I was approached by the head of a local organization that seems to be the answer to my prayer. Please pray that God will give me confirmation that this is indeed the right “face-to-face” ministry opportunity to complement my primary ministry at SATS.

Helping Other Institutions and Organizations

Since arriving in Africa I have developed an IT system for administering academic institutions. This system is already in use by several colleges in a number of countries. I have been approached by more institutions asking for help, but have resisted as my time is limited. However, with the wise counsel of some leaders I trust, I have begun to consider ways to implement this system for more institutions in a sustainable way. I have a number of projects underway, but will soon need someone to take on a full-time position to develop and support the system. I am hesitant to share more now, but hope to share more as things become more certain. Please pray that God will give me wisdom on how to proceed as I believe that this project has huge potential to benefit schools and other organizations in many places around the world.

Prayer Requests

  • Please continue to pray for our family, and indeed for all of us, as we continue to be impacted by the global pandemic
  • Pray for Kristina as she bears the load of managing our household during the lockdown, and waits for news of when iThemba school will reopen so that she can resume her volunteer ministry with the children there
  • Praise God that my chronic headaches seem to be a thing of the past. I had suffered with severe migraine-like headaches for decades, and have sought extensive medical help to no avail. But since a seemingly unrelated medication change earlier this year, I have only had one headache in the past five months, and none in the past four?! Please pray that God will continue to bless me with pain-free days
  • Pray for our married children. John and Anna, and their families as the babies continue to grow!
  • Pray for Sarah, who expects to complete her Bachelor of Theology degree from SATS in January
  • Pray for Katie, who recently completed Grade 12 and has applied to study at SATS with the intention of also studying education so that she can work with children

Blessings in Christ,

Tim & Kristina Churchill