Graduation Celebration Like None Other
By Carl Stagner
The tassel’s worth the hassle! Forty-five students from Kima International School of Theology recently reached an important milestone in their lives: graduation. It was the fifteenth graduation ceremony at KIST, the Church of God institute for higher education in Kenya. Located in the highlands of the country, only thirty miles from the equator, KIST has an enrollment of about one hundred students. Current students, former students, family, and friends all joined in the event, which lasted about three hours on Saturday, July 24. The ceremony and celebrations featured the formalities that usually come with such an event but were carried out in a style uniquely beautiful to the culture.
The procession, which featured the school’s board of directors and faculty, exuded a sense of reverence for the serious accomplishment of the students. As the students marched onto the ceremonial grounds, the spirit of God prepared the hearts of all the participants for the importance of the day’s service. Principal Ron Jack extended special words of welcome to the students, leaders, and guests. Scriptures underscoring the significance of commencement were read; they spoke directly to the needs of the students. Dr. MaryAnn Hawkins, former missionary to Kenya and current professor at the Anderson University School of Theology, delivered the sermon from an exceptionally experienced point of view. The dean of students, Jeff Baltes, alongside the chair of the Board of Governors, Sarah Mainye, presided over the conferring of degrees and diplomas. There were twelve students who received a bachelor of arts degree in Bible and theology, six who received a diploma in Bible and theology, and twenty-seven who received a certificate in information technology.
In spite of the formal proceedings, the crowd of family and friends could not be restricted to a solemn ritual. Those who love the graduates the most let out shouts of joy as each one was called to the podium. Bob Edwards, Global Missions coordinator at Church of God Ministries, remarked, “Africans know how to celebrate. They do it with singing, dancing, and what is known in Swahili as vigelegele
: a high-pitched sound cause by the twirling of the tongue and done almost exclusively by the women. It is great.” Surely the celebration at the KIST graduation was a boisterous one. Edwards continued, “It soon broke down into hugs and cheerful embraces. Bright, shiny garlands and mementos were placed around the graduates necks, and then the joyous dancing began.”
In her sermon, Dr. MaryAnn Hawkins urged the students to keep in mind “that graduation is never the end, but always the beginning. God is not finished in their leadership development, but just getting started.” She emphasizes the vitality of the school in Kima: “The primary church leadership in both Tanzania and Uganda are KIST graduates.” She asserts that they are “instrumental in the multitude of programs that assist HIV/AIDS widows and orphans” and “will be a significant asset to the Church of God in East Africa.”
Graduation at the Kima International School of Theology is able to take place because of an extensive list of individuals and churches who have paved the way for the students and faculty. That list includes, but is certainly not limited to, missionaries, donors, national and local church leaders, and prayer warriors. Annual events such as the Heritage Sing-Along at the North American Convention of the Church of God also raise funds to sponsor students at KIST. The students are indebted to the Church. Church of God, thank you for your support!