Reginold Soundararajah Siyastan, graduating with High Distinction through a GPA of 4.0/4.0, and at the top of his class from Baldaeus Theological College (BTC) on 30 Jan. 2020, led the graduation procession proudly holding the college flag. Dean/Registrar Newton Jeyaraj was given a Long Service Gold Medal for 20 years of service, beginning at the foundation of the college.
The occasion marked BTC’s 20 years in Trincomalee, and the graduation of 72 students, some of whom were war victims without limbs. Thirty-one students earned their B.Th. degree completing 135 credits including languages (English, Tamil, Greek and Hebrew), ministry, and civic engagement. There were 4 High Distinctions, and 2 Distinctions. In addition, 20 earned a Diploma and 22 a Certificate.
BTC founder, Dr. Charles Ratnamuktan Alban Hoole, returned to Sri Lanka after earning his doctorate in Religious Studies from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., and teaching at British and South African universities and theological colleges. In Sri Lanka, he made it his vocation to train clergy ordinands in a university-like multi-denominational setting.
Charles Ratnamuktan appropriately named the college after Phillipus Baldaeus, the first Dutch missionary to come to us as a young widower. He travelled all over the North and East, left a historically significant description of the land and translated sections of the New Testament and creeds into Tamil in the eighteenth century. Reliable records show that almost all Sri Lankans belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church then.
The Need for Baldaeus
Teaching at Colombo’s Theological Seminary, CTS, in the 1990s, Charles Ratnamuktan found that ministers-in-training from the North and the East were being held up on the way from and to home as terrorism suspects. This necessitated their wives’ accompanying them to ease suspicion. When arrested and the word terrorist was used, even southern Christians did not wish to get involved in providing relief. Once when the Seminary hostel closed, and the authorities wanted all students to go home, he accommodated a student in his home while the student waited for his wife to come to accompany him; that did not go well with his bosses. The last straw was when the management forced him as Dean to accept as Lecturer a Pastor (related to a high up in Management) on punishment for messing around with women in his flock.
All this made Charles determined to establish a principled theological college for the North East, obviating the need for Tamils to travel South. Joined by his wife, Jacqueline Patricia Hoole, a CMS Missionary then from Afghanistan/Pakistan, they together raised the funds and built up the beautiful college on a four-acre campus in Adukkubar, near Nilaveli, off the Sixth Mile Post and by the beach.
Today Dr. Sam Thevabalasingam of Every Home Crusade chairs the Board of Governors, and Charles Ratnamuktan’s sister-in-law Prof. Dushyanthi Hoole runs the school as Principal/College President. Jacqui Hoole returned from the UK for the Graduation as the Chief Guest.
There were two Guests of Honor, Hon. Rajavarothayam Sampanthan, MP and Leader of the Tamil National alliance; and Andreas Zurbrugg, Director for the Sri Lanka/Cameroon Mission for Serve and Multiply Global (a.k.a. SAM-Global), a Swiss missionary institute and service agency that runs a construction school on the BTC campus with no charge to students. The college besides by many well-wishers, is supported by SAM-Global, St. James’ Church in Cambridge England, and Der Verre Naasten from the Netherlands (DVN).
Mr. Sampanthan greeting the students said,
“I am happy to see BTC rocking [the] trend by being in Trincomalee. … BTC has grown. It trains poor pastors into educated men and women and helps people in the locality through social service. I note happily that of its 5 principals, two are women including the present principal. BTC’s presence created the development atmosphere to bring Eastern University’s Trincomalee Campus to Konesapuri. Your very presence keeps repression and the ravages of a war without witnesses away from our people.
“As a proud product of a mission school myself, I am acutely aware of the importance of this training by example in making good citizens. I look forward to your continued sustenance of one of the poorest parts of Sri Lanka, bringing to us education, development and the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
What a wonderful testimony!
Says Principal Dushy Hoole, “We work on a tight annual budget of Rs. 11.5 million. At present, have about 40 students. Our curriculum consists of uncompromised traditional theology while we also teach accounts and accountability, grant writing, human rights and ethics, public speaking, IT, and Office Skills and Equipment. Civic engagement among the poor is a must, focusing on the still recovering victims of the 2004 Tsunami and war victims. Our degree is accredited by Asia Theological Association. We are able to innovate, for example, getting entry-level students to read off Tin Tin books in public. This overcomes their initial shyness about the English language and increases their enthusiasm for learning English. Our products are at least as good as those from state universities. We thank God and our donors in making our ministry students upright citizens for God.”
On Friday, the Charles Ratnamuktan Alban Conference Hall was declared open at BTC by his son Mahilyesan who with 4 A* grades in the London ALs has just entered Imperial College London to read French and Chemistry. (That 4-year BSc-M.Sc. program involves studying the fourth year with instruction in French). Here he studied at Hindu College Trincomalee and then St. Xavier’s College Mannar.
That hall opening was followed by a seminar on Charles Ratnamuktan’s doctoral thesis, Parallel Sanyasis (about how the missions established a parallel society with monastic traditions). The Rt. Rev. Dr. Subramaniam Jebanesan, retired Bishop of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India chaired a discussion and presented a paper on Palmyra Theology the next day. There were other papers by Reginold Siyastan, Newton Jeyaraj and Ratnajeevan Hoole. The conference is part of the research training at BTC.
Thanks to Principal Dushyanthi Hoole’s vision, the BTC profile has been enlarged and the students have a new self-confidence. She holds a PhD in chemistry under Nobel Laureate George Olah, and is trained in Eastern Music. Her creation, Aathi Antham Illathavarey (He with neither beginning nor end), was set to music from the monastic traditions of the Church as appropriate to the founding ideals, and was sung during the recession. The monastic music, as in chants, is new to Sri Lanka except in a few churches. Dr. Rohan Saverimuthu and Pastor Tharan trained the choir over many hours.
Dushyanthi took over in June 2019 when the college was run to near insolvency and donors stopped giving for lack of accountability. All but one donor have returned after she instituted proper financial controls.
Challenges remain, however. Chief among these is the party spirit among new churches trying to take the college away from its true multi-denominational status without affiliation to any particular church. This fissiparous tendency was cited by the Lord Bishop of Trincomalee, The Rt. Rev. Noel Emmanuel in declining the invitation, leaving only one Roman Catholic at the function. Dushyanthi’s contribution is in accepting students from any church that baptizes in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost as in Christ’s Commission to His Church. Another challenge is that the end of the war makes Colombo colleges attractive again.
Yet another dimension is the problem that Charles Ratnamuktan faced in accommodating errant Pastors at the expense of the Mission. When a good preacher well versed in the Bible steals, it is soul-wrenching to accept reality. Followers are programmed to cover up. It has been a slow process getting a professional, external auditor from Colombo, E. Winslow, to go through the audit report for 2018, a year late. He declared formally at the AGM after the convocation with donors present, “As an experienced accountant, I am of the view that this amounts to cash misappropriation which can be termed as fraud.”
Board members are since even more supportive of the Principal despite loyalties. The success of the convocation has now made churches that threatened to pull out their students because their Pastors were asked to give account, to change their minds.
Accountability, in every sense, is a must for religious organizations to have credibility.