Bible College – Accreditation

… Continued from “Campus at Jaela” …

Academic recognition is important as a Bible college gains maturity. In 1993, we invited the accreditation team of the Asian Theological Association to visit our college and evaluate it with a view to making an application for accreditation. They informed us that our Diploma in Theology was, with a few changes, equivalent to a Bachelor in Theology, and as we also had the qualified faculty required, accredited our Diploma in Theology. They also advised us to launch a Bachelor in Theology programme and encouraged us to have our other full-time teachers B.Th. qualified and work towards having our B.Th. accredited.

Rev William and Alvera Farrand

In September 1994, Elphege who had been working despite a serious health issue, decided to resign from his position and hand the responsibility to others. Prior to this, at the invitation of Rev Colton Wickramaratne, Rev William Farrand and his wife Alvera returned to Sri Lanka to evaluate the work and study programmes, and recommend any needed adjustments. Rev Farrand had years of experience in the Asian context at the Far Eastern Advanced School of Theology in the Philippines. They stayed on campus and worked closely with the members of the faculty in upgrading the Bible College. Rev Farrand introduced many new features. A trimester curriculum, dividing the academic year into five blocks of eight weeks; the study period for the Diploma in Theology trimmed to two years; an annual focus on World Missions in which the students participate and raise funds; and structural changes in the constitution and administration of the school.

Rev William Chelliah

In the same year, Rev Dr Colton Wickramaratne, who had served for twenty-four years as Principal, decided to relinquish his responsibilities. He was succeeded by Rev Michael Dissanayeke and in 1999, by Rev William Chelliah, who currently serves in this position.

In 1995, the B.Th. programme was launched with six students, two of whom were faculty members, with a view to faculty upgrading; two of the other four, Senaka de Silva and Frances Ratnavira, joined the faculty the next year. The overseas faculty included Dr Everett and Evelyn McKinney, Dr Bill and Alvera Farrand, Rev Deryk Tan and Rev Jim and Jeanne Lowell.

The ATA accrediting team evaluated the B.Th. programme in January the following year and provisionally accredited the programme, outlining three areas for development – which were the library collection, faculty upgrading and physical facilities.

Dwight and Anita Dobson

In 1999, Rev Dwight and Anita Dobson, who had served in the 1960s as missionaries in Sri Lanka, and had after a recent visit been burdened to throw their weight behind the development of AGBC, arrived to stay on campus and do their part.

With the assistance of Rev Dwight Dobson, the number of books in the library was doubled, to more than ten thousand volumes. By 2008, the collection had grown to twelve thousand volumes, with electronic and audio visual resources as well. Providing a comprehensive collection in all three languages has been a boon to the students, particularly those in the local languages. The librarian, Sis Ira de Silva had professional training at SABC/ATA the next year and the facility was enlarged as well.

The faculty upgrading programme was launched in 1997. Sis Sandra Chelliah was sent to Asia Pacific Theological Seminary in the Philippines and returned the next year with a Master in Ministry qualification. By 1998 the entire faculty, both full-time and part-time, had been trained at B.Th. level, with two at Masters level. Rev Anulananda Ratnavira returned from SABC with a M.Div. degree in 1999. Rev Senaka de Silva received his M.Min. degree in Singapore, making it possible for AGBC to handle the Bachelor’s Degree with its local faculty. In 2005, the Principal, Rev William Chelliah, completed his Ph.D. in Counselling, and in 2008 two other faculty members, Senaka de Silva and Sandra Chelliah pursued their doctoral studies at SABC. Other junior members of the faculty have also been sent abroad for further studies.

With the growth of the school, there has always been pressure on the available facilities. Rev Dobson would pointedly ask, “Do you have a dream?” He certainly had and was used much by the Lord in realising it. He would relentlessly pursue the construction of buildings, purchase of land and focus attention on the funding need both here and abroad. With unbounded energy he made his dream a reality. Gigantic costs were only a mountain to be moved by faith. It was not only buildings, but also the provision of modernised communications with computers and office equipment.

As early as 1996 five new apartments were constructed on top of one of the buildings, to provide residential facilities for student families. In November 2001, work began on the construction of a three storey building with accommodation for forty girls, and two apartments for visiting faculty, and an 8-bed pastors dormitory. It is a huge ‘faith project’ with funds raised both locally and abroad. In 2004, a property with a factory building on it, adjoining the AGBC property, became available and it was bought and made into a Pastors’ Resource Centre. It extended the reach of AGBC in the Assemblies of God of Ceylon family to the continuing education of serving pastors. In 2009, it was decided to revamp the administrative and chapel building, in keeping with the growing needs of the school. It contains an air-conditioned auditorium, now seating 700, an additional hall, classrooms, an enlarged library, with the existing administrative rooms on the lower ground floor. The building was dedicated in March 2011, and the enlarged auditorium was appropriately named Dobson Auditorium, in recognition of Rev Dwight Dobson’s immense contribution to developing the school.

Apart from buildings AGBC has been blessed with costly equipment – an electricity generator (2001) to keep energy costs down, and a 26-seater bus (2002) to facilitate student ministry projects in the outstations.

When the ATA accreditation team visited the college in 2002 they were impressed with the progress over the years, and having asked for minor adjustments to the credit hour calculation, were pleased to give full accreditation to all AGBC’s programmes.