SPECIAL INTEREST FEATURES
Student Life at SBS
The School of Biblical Studies in Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria has graduated over 600 students in her 29 year history. From her humble beginnings that included one building amidst the rocks just off of the Ring Road, it has grown to include classroom and dormitory facilities adequate for over 200 students. The once sparsely populated area surrounding the schools has been covered with a sea of houses and the buzz of people. Even though the surroundings and the campus facilities have changed, one thing remains the same—wonderful and dedicated students.
While on the campus of SBS in May, 2018 for their annual lectureship and graduation, I was fortunate enough to sit down and speak to two graduating students. Ogbonna Onyekachi Vincent and Terna Lucy Doosuur agreed to give me a glimpse into student life at SBS. I asked them to give me details about their daily life, and I thought that you might also be interested in hearing what it is like. One cannot help but notice the contrasting differences between their college experience and the typical experience of American students.
The day begins early for students of SBS. All students are required to be up and attend a 5:20 a.m. devotion Monday–Friday. This is the first of 3 daily devotionals. After the morning devotional there is morning “labor” in which the students are required to cleanup around the campus. There are no funds to hire an extensive cleaning or grounds crew, so these tasks fall primarily to the students. Following the morning cleanup, the students have from 7:30–8:00 to have their breakfast. This does not mean that they can head over to the dining hall to grab a warm sausage biscuit. Instead, the students are all responsible for providing and preparing their own food. Like most things in their daily life, this also has its challenges. Sometimes the students’ families or their local church can send money for rice and other staples, but sometimes the students are on their own to find food. Electricity is usually not available and the only means of cooking are the outside wood burning kitchens. At present, all 137 students have to share a small number of available spaces, but there will be more outdoor kitchens attached to the men’s dormitory—once we raise the money to complete them. The dining hall furniture consists of the rocky terrain upon which the campus sits. Students find a rock or available place to sit to take their meals. There are no tables, chairs, or dedicated dining areas available for them.
Breakfast must be eaten quickly. Classes begin promptly at 8:00 a.m. and students are expected to be in class before then. The academic load at SBS is heavy. Each student is expected to carry 19–24 semester hours each semester to complete their 4 year degree. That means that classes last until sometimes 3:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon. During this class day there is an afternoon devotional from 12:50–1:20 and a short break for lunch 1:20–1:50. On Wednesday all students are expected to attend Bible study at 5:00–6:00 p.m. Also, both male and female students attend a preacher’s club meeting at 6:00 p.m. on Thursdays.
The evening activities are different for the male and female students. The female students have an evening devotional at 6:20 and are required to return straight back to their walled dormitory afterward. The male students have an evening devotional at 8:50 p.m. and then are required to be back inside their dormitory by 10:00 p.m. Student movement is very restricted and the male and female students do not interact at night. While the female students are inside their dormitory area, the male students are just outside their dormitory or they may take the short walk to the classroom building where the one TV available to them is mounted. Electricity is usually not available, but when it is they are able to watch some videos. There is no subscription for programming.
The weekend brings a change of schedule. Each student is required to go out for evangelism every weekend. They go out by 3:00 on Friday afternoon and return by 6:00 for their devotionals. On Saturday mornings they are up and out by 9:00 a.m. Some of the students travel to distant places with a group and will usually overnight in someone’s house and then return on Sunday afternoon. Those who are working locally are to be back on campus by 4:00 p.m. on Saturday. Of course, all students are expected to attend a worship service on Sunday.
With the tight daily schedule there are also other basic needs that must be met. Each student is responsible for doing their own laundry. There are no washing machines or Laundromats. Each student hand washes their laundry and spreads it out on the rocks to dry. This must be done early in the morning or perhaps between services on Sunday. Laundry is important not only for obvious reasons, but because there is a strict dress code that must be adhered to and a violation of the dress code would entail extra labor as a punishment. Bathing is also a challenge. The women’s dormitory does not have any hot water heaters.
The heavy academic load requires many hours of study, but the dorm rooms, both male and female, contain only a few desks and chairs scattered throughout. This makes studying even more difficult since the students do not have a place to sit and work. The library facilities are well-maintained and many items have been generously donated, but they often do not include “scholarly” materials that are required for this level of research and writing. There is no internet service available to the students, unless they purchase airtime for their cellular phones, so that also limits their access to online study materials. The ever-present challenge of no electricity also impacts the students nightly study habits. Fortunately, during exam weeks the school’s generator will be used until 10:00 p.m. to allow for extra light. These challenges become exhausting to the 4th year students who are required to write a project that ranges from 45–100 pages. Somehow, they manage.
Another very important aspect to student life is health. The healthcare system in Nigeria is very different from what we see in the US. The Nigerian system is a pay-as-you go system. If you don’t have the funds to go, then you do not get treated. Thankfully, through the generosity of Christians in the US we have been able to provide some funds for medicines (about $500 per year), some bandages, antibiotic ointments, OTC medicines, and lady’s needs to help the 137 enrolled students who struggle just to buy food. There is a need for some type of small infirmary on campus with a medically trained person on staff who could attend to basic medical necessities.
The school also has a very helpful agriculture program. This is a wonderful opportunity for the students to learn advanced techniques that will be helpful for them when they leave SBS. There are not many “full-time” paid preachers in Nigeria. Most all of the students who preach will be required to supplement their income, or feed their families, with some type of agricultural endeavor. The students who are enrolled in this program are allotted a plot of ground on the school’s campus to farm. They are expected to tend to their farms daily. With the rigors of their daily schedule the farm work must be done very early in the morning before the 5:20 a.m. devotional.
As you can imagine, I was very impressed by the dedication and discipline exhibited by the students of SBS. After reviewing their daily routine, I asked them what they would like to see change in the future for the students who are coming after them. I expected to hear something related to the many comforts that are missing from their life, but the first thing that Vincent mentioned was upgrades to the library and desks at which to work in the dormitory. He wants to be able to learn even more about God and His word than he is already learning. Vincent also expressed a desire to have some Bibles and tracts to use in their evangelism outings. That shows the heart of these students and this institution. Dedication, sacrifice, and discipline to serve God are the defining characteristics of students and staff. Vincent and Lucy also went on to say that they would like to see more facilities to socialize and exercise. Their exercise facilities primarily consist of a gravelly soccer field that is on the side of a small hill, and their only common place to socialize (for the male students, the female students are not allowed to be there in the evening) is the TV room in the classroom building. They also expressed an interest in better equipment to use in their cleaning around campus.
As our conversation concluded, Vincent and Lucy were quick to mention that the disciplined and spiritually oriented lifestyle has prepared them for the rigors of service to God when they leave SBS. They are very appreciative for the opportunity to study at SBS and for the staff—who have their own challenges. I have attended 8 consecutive SBS graduations and have gotten to know many of the graduates and alumni. I have always been impressed by their devotion and dedication to their professors and SBS, but it was not until I talked with these two students that I realized why that dedication and devotion was so strong. When those who are “in Christ” endure the challenges of this life for His glory, then fellowship becomes much deeper, dependence upon God becomes a necessity, and our eyes become fixed on the city whose builder and maker is God. God Bless!