For the past 26 years, the West Africa Theological Seminary (WATS), has provided theological education and leadership training for the Church in Nigeria. In this interview, Provost of the seminary, Dr. Willam Udotong, explained to DAYO EMMANUEL, what the institution, established by American missionaries, Dr. Gary Maxey and his wife represents. According to him, the non-denominational institution has provided the needed discipleship and leadership training for the past 26 years and forging ahead to spread to other parts of the West African sub-region.
How has WATS influenced the body of Christ in Nigeria these 26 years?
As you know WATS stands for leadership development and our driving passion has been how do we put responsible leadership in our church, in the market place etc, and that is what we have done in the past 26 years and of course we would continue to do that and you know we live in a very important time, the time when the church in Nigeria experiences growth and at the same time the church is also faced with the challenge of getting responsible leadership to manage that growth. Effective outreach and so WATS has culminated in leadership and close to that is the idea of discipleship that we have to move forward from the aspect of being Christians, born again to the point of when we know that believers who are coming to Christ are intentionally discipled and I also believe that the church exists for missions and one of the things we have done is to train leaders who are mission minded. So we also send our students into mission fields, some of them have ended up as career missionaries to us this is important and this is the way to bring change and transformation.
Since WATS is non denominational, what extent has the seminary enjoyed relationship with denominations we have around?
That is one of our strength that we have good relationship with pentecostal churches and main line churches. That has come out of several years of interactions with them and they also know that we are authentic and concerned about academics and we are also mindful of spirituality. So we have enjoyed good relationship with church leaders. There might be a few that look at us from afar, but generally our student strength, we can talk about a hundred plus who are from various denominations, then of course the same thing with our staff compositions. Different denominations and we also look at the levels of our spiritual leadership; this is one of our strength that we could minister to the body of Christ. We have engaged good relationship with church leaders, there might be a few others that look at us from far in our students body at a given time we talk about 100 different denominations represented here then of course, the same thing with our staff composition, differ denominations we also look at the level of interaction we have with these leaders, it is been our strength to be able to minister to the body of Christ.
How have you coped with the WATS community that you said at every point draws members from about 100 denominations?
I don’t think we have had issues because people still go back to their churches to worship god based on their practice. What we have is the variety of what is inspired that goes on in a particular church, but in terms of how we move on with all of them, I think we have done well, sometimes there could be pockets of people, but generally people move in to do the right thing.
WATS has cut across over a quarter of a century. After this 25th convocation and 25th year of existence, what is next?
We are still pushing ahead, we are moving forward, we want to make sure the seminary is positioned to be able to deliver quality Christian education and as the same time we want to make sure there is emphasis on spiritual things, we want to be able to send out more church planters, we want to continue to grow our student body and to see how the society is changing and we are looking at various format we can present and deliver our lectures, we want to get the programs closer to Nigeria and west Africa. The future is bright and we trust God to help us.
The seminary is called West Africa Theological Seminary, any plant of moving to the west Africa sub region soon?
That is what I just mentioned, that is the project we are working on now by the grace of God.
What are we expecting at the convocation?
Well we have said the program kicks off with a conference on WATS institute for pastoral excellence it is a two days power packed transformational preaching conference, international guest speakers are coming to speak on those days and back up with our local pastors here, that is going to be really huge and of course the graduation ceremony which would mark many of our students coming in and about 100 students graduating in our various programmes commemorating 25th convocation, we are grateful to God , we trust Him and we are looking at the future.
How far has WATS gone with the accreditation with JAMB?
First of all, we are a seminary we also have our BA in theology which is affiliated to University of Nigeria, Nsukka. We also recently completed our accreditation with the Association of Christian Theological Education in Africa.
You mentioned that WATS community is made up of about 100 denominations, these denominations do have their beliefs and doctrines, how has WATS been able to galvanise and handle these students some of who are leaders in their various denominations. Any challenge in this regard?
I don’t think they come with different beliefs, I mean they have their different churches practice which is okay, we all do, but I believe when you are at WATS, you plug into what we are doing here we stand for Christianity, we require everyone coming here to sign up, I mean to be part of it, we are not going to require whatever your church practices, we have a central worship place, I don’t think we have had issues because people return to their churches to worship God based on their practices.
What are the challenges here at WATS?
We are the institution at the fore front of spiritual battle; to do what we have to do we receive our own share of beating from the kingdom of darkness. There is the challenge of finance because we have to provide scholarship for the students; we are responsible for providing spiritual values and other things. I think that is one of the challenges we face here.
In your capacity as the provost, how do you advise the federal government, which just recently marked 100 days in office. What is, your advise especially in terms of the anti corruption crusade?
We need action, action more than body language; we need a holistic approach to the fight against corruption that takes into account the different facets of our society and our national life. Those who are corrupt defiantly should be held accountable, but beyond that, we need education. We need education that re-emphasise and upholds our value. Corruption is a function of breakdown of our value system over time, so we can’t be talking about fight against corruption and the people are same. Take for instance a child is going for exam and parents are paying for the child to see the questions before the exams. We need to go beyond paying lip service, NLC is carrying placard today to support the government in the war, they have to deal with themselves first, they should look at themselves first, it should not only be targeted at the political class, it should be total. It is a systemic problem. Fighting corruption and these guys are still on the road collecting money. I pray God helps us because it is very deep seated and entrenched.