MTHATHA, South Africa (Mennonite Mission Network) – After 27 years of serving Bethany Bible School, Thompson Mpongwana Adonis, a founder of one of the African-Initiated Churches in South Africa, and respectfully known as Bishop Adonis, has retired from official duties.
In 1982, he and other AIC leaders met with the Transkei Council of Churches, a branch of the South Africa Council of Churches, to discuss the feeling of disrespect they sensed from mainline congregations. The leaders decided during that meeting that part of the problem was their own lack of training for ministry roles. To remedy this, they began an interdenominational AIC training program—which came to be known as Bethany Bible School.
“[Bishop Adonis’s] desire for the development of the AICs was clearly foremost in his heart,” Gary and Jean Isaac wrote. The Isaacs served in South Africa from 1986-1999. “We were constantly amazed at how he was willing to travel anywhere and everywhere to bring people together, both within the AIC movement itself and between AICs and the mainline churches.”
The first teacher at the school was Jim Egli, a Mennonite mission worker in neighboring Lesotho, who came periodically to teach courses. The AICs chose to work with Mennonites because they recognized them as a denomination that wasn’t seeking to augment their own numbers, but was genuinely interested in helping people grow in their knowledge of Jesus. Additionally, Mennonites in Transkei had gained credibility through their anti-apartheid stance and their rural development work.
[Bishop Adonis] was our guide to many locations and through difficult issues,” wrote Brian Dyck and Lynell Bergen, who followed the Isaacs in 1999. “His integrity, wisdom, and gentle leadership opened many doors for us. Through our time we saw his strong love for God, the church and education.”
Bishop Adonis has served as an important liaison, connecting BBS with other ministries, most notably the Bible Society and Nehemiah Bible Institute, a correspondence course.
On December 10, a group of Bishop Adonis’ friends and committee members gathered to honor his retirement. “Mama” Mavis Tshandu referred to him as “our father” and said that his legacy will continue at BBS. She expressed her desire to build a building for BBS in honor of him.
Joe Sawatzky, current MMN mission worker in South Africa, read a letter with tributes from past missionaries and presented Bishop Adonis with a Lifetime Service Award.
“Bishop Adonis has provided an invaluable service in the establishment of leadership training for AICs,” wrote Steve Wiebe-Johnson, Mission Network’s Director for Africa. “This training has been instrumental in raising the voice of the AICs within the broader Christian community both regionally and nationally.”
The service ended with joy and singing and shaking hands around the circle.