Talk by Dr. Bryan Williams, past principal.

    Bryan Williams at 95th BrunchI have been asked to talk about some of my memories of BI. To do so I’ve chosen to use key words beginning with the earlier letters of the alphabet.

    So – “A” is for Awareness:
    AWARENESS. It was 1959, fifty nine years ago. Every morning the 240 students of the London Bible College met for a devotional time which included prayer for past students. Whenever a lecturer of the Bible Institute of South Africa was named, we were told that each lecturer there was a past student of London Bible College. That was the first I’d heard of BI and became aware of its existence.

    BOAT TRIP. Some years later, Barbara and I married, and in 1965 sailed back to my home in New Zealand with our baby
    son David on the P & O liner Oriana. After a year in NZ we sailed back to England. We sailed via South Africa and when our ship docked in Cape Town, David Carnegie, a friend from my Bachelor of Divinity class in London, and his wife Dorothy, hosted us for the day here in Kalk Bay.
    COMMENCEMENT. On returning to the UK, I continued to work as a pharmacy manager while Barbara took up accountancy again. One morning a letter dropped into our letter box. It was an invitation to join BI as lecturer in New Testament subjects, including Greek. Before long we found ourselves leaving England (in a blizzard) to journey to SA again. We arrived on April fool’s Day, 1970, having travelled around the world by sea one and a half times to get here!

    BISA 95th Anniversary celebration inviteAs we were settling into the cottage (where the Karstens now live), we heard a grinding sound, and the whole building shook. Barbara thought I was moving a wardrobe, but I was able to reassure her that it was just an earthquake! Not unusual in New Zealand.
    DUTIES. We were soon into the thick of things. I found the most time-consuming work to be preparation and delivering lectures, and setting assignments & exams. It was stirring, challenging, and exhausting, but also deeply rewarding. I vividly remember, from time to time, pausing during a class as we were overcome by an acute awareness of the Lord’s presence and grandeur. By the time I retired I had I taught 42 subjects in all, including many New Testament subjects, Hellenistic Greek, nine Doctrinal subjects (after Murdo Gordon, our Scottish Principal, retired because of recurrent polio and other disabilities), Textual Criticism, Canon, Hermeneutics, Christian World View, Philosophy, and English Language.

    On one occasion, during a Philosophy class, I remarked that Plato taught that everyone knew everything, but that much was locked away in the mind and so needed to be retrieved like food on a shelf in the back of a pantry. One student who was rather keen on delaying the class said: “But with some people the shelves are deeper than others”

    Being a little tired with this sort of thing, I retorted, “I’m sorry, but we haven’t time for testimonies”

    Each morning and evening we had College devotions led, as in London, by a lecturer or student. Once a week we attended a service led by a Faculty member or a visiting preacher, including the internationally known FF Bruce and Stephen Olford. For an hour or so each week we had Fellowship groups for devotional Bible Study, prayer, and getting to know each other. In later years these groups went out as teams on Ministry Week.1

    Every Lecturer was expected to preach in a local Church once or twice each Sunday: I found this demanding, as I had never been full-time in a pastorate, having previously managed Pharmacies. I was also studying for a Master degree in Theology, so I could preach only about once or twice a month while previously in England.

    In the interests of mutual help, each of our three tutors was a member of two missionary councils or other para-church organisations – in my case, AIM and AEF (since incorporated into SIM).

    About once a year one of us led a team of students to a main centre in SA in order to minister and also to make BI known. For decades BI was one of only a handful of evangelical colleges in the country. Sometime later two Baptist Colleges, CEBI (now Cornerstone) and George Whitefield College were founded. All this of course kept our numbers low; we averaged 65 fulltime students. We also ran evening classes throughout the year, and marked – and later wrote – many correspondence courses. Another responsibility was frequent radio broadcasting.

    I here pay warm tribute to Barbara. During nearly all of the 37 years I was at BI Barbara worked as an accountant as well as looking after David and Catherine. I toiled hard, but she worked harder still to keep us at BI. I could not have stayed as much as one year without her sacrificial working.

    EVENTS. The Collins English Dictionary says an event is “anything that takes place, especially something important”. We begin with two events that took less than a day each.
    Many years ago the College hired a bus to take us to Wellington for a day’s outing to hear from David Bliss an American missionary, about the life of Andrew Murray. Our first problem was being stopped by the Apartheid police on suspicion of political agitation. The second difficulty was being held up for ages outside Wellington by a Muslim funeral. Thirdly, the ’bus conked out on a hill, necessitating a delay while another vehicle came. Still, we had a good day, starting with lunch at 4 o’clock!

    The other event was the time we probably saved the village of Kalk Bay, though hardly anyone knew about it. Before the days of using helicopters for fire-fighting, I noticed smoke from some low trees far up Kalk Bay Mountain. I took three students and a fire extinguisher from Roxton, climbed over our back fence, and quenched the fire in a mattress under some dry trees! The homeless people responsible had had quite a shock!

    Every year in the early 1970’s the Principal would suddenly cancel the regular programme so that we could all go for a day’s picnic – usually to Kommetjie or over Red Hill to Scarborough.


    Important arrangements which served us well for years were the link with the University of London for Diploma and Bachelor of Divinity studies, then with UNISA, and later again with Cambridge. The most satisfying university link was with Potchefstroom / North-west University. In 1986, after a long process, we gained ACTEA recognition of our LTh as a first theological degree throughout the evangelical world. As you all know, only a few months ago the SA authorities granted BI first theological degree status for our Bachelor of Theology. This has important benefits for BI. Praise The Lord!

    The FUTURE. At the moment I’m thinking of Joseph Hart’s famous hymn,

    “How good is the Lord we adore,

    ’Tis Jesus the First and the Last,

    Our faithful, unchangeable Friend;
    Who shall guide us through all to the throne;

    His love is as great as his pow’r
    We’ll praise him for all that is past,

    And knows neither measure nor end.

    We’ll trust him for all that’s to come.”


    BI is a small college. It has often struggled – seeking the right personnel, the right students, necessary funds, and so on. Yet God has been pleased to use it and during its 95 years’ life it has been a centre for glorious fellowship and sound instruction. Staff and students have come from about 25 countries, and graduated to become Pastors, Teachers, Linguists, School Principals, Directors and members of para-church organisations, and much else, in leadership positions, around the globe.

    Today I thank god for the calibre of fellow board members, faculty, staff, and students over my decades of association with BI.

    Those 95 years are longer than the life-span of many better known theological colleges and universities. But, we cannot take BI’s continuing existence for granted. Remember the book of judges; the most glorious history did not preserve Israel from turning from the only God to pitiful

    idols, gross immorality, and a life that outdid the pagans in every evil work. We must not think we are immune to such temptations. Over the years some BI members became involved in sexual immorality, one student became ensnared in witchcraft, one came to college with a destructive political agenda, and some became serious backsliders after leaving BI – or even while still here.

    These were exceptions, of course. Hundreds of past students – perhaps as many as 2000 - have served the Lord long and extremely faithfully. I mention just three:
    Frank Retief, a 1960’s graduate, with his wife Beulah, was the founder and long-term minister of St James’ REACHSA church in Kenilworth and he is still in church ministry. Recently he preached a series at our own Church - sermons that were recorded for 24 radio stations.

    Dale Viljoen and his wife Maude worked in tough circumstances in Japan. After many years in missions as well as raising three sons, Maud bravely fought cancer and died in Hokkaido amongst the people she had gone to serve. Dale remained and still conducts many Christian weddings – very popular in Japan – as well as doing Church planting and development with his new wife, Karen.

    3Ilija Skoric and his wife Jasmina and their two children were in South Africa 20 years ago while Ilija studied at BI. They returned to their home country, Serbia, a land of spiritual formality and dry “Orthodoxy” for the most part. They have struggled with ill-health as they have ministered in Belgrade, engaged with outreach to several other cities in their land, and communal relief work. Their support was only 40% of a reasonable level last year.

    Folk like these, and so many others from BI, are worthy of our support.

    Finally - be diligent, seek the lord unfailingly, keep on keeping on and grow in holiness

    “These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens, no- one can shut; and what he shuts, no-one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no-one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name... I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no-one
    will take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the New Jerusalem, which is coming down from heaven from my God; and I will write on him my new name.” (Revelation 3: 7-8 and 11-12)


    Given at the Bible Institute of South Africa’s 95th Anniversary breakfast on
    1st September 2018