One Year Down the Line: A Tribute in Remembrance of Professor Steve de Gruchy (1962-2010)


An African proverb says, “it is not how long we live but how well.” This proverb is true of the life of Professor Steve de Gruchy. Just when they began to settle down in reproducing themselves; the news of their sudden death by drowning stormed the world. The event of Prof. Steve de Gruchy’s death is very similar to that of our ancestor, Dr Byang Kato. No doubt, Byang Kato was one the tallest African Evangelical theologians. To refer to Kato as a pace setter and the father of modern African evangelical theology will not be an over statement. In his 30s, Byang Kato had already earned a Doctor of Theology from the prestigious Dallas Theological Seminary; he became the first General Secretary of the Association for the Evangelicals in Africa and Madagascar (AEA & M), and the visioner of Faculté de Théologie Evangélique de Bangui (a graduate school of theology located in Bangui, Central Africa with the vision of serving the francophone African nations ), and Africa International University (formerly Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology, Nairobi, Kenya for the Anglophone Africa nations). Kato pioneered and articulated some of the African theologies we have today. Although some scholars have contested Kato’s position on a variety of subjects in African theology especially the ones related to the relationship between Christianity and the African cultures; that not withstanding, he remains a scholar whose contribution we cannot avoid in contemporary African Christian Theology. What a star Kato was in his days? But at the prime age of thirty-nine (1936-1975) Kato drowned while swimming in Mombasa, Kenya in 1975; that was just a few months after he had been appointed as the AEA & M General Secretary. Not how long but how well!

Meanwhile, the challenges facing our world today are mind-boggling; they include poverty, violence, disease, religious terrorism, climate change and other natural disasters to mention just a few. There have been struggles by individuals, groups in politics, academics, private and business institutions across the world to provide solutions to some of these challenges. The amount of time, energy, and resources invested on a daily basis to finding these solutions are unquantifiable. The question then arises: as Christians in this Era of global Christianity, what has been the response of Church to these challenges? As Andre Karamaga puts it, “the church as an institution cannot be isolated from the upheavals currently assaulting the world. But the church must be renewed if she is to cope with the dramatic changes taking place in our world today. As God’s instrument of change, the church is called to participate prophetically on breaking the edge of world events”[1]While Karamaga’s submission is undoubtedly true of our world today; it is even truer of Africa. The impacts of poverty, AIDS, violence, bad governance and democracies, corruption, etcetera, are intense in Africa than any other part of the world.[2]Yet according to Karamaga, ‘Africa is labeled as one of the most religious continents in the world with Christianity credited to that every day up to 16,000 Africans embrace the Christian faith.”[3]This is indeed an irony!

This is where the contributions of Dr. Steve de Gruchy become very important for us in contemporary Africa. No serious study can be done in the area of Theology and Development in Africa today without reference to the massive contributions of this eminent African theologian, Steve de Gruchy. His books as well as his numerous articles published in learned journals are in high demand. Steve’s academic contribution is not limited to Africa; he equally made significant contribution globally in his field of specialization. According to his colleague, Dr. Sue Rakoczy, “his (Steve de Gruchy’s) academic and professional contributions had influenced people all over the world.”[4] Until his death, Steve was the head of the School of Religion and Theology at the University of KwaZulu Natal. Professionally, “he was involved in various ways with the World Council of Churches’ Justice, Peace and Creation team, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and Council for World Mission, the International Congregation Fellowship, and the Church Unity Commission in South Africa.”[5]

Steve was not only a theorist; he was also a practitioner of his faith- Christianity. He was not a perfect human though, but by grace of God he was able to use his God-given abilities to worship of his Creator and also to serve his people as it is expected of a true disciple of Christ. He was until his transition an ordained minister in the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa.[6] It is also worthy of note that Steve was also man who loved his family very dearly. The fact that event leading to his death happened when he was on outing with his family is a proof of his commitment to the same.

He spent about a decade more in life than Kato; Steve de Gruchy died at the age of 48.[7] A native of South Africa; Steve’s death reminds us of other tall African theologians who died recently.  Professor Steve de Gruchy has joined the list of eminent African theologians like Kwame Bediako, Ogbu U Kalu, Dr. Tokunboh Adeyemo and others who left toward the end of the last decade. Though, he is gone to be with his God for a year now, the shock of his demise by drowning in Mooi River in South Africa on Sunday February 21, 2010[8] is still very fresh in our memories. Indeed, another has star has fallen in the modern history of African Christianity! It’s indeed a big challenge to fill the vacuum that Steve left in his family, the Southern Africa Christian community; the Church in Africa and indeed the entire world. We however take solace in the fact that he lived a fruitful life and now resting in the bosom of his Lord! Surely, the English proverbs that says, “we never know the worth of water till the well is dry” is true of the Professor Steve de Gruchy. We covet your prayers for the family that he left behind! Steve is survived by his wife Marion Loveday and children Thea, David, and Kate.

 


REFERENCES:

[1] Andre Karamaga, Problem and Promises of Africa, Towards and Beyond the Year 2000: All Africa Conference of Churches (Nairobi: Africa Church Information Service), 12-13.

[2] Gerrie Ter Haar, How God became African: African Spirituality and Western Secular Thought (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2009), 74. Tokunboh Adeyemo, Is Africa Cursed? (Nairobi: Christian Learning Materials Centre, 1997), 11; and Samuel Waje Kunhiyop, African Christian Ethics (Nairobi: Hippo Books, 2008), 167-9.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Sue Rakoczy, “Professor Steve de Gruchy” in The Southern Cross Blog.

http://www.scross.co.za/2010/03/professor -steve-de-gruchy/ Accessed on February 28, 2011.

[5] http:/intercong.org/our-regions/Africa/steve-de-gruchy. Accessed on February 28, 2011.

[6] International Congregational Fellowship, http://intercong.org/our-regions/africa/steve-de-gruchy/ accessed on February 28, 2010.

[8] Council for World Mission, “Churches Worldwide remember Steve de Gruchy” http://www.cwmission.org/news/churches-worldwide-remember-steve-de-gruchy, accessed on March 1, 2011.

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