During the 1970’s – 80’s, Rev. Johan du Preez, youth minister of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa, struggled with the question of what would be the most effective way to transform the South African community to become that which God desired of us as a nation. Johan had a heart after God and a passion to bring the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to the people of South Africa and Africa.
He soon found the answer to his question: Start small, start with children. Rev. Chris Fourie, who was full-time involved with children’s ministry on the East African islands, encouraged Johan and his wife Aretha, to start with children’s ministry. Children are open and receptive – no wonder God commands us in his Word to teach children His precepts in everything we do (Deut 6:4-9).
Johan and Aretha, with their three children, went to Switzerland to attend the leadership training course presented by Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF). And so, a dream started in Johan’s heart… a dream to establish a training institution in South Africa, for South Africa and Africa, to train church and missions leaders to effectively reach the children of this beautiful continent with the transforming Word of God.
The dream becomes reality:
On the 1st of April 1989 this dream became reality when the then Child Evangelism Training Institute (CET) started in the town of Ermelo, on the Highveld of the Mpumalanga Province of South Africa. It was a humble beginning with only three staff members – Johan du Preez, Johan Snyman and Laetitia Bull. An old house served as offices and also living quarters for one of the staff members.
Small steps in faith:
The first year was spent to develop a curriculum and doing marketing in order to raise funds and prospective students. It was a road of faith, trusting the Lord to do the impossible, as all three staff members gave up their well-paid professions, trusting the Lord to provide for their needs, as well as the growing needs of the institute. God proved His faithfulness in His timely provision, not only in funds but also a growing awareness of the importance of children and ministry to them among church leaders.
Finding the right place:
Johan Snyman and Laetitia Bull, together with Johan and Lenda Müller, who would later joined as staff members, also attended the CEF course in Switzerland. Now they were ready to start giving training, but a suitable place to accommodate students and present training, was still lacking. An old South African Railway hostel in the town of Breyton near Ermelo was vacant and it was made available to CET. However, this was soon withdrawn when people realised that persons of all races would attend the course. Another place had to be found.
God prepares the way:
A meeting was held on the 21 October 1989 to determine the way forward with regard to a suitable training venue. It was suggested that Petra Mountain Inn outside White River should be contacted. Consequently, a meeting was set with Gerry and Mary Schoonbee, the then owners of Petra Mountain Inn to find out if the facilities were available to conduct training from there. On 18 November, Johan and Aretha du Preez, Johan Snyman and Laetitia Bull met with the Schoonbee’s. Initially, they were hesitant, but agreed that the first three month course could be presented from January to March the following year. On the 7th January 1990 the du Preez family, Johan Snyman and Laetitia Bull moved from Ermelo to Petra Mountain, White River and on the 14th January the first course started with 8 students! The initial agreement of three months became a permanent arrangement. The property was sold to the institute in 2002.
More staff members joined the ranks of CET. A second three month course was presented from August and in the next year shorter courses were added to allow persons to attend during the winter holiday. Initially, the training material of CEF was used. However, there was a need for material to address the needs in the African context. CET started developing its own training material which included a correspondence course, the Dynamic Children’s Ministry Course (DCM), which is now administered by Northwest University.
Growing international involvement
By God’s grace, children’s ministry training was not limited only to South Africa – soon church leaders from other Southern African countries started attending courses presented at Petra. In 1995, Johan attended the Global Consultation on World Evangelisation (GCOWE ‘95) in Seoul, South Korea where he pleaded for a greater focus on children and having a separate track for children’s ministry. In 1997, Johan was asked to organise a children’s ministry track for GCOWE ’97 that would take place during July 1997 in Pretoria, South Africa. This launched the institute’s international involvement within different children’s ministry and missions networks and forums.
On the morning of 5th September 1997, Johan and his son, Johan, were traveling from Petra to Malelane. It was raining. Not many kilometers from Petra, Johan’s car slid on diesel that has been spilled on a curve in the road, onto the oncoming side and crashed into a truck. Johan went to be with the Lord that afternoon due to multiple internal injuries.
New leadership, new identity:
Dr. Johannes Malherbe was appointed as principal in 1998. Under his leadership, many changes came to CET. The name was changed to Petra College for Children’s Ministry. He was also instrumental in the registration of Petra’s learning programmes with the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA). In 2002, Rev. Dirk Coetsee was appointed as principle to replace Dr. Malherbe, who felt called to another ministry.
In 2012, the name was changed again from Petra College to Petra Institute for Children’s Ministry. This was due to Petra’s growing role as a consultant in children’s ministry and not only focusing on training.
Focused training material
To date, Petra has developed material that can be used to train persons from low-literate to tertiary level. The training material has also been translated to Arabic and Russian. Since 2012, the institute became more involved on a consultation basis in assisting theological training institutions to develop curriculums for children’s ministry.
Petra works within strategic partnerships with organisations on a national level, building the capacity of the individuals but also the organisation with which a partner agreement has been signed. These partners ultimately have a much bigger impact in their specific regions than what Petra would be able to have. Examples of this are the partnerships with the Evangelical Churches Fellowship of Ethiopia (ECFE) who developed the Child Development Training and Research Centre (CDTRC), Children Mission (Ukraine), Church of Christ in Congo (DRC) and various others.