From Africa to Texas, and back

Leaving Botswana in 2002 to begin a seminary degree in Texas was difficult for Otlaadisa “Jack” Rantho. Besides the inevitable cultural and academic adjustments he faced, he was also leaving his church in Lobatsi without a pastor.

However, Rantho’s coming to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, was purposeful. He wanted to prepare for the task of planting and developing churches in his home country.

Rantho completed his first step toward his goal when he received his advanced diploma in theology from The College at Southwestern Dec. 9, one of the first degrees awarded by the newly created college.

From the time he was saved in 1992, Rantho has been filled with zeal to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with as many people as possible. As a student at Southwestern, Rantho’s passion for evangelism has continued unabated.

Growing up, Rantho was exposed to Christianity in the grammar school he attended. He owned a Bible and took it with him wherever he went, but it had no place of importance in his life. He had never been to a church and he had no interest in becoming a Christian.

After he graduated from secondary school in 1991, Rantho worked for the Botswana government for a short period. He had a Christian roommate who never told him about Christ.

Rantho enrolled in Jwaneng Technical College in July 1992. He made yet another friend who was a Christian.

“This friend never shared the gospel with me either,” Rantho said.

Rantho said it was an “accident” that he found himself at a showing of the Jesus Film. He was dubious about the message of the film. So he signed up for a Bible study with less-than-noble intentions: he wanted to more capably refute Christianity.

Two weeks into the Bible study, however, Rantho realized that he had no good reason for his distrust of the Christian faith. He decided to attend a Christian fellowship at the college.

After the fellowship, the leader of the group thanked Rantho for attending the service, despite the fact that Rantho disliked him.

“He was so thankful, telling me in my face, ‘Jack we were very honored to have you in our service today,’” Rantho said. “Those words. I didn’t even know what he preached on that day, but those words, they spoke to me.”

The fellowship leader’s kindness and respect worked powerfully on Rantho’s heart. He found himself convicted by the kindness he was shown by someone he was trying to refute and whom he did not like.

Rantho returned to the fellowship the next week. “That was when I committed my life to Jesus Christ,” he said.

Three months later, Rantho realized there were many people like him who were surrounded by the gospel, but who had never truly had the message explained to them. He also did not want to be like those Christians he had met who never shared the gospel with their friends.

Rantho began witnessing on the college campus and in the surrounding community. Soon after that, he began preaching at the college fellowship and starting similar fellowships at other trade schools.

After he graduated from Jwaneng Technical College in 1996, Rantho moved to Lobatsi, Botswana. He pastored a group of three to five Christians, helping Robert Fortenberry, a graduate of Southwestern Seminary serving as a missionary in the country, who was still in language school at the time. Over the next six years, the church grew.

Although his primary focus was on leading the church in Lobatsi, Rantho planted five new churches while working at the church.

Rantho soon felt God leading him to pursue theological education. He had visited Southwestern Seminary in 1998, when youth evangelist Louie Giglio invited him to a Passion conference in Fort Worth. Giglio, also a graduate of Southwestern Seminary, took Rantho on a tour of the seminary.

With the help of Fortenberry, Rantho sent an admissions application to Southwestern Seminary in the fall of 2001. The admissions office received his application, but immigration laws dictated that before the seminary could grant him admission Rantho had to explain how he would pay for his education.       

Rantho had saved and collected up enough money to pay only his travel expenses to Fort Worth. Again with Fortenberry’s help, Rantho sent out e-mails seeking support. One of the churches they emailed was Sandy Hook Baptist Church, which was also Fortenberry’s home church.

The Mississippi church immediately responded to the need. Within a week, it had committed to underwrite Rantho’s education. They have faithfully done so ever since.

At Southwestern Seminary, Rantho’s personal policy is simple.

“School is important,” Rantho said. “But it doesn’t replace people.”

Rantho develops his ministry skills by leading Bible studies each Wednesday evening at Christ Memorial Community Church of Fort Worth. He teaches Sunday school once each month and preaches when the opportunity arises.

Rantho has enrolled in the seminary’s spring evangelism practicum each of the past two years. Last year after preaching a revival in Wyoming, fellow practicum students selected Rantho for the Todd Brooks Riza Award. The award is awarded to the participant who other participants believe demonstrates genuine compassion for non-Christians.

“I should realize that I could die at any time,” Rantho said when he was presented with the award. “So I have to do my work of making disciples while God has still given me an opportunity.”

The practicum in Wyoming also showed Rantho that door-to-door evangelism is effective. After returning from the practicum Rantho and Mark Chen, a fellow student, decided to begin a ministry in the communities surrounding the seminary.

Despite a 12-hour class load, Rantho prayer-walked through the neighborhoods with Chen each evening during the summer of 2004. In the fall, the men gained a comrade in the ministry, George Haas, another seminary student. The three men began to evangelize from door-to-door. As the ministry grew, they asked residents if they would like to begin Bible studies in their homes.

Rantho’s neighborhood ministry, which began with a core of three men, now has as many as 15 volunteers.

“We go out, and some Saturdays we come back empty-handed; some Saturdays we come back praising the Lord: one, two, three people … saved,” Rantho said.

Rantho will continue his education at the seminary, working toward a master of divinity degree in the coming years. He will take a semester off in the fall of 2006 to respond to a request from his churches in Botswana. However, he hopes to finish his degree in 2007 and return to Botswana to plant and develop churches.

“In Botswana, people are hungry for the gospel,” Rantho said. He also said that there are too few church leaders, a fact which motivates him to study.

“I see myself planting more churches, and opening a small training center in the mother church to train leaders so that … when you plant a church, you already have a leader,” Rantho said. This method might take years for the church planting students to complete because they will only be able to attend classes on Saturdays.

“These church planters must work during the week,” Rantho said.

But Rantho is undaunted and confident that he is fulfilling the call God has put before him.

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