PCA Minister and Missionary John (Jack) William Chinchen Called Home to Glory

Founder of African Bible Colleges, Dr. Chinchen died in Africa, where he served Christ for nearly 50 years as a pioneer missionary.

Jack and Nell have established four ABC radio stations in Africa, one each in Liberia and Uganda, two in Malawi (Lilongwe and Mzuzu), as well as a Christian television station that operates from the ABC campus in Malawi.

Jack and Nell established a third African Bible College campus in Kampala, Uganda in 2005—today known as African Bible University (ABU). 

 

Rev. Dr. John (Jack) William  Chinchen (1924-2019), Founder of African Bible Colleges (ABC), went to be with his Lord and Savior on Tuesday, February 26, at 6:40 pm at the age of 94.  Dr. Chinchen died in Africa, where he served Christ for nearly 50 years as a pioneer missionary and one of the continent’s great trailblazers of Christian higher eduction.

Dr. Chinchen is survived by his wife, Nell Barksdale Robertson Chinchen of Jackson, Mississippi, who co-founded Christian colleges and universities with Jack in Liberia (1976), Malawi (1989) and Uganda (2005) – and their seven children – Bill, Vann, Del, Lisa, Paul, Palmer and Marion Sue.  Jack has 39 grandchildren and 40 great grandchildren – along with, as Christ promised in Mark 10, tens of thousands of children who came to know and love God as a result of his 50 years of service in Africa from 1970-2019.

Jack Chinchen was born on June 30, 1924, in Detroit, Michigan.  He was the first born of Arthur and Beth Chinchen and grandson of John D. Crummy, founder of FMC. Jack grew up in San Jose, California, with his brother Stanley, who is now 90.

In 1944, at the height of WWII, Jack enlisted in the US Navy.  He was sent to Colombia University in New York and North Dakota for officer’s Training School, then on to and Gulfport, Mississippi for training as a Recognition Officer. In Gulfport he met his Southern Belle, Nell Robertson. On November 5, 1945, Jack and Nell were married in San Jose, California. Jack was commissioned as a Lieutenant JG and assigned to a Destroyer, the USS Maddox, which fought in the Pacific theatre during the war.

After the war Jack and Nell returned to California where he graduated from San Jose State University with a degree in Business in 1946. For the next ten years he managed their family’s pear orchards in the Santa Clara Valley.  On his 33rd birthday Nell gave Jack his first Bible and he fell in love with Jesus Christ. Two years later he dedicated his life to full-time Christian service and enrolled at San Francisco Theological Seminary where he graduated with a Master of Divinity in 1962.  Upon graduation he was ordained as a Presbyterian minister and was called to his first church in Clallam Bay, Washington, where he pastored from 1962-1965.

In 1965 Jack and Nell helped establish Valley Christian High School in San Jose, where he was a Bible teacher and Director of Evangelism.  Two years later he was called to be the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Picayune, Mississippi, where he became a member of Grace Presbytery and a founding member of the new Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).

In 1969 a Liberia evangelist, Augustus B. Marwieh, invited Jack and Nell to come to Liberia to train village pastors. In January, 1970, Jack and Nell, along with four of their seven children moved to ENI Mission in the jungles of Sinoe County, Liberia. The Chinchen’s first home in Africa was constructed from bamboo mats and on stilts.  During Jacks’s seven years at the mission he built fourteen buildings and cut a six-mile road through the bush. Jack also initiated one of the first short-term mission trip programs, which he named “Vacangelize” (vacation and evangelization). During their time at ENI Mission the Chinchens lost two homes to fires, loosing practically everything they owned.

While under an Indian Almond tree on the Atlantic in Baffu Bay, Liberia, where he had established the Vacangelize program God gave Jack a vision for Christian colleges in Africa.  Jack’s goal was to provide in Africa the same caliber of higher Christian education that was traditionally only available abroad.  The Chinchen’s modeled the colleges after Moody and Columbia Bible College, with the goal of making the education relevant to the African context while keeping God’s word at the center of all instruction and activities of the institution.

At the same time Jack felt called to found Bible College by Radio, which teaches through books of the Bible while interacting with students and graduates of African Bible College. Bible College by Radio has been broadcast across Africa for 45 years on SIM’s ELWA, Trans World Radio, and African Bible College’s own radio stations in Liberia, Malawi and Uganda.

In 1978, with the motto, “Faith in Action – God in Motion”, the first African Bible College was opened in Yekepa, Liberia. It would be the country’s first 4-year Christian university.

Ten years later the Chinchens established a second African Bible College campus in Malawi, where it was again the first 4-year Christian college in the country.  Today the Malawi campus encompasses a number of important support ministries including the ABC Christian Academy, the ABC Mission Hospital, Radio ABC and ABC-TV.

Jack and Nell have established four ABC radio stations in Africa, one each in Liberia and Uganda, two in Malawi (Lilongwe and Mzuzu), as well as a Christian television station that operates from the ABC campus in Malawi.

Jack and Nell established a third African Bible College campus in Kampala, Uganda in 2005—today known as African Bible University (ABU).

Jack has always loved teaching and preaching God’s Word.  He taught many Bible and Theology courses at African Bible College over the years, but his great love was teaching through the Book of Joshua and teaching his students how to preach.  Jack had a great passion for helping others discover the promises, hope and salvation through Christ found in Scripture.  His passion for God’s Word is reflected in the motto inscribed on the front gate of all three college campuses, “Teaching the Treasures of God’s Truth.”

Dr. Chinchen was awarded an Honorary Doctorate (LL.D) from Biola University in 1992 for his pioneering work in Christian higher education in Africa.

Isiah 18 gave Jack the firm belief that Africa had a great destiny. He looked forward to the Lord’s coming again and believed Africa would be God’s final stronghold for Christ upon His returns.

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A Personal Tribute to Jack Chinchen

Dr. John W. (Jack) Chinchen, the founder of African Bible Colleges (ABC), passed away yesterday [February 26, 2019] in South Africa. He was 94.

His is an incredible story. He didn’t arrive in Africa until he was already in his mid-forties, but today because of him there are three Bible colleges (in Liberia, Malawi and Uganda), three Christian radio stations (one with a TV ministry), a Christian academy and a clinic. ABC has produced hundreds of graduates who have penetrated every level of society; these include teachers, pastors, heads of denominations and members of Parliament.  Few people achieve what he did. In his eighties and into his nineties you could see him out laying bricks or driving the tractor. The Malawians were amazed to see the president of the college doing that.

He was as kind as he was energetic. I don’t remember him expressing anger to anyone, but everyone knew he was the boss. He knew how to lead and motivate people. He baptized my son, and through the years kept an interest in him.  He sought to console me after my wife died. He was frequently invited to preach at local churches.

He was a stickler for protocol. He insisted that the appearance of the campus be maintained; he felt it honored the Lord. He once came into my office and chided me for having worn shorts and a T-shirt to chapel (I didn’t have a class that day, so I thought it was okay). But he was no hypocrite; he came to chapel each morning suitably attired.

He converted to Christianity in his early thirties. He had grown up in an affluent setting; his family owned a fruit orchard in California. He left that because he felt the Lord call him into ministry. He went to San Francisco Presbyterian Theological Seminary which even 60 years ago was very liberal. He resisted their efforts to turn him into a theological liberal, transferred into the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and for several years pastored churches in Mississippi which was where his wife was from. Then he got the call missions in Africa.

He could be idiosyncratic, as exceptional men often are. I remember him bellowing “Nevah! Nevah! Nevah!” from the pulpit because he had a thing about Winston Churchill. His chapel messages contained many illustrations about World War II; he was proud of having been a junior officer in the Navy during the war. He developed a series on the Book of Nehemiah that I must have heard dozens of time. He interpreted Nehemiah as an allegory of how to build a wall around your life to keep out sin. His own life exhibited impeccable Christian character. He modeled the lifestyle he preached.

He leaves behind his wife of over 73 years, Nell, and 7 children, 39 grandchildren, and over 40 great-grandchildren. I understand the family plans to transport his body to the U.S. and bury him in Jackson, Mississippi. Please pray for Nell who must be seriously stressed right about now.

Larry Brown is a minister in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and serves as Professor of church history, world history, hermeneutics and missions at the African Bible College in Lilongwe, Malawi, where he has served for 27 years.