John William Chinchen

The Rev. Dr. John (Jack) William Chinchen, Founder of African Bible Colleges, went to be with our Lord and Savior Tuesday, February 26 at the age of 94. Dr. Chinchen died in Africa, where he served Christ for 50 years as a pioneer missionary and one of the continent’s great trailblazers of Christian higher education.

Dr. Chinchen is survived by his wife, Nell Barksdale Robertson Chinchen, a member of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, who co-founded Christian colleges and universities with Dr. Chinchen in Liberia (1976), Malawi (1989) and Uganda (2005) - and their seven children - Bill, Vann, Del, Lisa, Paul, Palmer and Marion Sue. He has 39 grandchildren and 41 great-grandchildren. Also, as Christ promised in Mark 10, Jack has tens of thousands of children who came to know and love God as a result of his 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, for training as an aircraft Recognition officer. In Gulfport, he met his Southern Belle, Nell Robertson.

On November 5, 1945, Jack and Nell were married in San Jose.

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. For the next 10 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. He was ordained as a Presbyterian minister and was called to his first church in Clallam Bay, Wash. where he pastored for the next three years.

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, 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 14 buildings and cut a six-mile road through the bush. Jack also initiated one of the first short-term mission trip programs he named “Vacangelize” (vacation and evangelization). During their time at ENI Mission, the Chinchens lost two homes to fire, losing practically everything they owned.

While under an Indian almond tree overlooking the Atlantic Ocean 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 Chinchens 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 now been broadcast across Africa on SIM’s ELWA, Trans World Radio, and African Bible College’s own radio stations in Liberia, Malawi, and Uganda for the past 45 years.

In 1978, three years after God gave Jack the vision, with the motto “Faith in Action - God in Motion,” the first African Bible College campus opened in Yekepa, Liberia. It was the country’s first four-year Christian university.

Ten years later the Chinchens established a second African Bible College campus in Malawi, again it was the first four-year Christian college in the country.

Today the Malawi campus also encompasses a number of important support ministries including the ABC Christian Academy, the ABC Mission Hospital and Radio ABC. 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.

At the age of 81, in 2005, Jack and Nell established a third African Bible College campus in Kampala, Uganda, “The Pearl of Africa” - today named African Bible University.

Jack has always loved teaching and preaching God’s Word. He taught many Bible and theology courses at the African Bible College campuses 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 wanting others to also develop a love for God’s Word is reflected in the motto inscribed on the front gate of all three ABC 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. 

Isaiah 18 gave Jack the firm belief that Africa had a great destiny.

He looked forward to our Savior coming again and believed that Africa would be God’s final stronghold for Christ upon His return.

The funeral service was held March 12, at First Presbyterian Church of Jackson. Following the service, Rev. Dr. Chinchen was laid to rest at an interment service at Lakewood Memorial Park in Jackson.

Memorial gifts can be sent to African Bible Colleges, P.O. Box 103, Clinton, MS 39060, and will go toward ABC’s Bible College by Radio ministry.

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