Saturday 14 November 2015

24 Rees Howells and the Bible College

24. The Bible College of Wales (photos: Rees Howells, Bible College x2) - 14 Nov 2015

The School of Ministry at the Bible College of Wales in Derwen Fawr has just concluded its first semester, with students from Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, North America, as well as from England and Wales.

That property called Derwen Fawr used to belong to the architect Sir Charles Tamlin Ruthen, designer of Pantygwydr Baptist Church, the Mond Buildings and the former Carlton Cinema (now Waterstone’s bookshop), among other prominent Swansea buildings.  After the First World War, Ruthen served as Director General of Housing during Lloyd George’s Coalition Government.  A staunch Liberal, he developed the 17-acre Derwen Fawr estate, importing stonework from Italy for the Italian gardens, and hosting Lloyd George and other prominent Liberals at garden parties.  After Ruthen died in September 1926 his widow promised first refusal on the property to Rev. Rees Howells, who had established the Bible College at Glynderwen two years earlier. 

Born in Brynamman in 1879, the sixth of eleven children, Rees Howells had been influenced by the Welsh Religious Revival of 1904-05 to serve God with the South African General Mission.  He returned to Britain in 1920, and two years later received the vision of establishing a Bible College in Wales to train and equip those seeking to serve God in mission work.  He followed the principle of George Műller, who, in the nineteenth century by faithful prayer without the backing of any Christian denomination, had looked to God to prompt people to provide the means for the purchase and upkeep of his orphanages in Bristol.

Without making special appeals, Rees Howells and those who shared his vision prayed, and sufficient funds came in to purchase the seven-acre Glynderwen estate in Blackpill, to found the Bible College of Wales.  That site later became Emmanuel Grammar School, in recent years developed into the Bryn Newydd Estate of twenty-nine homes.

The second property purchased was Derwen Fawr, which besides the large main house comprised three cottages and 17 acres.  In the grounds a chapel was erected to seat 200, a conference hall to accommodate 400, and men’s and women’s hostels, with funds to meet the extensive financial outlay being ‘prayed in’.

In addition to the residential Bible College, on the opposite site of what was then called Derwen Fawr Lane, a third estate Sketty Isaf was purchased in 1932 as a school for the children of missionaries.  Three years later this moved to Glynderwen which became Emmanuel Grammar and Preparatory School.  In 1970 the school had 450 pupils and 27 staff, serving as a first-class provider of education in Swansea until closure in 1994.

While people were being trained to serve God in missionary work, the Bible College was used for intercessory prayer for issues further afield, particularly throughout the dark days of the Second World War.  For some people the concept of people gathering to pray for hours at a time during the war might seem an irrelevance, but others believed that those prayers contributed to the overthrow of the Nazi tyranny. 

Rees Howells died in 1950, and his life and ministry have been documented in Norman Grubb’s book Rees Howells, Intercessor, which has been translated into more than 40 languages.  His son Samuel Howells became Director, but the Bible College faced difficult times, especially during the 1990s.  It closed as a residential college and part of its land was developed as housing.  

Thankfully in recent years Derwen Fawr itself has undergone extensive renovation and refurbishment, through the impetus and generosity of Cornerstone Community Church of Singapore, which purchased the property in 2012.  It was officially re-opened in May 2015 aiming to continue and develop the vision given to Rees Howells, with a vibrant Liberty Church established on the site. 
Though the Bible College is in South Wales, the mixture of student nationalities demonstrates that the Christian gospel is for people of all nations.     

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