On 1 April 1989, this dream became reality when the Child Evangelism Training Institute (CET) started in Ermelo, Mpumalanga Province, South Africa. A meeting was held on the 21 October 1989 to determine the way forward with regard to a suitable training facility. 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 and on 18 November 1989, a meeting was held with the Schoonbee’s, who agreed to CET using the facilities for three months, after which the agreement would be reconsidered. During this time, CET staff felt that God was speaking to them through Isaiah 25:6-9, with regard to their move to Petra Mountain Inn.
“On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the nest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken. In that day they will say, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”
On 7 January 1990, the CET group moved from Ermelo to Petra Mountain, White River and on 14 January, the first course started with eight 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 that suited the African context. CET started developing its own training material that included a correspondence course, the Dynamic Children’s Ministry Course (DCM). This is currently presented as the Relational Children’s Ministry online course.
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 ins tute’s international involvement within different children’s ministry and mission networks and forums.
On the morning of 5 September 1997, Johan and his son, Johan, were traveling from Petra to Malelane. It was raining. Not many kilometres from Petra, Johan’s car slid on diesel that had been spilled on a curve in the road, crashing into an oncoming truck. Johan went to be with the Lord that afternoon due to multiple internal injuries.
“On the far side of every risk – even if it results in death – the love of God triumphs. This is the faith that frees us to risk for the cause of God.”
John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life
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 2005, Rev. Dirk Coetsee was appointed as managing director 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, due to Petra’s growing role as a consultant in children’s ministry. Petra Institute works within strategic partnerships with organisations on a national level, in around 70 countries on four continents building the capacity of 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 in comparison to what Petra Institute could have achieved. 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), Church of Pentecost, Ghana, and various others.
For us, the words of Isaiah 25 have been fulfilled in the sense that leaders from across the world came to Petra Mountain to learn of the Lord’s heart for children and His desire that His Word will bring fathers and children together again, to be of one mind and heart.