By Rick Wolcott*
“There is an impact that is happening that is just phenomenal.”
These words about Africa University from the Rev. Dr. Bill McFadden explain the outpouring of love and support that enveloped the East Ohio Conference during the second weekend of September.
Staff, graduates, members of the university’s Development Committee, bishops, and clergy and laity from across The United Methodist Church traveled to East Ohio to share the story of Africa University – and to plan for its future.
“We are known as the school of dreams in the valley of hope,” said Africa University Associate Vice Chancellor James Salley.
“Africa University began in 1992 with 42 students in some renovated farm buildings. Two weeks ago when classes began there were 1,400 students from 22 Sub-Saharan African countries registered on campus,” said McFadden, who is national chairman of the Planned Giving Council.
“We have over 7,000 graduates, 92% of whom have remained in Africa which was one of our goals with the university,” he continued.
“The East Ohio Conference has a long-standing commitment to supporting Africa University. We join with you in fulfilling the mission, our mission, of transforming lives and transforming Africa,” Bishop Tracy S. Malone told the crowd during the 16th Annual Richard E. “Dick” Reeves Legacy Society recognition dinner.
“I can remember, while a student at one of our United Methodist colleges in the summer of 1988, I spent three weeks in Zimbabwe. And I can remember while there we were taken and shown the land where Africa University was to be built. We stood there and we looked over the land and we joined hands and we prayed that the vision would become a reality – and look at God,” Malone said.
“The work that your church and your conference is doing at Africa University gives hope and is helping to break the cycle of poverty,” Vice Chancellor Dr. Munashe Furusa told the congregation at Westlake United Methodist Church.
He was one of 20 speakers who spoke at different East Ohio Conference churches on Sunday, September 11 to raise awareness of the life-changing impact The United Methodist Church is making through its support of Africa University.
At Brunswick United Methodist Church, Africa University graduate the Rev. Dr. Artemus Gaye thanked the denomination.
“The church became God’s hands, and God’s feet, and made it possible for me to go to school,” he said.
He shared powerful stories of growing up in Liberia, West Africa during the country’s 14-year civil war. He saw many friends die and said that his life was spared a few times because of his family and his faith in God.
“What if this church had not dreamed?” he asked. “The calmness that the global church brought me gave me hope and a purpose in life. Keep doing good because you are an agent of God.”
The East Ohio Conference has been a part of Africa University from the very beginning.
“The conference built the first two three-story dormitories at Africa University, and we have the most endowed scholarships of any annual conference in Methodism,” McFadden said. “The endowed value of scholarships for students at Africa University here in East Ohio exceeds $1. 8 million.”
On September 12 hundreds of Africa University supporters gathered in the grand ballroom of Landerhaven in Lyndhurst for a scholarship banquet honoring Dr. Maggie Jackson, a long-time Africa University trustee.
“The contributions of Dr. Maggie Jackson to Africa University are well known. We will not forget the work you are doing among us,” said Bishop David Yemba, the founding dean of Africa University and the current bishop of the Congo Central Conference.
The banquet raised awareness and support for the $150,000 Dr. Maggie Jackson endowed scholarship to benefit students at Africa University.
“We love you for the work you have done with Africa University but also for the way you have lived out your faith in God to all the people,” said Bishop Marcus Matthews.
“There are saints all around us and Dr. Maggie Jackson is one of them,” said Bishop Gregory V. Palmer of the West Ohio Conference. “She believes in the singular importance of God in one’s life, the necessity and the value of education, particularly a higher education, and thirdly the necessity of pouring both of those gifts back to lift humanity.”
“This is a God moment,” Jackson said in her address to banquet guests. “All that I am, all I have been is because of Jesus the Christ. I’m honored that you have chosen to be here to celebrate on behalf of the students of Africa University.
“I have seen the struggles of students wanting to enhance their well-being so that they can return to their village, their town, their country and be leaders – be it clergy, be it farmers, be it teachers – but to be used to help the community be better.”
As the 25th anniversary of the university approaches, the board has its sight set on the future. The scholarship banquet concluded with the public announcement of the Campaign for Africa University, a four-year effort to raise $50 million.
“It is my hope that the campaign will make possible new facilities and buildings, scholarships and endowed chairs that will enhance the university’s effectiveness in teaching and learning, research and innovation, and provide spaces for each student’s interaction and engagement,” Furusa said.
“We will be successful in this campaign for Africa University because the funds are needed to sustain our move toward greater distinction,” said Dr. Aubrey Lucas, Campaign for Africa advisory board chair. “We will be successful because Africa and the world need the graduates from Africa University, and we will be successful because we United Methodists have come to love and be proud of our Africa University.”
“I give thanks and praise to God of what can be accomplished when the people of God have a vision, have a commitment and have a passion for education, have a passion for excellence, and have a passion for transformation,” Malone said.
*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.