By Rick Wolcott*
“East Ohio, we’re here because of you. God bless you. God bless you for helping Africa University and also God bless you for growing the Church,” said James Salley, associate vice chancellor for Institutional Advancement to members of the Africa University Development Committee gathered in the ballroom of the Sheraton Cleveland Airport Hotel on Saturday, September 18.
The committee, which meets twice a year to get updates about Africa University, came to Cleveland to show its appreciation for, and lend its support to, the East Ohio Conference Teach • Reach • Bless campaign to build and furnish a residence hall for female students on the AU campus in Zimbabwe.
“The East Ohio Conference has had a long-standing commitment and legacy in supporting Africa University and its students. We continue to partner with Africa University as we join you in fulfilling the mission of Africa University transforming lives in the valley of dreams and transforming the continent of Africa,” said Bishop Tracy S. Malone, resident bishop of the East Ohio Conference and a member of the AU board of directors.
Salley shared that, in addition to building the first dorm on the Africa University campus, the East Ohio Conference has more endowed AU scholarships than any other conference in The United Methodist Church.
“The East Ohio Conference has been absolutely generous since the start of this University, and I know that they will continue to be,” said the Rev. Bill McFadden, whose commitment to AU dates to 1989 when he, his wife Marty, and their daughter and son-in-law were present when ground was broken to begin construction of the University.
McFadden and Dr. Maggie Jackson are co-chairs of the Teach • Reach • Bless campaign to raise and collect $1.5 million to build and furnish the new residence hall for female students. Increasing enrollment at Africa University and a lack of on-campus housing means that some students commute from remote areas and find affordable off-campus housing, putting them at high risk for living in and being subjected to untenable situations.
“This campaign has flourished. The generosity of the people of East Ohio has been absolutely fantastic. All the things that I hoped would happen, they have happened,” said Jackson, who served many years on the AU board of directors. “Africa University is a place of wonderful leadership for the Church. It’s a gift that we’ve made happen and that gift has made it possible for persons across the world to be uplifted, to be touched by an opportunity to help young people learn. What great gift can one give than to prepare persons for life?”
Malone shared her vision for the new residence hall during her episcopal address at Annual Conference in 2019. The Teach • Reach • Bless campaign was launched in January 2020 and in January 2021 Rev. Bill and Marty McFadden presented the campaign with a challenge gift of up to $250,000, providing $1 for every $3 collected in 2021. The McFaddens were recognized for their generosity during the AU Development Committee meeting.
“During this time of social upheaval, racial and political unrest, the global pandemic, and, yes, even the delay of the General Conference with a potential separation, even still God’s Spirit has been moving and at work among the people of the East Ohio Conference. The laity and the clergy of East Ohio have remained steadfast in our shared vision and commitment to raise and collect $1.5 million to build and furnish a dormitory for women. By the grace of God and amid all the uncertainty among us the people of the East Ohio Conference have been resilient and have stayed on track and have kept with the vision and to God be the glory,” said Malone. “I cannot begin to tell you how excited I am that we are on track to have in hand more than $1.5 million come December of 2021 so that we can begin breaking ground on the campus of Africa University in 2022.”
Africa University Interim Vice Chancellor Professor Peter Mageto was one of nearly a dozen people who participated in the Africa University Development Committee meeting remotely via Zoom. He applauded the clergy and laity of the East Ohio Conference for their faithful work in supporting the University.
“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I believe that the voices from the east, the west, the north, and the south of the Continent celebrate today just as the angels in heaven celebrate. Thank you.”
Sunday, September 19 was Saturation Sunday in the East Ohio Conference. On this day, or on a future date of a church’s choosing, pastors, congregations and faith communities were asked to share the story of Africa University and the positive impact the Teach • Reach • Bless campaign will have on the lives of female AU students. On Saturation Sunday, many members of the Africa University Development Committee preached in churches in the North Coast, Firelands, and Canal districts.
“In The United Methodist Church, we truly believe in education. We believe that education helps to open doors,” said Bishop Marcus Matthews during his sermon “Caring for Our Inheritance” at Bay UMC. “I know that there are people in this congregation who have sacrificed much to support Africa University, and for that we give you thanks.”
In her sermon to the congregation of North Olmsted UMC, Josefa E. Bethea Wall shared, “You are doing the work. You see that justice is done for all. You see that those who are in need are loved with mercy and you walk humbly with our God. As you join today with congregations across East Ohio you are creating a safe place for students to live and learn. You are creating an opportunity for someone to change their own life, to change the lives of people in their families, to change the lives of people in their communities, and, yes, to change the lives of people in their nations.”
Rev. J. Albert Williams told worshipers of Elyria First UMC that Africa University attracts students from across the continent of Africa.
“There were 527 graduates in the last class from 21 different countries but by the end of their school year everybody knows how to speak everybody else’s language. By time they graduate they have formed partnerships and they go back to their respective countries to make them better than when they left them.”
“Africa University is no longer just a missionary school, but it has become the mission center for the continent of Africa and for the entire world. We are not just serving the Methodist Church we are serving the global world,” said Dr. Israel Kamudzandu, a graduate of AU and associate professor of New Testament Studies and Biblical Interpretation at St. Paul School of Theology, who preached at Seville UMC.
Rev. Jonathan McCleery of Bay UMC offered this prayer for Africa University on Saturation Sunday:
“We thank you for Africa University. We pray for the students, the faculty and the staff that they might joyfully embrace the opportunity that is theirs to change the world for the better. Continue to bless that campus with a palpable presence of your Holy Spirit and may they continue their ministry under the guidance and protection of your almighty hand. Amen.”
There is still time to support the Teach • Reach • Bless campaign and to show your commitment to improving the education and wellness of women today for a better Africa tomorrow. Learn more about, and make a financial donation to, the campaign by visiting the East Ohio Conference website at www.eocumc.com/teachreachbless.
*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.