Ground Broken on Two Continents for East Ohio Conference-Funded Residence Hall at Africa University

By Brett Hetherington*

“Societies become great when old men and women plant trees under whose shade they know they will never sit.”

There was wisdom to be gleaned from this paraphrase of an old Greek proverb shared by Mr. James Salley, associate vice chancellor for Institutional Advancement & president/CEO of AU Tennessee, Inc., during the April 12 ground-breaking for the new residence hall for female students on the campus of Africa University. The dorm for 90 female students is being built and furnished with the $1.5 million raised and collected through the East Ohio Conference Teach • Reach • Bless campaign will benefit students for generations to come.

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“Vision begets resources, when a clear vision is cast,” Salley shared. “During the time of the pandemic, of lockdowns and work stoppages and other major challenges, the campaign was set to end in 2023 but East Ohio completed this campaign one year in advance. One point five million dollars plus raised to complete the campaign. We want to say thank you to Bishop Malone, co-chairs Maggie Jackson and Bill McFadden, to Bruce Hitchcock and Rick Wolcott, and to the people of the East Ohio Conference.”

Salley served as master of ceremonies for the celebratory live event that brought together via Zoom people on the Africa University campus in Zimbabwe, people gathered outside the East Ohio Conference Area Center in North Canton, Ohio, and people in many places in between.

The Teach • Reach • Bless campaign, endorsed by East Ohio Conference leadership, and supported by clergy and laity, was the vision of Bishop Tracy S. Malone who saw the need to create more on-campus housing for female students so that they could focus on their educations instead of worrying about commuting far distances and being vulnerable to unsafe and untenable situations.

“Education is the key to unlocking the world, a passport to freedom,” Malone said during her remarks, sharing that the quote from Oprah Winfrey had been resonating with her of late. “During these past five years I have had many opportunities to spend time on the campus with these students, hearing their stories. Listening to their hopes, listening to their dreams. And I have witnessed first-hand how an education at Africa University is unlocking these students’ lives and their future potential as transformational leaders in their families, in their communities, in their villages and across the continent of Africa and throughout the world. Education is passport to freedom to sustainability to possibility to hope. The passport to freedom is what this groundbreaking ceremony is about today.”

After several days of rain, the sun shone brightly on celebrants in East Ohio as they listened to students on the other side of the world share their excitement about the new residence hall, watched a video about Africa University, enjoyed the sounds of the world-renown AU choir, and turned dirt in North Canton immediately after ground was broken on campus in Zimbabwe.

In her remarks, Teach • Reach • Bless campaign Co-Chair Dr. Maggie Jackson spoke of the strong ties AU and the East Ohio Conference share.

“We have been involved from the very beginning. And through the years we have maintained a presence through scholarships and prayer for this great institution,” Jackson said before expressing her gratitude for those who had given generously to the campaign. “East Ohio, thank you for making this event possible. You have made it possible for women attending Africa University to have a safe place to stay while earning degrees. You have made it possible for East Ohio to remain in partnership with Africa University.”

“This is a day to celebrate! This is a day when we do not say the check Is in the mail, but the check is in the bank,” said Rev. Bill McFadden, Teach • Reach • Bless campaign co-chair. “Today is a day to celebrate. This is a day to say thank you. Thank you to pastors and church leaders who communicated the urgency of this effort. Most of all thank you to the hundreds of persons who want to make a difference and did so by their gifts. Each gift is like a brick in the building. Each gift is a testament to what East Ohio United Methodists can do when together we join to do what some might say is a reach too far.”

After celebrating donors, McFadden turned his focus to what the new residence hall will mean to those who will live there as the East Ohio Conference plays a role in shaping Africa yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

“Today we anticipate. We anticipate what it will mean when female students will come with their dreams of becoming nurses, teachers, pastors, entrepreneurs, business leaders, advocates for peace and justice, and a myriad of other dreams to be fulfilled. But most of all, I think, we anticipate that some of those who come will include the daughters and the granddaughters of graduates of Africa University and they will begin that line of legacy that will extend generation after generation into the future.”

“This is so much more than an investment in a residence hall,” shared Malone. “We are investing in an education, investing in leadership, investing in safe and secure housing. We are investing in students’ lives!”

Rev. Bruce Hitchcock, superintendent of the Ohio Valley District and Cabinet liaison to the Teach • Reach • Bless steering committee offered that the new residence will be more than a place to rest and study.

“One of the things that is going to happen in this dormitory, this residence hall, is that the risen Christ is going to greet every person that passes through those doors and every person is going to receive the grace and the love of God in this dormitory. It will literally be a means of grace for a lot of women. This is what our God does. This is the spirit of the campaign: the love of Jesus and the care for our sisters.”

Learn more about Africa University and the Teach • Reach • Bless campaign.

The Conference Communications team would like to share other stories that highlight ways that each of us is answering the call of Bishop Tracy S. Malone to reach out to our communities in creative ways. Please e-mail your ministry story to EOC Director of Communications Rick Wolcott at

* Brett Hetherington is the Communications specialist for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.