Hundreds gathered at United Methodist Africa University in March to celebrate its 25th anniversary. There were gifts and memories as supporters looked back over a quarter of a century, but there was a lot more looking forward.
Bishop James Swanson, episcopal leader of the Mississippi Conference, came to Africa University with a delegation and a down payment on a $1.3 million pledge.
In his booming voice, Swanson talked about the journey the Mississippi Conference and Africa University have been on since the beginning of the university in 1992.
"The Mississippi Conference has placed their hopes and dreams in Africa University. It is a great irony that this conference, with a history of racism, saw an opportunity here. Jesus is a transformer," he said.
"To have a son of Africa as bishop of Mississippi is a testimony to how we have worked together," he continued. "Africa University is loved by the Mississippi Conference."
|The Africa University choir sings during the 25th anniversary celebration for the United Methodist school in Mutare, Zimbabwe. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.
Swanson's message stirred 94-year-old Mabel Middleton, a member of the Mississippi conference delegation.
Stepping to the podium, the petite Middleton gave the university a gift of $1,000. "Your message inspired me; this is my first installment."
Gifts, tears and cheers flowed during the four-hour celebration.
Keynote speaker and guest of honor, Tsitsi Masiyima, co-founder of the HigherLife Foundation, was one of two who received an honorary degree from the university. She also promised that "a gift will be coming."
HigherLife Foundation is a nonprofit organization that invests in education for children in poverty. Since 1996, the organization has helped over 250,000 orphans.
Some of those orphans are now attending and have graduated from Africa University.
In 1984, two African United Methodist bishops, Emilio J. M. de Carvalho of Angola and Arthur F. Kulah of Liberia, challenged their colleagues at the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry to support the establishment of a university in Africa.
The board presented a plan for the pan-African university to the 1988 General Conference, the denomination's top lawmaking body, which voted to establish the university. The university received its charter from the Zimbabwean government and classes began in 1992.
The first 14 students went to school when it was just "tall grass and weeds," said Zimbabwe Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa, who was one of the pioneering faculty members of the university.
Now, the university boasts more than 7,000 graduates from 32 African countries.
Africa University is ranked second among Zimbabwean colleges, Professor Munashe Furusa, vice chancellor, told the gathering.
"This university is a force to be reckoned with here in Zimbabwe. Let's do better. We don't want to be second; we want to be best," said Mandiitawepi Chimene, minister of State for Provincial Affairs, Manicaland Province. Chimene was one of several officials that brought greetings and congratulatory messages.
In his benediction, Bishop David Yemba, the university chancellor, thanked everyone who had helped the university during its first 25 years. Yemba was one of the first faculty members in the school of theology and is retiring as a central conference episcopal leader.
"We follow in the footsteps of Moses; thank you for bringing us so far."
Kathy Gilbert, multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service.
One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the Africa University Fund transforms Africa by educating and empowering students from across the continent through Africa University, the first fully accredited, United Methodist-related educational institution on the continent. The Africa University Fund supports the general operating expenses of Africa University including faculty and staff salaries and vital infrastructure. Please encourage your leaders and congregations to support the Africa University Fund at 100 percent.