Bishop Marcus Matthews leaped to his feet in joy that Saturday morning in 1988 when the quadrennial General Conference of The United Methodist Church overwhelmingly voted approval of the Africa Initiative, a dream to launch the first-ever United Methodist-related university in Africa.
"It was one of the most powerful moments that I have ever experienced at General Conference," recalled Matthews, Africa University's interim board chair and episcopal leader of the Washington-Baltimore Conference. "My jumping up was a way of expressing what I was feeling about Africa University and its possibilities, what we could actually do as a denomination."
The dreams expressed at the St. Louis General Conference – that the Africa Initiative would bring together United Methodists around the world with a common agenda – became a reality. Today Africa University boasts 6,200 alumni. Countless people in the worldwide connection have supported AU with their prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness.
The pan-African higher education experience that AU provides has developed principled leaders with networks, skills, values and personal attributes to serve and transform their communities. Among them is Walter Suza, a Tanzanian who earned an agriculture degree at Africa University in 1996. Suza oversees a multi-country effort to train a new generation of plant breeders, as a sustainable solution to food insecurity in Africa.
AU's current enrolment of 1,415 students, more than half of whom are women, come from 26 African countries. They choose among undergraduate and graduate degree programs in agriculture and natural resources, education, health sciences, humanities and social sciences, management and administration, peace leadership and governance and theology.
Over the years, United Methodists have provided financial support through the Africa University Fund apportionment and World Service Special Gifts, bearing testimony to the high regard for AU within the connection. Local congregations in the United States invested more than $2.1 million in the Africa University Fund in 2015. Support for the fund apportionment among annual conferences continued to increase, with 32 conferences investing 100 percent or more of their asking.
Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño of the California-Pacific Conference called AU "an investment in God's preferred future for Africa and … the world.
"Amidst ongoing struggles due to long historic economic injustice, transformation is coming to the continent of Africa, and Africa University is a vital part of that transformation," she said. "We are seeing great faithfulness and fruitfulness as Africa University's graduates become the leaders of this great continent. I pray that The United Methodist Church around the world will continue to support Africa University."
Tom Gillem, freelance writer and photographer based in Nashville, Tennessee.
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.