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AU offers young refugee renewed hope and a future

Christian Adosi playing  guitar that was gifted by Sara and Richard Rathgeber
Christian Adosi playing guitar that was gifted by Sara and Richard Rathgeber

As a youth in the Tongogara Refugee Camp in Rupisi, Zimbabwe, Adosi Christian Nsingani cherished learning. Early on, however, he realized his limits.

His father owned a large farm. When Christian wasn’t in school, he accompanied his father to the farm every day. “I was helping him,” Christian admitted, “without knowing that he was teaching me so many things in agriculture before he died.

“When I arrived in Zimbabwe, the knowledge that my father taught me helped me to start doing agriculture at the camp to reduce hunger. The money that we received was not enough to survive, so having knowledge in agriculture helped me to raise tomatoes, potatoes, maize and beans for selling and for eating.”

Christian longed to study agriculture at Africa University. He decided to write to the vice chancellor.

Your support of the Africa University Fund apportionment supports the general operating expenses of Africa University including faculty and staff salaries and vital infrastructure.

“I would like to be one of the leaders made at Africa University,” Christian wrote. “If I get the opportunity to have a scholarship, I will be able to … transform the world. After finishing my studies at Africa University, I will commit myself to a lifelong learning process and an open heart that I may help others to fulfill their dreams.

“Without education,” he added, “I cannot be who I want to be. Having a scholarship will be a blessing to me, my family, my community and Africa in general.”

Describing agriculture as “the backbone of the economic system,” Christian noted its value in providing food, raw material and employment opportunities. “Agriculture,” he said, “can help reduce poverty, raise incomes and improve food security for 80% of the world's poor, who live in rural areas and work mainly in farming.”

Despite his convincing plea, Christian was turned down twice for AU scholarship support.

Meanwhile – 9,000 miles away in Austin, Texas - the Rev. Dr. Roger Ireson, a Methodist preacher’s kid and former top executive of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, was talking with his neighbor Edward Richard “Dick” Rathgeber Jr., 89, a Lutheran PK and real-estate developer.

“I shared with him that three of my projects were being celebrated this year: 30 years of Africa University, 30 years of IAMSCU (International Association of Methodist-Related Schools, Colleges and Universities) and 150 years of GBHEM,” Ireson said.

Richard and Sarah Rathgerber.

“I began to tell him how our goal was to have students from many African countries studying together, learning each other’s languages and, maybe in the future, working together to develop the African continent into a major contender, a major contributor in the world, and that this was a tremendous opportunity to change lives.”

When James “Jim” Salley, president and CEO of Africa University (Tennessee) Inc., visited Texas, Ireson invited him to lunch with Rathgeber.

“Toward the end of that luncheon conversation,” Ireson recalled, “I said, ‘We hope you will consider a major gift to AU, but in the meantime, maybe you could give a gift to help a student become educated for a year.’ He loved that idea. He said, ‘Absolutely!’”

Christian was the lucky recipient.

The Africa University vice chancellor sent a representative to the refugee camp to tell him, “Pack your bags. A friend in America has paid your way for a year at Africa U.” Ecstatic, Christian wrote a letter of thanks to Rathgeber.

“We began to learn things about this very talented young man,” Ireson said. “He was going to study agriculture and saw this as a mission, a way to use his life. He is also a gifted musician.”

Hearing that Christian shares his musical talents on campus, Rathgeber sent the young man a second, more personal gift: a top-of-the-line Yamaha keyboard, stand, bench and music stand.

“Dick Rathgeber is a rough, gruff kind of guy, but he has a tender heart. He was deeply moved by this student writing to him, and it put a face on a project. Once you see the people of the story, how could you not be moved?”

Rathgeber agreed.

“I wanted this first student to be the guinea pig,” Rathgeber said. “I told Jim to get at least four students, and he told us he has at least 16. It’s a lot easier for a donor if they can connect with a person.”

“My hope for Christian is that he will get out of school and teach at least 10 more people what he knows about agriculture. I don’t want to just educate one person. I want to educate a whole bunch, and I want practical knowledge passed on.”

Young Christian is thrilled to be at Africa University. “I was not expecting to be called ‘a student,’” he said, “because I had no one who could support my studies financially at the university level.”

He enjoys meeting students from many countries across the continent. “You can learn about different cultures and diversity among Africans,” he said. “Being at Africa University is almost like traveling all over Africa.”

Christian hopes to graduate from AU in 2026.

“Africa University,” he said, “is a blessing to all United Methodist Church members and all Africans.

“Thank you very much for your love and support for Africa University – the bridge to my future and a bright future for the whole of Africa.”

excerpt from an article by Barbara Dunlap-Berg, freelance writer and editor, retired from UMCom 

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.

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