On January 29th, the members of the Los Altos United Methodist Church in Los Altos, CA celebrated their annual 'Africa Sunday' and marked 11 years of changing the lives of African women through education.
The congregation welcomed James Salley, associate vice chancellor for institutional advancement for Africa University, as its guest speaker. Through a video, photographs and letters, members were able to "meet" and learn more about the ten female students they are currently supporting with partial tuition scholarships.
"We love 'Africa Sunday' and the enthusiasm and optimism that surround it," said Jan Lull, a member of the United Methodist Women (UMW), and coordinator of the effort since its inception.
The Los Altos UMC 'Africa Sunday' features a special worship celebration. In the weeks prior to and after the Sunday service, members of the UMW sell items they've made or sourced in the community in order to help African women to access higher education.
The entire effort grew out of a letter writing campaign. In 2005, Lull invited the women to select a female mission worker with whom they shared a birthday and write a letter to the worker. Her hope was that the exchange of letters would connect the women to the global mission of the denomination in a more effective and personal way.
Incredibly, a letter that Lull received from a mission worker she'd written to in Zimbabwe became the genesis for the Africa Student Education Fund. That first year, the effort was an informal one, and the women supported one student. By 2007, it had been formalized into the Africa Student Education Fund and was providing half tuition scholarships for five women studying at Africa University.
"The congregation has tremendous interest in the students they support," Lull said. "They know who is getting the help, and they see the difference that their gifts are making year after year, which generates a real response and such generosity."
At Los Altos UMC, the interest in the scholarship beneficiaries does not end at graduation. Members are keen to hear about the professional contributions of Africa University graduates like Eva Mario Ndambi, who earned a bachelor of divinity degree in 2014. In a letter to the congregation this year, Ndambi shared that she was grateful for her education and for the church's commitment. She is using her gifts in pastoral ministry, she wrote, as a deacon in The United Methodist Church in Angola.
"It's an inspiring and uplifting gift to each of us and to the congregation as a whole, this experience of being able to balance the traditional stereotypes of African women with images of women in graduation gowns," Lull said. "Through these relationships, we get to see the good that these smart and hardworking women are really doing in Africa in the present, as well as their promise for the future."
Since 2008, the Los Altos UMC Africa Student Education Fund has provided tuition support for at least 10 women to study each year. The congregation has invested more than $325,000 in scholarships to date and helped 29 women to graduate from Africa University.
Andra M. Stevens, Director, Communications, Africa University Development Office
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.