He might have asked for a gold watch, season tickets to the Kennedy Center or a donation made to his favorite charity. But Bishop Marcus Matthews believes in bigger dreams.
So when the members of the Baltimore-Washington Conference asked what he might want to celebrate his retirement and 42 years of ministry, the humble bishop was audacious. He wanted a Fitness Center to enrich the lives of the student at Africa University.
Through a love offering, the people of the Baltimore-Washington Conference raised $300,000 as seed money for the new center. On June 10, 2016 Bishop Matthews stood in a field of acacia trees, near the foot of a mountain in Zimbabwe and turned over a shovel full of dirt.
He was joined in the ground breaking of the Marcus Matthews Fitness Center by his wife Barbara, his assistant, the Rev. Maidstone Mulenga, Charity Mulenga and Jim Miller, chair of the Episcopacy Committee, along with several leaders of Africa University, including Vice Chancellor Munashe Furusa and Chancellor Bishop David Yemba.
What was perhaps even more interesting was watching people slip up to the row of shovels after the formal ceremony and turn the dirt themselves. The drivers who drove the officials to the service each broke ground and so did the many of the students, who recorded each shovelful with selfies.
On that clear morning, a historic moment quietly unfolded. It was one of those moments one doesn't forget: when a dream slips from the soul and become a technicolor reality. It was like faith being lived out loud, with a soundtrack from the Africa University choir.
One of Bishop Matthew's spiritual gifts seems to be nurturing others in their stewardship. It's not about fundraising. For him, it seems to be about making sure people are given opportunities to use their gifts to glorify God.
During the ceremony, Matthews touched on this. "Sometimes we receive not because we ask not," he said. "We asked God to support Africa University. God is answering our prayers."
"We've broken ground here in faith. We know our friends will water the seeds the Baltimore-Washington Conference planted here today. God will bring the increase," said Furursa, citing 1 Corinthians 3:7. "It is God who makes things grow."
Once complete, the fitness center is expected to provide a venue for a variety of sporting activities and enhance the quality of student life. The facility is expected to further increase Africa University's competitiveness over other universities in the area and globally, making it a "university of choice."
The people of the Baltimore-Washington Conference have a new story to tell: Once we had a bishop who challenged us to dream, we broke ground on something great, and in the process, helped to build a global church.
Melissa Lauber, Director of Communication, Baltimore-Washington AC
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.