The Rev. L. Fitzgerald Reist II, secretary of the General Conference, was exiting a flight just after landing in Mozambique when he saw a familiar face among the many strangers.
The young man spotted Reist as well, ran up to him and gave him a big hug and a warm smile. He told Reist how much he appreciated the financial support he received while attending Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe. Without the funds, he explained, higher education may have been out of reach for him.
The man told Reist that he was now working as a government official in Mozambique. He hopes to bring social justice and improve education in his community. "This brings me joy," said Reist. "The students are grateful to be in an educational environment."
Monetary giving for Africa University, one of seven apportioned-giving funds in The United Methodist Church, makes it possible for students like the young man to get an education and give back to their communities.
The Susquehanna Conference, headquartered in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, increased its giving from 80 percent in 2012 to 87 percent 2013 to 100 percent in 2014 and 2015. "For many, many years, we have been giving 100 percent to educate the students of Africa University," said Zedna Haverstock, former conference treasurer. "This is an excellent ministry, and it caught my imagination." Haverstock, who worked in the finance department for more than 40 years, retired two years ago.
Wyoming and Central Pennsylvania conferences merged to form Susquehanna Conference in 2010, and giving decreased in 2012 and 2013, said the Rev. Mike Bealla, director of connectional ministry.
The economic downturn and leadership changes affected apportioned giving to the general church. "Even the cost of insurance was high," said the Rev. Mike Minnix, former president of the conference council on finance
"We knuckled down and worked hard," he said. "It was a struggle, but we put our shoulders to the wheel and made it happen, and we got our wind back."
Minnix, now retired, said the financial situation, whether good or bad, is on the table and transparent. "When we are struggling, everyone knows it," he said, "and everyone knows when we are doing well, and we celebrate that."
Bealla and Haverstock said Bishop Jeremiah J. Park has a heart for mission. His forward thinking leadership has helped the conference thrive. Bealla and Minnix hope the conference will keep supporting Africa University so that the institution can continue to grow.
"I've been there on several occasions," said Reist. "Whenever I am invited to preach, I often mention Africa University. It's real, and it's a great example of what we can achieve together."
Christine Kumar, freelance writer and district administrator in the Baltimore-Washington Conference.
A World Service Special Gift is a designated financial contribution made by an individual, local church, organization, district or annual conference to a project authorized as such by the Connectional Table. Current World Service Special Gifts projects include the Africa University Endowment Fund, the Leonard Perryman Communications Scholarship for Ethnic Minority Students, the Methodist Global Education Fund, the National Anti-Gambling Project and the Lay Missionary Planting Network.