The Ubuntu Retreat Center at Africa University is becoming a focal point for community building, while generating significant savings, great reviews, and goodwill for the university.
In its first year of operations, the center welcomed friends, partners and supporters of Africa University from the Wesley Foundation of the University of Michigan and the Great Plains and Baltimore Washington conferences, among others.
Members of the AU Board of Directors now use the center for their biannual meetings and guests attending the 25th anniversary celebrations were also accommodated there in March. Among them were Carol Moore and her husband Charles Moore, an AU Board member. It was her first visit to the campus.
"My wife and I were walking across campus from dinner and we heard singing in the chapel," Moore said. "We were drawn in…to join in a student worship service that involved incredible singing, impromptu prayers, and testimony.
"Staying on campus was an important part of gaining an appreciation and perspective into the life of Africa University," said Carol Moore. "We interacted with students and staff from morning to night and made the transition from visitors to family…our experience at the Wednesday evening worship service—it was an amazing example of the radical hospitality that is alive on the campus."
Tove Odland, a former board member and representative of the mission board of the United Methodist Church in Norway agreed. "To have a guest house at the campus is much more important than one would think," said Odland. "One becomes part of AU! We will recommend that mission boards, universities and groups have seminars and meetings there."
The Ubuntu Retreat Center was made possible by a generous gift from the West Michigan Conference. A campaign co-chaired by then district superintendent, now Bishop Laurie Haller, and Mr. Ed Edwardson generated $500,000 and triggered an anonymous matching gift, resulting in more than $1 million for the project.
The center continues to receive gifts designated for its development. These include contributions from Dr. David Beckley, president of Rust College and Dr. Albert Mosley, president of Gammon Theological Seminary. Ousley United Methodist Church, represented by its pastor Rev. McCallister Hollins, and the Metropolitan District of the New York Conference, represented by Rev. Denise Smartt-Sears, also presented gifts for the Ubuntu Center during the 25th anniversary celebrations.
For those unfamiliar with the naming of the center:
Ubuntu is an African word that means "I am because you are." Ubuntu claims that at the deepest level we are all brothers and sisters and find our value and purpose in community. When others hurt, we hurt. When we celebrate, others celebrate. The hope of the Ubuntu Center is to enhance the university mission to create moral, ethical and spiritual leaders for the continent of Africa.
At the opening of the center, Haller said, "What has resonated with people is the vision of a transformed Africa…and the rare opportunity as United Methodists to do something in life bigger than ourselves."
The Africa University continues grow, evolve and mature. Stay tuned for continued stories of students and faculty, challenges and blessings, but most of all, how God is using The United Methodist Church to transform lives.
Elaine Jenkins, director of planned giving, Africa University Development Office
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.