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Methodist education associations break new ground in Africa

Nicole Burdakin
April 10, 2015

Dr. John Mbiti
Dr. John Mbiti, theologian, author, professor and pastor.

Long established networks of United Methodist-related educational institutions exist in North America, Latin America and elsewhere, but recently developed networks are emerging on the continent of Africa in full-force.

Last month, the Africa Association of United Methodist Theological Institutions (AAUMTI) and the Africa Association of Methodist-related Institutions of Higher Education (AAMIHE) met in Nairobi, Kenya, to explore new opportunities and reaffirm commitments to leadership development in the Pan-African context.

Chief executive officers and designated faculty from schools of theology across Africa at the AAUMTI meeting March 23–25, 2015, at the Desmond Tutu Ecumenical Centre, an affiliate of the All Africa Conference of Churches. Here, AAUMTI members adopted bylaws and elected a Nominations Committee, two concrete steps demonstrating AAUMTI’s development past its formative stages. The bylaws also established levels of membership in the association and a provision for member organizations to pay annual dues.

Africa Association of United Methodist Theological Institutions (AAUMTI)
Africa Association of United Methodist Theological Institutions (AAUMTI)

Representatives from eight countries of the three African central conferences were present, along with others including staff from the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM), General Board of Archives and History (GCAH), General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) and Discipleship Ministries. AAUMTI had nearly 100 percent attendance at the event, with two representatives from West Africa absent due to travel quarantine procedures in Kenya in the wake of the Ebola crisis.

“This was an historic meeting in that the AAUMTI established its bylaws and, in doing so, established itself as a stable and growing association.  As a result, new vistas are opening for United Methodist theological education in Africa,” said the Rev. Myron Wingfield, associate general secretary of GBHEM’s Division of Ordained Ministry.

AAUMTI enables member institutions to build capacity, share resources and support in faculty sharing or student exchange programs, strengthen ties to The United Methodist Church, and engage in financial stewardship and development. Alfred Day, general secretary of GCAH, spoke to AAUMTI members on how to chronicle their institutions’ histories, offering technical support and a theology of historical archives, as many of the recently founded theology schools in Africa grow.

Dr. John Mbiti, theologian, author, professor and pastor, often called “the father of contemporary African theology,” spoke on the theological contents in select African names of God at the AAUMTI meeting as the keynote speaker.

Africa Association of Methodist-related Institutions of Higher Education (AAMIHE)
Africa Association of Methodist-related Institutions of Higher Education (AAMIHE)

“One very vital item that the missionaries did not bring to Africa, was the knowledge about God, who brought them to Africa,” Mbiti said. “This fundamental knowledge existed already for millennia before any missionaries set foot in Africa.” What early Christian missionaries brought, he said, was the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

E-Reader Project leaders Steven Bryant of Discipleship Ministries and Amos Nascimento of GBHEM, also appeared in the program, giving a presentation on successes, opportunities and future perspectives of the initiative. The E-Reader Project is a simple, sustainable, and cost-effective way for theology schools in remote areas to access current textbooks, making theological education available to more people in more places than ever before.

AAMIHE met March 25–27, 2015, at the same venue. A joint fundraising seminar with both associations took place on March 25, where the Rev. Dr. Kim Cape, general secretary of GBHEM, spoke about the biblical and Wesleyan foundations of a “culture of generosity.” This event built on a previous seminar offered in Nairobi in 2013, after which many African institutions identified this area as a priority and established development offices or designated partners for fundraising.

The Global Theological Students (GTS) network.
The Global Theological Students (GTS) network.

The two associations share many members because of the church’s history on the continent of Africa. Many United Methodist schools of theology were established to meet the needs of the flourishing church and later developed into universities with undergraduate faculties, as well.

Members of AAMIHE had established a Nominating Committee at the International Association of Methodist-related Schools, Colleges, and Universities (IAMSCU) 2014 Conference in Hiroshima, Japan, and elected Munashe Furusa, new vice chancellor at Africa University in Zimbabwe, as its first president at the March meeting. Three vice presidents were also chosen—Dr. Stephen Kanyaru of Kenya Methodist University, the Rev. Nathanael Ohouo of Methodist University of Côte d’Ivoire and Dr. Teresa Santos Neto of Methodist University of Angola—as well as secretary/treasurer, Dr. Evariste Kimba of Kabongo Methodist University.

The Global Theological Students (GTS) network also attended the AAUMTI gathering and contributed to a spirited worship service, giving witness to how the experience of the meeting contextualized their work as new theologians.

Burdakin is editorial and production assistant, Office of Communications, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.