Rev. Yahuda Zailani has served in ministry for the United Methodist Church for more than 25 years and has spent the last 12 as a lecturer at Banyam Theological Seminary in Nigeria. He keeps a packed academic schedule — teaching five to seven courses per semester — but he still feels that there is a barrier preventing him from giving the most to his students and his church.
“Getting a Ph.D. is not easy in Africa and it is a requirement for faculty in both church and secular universities,” he said.
Zailani is now on his way to fulfilling that requirement as a member of the first class to enroll in the new joint doctoral program between Africa University (AU) and Wesley House Cambridge.
“Getting a Ph.D. has been my dream priority in academia,” said Zailani. “The news of the AU-Wesley Ph.D. program came as an answer to my plight.”
Zailani sees the program not only as a way to further develop his academic career, but also as a vital step in training and credentialing more faculty across the continent of Africa. His own busy teaching schedule, the equivalent of teaching 10 to 14 credit hours per week, is a result of current staffing shortages. He hopes that the AU-Wesley program will help create a sustained avenue for more United Methodists to earn their Ph.D., curbing the shortages and offering more academic opportunity for new generations.
“I pledge my willingness to continue to contribute to the education of those coming behind me,” he said.
As he begins his studies, Zailani plans to focus his research on the evolution of The United Methodist Church (UMC) in Nigeria. He’ll analyze factors that have led to its rapid growth and as well as some Church growing pains there.
“Africa needs to develop her own ideas, theology and reflections to enable a contextualized approach to theological issues bedeviling the African Church,” he said.
The UMC in Nigeria has faced periods of division and major disagreement in the past and Zailani plans to study those cases as part of his broader research into Church growth. However, his primary area of focus will be the ways in which Church expansion and the fast-paced growth of Methodism relates to the John Wesley’s own feelings of affirmation and trust in God during his famous “Aldersgate Experience.” The working title of his dissertation is, “Impact of the Aldersgate Experience on the Growth and Unity of the UMC: An Evaluation of the Present-Day Revival in the Nigeria Episcopal Area.”
He believes that examining Church growth from this angle may offer greater insight into the spiritual roots of the expansion in Nigeria and the reasons for its continued success.
“An analysis shows that although the Church [in Nigeria] was going through a period of crisis for the past sixteen years, it grew from one annual conference to four and from 19 districts to over 60 districts under one episcopal area,” he said. “It is my desire to see the Church grow numerically, as well as spiritually. Wesley’ Aldersgate experience can serve as a model for instilling revival and transformation in the Church.”
Stay tuned for more “Meet the Scholars” profiles of the first Africa University-Wesley House doctoral class.
About the joint program: The Africa University-Wesley House joint doctoral program is designed to expand the teaching and research capacity for United Methodist institutions in Africa by increasing the number of educators with doctorates and a deep knowledge of local needs and contexts. The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) and the Central Conference Theological Education Fund (CCTEF) have both provided financial support to make this possible.
About GBHEM: The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s mission is to build capacity for United Methodist lay and clergy leaders to discover, claim and flourish in Christ’s calling in their lives, by creating connections and providing resources to aid in recruitment, education, professional development and spiritual formation. Every elder, deacon and licensed local pastor benefits from our training and candidacy programs. Many young adults find help in clarifying their vocation and God’s call in their lives through our leadership and discernment programs. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook: @GBHEM.