Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference (IGRC) or its predecessor bodies, the former Central Illinois and Southern Illinois conferences and their lay, clergy and episcopal leaders have earned a good name around Africa University. With God’s help and yours, we will finish this campaign on time.
Born in Moline, Illinois June 1, 1842, his parents were Methodists. Twenty years later, this young man was class valedictorian and graduate of Illinois Wesleyan with a B.A. degree. Garrett Biblical Institute handed this scholar a B.D. degree in 1868. After one appointment in Pekin, Illinois he left town for Louisiana. Pastoral ministry, in a place nicknamed “The Big Easy”, was an exciting opportunity. Soon, trouble ensued in New Orleans. This Anglo –American pastor became an advocate for African Americans.
Did you ever see Walt Disney’s Pinocchio? One voice and excerpted lyrics rocked my world. Nestled in the comforting and quiet pathos of a nocturne, Jiminy Cricket sang passionately and prophetically, “When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are, anything your heart desires, will come to you.” Those words and that cartoon taught me to believe in the power of a dream.
Our denomination has built Africa University through prayer, presence, apportionments and special giving. More than 4,000 graduates have been sent into the world from Africa University. The current student body numbers 1,200 with 700 more involved in long-distance learning. Money and students are part of the lifeblood of educational institutions.
Best of all, I learned afresh that my best sermon in a while didn't just happen; it was "the work of God."
It was a most unusual and unforgettable Palm Sunday at Africa University. No Hosanna, Loud Hosanna. No Tell Me the Stories of Jesus. In fact, no palms. Seems strange in a land with tropical trees, there would be no palms when American churches clamor to find them so children can carry them in during a worship service procession. Adults smile, mothers and father snap pictures of darling children and we all get the warm fuzzies. And from a historical standpoint, nothing was said nor celebrated that on this Sunday -- 115 years ago -- British imperialist Cecil Rhodes had granted the nearly 1,600 acres of land to Methodist Bishop Joseph Crane Hartzell for a school to educate the children of white British workers who were building a railroad to transport then Rhodesia's natural resources to South Africa for transport to Great Britain.
And yet, it WAS Palm Sunday...Soli Deo Gloria -- To God Alone Be the Glory.
Dr. Roger W. Ireson used the keynote address at the 20th annivesary celebration at Africa University it as a time to reflect on God's movement in the formation of Africa University. "This didn't just happen. It was a work of God." And addressing the students, he added, "And it was established for you. Give yourself to the world and build a new Africa. and you will see the dream fulfilled." Ireson wove together several stories about the early years of the university with a refrain, "Maybe it was luck. Maybe it was chance. But maybe it was a movement of God."
And so the day ended, realizing that extravagant generosity of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference and a group practicing extravagant generosity after being inspired by the Holy Spirit in the mountains of Zimbabwe served as a reminder that we hold the key to turning dreams deferred into dreams fulfilled.
You don't have to look very far to see our conference's imprint on Africa University. But perhaps it is a time to shift focus and help some of those high school students reach their dreams. For the past several years, we have been funding scholarships for AU students, but what would a big dream look like? What would it mean to really make an impact on the African continent?