Making Dreams Possible


Proverbs 13:12
Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton
Spoon River Gathering
Galesburg, First UMC
Wednesday, March 4, 2015
                 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.  As pastor, DS, publisher and delegate to General Conference, he initiated open seating at his worship services, started schools, established a hospital, worked with the Freedman’s Aid Society and published the Southwestern Christian Advocate “to promote Methodist work among African Americans.” 
            Where did Joe Hartzell get this passion for working in the black community?  Maybe, his parents had a black woman performing day work and a deep abiding relationship flowered between Hartzell and the maid like we saw in the movie called “The Help.”  Maybe, a liberal professor at Garrett Biblical Institute or a passage of scripture launched him on a new path like Luke 4:17-19 did with Jesus, John Wesley and James Cone.  You’ve heard these words ad nauseum,  “The spirt of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”  On this scripture, Jesus began a public ministry that saved the world.  On this scripture, John Wesley launched into Field Preaching which transformed the Methodist movement outside the four walls of the church.  On this scripture, James Cone became a prominent Liberation Theologian in the late sixties.  His Seminal Work Black Theology and Black Power became a major force in theological debate discussion and action across the nation.  Carrying on like Cone, Wesley and/or Jesus down south or up north was asking for trouble.  Undaunted, Hartzell pressed on. 
            A delegate to General Conference for years, Joe Hartzell passionately pleaded with the 1896 General Conference to elect its first black Missionary Bishop and send him to Africa.   Why?   For two reasons:  first, the white Missionary Bishop assigned to Africa was retiring and two, Africans deserved to be served by somebody who looked like them.  Using the General Conference, God flipped the script.  Instead of electing a black bishop and sending him to Africa, the 1896 delegates elected Joseph Hartzell and sent him.  Just as Paul, a Jew, was sent to the gentiles for the bulk of his ministry, Bishop Joseph Crane Hartzell was sent by God to a cross-cultural assignment for his entire episcopacy.  He ministered to our African brothers and sisters for 20 years.  Writing in his diary of climbing Mt. Cherimba overlooking the valley where the mission station and a school were located, Bishop Hartzell said ostensibly, “I have a dream.”  I have a dream that one day “children from all over Africa would come to Old Mutare for education and training to lead Africa.”  With little receptivity, Hartzell’s dream fell on rocky ground.  According to Proverbs 13: 12; it became a “hope deferred” that made the heart sick.  Seemingly, Hartzell’s dream to build a university in Africa died or was deferred when he died in 1929.  How biblical, King Saul was denied the privilege of building the first temple in Jerusalem.  And Hartzell was denied the privilege of constructing Africa University.    
            Ninety years later or 1984, African Bishops Emilio de Carvalho and Arthur F. Kulah challenged the General Board of Higher Education and the denomination to do “a new thing.”  “Although the denomination had established schools of higher education in China, India, Brazil, Cuba, the Philippines and Japan, it had not provided a college or university on the African Continent,” Bishop Kulah said.  In 1988, General Conference in St. Louis made the commitment to build Africa University.  Eventually, the dream of Bishop Joseph Crane Hartzell came to light and the quest to fulfill the dream became doubly inviting.   The Zimbabwe Annual Conference donated 1,545 acres land across the street from the Old Mutare School.   Resources came together.  Ground was broken.  And before you knew it; up came the university. 
            From its historic groundbreaking in 1993, Africa University has attracted a student body numbering 1200 to 1600 students from over 22 African countries.  Making Dreams Possible is a part of our DNA.  Every time a local church prays a prayer, pays its apportionments, the church is in mission or it  engages in special ventures like the one million dollar IGRC Scholarship Initiative for Africa University, your mission and Christ’s mission to the world shines forth, namely “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for transformation of the world.”  In other words, every mission effort is a letting go of the notion that we do church just to take care of ourselves.  We do mission to love God and love neighbor.  We do mission to be “signs of God’s presence in the world”.   When we raise one million dollars for the Africa University Endowment Scholarship Fund by May 2016, Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference will be able to educate nearly 8 students annually for the life of the institution, maybe till Jesus comes. 
            AU’s graduates are being equipped to transform the world within and outside the continent of Africa.  For instance, Graduate Rev. Joao Sambo from Mozambique, pastor of Liberdale UMC in Maputo, Mozambique heads the UMC Mozambique Flood Relief Task Force there.  Graduate Alima Hussein, Mozambique, is the principal adviser Government Relations for Rio Tinto Coal in Mozambique.  Graduate Martha Mutisi, Zimbabwean is based in Durban, South Africa and the Manager of Interventions Department of ACCORD (African Centre for the Constructive Resolutions of Disputes).  Graduate Dr. Kasombo from the Democratic Republic of Congo functions as medical Superintendent for the Nyadire Mission in Zimbabwe.  Graduate Rev. Mazita Margaret Machinga is equipped for service in mental health, pastoral care and counseling and prison ministry.  She is a graduate of Africa University and Claremont School of Theology in 2010.  Graduate Ivan Milosi from the Congo is doing an internship at the Wesley Foundation at Purdue University at West Lafayette, Indiana.  Milosi may be able to join us at the 2016 Annual Conference in Peoria.     
            Think about it.  If Jesus can take 12 so-called uneducated apostles and equip them to make disciples of Jesus Christ century after century; if God can use twelve men to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, care for the stranger surely God can do the same with eight students.  By faith, Africa University can train 8, 80, 800 and 1800 students annually to bring the abundant life to Africa with our support and that of the whole church. 
            Do we not know?  Have we not seen the exponential effect of the Nobel Endowment Funds transforming lives for over 100 years?  Have not the life and work of Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine, Physics, Literature and Peace made the world a better place?  Of course, they have.  In death, Alfred Nobel left enough money to reward scientists, writers and peace activists for doing good in the world till Jesus comes.  Gospel writer, Doctor Luke describes the marvelous effects of education in the personhood of Christ, the anointed One.   “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.”  (Luke 2:52)  That’s our cause celebre!!     
            From the conception of a dream in the human mind, AU’s birth in 1992 till now, AU has created a campus akin to that of a small university in America.  Statistically speaking AU has 1600 students full and part-time.  Over 50% of the student body are women twice the number in other African institutions of Higher Education.  In short, women have a better chance of being accepted and educated at our university than others.  Social scientists have interpreted such phenomena a latent or unintended function of Africa University.  Though fluid, 25 out 50 plus African countries have students registered at AU; so the experience is truly Pan-African.  Twelve residence halls, 16 staff houses, modern classrooms, a wonderful library, a state of the art million dollar chapel gifted by the folks in Korea etc. have brought character and beauty to this pastoral setting in Old Mutare.  Better still; every building standing on the AU campus is the fulfillment of a dream with the dream of education students.  AU has kept its covenant to build only when it has cash in hand to do so.  Elaine Jenkins, Director of Planned Giving, said it best, “In twenty-one short years, United Methodists have built a debt-free, first rate institution at the foot of Mt. Chiremba, in the Valley of Hope, at Old Mutare, Zimbabwe.”                   
            Along with a delegation from IGRC and numerous others, I attended the 20th Anniversary Celebration of Africa University in Old Mutare, Zimbabwe March 21, 2013.  The day seemed so special.  The sun was shining.  Hundreds of people toured every nook and cranny of Africa University.  People ate together, fellowshipped, laughed together and shared stories.  Because it was “Open Day”, the day was extra special.  High school students visited the campus.  All of them seemed to be nursing a dream of getting a college education.  If my understanding of their family situations is halfway right, most of them lacked the resources to afford one day on campus.  Most of them left behind parents and siblings locked in poverty, war, hunger, the onslaught of malaria, the Ebola Virus, unemployment and other challenges of living in Africa which I know not or fully understand.  Most of the high school kids seemed inspired and inquisitive about the number of foreigners who wanted to talk to them about their own dreams, hopes and aims.  Soon, they learned that most visitors had come to the campus to see more than buildings.  We had come to know how God had been showing up and showing out in a dream some thought impossible on the Dark Continent.  When some of the high school students made the connection that these foreigners represented folk willing to invest in their future, willing to give in order to make their dreams possible, joy like a river touched part of their souls. 
            Serena Williams mentioned that kind of raised consciousness on winning her 19th major Tennis Tournament at the 2015 Australian Open in Melbourne, Australia where she passed Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.  “I have to thank Jehovah God for this.  I was down and out and he helped me.  I just said prayers, not to win but to be strong and healthy and in the end I was able to come through so I have to give glory to God, first and foremost.”  Williams went on to say, “Growing up, I wasn’t the richest, but I had a rich family in spirit.  Standing here with 19 championships is something I thought would never happen.  I went on the court with just a racquet and a ball and a hope,” remarked a humble Serena.  That’s how those high school students came to the AU campus March 21, 2013, “on a bus, with their peers and a hope.”  Some students realized they had a rich family called the body of Christ ready, willing and able to help them “increase in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and humankind” if they could take advantage of an opportunity called Africa University.        
            During the five hour service celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Africa University, Dr. Roger Ireson, former General Secretary of the General Board of Higher Education shared this powerful testimony “Africa University did not just happen,” he said, “it was a work of God.” I can hardly wait to celebrate at the 2016 Annual Conference.  When we raise one million dollars to educate 8 students annually for the life of the institution or till Jesus comes, it’ll be the work of God.  Won’t   you help them through the one million dollar AU Endowment Scholarship Fund?  Raise the money!! Help me shout and celebrate making dreams possible.  Amen.