Having traveled over 8500 miles to get here, Mrs. Bunny Wolfe, Associate Director of Connectional Ministries, the Rev. Dr. Beverly Wilkes-Null, chairperson of the Africa University Scholarship Endowment Campaign Committee and yours truly, Bishop Keaton rejoice over the blessings of “traveling mercies.” These days especially with the recent terror attack in London, we don't take traveling mercies for granted. On behalf of Bishop Frank J. Beard and the members of the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference, we have been sent to help celebrate your "Silver Anniversary," to recognize your numerous achievements and to add our gift to countless others.
We confess that the prime motivation for our presence is an African Dream every bit as compelling as the dream Martin Luther King, Jr. had for America in 1963. To help his people survive colonization, captivity and thrive in the 21st century, Chief Tendai Mutasa sold tribal land to Cecil Rhodes and the British, by treaty. In exchange, Mutasa's people received "munitions plus limited access to cash, in-kind gifts, health care and education." These things gave his people hope. More than these material gifts, Chief Mutasa's faith in an amazing grace-filled Messianic God led the way forward to "a future with hope" and a "dream fulfilled" as written in the book of Jeremiah (29:11) and the book of Proverbs (13:12).
Later, another dreamer crossed paths with the descendants of Chief Mutasa, namely Bishop Joseph Crane Hartzell. A native son of Illinois and our annual conference, Bishop Hartzell injected a Pan African dynamic into the dream of Chief Mutasa with respect to education. It is said that the Bishop climbed Mt. Cherimba, knelt down and prayed. Afterward, he arose, looked down the mountain and spoke these words in paraphrase. “I have dream that one day children from all over Africa will come to Old Mutare for an education and educational experience second to none.” Bishop Hartzell made a deal with Cecil Rhodes and purchased land that included Old Mutare. Thus began his great work of building excellent schools and/or a mission center. Hartzell may not have known that the land used to belong to Chief Mutasa and his people. For all Hartzell's success, his dream made no provision for a church related college or university.
Decades later, this educational valley of dry bones stirred the prophetic imaginations of Bishop Arther F. Kulah and Bishop Emilio J. M. de Carvalho. In 1984, Kulah's paper on International Education in Africa and de Carvalho's Wilson lecture on The Church...and Higher Education in Africa to the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) caused denominational hearts to become strangely warmed-warmed over an undeniable critique. “No General Conference appoved university level institution had ever been conceived, nurtured, financed and built on the continent of Africa by the United Methodist Church." Other continents had their colleges and universities. Why not Africa? Something had to change. It did!! And it has.
Today, right now, this instant, on this spot stands Africa University. Under the divine watch of acacia trees, the AU Faculty and Administration and this august international assembly, Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference presents a symbolic check of a million dollars for the Africa University Scholarship Endowment Fund. It'll keep on giving till Jesus comes. Be assured, our million dollar goal has been met in cash and more is on the way. Dr. Sally's office said it was so. Thank you Lord for the dreamers. And "Thank you Lord" for using this gift as "a sign of God's presence in the world." As I go to my seat, the lyrics of Professor Matsikenyiri describe a response to God's presence I feel at this 25th Anniversary Celebration. "Jesu, tawa pano. Jesu, tawa pano. Jesus, tawa pano. Tawa pano mu zita renyu. ( Jesus, we are here. Jesus, we are here. Jesus, we are here. We are here for you.)" Amen.
Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton