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A Family’s Commitment to Africa University
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Dr. Leigh Ann Shaw and Alex.

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The Rev. Dr. Leigh Ann Shaw, great-niece, continues legacy of great uncle’s dying wish.

Shaw said she knew as a teenager that her Uncle Macie, her term of endearment for her great-uncle, was involved in a “big project” an

As Dr. James M. (Jimmy) Walker lay dying, his nephew and niece-in-law, Bill and Dona Shaw, while sitting vigil at his bedside, asked Walker if there was anything the couple could do for him.  His emphatic response was, “Support Africa University!”  The Rev. Dr. Leigh Ann Shaw, Walker’s great-niece, heard this story for the very first time from her mother as Shaw prepared to travel to Africa University this past March for the 25th anniversary celebrations.

Shaw said she knew as a teenager that her Uncle Macie, her term of endearment for her great-uncle, was involved in a “big project” and had provided all of her family members with Africa University tee-shirts.  Walker served as president of the Division of Chaplains and Related Ministries of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry from 1988 until his death in November 1991.  It was under his leadership that the Division voted in October 1988 to endow the very first faculty chair at Africa University to teach pastoral care and counselling.  When the chair was fully endowed in 1991, the Division voted unanimously to name the chair in honor of Walker.

“Uncle Macie holds such a tender place in my heart and was the foundational person in my call to ordained ministry,” Shaw said as she reflected on her great-uncle’s influence on her life.  Shaw earned her Doctor of Ministry degree from Wesley Theological Seminary, her Master of Divinity degree from Claremont School of Theology, and her undergraduate degree in English Literature from San Diego State University.  Her 20 years under appointment includes serving as a hospital chaplain for four years. She is now serving in her second year as senior pastor of the United Methodist Church of Vista, California.

Shaw found it Providential that she had been appointed to a church with a deep commitment to Africa University’s transforming ministry.  In 2012, the church endowed a scholarship at the university in honor of two of its members, Earl J. (Tommy) Thomson and his late wife Margie.  In light of her family’s and the church’s connection to Africa University, Shaw felt a pastoral and personal responsibility to travel to Zimbabwe to see first-hand the “big project” that had captured her great-uncle’s imagination and to meet the church’s scholarship recipient.

Shaw said she was “blown away” by what she saw upon arriving on the campus:  it looked like any other college campus in the US with the students doing the same things that college students do everywhere.  Secondly, she was impressed by the students whom she met, including her church’s scholarship recipient who speaks five languages.  She said that the students were poised, well-spoken, and exuded a sense of personhood and worth.  She opined that Africa University is a welcoming and nurturing place for young people as it helps them learn, grow, and then leave to serve and make a difference in their communities.

“Africa University not only provides hope for the future for these young people and the communities to which they will return, but it is also making a difference right now as it feeds people’s minds, spirits, and bodies,” Shaw said.  “The mere existence of this university is a testament to the power of The United Methodist Church to make a difference in the world,” Shaw concluded.

Elaine Jenkins, director of planned giving, Africa University Development Office

A World Service Special Gift is a designated financial contribution made by an individual, local church, organization, district or annual conference to a project authorized as such by the Connectional Table. Current World Service Special Gifts projects include the Africa University Endowment Fund, the Leonard Perryman Communications Scholarship for Ethnic Minority Students, the Methodist Global Education Fund, the National Anti-Gambling Project and the Lay Missionary Planting Network.

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