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In West Michigan, AU Story Inspires Uncommon Generosity

In West Michigan, AU Story Inspires Uncommon Generosity

The Rev. Dr. Laurie Haller and the West Michigan delegation worked with AU staff to develop the Welcome Center plans in 2010.

In June, United Methodist congregations in the West Michigan Conference surpassed their goal of $500,000 to build the Ubuntu Welcome/Gathering Center at Africa University. In an area that is just emerging from a decade of economic decline, United Methodists stretched themselves in giving. A layperson’s gift of $5,000, made from the floor of the annual conference event, took the campaign over its goal six months earlier than expected.

An anonymous donor matched the conference’s $500,000, making $1 million available for the building and for equipment and furnishings.

“West Michigan is making a statement of positive recognition of what Africa University has accomplished in its first 20 years of existence,” said Ed Edwardson, the campaign co-chair. “It speaks to our belief that Africa University truly can be a leader in transforming all of Africa. By providing ethical leadership for all sectors, communities can make positive strides.”

The West Michigan effort invests in Africa University’s ministry by providing affordable on-campus housing for visiting faculty, mission teams, clergy, youth and others who gather for seminars on topics ranging from food security to peace-building in Africa.

“What is compelling is what the building is to be used for and how it fits into a ministry that is about strengthening reconciliation, nurturing leadership and shaping a new, more positive future,” said the Rev. Dr. Laurie Haller, the former Grand Rapids District superintendent, who served on the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM).

Launched in June 2010, the campaign sent speakers out to share the Africa University story in pulpits and at other gatherings across the conference. Eric Mulanda, a theology student from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, itinerated in West Michigan and made presentations via Skype from Zimbabwe. Clergy and lay members of the conference visited the campus and returned to speak with knowledge and passion about the university.

The Rev. Dr. Laurie Haller.

“You have to seize the moment, and this was that moment,” said Edwardson, who described the response of individual donors as “just incredible.”

Haller credits the success of the campaign to the deeply rooted mission culture among United Methodists in Michigan. The Grand Rapids District raised the majority of the funds, and the other five districts each pledged $20,000. Haller notes that the involvement of West Michigan’s district superintendents played a crucial role in the outcome.

“There is a story to tell,” said Haller. “Africa University is a ministry that encompasses the four focus areas of our church. The Ubuntu Center project brought the whole conference together in mission in a way that we have not seen previously. Africa University isn’t just a name to us. It’s a ministry in which we have invested.”

Going forward, Edwardson sees tremendous scope for growing West Michigan’s engagement with Africa University.

“There is a huge opportunity to partner with West Michigan churches and educational institutions to further the success of Africa University on the continent,” said Edwardson.

— story by Andra Stevens, director of communications, Africa University Development Office

The World Service Specials Gifts provide the opportunity for "second mile" giving by individuals, groups, or congregations to projects that are related to the Disciplinary functions of general agencies other than the General Board of Global Ministries. One such project is to support of the Africa University endowment fund to provide a base to generate income to support the ongoing operations of the university, including scholarships for students. Please encourage your leaders and congregations to support the World Service Special Gifts apportionment at 100%.

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