Funds from the $2 million Africa Theological Education Initiative are being used for scholarships, training programs, and development of training materials for pastors in the Central Conferences. About $1.1 million has been distributed to date.
Bishop John Innis, episcopal leader of the Liberia Annual Conference, said the funding came at a critical time for The United Methodist Church in Africa. “The money is relevant. It comes at a time when the church is growing, and we need to be developing pastors,” he said.
The United Methodist Church is growing faster in Africa than in any other part of the globe. Today, UMC membership in Africa is nearly 4.2 million, compared to 7.7 million in the United States. While church membership in Africa represents more than 30 percent of United Methodists worldwide, Africa has a critical shortage of trained clergy.
With the tremendous need for theological education throughout Africa, the 2008 General Conference approved a petition tasking three general church agencies – the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, the General Board of Global Ministries, and United Methodist Communications – with funding a $2 million initiative to improve theological education in Africa and with overseeing its implementation.
John Lesesne, GBHEM’s chief financial officer and treasurer, said $100,000 has been designated for each of 12 African episcopal areas, with each resident bishop deciding how that money should be spent.
Lesesne said of the $2 million designated for the initiative, about $1.1 million has been distributed. “We are working closely with the bishops to get these financial resources to the areas that need them most, while being careful stewards of the church’s money.”
Innis said the money was used in his area for several purposes beginning with assisting 22 pastors to attend Cuttington University in Monrovia. “This is the first time in Libera that we have had this many church leaders to be enrolled in theological education,” he said.
Money was used to help four doctoral students attending Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Mo. One of those students is the Rev. Yatta Young, dean of the Gbarnga School of Theology in Liberia.
“They will come back to Liberia and help educate others at the theology school, and we will have qualified, well-educated, spirit-filled pastors to reach out to the rural areas,” Innis said. Additional money was used for travel expenses for students at Africa University.
The Academies of Evangelization and Church Growth, which train pastoral leaders in contextually based church growth methods, has $180,000 designated to expand the program on the African continent, said the Rev. John Edward Nuessle, associate general secretary, Mission Relationships Mission and Evangelism Unit, General Board of Global Ministries. Nuessle said the expansion included events in West Africa that served Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Nigeria. Events were held in Zimbabwe for that country, and also served South Africa. Events in Mozambique provided training for leaders in Mozambique, West Angola, and East Angola.
Bishop John Yambasu, episcopal leader of Sierra Leone, said that with the rapid and exponential growth in population, especially of children and youth, the need for the church to provide sound Christian education — build, repair, and equip schools, colleges and universities — has become even more imperative.
And, with the rapid explosion of church membership, Yambasu said the need for contextually relevant theological education, the construction of church buildings, chapels and parsonages, and the need for training of both lay and clergy leadership to provide pastoral and administrative oversight for these emerging congregations, has become both crucial and urgent. For example, over one two-year-period, the church in Sierra Leone has established five new congregations with a total membership of about 400. Four of these congregations are in the predominantly Muslim part of the country.
The Rev. Rena Yocom, GBHEM’s assistant general secretary, Ministry Discernment, Candidacy, and Theological Education, said $160,000 was designated for each language area in which Course of Study materials are needed. Course of Study is a program that allows people to be trained to pastor a local church. Curriculum is being developed in French, Portuguese, and English for Africa.
Also, money will be used to strengthen the SOL Africa Partnership with the Methodist University of São Paulo (Brazil) and the three episcopal areas in Mozambique and Angola, Yocom said. That program provides educational opportunities for Portuguese-speaking Methodists. Plans are to send two students from each of the three Portuguese-speaking African conferences to the seminary in São Paulo to study.
The English-speaking conferences had been using Course of Study materials designed for the United States, but Yocom said those materials do not always take the African context into consideration. Work is beginning to develop new English Course of Study materials for use in the conferences where English is spoken. Since the English-speaking conferences have had resources available in their language, they are focusing their attention on publishing contextual material written by African faculty and theologians.
In addition, funds have been designated to support the new African Association of United Methodist Theological Schools, which met for the first time in September 2011.
“The funds are helpful, and we are appreciative that the church is concerned about theological education to improve the church,” Innis said. “Those who are benefitting can do good, stay in love with God, and try never to do harm.”