Thursday, October 29, 2009

Kingdom Days

Some days are “kingdom” days…..those days when the reign of God seems to be so very evident, those days when you understand what Jesus meant when he said, “The Kingdom of God is like….”. Those days when you just can’t stop smiling, those days when you feel God can’t stop smiling either. July 16, 2009 was one of those “kingdom” days for me.

Africa University Ground Breaking, 1991

To understand the significance of this “kingdom” day, I need to rewind to exactly two years before. As Director of Connectional Ministries for the North Texas Annual Conference, I was scheduled to be a part of an Africa University mission team composed of conference representatives, including Bishop Alfred and Dr. Mackie Norris, and members of St. Luke “Community” UMC, Dallas. My father, Bishop Ben Oliphint, died July 7; we left for Zimbabwe July 13, three days after his memorial service.

Bishop Ben and Nancy Oliphint visit with a new friend at Africa University groundbreaking ceremonies

The timing was especially poignant because my father had been instrumental in the founding of Africa University. He served as President of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry from 1988-1992; he and my mother attended the ground-breaking ceremonies for Africa University in 1991, and he returned again for the opening ceremonies in 1994.

Bishop Ben Oliphint at Africa University Groundbreaking

Visiting there immediately following his death was a healing experience as I spoke with faculty members who remembered him and came to understand the significance of his legacy at Africa University. A memorial tribute was given for him by Bishop Norris in the chapel services at AU. My husband, Vic, and our son, Carter was also on this trip, so it was a powerful time of healing for us all.

As we visited with the leaders of Africa University, we learned of their need for a health clinic. Only a small, one room infirmary was currently serving a student population of more than 1300. We also learned of the great need to educate more persons in the health science professions.

Bishop Alfred L. Norris

Upon returning home, Bishop Norris, who had come out of retirement to fill the late Bishop Rhymes Moncure’s term, called together a group of North Texas clergy and laypersons to share the story and the need. The enthusiastic group responded by organizing to raise $1 million----$500,000 for the health clinic, $500,000 for scholarships for health sciences. The focus of the campaign was Lent, 2008, when the entire conference joined in reading a daily devotion booklet written by North Texans with a connection to Africa University. Soon after, the Africa University choir itinerated across the conference, performing at several churches. At the annual conference session in June, Bishop Norris presented Dr. James Salley, Vice-Chancellor of Development for Africa University, with a check for $500,000 for the health clinic. Construction of the health clinic began almost immediately.

With Bishop Norris’s retirement, Bishop Earl Bledsoe was assigned to North Texas. He immediately began work on completing the $1 million pledge to Africa University. Dr. Salley returned to North Texas for another presentation at annual conference: the remaining $500,000 check for scholarships.

Clayton Oliphint, Bishop Earl and Leslie Bledsoe on the AU bus

Bishop Bledsoe invited a representative delegation to visit Africa University for the dedication of the health clinic and scholarships. Vic and I were honored to be included, and were also pleased that my brother Clayton Oliphint, pastor of First UMC, Richardson, was a part of the team as well. Once again, we sought healing in our pilgrimage as we remembered both our parents and their contributions to the beginnings of Africa University, and our brother’s service in Kenya at Maua Methodist Hospital. Our father died in July, 2007, Kelley in October, 2008, and our mother in February, 2009.

Stories about the dedication ceremony held July 16, 2009, can be found at:

United Methodist News Service and North Texas Conference United Methodist Reporter

Rev. Clayton Oliphint, Mary Brooke Casad, Rev. Vic Casad

North Texas representatives at Bishop Norris Health Centre

It was truly a “kingdom” day to see a dream fulfilled, and to realize that in just two short years, the seeds that had been planted on that first trip now bore fruit. The health clinic was named in honor of Bishop Alfred L. Norris. What an honor to be with Bishop Norris and Dr. Mackie Norris for this occasion and see the surprise and joy on their faces when the tribute was announced. How wonderful, also, to have the Norris’s daughter, Angela and her husband, Tyrone Johnson as delegation team members. They were able to see and experience Africa University, where Bishop and Mrs. Norris have visited many times and given so much of themselves to.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Health Clinic

How wonderful to be with Mrs. Jewell Moncure, widow of the late Bishop Rhymes Moncure, Jr., and daughter Roxanne, and to see the joy when they learned that the scholarship fund would be named in memory of Bishop Moncure.

As the ribbons were cut and the plaques unveiled, the team was invited to tour the new facility. The building of the facility represented two firsts for Africa University: the shortest amount of time a building had been constructed (nine months) and the shortest time frame an annual conference had completed their pledge drive.

I was pleased to see that the health clinic was constructed around a garden and gathering place. This reminded me of my late brother, Kelley Oliphint, Founding CEO of St. Mark’s Medical Center in La Grange, Texas. Kelley’s vision of a healing garden at the center of the hospital facility has inspired many with its theme of spiritual healing as central to all healing. The Bishop Norris Health Clinic provides a similar venue that I believe will indeed promote health and healing.

The room that created the greatest curiosity had a sign on the door: Laughter Room. Our tour guide said, “We’ve heard the saying, ‘ laughter is the best medicine,’ and we’ve read the scriptures about joy. The ‘laughter room’ is available for students who might leave a counseling session sad. They can come in here and watch funny videos, read comic books. Then they will leave laughing.”

A poster in the Laughter Room reads:


I know that my dad, known for his sense of humor, would have loved the “Laughter Room.” Perhaps we can learn a lesson from our African brothers and sisters and remember that “laughter is the best medicine.”

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Jayne

I wondered if I would know her…the little girl who had taken my hand two years ago, kept the sunglasses that I let her wear…and kept my heart as well. I searched the smiling faces of the children and suddenly, there she was.

Jayne, Mary Brooke and housemother Mary

“Did I give you my sunglasses when I came to see you before?” I asked.
“Yes!” she said.
“Do you remember me? I came to see you two years ago, and I gave you my sunglasses. Do you remember?” I asked.
“Yes!” she responded, (big smile, bright eyes).
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Jayne,” she said.
“It IS you! Jayne, I’m so glad to see you again!” I said.

Once again, she led me to her home to meet the woman she called Mother, and see the rooms she shared with nine other children. I remembered it was the first home in the row of dwellings that compose the Fairfield Children’s Home. I remembered her “mother,” Mary, who has served in this capacity since 1988.

There are 79 children at the home; most have been orphaned because of AIDS. In 2000, Rev. Owen Ross came to Africa University as an exchange student. He started the Fairfield Buddies with eight other AU students. Patterned after the Big Brothers/Big Sisters model, the aunts and uncles were each assigned five children at what was then called the Fairfield Orphanage. Peter Mufute, Administrator, shared with him that the children at the orphanage were dying at the rate of one per month. The children were housed in dormitories. Owen suggested that the children be placed in homes with women who stayed with them as permanent mothers, rather than shift mothers. He had seen this model used effectively in a children’s home in Honduras, where he did mission work following Hurricane Mitch, as well as the Methodist Children’s Home in Waco, Texas. The children now thrive; the mortality rate is significantly lower.

Students from Nebraska Wesleyan who visited there founded the Fairfield Orphanage Student Association (FOSA) and began fund raising efforts through the sale of prints. The late Bishop David Lawson brought students to AU in August 2001. Owen returned as a part of this team. He proposed that a Zimbabwean counterpoint was needed to assist the doctor who had responsibility for the hospital and orphanage, planting yet another seed.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Rev. Vuyani Gladstone Nyobole, General Secretary, Methodist Church of Southern Africa and me in Johannesburg.

Our group met with members of the Methodist Church for dinner and especially enjoyed our worship time afterwards. I was interested in learning more about their mission, and found the following on their website:

Our Vision
"A Christ-healed Africa for the healing of nations”

Our Mission Statement
“God calls the Methodist people to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ for healing and transformation”

Our Transformational Calls

A deepened spirituality
A resolve to be guided by God's mission
A rediscovery of "every member ministry - the priesthood of all believers"
A commitment to "be one so the world may believe'
A re-emphasis of servant leadership and discernment as our ministry model
A redefinition and authentication of the vocation of the ordained ministry.

The 4 Imperatives of Mission

Evangelism and Church Growth
Inviting people to personal faith in Christ and His gospel and to belonging in the community of faith as disciples; planting new faith communities especially in informal settlements and new urban multi-cultural congregations.

Spirituality
Connecting to the life giving resources of faith that make for moral regeneration and becoming a holy people in the world.

Justice and Service
To promote the values of justice, unity and reconciliation and the healing of national ills, physical, environmental and social and to be Christ's compassionate, outstretched hands in the world.

Human and Economic Development and Empowerment
The care and growth of children, the plight of the poor, education, quality of life, nation building.

Short Takes

How is Africa University impacting the country of Zimbabwe, the continent of Africa and the world?
  • The team met in the home of Grace and Henry Mudradzikwa for a delicious dinner, and learned that Grace had been involved in an effort which had raised $80,000 in Zimbabwe in scholarship aid for AU students who were unable to finish their education due to the economic hardships the country is undergoing. That night, the North Texas delegation members committed over $50,000 to this effort as well. Henry thanked the delegation, saying “please continue to help give us hope. The best friends of Zimbabwe are those who help educate our children.” In time, the fund raising efforts of the Mudradzikwa’s raised over $100,000, donated by Zimbabweans.
  • “The peace movement in Africa today is being advanced by Africa University students through our Peace, Leadership and Governance studies.” Tino Bere, AU Legal Counselor