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Late bishop honored with global education scholarship

The Rev. Jerome King Del Pino, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, blesses the elements of Holy Communion during worship at the board's Aug. 23-25 meeting. UMNS photos by Linda Green.  

By Linda Green*
Aug. 30, 2007 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

A United Methodist bishop who worked for people around the world to have access to higher education and seminary degrees has been honored with a scholarship fund for that purpose.

Benjamin R. Oliphint 

The Benjamin R. Oliphint Scholarship Fund of The Methodist Global Education Fund for Leadership Development was created Aug. 25 by the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry to memorialize the late bishop's "outstanding contributions in fulfillment of the education mission of The United Methodist Church."

Oliphint, who died July 7, believed that education was the vehicle to transform people, society and the world, said board members during their August meeting.

The late bishop helped to found and develop Africa University in Zimbabwe to give young people in Africa access to Methodist higher education. In retirement, he supported the university and, along with Bishop Herbert Skeete, led the Methodist Global Education Fund for Leadership Development to enhance education worldwide.

"Bishop Oliphint had a deep and abiding faith in God and understood that God loves all people and firmly believed the change for education opened doors for many young people," according to the resolution to create the scholarship fund.

Global education

The Methodist Global Education Fund for Leadership Development promises to dramatically strengthen the role of 775 Methodist-affiliated secondary schools, colleges, universities and theological schools in 69 countries as vehicles for developing dynamic leadership, said the Rev. Jerome King Del Pino, the board's top executive.

A four-year, $4 million initiative, the Global Education Fund will pay for technical assistance to Methodist-affiliated schools, colleges, universities and theological schools working to design leadership development programs to address local needs for clergy or lay leaders. Each of five regions - Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the United States - will raise or pool money and disburse the funds to approved programs.

The fund provides technical assistance, on-site mentoring to assist in program development and implementation, and scholarship support for students. It initially launched as an unfunded mandate of the 2004 General Conference, the denomination's top legislative body.

Vivian Bull  

Vivian Bull of Madison, N.J., a consultant to the task force leading the Global Education Fund, told directors that "as the founding and development of Africa University was the most significant act of The United Methodist Church in the 20th century," the same must be done for extending education to global constituencies.

The extension of education from Africa University to other Methodist-related institutions by distance education systems will be "recognized in the future as the most important act of The United Methodist Church in the early 21st century," she said.

Breaking new ground

When the university was proposed in the 1980s, it was hoped that similar institutions would be established in Africa.

"That is no longer possible in the kind of world in which we are living, nor is it realistic," Bull said. "The new use of technology will be the way in which education can be available for much of the developing world, not only to institutions but through churches as well."

The fund joins Africa University and other global education initiatives to break new ground to prepare leaders for the church and the world.

For instance, Africa University is providing technical assistance for the Mozambique Distance Learning project, scheduled for dedication in November. Housed at the episcopal office of the Mozambique Annual Conference, the project is a joint effort of the board, Methodist University of São Paulo, Brazil, Africa University and the conference. The university is creating a distance education infrastructure to provide higher education access to people in Mozambique, Angola, Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The fund is investigating ways to partner with the World Bank project to fund distance education. "We are looking for partners," Bull said. "… We need to work with the world in order to get funding, … and linking our connectional system with Methodists worldwide is our most exciting possibility."

The Board of Higher Education and Ministry also is partnering with United Methodist Communications to develop distance-education systems across Africa using satellite and radio to "transform local churches into dynamic places of worship and for education," Del Pino said.

The Rev. Ivan Burnett (right) visits with the Rev. Clarence Brown Jr.

"Distance learning is the way to educate people," said Martin Dwomoh-Tweneboah, a director of Africa University's distance education project in Mozambique. "That is the technology of the day. … Through technology, the church can train future leaders to spread the word of God."

Dwomoh-Tweneboah hopes that one day in the 21st century, children in Africa, China and the United States can participate in Sunday School together through a long-distance infrastructure. "It may sound like science fiction, but it is on the way," he said.

Scholarship money

The board approved the distribution of $2 million in additional scholarships for 2008 and 2009.  The money comes from the Methodist Corporation Trust Fund, created by the 1976 General Conference from proceeds of the sale of real estate tied to American University in Washington.

In 1989, the board invested $2 million, with earnings to be used for scholarships at American University and elsewhere. The fund's value increased to $5.3 million during the last five years, and the board approved additional distributions for scholarships to students enrolled at United Methodist-related academic and theological institutions.

According to Angella Current-Felder, director of the board's office of loans and scholarships, the additional funds increase the amount distributed annually to American University and increases the allocation to colleges and universities for scholarships. 

In other actions, the board approved a resolution asking the 2008 General Conference to continue a Study of Ministry Commission on the United Methodist ordering of ministry. The directors also asked that the board, in consultation with the Board of Discipleship and the Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, prepare a study guide for ongoing discussions about the original commission's final report, which was issued in early August.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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