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African bishops focus on poverty at historic meeting


United Methodist bishops attend the first-ever African Bishops Roundtable, including (from left) Daniel Wandabula, Gaspar Domingos, Emilio DeCarvalho, Kainda Katembo and Moises Domingos Fernandes. UMNS photos courtesy of Africa University's Office of Public Information. 

By Andra Stevens*
Oct. 5, 2007 | MUTARE, Zimbabwe (UMNS)

United Methodist bishops in Africa ended their first continental meeting with a renewed resolve to work together strategically to fight poverty in Africa.

The three-day African Bishops Roundtable brought together 12 active and retired bishops to the campus of Africa University in Mutare. The bishops, representing congregations from west, east, central and southern Africa, developed strategies against poverty and committed to make United Methodist-related Africa University a partner in their efforts.

The Sept. 10-13 roundtable was the first gathering of its kind for the denomination's African bishops, who lead 3.2 million United Methodists and 1 million preparatory church members.


The bishops develop strategies for
fighting poverty in Africa.

The bishops had wanted to meet as a group similar to the way their U.S. counterparts meet as a college of bishops within each of the five U.S. jurisdictions. Previously, the only times the African bishops have met has been at the spring and fall meetings of the denomination-wide Council of Bishops.

Africa University proposed the roundtable event, which was organized with the support of the Council of Bishops, the General Council on Finance and Administration and the denominational Episcopal Fund.

The bishops said such periodic gatherings allow them to share experiences, reflect on the challenges and joys of their ministries, and plan together approaches to a myriad of issues confronting church and society in Africa.

"As we go through our struggles, God is sharpening our tools so that we can be instruments of change," said East Africa Bishop Daniel Wandabula. "Sharing and listening to my fellow bishops, I believe that the kingdom can come. We cannot separate the spiritual and the physical … to be the church; we should not shy away from the problems we face."

Education and quality of life

The bishops explored how issues of health, food security, governance and education intersect with poverty to negatively impact the quality of life of people in their congregations and communities. They agreed that a poor quality of life leads many Africans to migrate to Europe, North America and elsewhere, which hurts development efforts in Africa.

"(People) aren't able to live in their own communities and localities and so they move away to other countries in an effort to find a better place and life," said Nigeria's Bishop Kefas Kane Mavula. "We have to convince people that moving away is not the solution. … We have to make sacrifices, remain in our situations and try as much as possible to do what we can to improve those situations."

Saying education is a key to fighting poverty, the bishops committed to partner with Africa University in efforts to increase skills, nurture responsible leadership and help to change unconstructive mindsets. They need the university to train professionals, but limited resources make it difficult for young people to receive higher education.


Africa University Vice Chancellor Rukudzo Murapa presents during the bishops’ meeting. 

"We have everything to be rich in this continent," said South Congo Bishop Kainda Katembo. "Where we are poor is in our minds and way of thinking. We want an education that will set free our minds and change our mentality so that we realize that we have resources and there is much we can do together, here on the continent."

In Angola, Mozambique, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the bishops are spearheading local efforts to increase access to professional training. They are founding church-related, tertiary-level institutions and upgrading existing ones to offer training in the fields of health, information technology and agriculture, among others.

Role of Africa University

The bishops view Africa University as a primary source of educators, managers and administrators to implement training programs and nurture new development projects in various countries.

Because the bishops want country-specific programs, they are taking a more active role in finding resources to pay for scholarships for students going to Africa University from their countries and conferences. They agreed to take a proposal for scholarship support for the university to the Nov. 4-8 meeting of the Council of Bishops. The proposal, dubbed "Hope for African Students," seeks support to enroll four students a year at Africa University from each episcopal area in Africa.

The United Methodist-related school has 1,300 students from 26 African countries and more than 2,000 alumni — pastors, teachers, agriculturalists, public health workers, business professionals and others — at work across sub-Saharan Africa. It offers undergraduate and graduate programs in six faculties and an institute.

The African bishops hope the Council of Bishops will help make the African Bishops Roundtable an annual gathering on the Africa University campus.

"Let us not wait for heroes; let us be the heroes. Let us not wait for disciples; let us be the disciples and let us transform our reality," said West Angolan Bishop Gaspar Domingos.

*Stevens is director of information and public affairs at Africa University.

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

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