Cover Story

Africa's hinge

"Africa's hinge" Continued...

Issue: "The Battle for Africa," Feb. 8, 2014

• UCU, owned by the Anglican Church and with a main campus 16 miles east of Kampala, is the first private university in Uganda to receive a government charter. It now has a beautiful campus with a mix of old buildings that would be at home in Britain, and new ones—including a library cleverly designed to keep students cool without resort to air conditioning. It’s growing rapidly: 8,000 students now choose from among dozens of majors. Law, education, science and technology, health, and other disciplines all have seats at the table.

UCU now faces challenges not unlike those hitting American Christian colleges. Some are financial, with leaders deeply involved in fundraising and building programs. Some are theological: To its credit, UCU is guarding against the drift that can readily occur when professors with a personal faith but training in secular universities worship on Sundays but on Mondays approach their subjects with materialist presuppositions. UCU has a new Institute of Faith, Learning and Service chartered “to assure the Christian identity of the University.” Some challenges concern job placement: As hiring opportunities emerge, will employers prefer graduates committed to honesty in the knowledge that God is watching them?

UCU has impressive graduates who know that finding a job will be hard, so they emphasize their willingness to work hard. Daisy Nakiwala Nsangi: “I made sure I maximized every moment I got to read.” Rose Adede, daughter of a single mom: “I worked hard to excel.” Mollen Ainembabazi: “Many people wondered why I spent so much time reading. … I woke up at weird hours to read.” Linnet Namanya: “I credit God for all my success.”

• The much-smaller African Bible University (ABU) is assuring its Christian identity by having its 113 students major in biblical studies and minor in business, communication, or education. They go deep into principles of biblical interpretation, books of the Bible, Christian ethics, history, and other topics. Students also hear excellent preaching from Vice Chancellor Palmer Robertson (disclosure—I sat under his teaching for two years when he was a pastor in Maryland) in a beautiful chapel funded by a St. Louis PCA church. A bell that was once on a plantation in Texas, where it tolled for slaves, now summons students to freedom.

ABU graduates are also aware of the Islamic threat, since the university sits on Lobowa Hill seven miles south of Kampala, opposite a big mosque on an adjacent hill. On a peaceful afternoon Robertson, while sitting on a porch swing with one of his young sons, was asking what the Sixth Commandment teaches. He got the right answer—“Thou shalt not kill”—as a rant blared through a mosque loudspeaker. The ABU radio station responds by airing music and theological programming to reach Muslim listeners who would risk their lives by entering a church but can and do communicate with one DJ by text messaging.

• The Transforming Nations Alliance works without classrooms, dorms, or libraries. It looks for Christians beyond college age whose pastors say they have leadership ability, and Susan and I sat in on a training session that featured eight such earnest men and two women. They sat in the sort of inexpensive chairs that are ubiquitous throughout Africa and South America at tables that formed a U. No bells and whistles in this ordinary room pocked with stained beige walls and barred windows. 

But what they planned was extraordinary: Instead of discussing the usual notion of waiting for Western aid, they debated past and future “seed projects.” Young members of Nakalama Rapha Deliverance Church were starting a brick-making project. Women of the church wanted land to grow more vegetables. Church members in Kikubamutwe, a Kampala slum area, planned a neighborhood cleanup. Others spoke of cleaning litter from drainage ditches or building a shelter for the elderly.

UGANDA CHRISTIAN UNIVERSITY: Belinda Evy Nabude celebrates with grandmother and aunt.
Vincent Mugaba Photography
UGANDA CHRISTIAN UNIVERSITY: Belinda Evy Nabude celebrates with grandmother and aunt.
UGANDA CHRISTIAN UNIVERSITY: Swearing in Student Guild Government.
UGANDA CHRISTIAN UNIVERSITY: Swearing in Student Guild Government.
Susan Olasky
CROSSROADS OF FAITH: TNA representative Judith Murungi (center).
Transforming Nations Alliance
CROSSROADS OF FAITH: TNA representative Judith Murungi (center).
CROSSROADS OF FAITH: Raising the cross on the ABU chapel.
African Bible University
CROSSROADS OF FAITH: Raising the cross on the ABU chapel.
CROSSROADS OF FAITH: Kampala mosque.
Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Images
CROSSROADS OF FAITH: Kampala mosque.

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Training session participants were unimpressed by a government-organized literary project and a United Nations child-feeding project: They’ve seen big talk and poor results many times. Participants stressed the need to accomplish tasks in one day, so onlookers can quickly see tangible results. They broke down tasks into basic steps: threshing the area around a well; erecting a fence to keep animals out; removing mud so the well can hold more water from the infrequent rains; and creating and clearing trenches so rainwater flows into the well. 

Trainer Judith Murungi emphasized the importance of avoiding dependency, developing local resources, and understanding that Christianity is more than praying and attending church. Many Ugandans profess to be Christians but also believe that evil spirits and curses control their lives. Murungi spoke about how God has given Ugandans creativity and energy that will allow them to change their communities and defeat poverty. They can dig latrines, wash hands before eating, and use mosquito nets to keep out malarial mosquitoes: small, doable projects. 


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