War in Liberia robbed Christian Zigbuo of his parents and three siblings and turned him into a refugee when he was 10 years old.
His life was turned around by United Methodists who helped him obtain an education as a child in Côte d'Ivoire and as an adult at Africa University.
On June 9, Zigbuo was one of the 400 graduates from United Methodist-related Africa University. He is also getting a chance to give back to all who have helped him as one of four Africa University graduates accepted into the United Methodist Young Adult Missionary program.
"I'm very grateful to God for bringing me so far, especially looking at my background and seeing where I am today, God has truly answered my prayers," said Zigbuo. "I can say that the dream is alive for me. A.U. has connected me to so many people and made me who God wants me to be."
Zigbuo's four years at Africa University were paid by direct scholarship grants from Indiana United Methodists. As a child, he was able to attend an English-language Operation Classroom facility in Côte d'Ivoire with other refugee children. When peace returned to Liberia, he returned and served as a teacher at the Ganta United Methodist Church Mission. Operation Classroom, a program to upgrade United Methodist elementary and secondary schools in Liberia and Sierra Leone, was initiated by the Indiana Annual (regional) Conference in 1987.
At graduation, he sent a letter of thanks to the Indiana conference saying, "I don't know if I'd be here without you."
A legacy of generosity
All three of the other trainee mission interns from Africa University come from the southern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. They also owe their studies to the generosity of United Methodist congregations and individuals that set up endowed scholarships or donated to the university's endowment, from which financial aid dollars are drawn.
Rachel Faida Bahati received scholarships from the United Methodist Women of Los Altos United Methodist Church in the San Francisco Bay area and from others. Bahati is from a family of four girls and is the second-born. Her father died when she was very young, so the family relies on her mother's work as a tailor for its livelihood. That income could never accommodate university fees.
The scholarships for Jacques Kazemb Kambol's four years of study came from a variety of sources, including the Peninsula-Delaware Conference endowed scholarship and the W.B. and Ruth Brooks Foundation direct scholarship grants. Albert Otshudi Longe received financial aid awards from Africa University.
For Bahati, Kazemb, Otshudi and Zigbuo, the mission interns program is a great way to live out their faith, serve others and give back for the many ways in which they have been blessed. An environmental studies major, Otshudi says that learning at Africa University has strengthened his concern for his home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and for Africa as a whole.
"I want to play an active role in my community's development rather than waiting for others to come to do the job," said Otshudi. "There is so much deforestation and a lack of policies and regulations to guide environmental protection. Without these, people destroy the environment at will &ellipsis; we will lose the Congo forest and become one of the greatest emitters of polluting gases."
The next step
The next step for these prospective mission interns is training and orientation at the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries in July, followed by a commissioning service in early August. An intern's time is divided between an international assignment and an assignment in the intern's home country. Mission interns work as grassroots organizers and advocates in areas of conflict resolution, peace with justice education, environmental preservation, economic development, indigenous rights, women's and children's issues, and more.
The Young Adult Missionary program is celebrating its 35th year, and Elizabeth Chun Hye Lee, the executive secretary for Young Adult Mission Service, notes that although the applicants were many, the four from Africa University really stood out.
"Their existing leadership in their communities, commitment to justice and desire to integrate their faith with service is impressive," said Lee. "They're all very articulate and display a lot of maturity."
"Sometimes persons talk about the 'return' they get for an investment in education," said Ruth Ellen Stone, a member of Indiana's Africa University Committee and of the A.U. Advisory Development Committee. "This is an enormous and rapid one. We send congratulations to Christian and the other graduates, and look forward to hearing about his experience wherever he is assigned to serve."
*Stevens is director of communications in the Africa University Development Office in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or [email protected].