University embraces connection to Uganda

A major shift will occur in the Christian church in the not-too-distant future.

“The Christian epicenter has moved throughout history,” explained Steve Beers, vice president of student development. “It has mostly been in the West. But in the next few hundred years, it will move South [toward Africa].”

He experienced firsthand the continent’s growing faith in 1995 when he and his wife Jane Beers, assistant professor of biology, traveled to Ethiopia and Zimbabwe. And in recent years, the couple has traveled back more than eight times, taking John Brown University students with them.

Alongside the students, Beers and his wife delved into the various cultures, meeting with groups of local college students and touring different universities.

Since Beers works in higher education, a natural question for him dealt with the successful continuation of integration of faith and learning in African universities.

“How do we support the distinctness of Christian higher education?” he asked. “The Lord has blessed this institution, how do we give back?

During a trip to Uganda, Beers made connections and was able to set up a meeting with the president of the school. The president expressed his frustrations with faculty retention, saying that in Africa it is challenging to find a qualified professional who is committed in their relationship with God. And it is even more difficult to keep them when better-paying opportunities offer serious competition.

Convicted and inspired, Beers came back to the University ready for action.

This summer, Beers; Rod Reed, university chaplain; Cary Balzer, associate professor of biblical studies; and Rick Ostrander, a former professor, will fly to Uganda to work intentionally with the Christian university there.

Right outside of the capital city of Kampala, the group from the states will spend two weeks discussing, brainstorming and presenting new concepts—ensuring the relationship between faith and learning.

Working with African professors, Beers hopes they will learn as much as they contribute.

“I really think this will be a two-way street,” he described.

Continuing to prepare for the summer, Beers met with Moffat Zimba, who spoke in chapel last month. Moffat offered advice from his own experiences in African Christian higher education.

Also emphasizing the integration of faith and learning, Zimba and his wife Doreen founded Northrise University in Ndola, Zambia in 2004.

After facilitating and leading a Bible study, the couple realized their mutual desire to encourage education and faith-building in young adults.

“At the time, there were only two public universities in Uganda,” Zimba said.

“We didn’t have the opportunity to attend university,” added Doreen. “And we had a passion for others in the same situation.”

For several years, the couple prayed and sought the Lord’s direction and assistance. And beginning in January 2004 the university offered associate degrees in both theology and information technology to approximately 50 students.

Since its founding, the school has grown to almost 600 students. Similar in some ways to John Brown, Northrise students attend chapels, participate in weekly prayer meetings, and all classes start with a 10-minute devotional.

It is also interdenominational. “But we tell them who we are,” Zimba said.

And although they have experienced similar struggles to the Uganda Christian University, retaining qualified professors, the couple finds joy in the ways that the Lord has blessed their school.

“When I see the change in a student from the time they arrive, when they mature and grow spiritually and academically, I am happy,” said Doreen. “Their life has literally changed from one direction to another.”