By Ron Holland
As demographics and strategies for the mission of God change and shift, we find that old methods and ideas need to be rethought. The globalization and urbanization of the world’s populations present major challenges and opportunities in the church’s efforts to participate in the mission of God. Meanwhile, Christians today are realizing anew that God wants the church to be an instrument of social justice in the world. This sends us back to the drawing board in most of our endeavors.
LivingStone International University (LIU), a joint project of Christian churches and churches of Christ, in Mbale, Uganda, is a vision that has been birthed out of the epic transitions of today’s world. In many ways it is a logical next step in the mission work that has been going on in eastern Uganda and western Kenya for the last three decades. In other ways, it is a giant leap forward toward the goal of transforming the nations of Africa.
Empowering the poor to find release from the grinding poverty that enslaves them is at the heart of the LIU project. Ask any bright, young person from the desperately poor villages of Africa how he can get free from his lot in life and he will tell you education is the key. Ask his parents or national leaders the same question and you’ll get the same answer: education.
Yet, in Uganda alone, there are more than 7 million college-age youth who have no classroom. When mothers and aunts and brothers and sisters scrape together enough money to send a bright, young family member to university, there is no university open for this promising young person to attend. The seats are all full. The classes have no room. So, 7 million young adults continue to hoe the ground and subsist—if the rains come on time. Or worse, they seek escape in the lies of Satan.
From the most recent class of youth finishing high schools in Uganda in 2010, 100,000 took the entrance exam to qualify for university studies. Of those, 60,000 passed, indicating their readiness for university-level schooling. But in all of Uganda, the universities could accommodate only 25,000 freshmen. Thus 35,000—almost 60 percent—of those young people simply cannot go to university because there is no room.
Education can reduce poverty. It empowers the poor to break the chains. It enhances their standard of living. It lifts their family and community. Christian education accomplishes all these things and eternally more. It breaks Satan’s material chains that hold the poor enslaved in poverty and Satan’s spiritual chains that hold them in darkness and death.
Years of discussions and meetings have brought great progress toward reestablishing unity between the Christian churches and the churches of Christ. LivingStone International University may well be the largest collaborative project to be birthed by the great unity effort of 2006.
LIU is not just unity in principle, it is unity in action. Churches like The Hills Church of Christ (formerly Richland Hills), Compass Christian, and The Branch Church of Christ—all in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex—have united behind the project and experienced the great joy that comes from seeing the two branches in a united fellowship. Educational institutions from both branches have expressed interest in establishing formal relationships with LIU. Church leaders, including Bob Russell, Rick Atchley, Dudley Rutherford, Chris Seidman, Drew Sherman, and others have endorsed this effort and been thrilled at the opportunity to actually work toward a common goal with leaders from both branches.
The missionaries of east Africa from both branches of the Restoration Movement have long worked together. Thus this project is a natural fit for this region. LIU will remain closely tied to her roots while blending the resources, strengths, and vision of both branches of the movement. The stateside leadership, African leadership, and the supporters and developers on both sides of the Atlantic are working collaboratively to see this monumental vision brought to reality.
We in the Restoration Movement have been pretty good at providing Bible and ministry training for church leaders as we have worked at planting churches globally. But training church leaders does not transform a culture. The presence of ethical, empowered, employable Christians in every facet of society transforms cultures.
LIU will educate Africans in Africa. It will produce a stream of Christian leaders to the nations of Africa—men and women trained to be lawyers and judges, businessmen and industrialists, doctors and agriculturalist. Bright young Africans will no longer need to travel abroad for graduate level studies. Statistically, 90 percent of those who make that trip never return—they stay abroad—completely lost to Africa. LIU will help stop the “brain drain.”
LIU represents a merging of Western and African education models. It is not simply a transplant of American forms of education, but will be very African in course content, educational forms, and technologies. LIU’s relationships with Western universities and academic leaders from throughout Africa make LIU a collaboration between Western and African academic forms. LIU is working to obtain accreditation from both the Ugandan government and a Western accreditation agency.
LIU will do more than provide higher education and biblical training for the youth of east Africa. Working directly with her sister school, The Messiah Theological Institute, LIU will provide Bible and leadership training for church leaders who, because of age, family responsibilities, educational background, or other factors, would never attend school at the university level. Thus, LIU will blend classic Bible school training with fully accredited university-level education.
LIU will merge several African cultures with Western partners to produce graduates who can impact Africa in uniquely African applications of higher education. LIU will place Christian Africans at the heads of businesses, in government leadership and in societal leadership, things that have never before been done.
Ron Holland serves as minister of global outreach with The Hills Church of Christ (formerly Richland Hills Church of Christ) in North Richland Hills, Texas.