By Laura McKillip Wood
(After writing our “Horizons” column for two years, Emily Drayne has decided to step away from this role due to time constraints and other responsibilities. We thank her for her good work. We welcome our new “Horizons” writer, former missionary Laura McKillip Wood. Laura’s name may be familiar to readers as she contributes regularly to The Lookout.)
He closes his Bible and stretches his arms, rubs his neck, and yawns. He hears the night sounds outside his window and tucks his sermon, scribbled on a scrap of paper, into his Bible. Ambling to bed, this Ugandan man—we’ll call him Charles—settles beside his sleeping wife, attempting not to wake her.
As sleep overtakes him, Charles thinks about his father and his grandfather and the other men in his family. He remembers working long hours with his siblings on the family farm every day, harvesting as much as they could on their two-acre plot. They somehow managed to produce enough to feed themselves, just like the other 50 families in their village. He could have taken over the farm when his father got too old to work. However, in the village, where witchcraft still held people in its dark grip and families gave their daughters in marriage at the age of 12 or 13, Charles met Jesus at a small church. He could not shake the conviction that God’s plan for him included something different from marrying young and farming his entire life. He began pastoring a church, and, before long, he was leading five small churches in villages around the city of Mbale, Uganda. He had passion for serving God, but every day he felt limited by his lack of formal training in the Bible and ministry. He needed more.
The Big City
Charles lay in bed, still remembering . . . about his decision to go to Mbale to seek an education. On roads leading into the city, chickens darted in front of cars; sometimes a vehicle stopped for a herd of long-horned cattle crossing the road, followed by the herder. People selling charcoal sat along the roadside, waiting for trucks to come and load their supply. Fruit and vegetable markets along the way sold things a traveler might want; Charles occasionally bought a piece of fresh fruit, a bottle of water, or an ear of crunchy, black, roasted corn. On those first few visits, the city seemed foreign to him, but also exciting. He walked its streets, dodging cars and motorbikes. Some motorbikes held whole families as they cut between cars and sped between lanes of traffic.
Charles had a passion for people, a love for Jesus, and a need to learn more about the Bible, but he wanted a place where he could receive a solid education. This proved difficult to find. For a long time, there were only two university options: one was Islamic, and Christians often studied there. The alternative, a state university, made big promises but did not adequately prepare students for careers—for example, students earned degrees in computer science, though they never actually touched a computer but used a cardboard keyboard to “practice.” Charles did not want expensive preparation that ended with little actual ability; he wanted to study the Bible deeply so he could lead his churches better.
A Christ-Centered University
Charles’s search finally led him to LivingStone International University (LIU) in Mbale. As a Christian university, LIU offers degrees in Bible and ministry. Its state accreditation also allows students to study business, teaching, or other subjects. According to Roger Fletcher, regional director, LIU hopes to “transform Africa through quality, Christ-centered, higher education.” The school seeks to do this by “creating ethical, empowered, employable Christians in every sector of society.”
LIU began when missionaries Mike Schrage, Danny Harrod, Kirk Hayes, and Shawn Tyler, who were working in other parts of East Africa, saw the need for change in Uganda. These Christian workers, two from the independent Christian church and two from the noninstrumental church of Christ, learned early on that the differences dividing American Christians mean little abroad. The two church streams divided long ago over doctrinal and cultural differences; however, building upon their shared Restoration Movement heritage, these cross-cultural workers formed a tight partnership that benefited both Americans and the African churches.
Knowing of the rampant corruption in Uganda, the men decided the best way to fight it was to transform the culture from within. Education provides opportunity for transformation, and Christian education promises even deeper change. Uganda’s population is young, due to the AIDS epidemic; nearly 7 of every 10 people in the country are under the age of 24. This large and potentially influential generation stands to change Ugandan culture in the coming decades.
After several years of planning and preparation, LIU opened its 47-acre campus to its first class in 2012. Today the institution serves 300 students, some of whom prepare for full-time ministry. Whatever their majors, believers in all parts of society will serve as ministers in their fields. LIU values placing Africans in leadership positions within the university. Almost the entire faculty is African, a fact that LivingStone believes is important. Seeing people like themselves take the lead inspires students in leadership.
Partners in the Gospel
Because of partnerships with supporters, Charles was able to attend LIU for about $1,500 a year. The partners kept the cost down so that even a boy from the village could study the Bible. Charles’s conservative Baptist background caused him to look at non-Baptist sources with suspicion. However, in one of his classes, he read the writings of Martin Luther and saw the importance of learning from theologians from other Christian traditions. He worked with, ate with, and fellowshipped with members of other church backgrounds. Charles began to value the dialogue and community formed among Christians, regardless of denominational affiliations.
Education in Action
Today Charles works for an organization that teaches farmers to grow and sell coffee for fair wages. In addition to the five churches he pastors, he has helped plant several new churches, and he has sent three more students, including his wife, to LIU. He wakes in the morning thanking God for Christians committed to quality education and ministry training, and he remembers the importance of focusing on the big picture: that of working together to strengthen the body of Christ.
Laura McKillip Wood, former missionary to Ukraine, now serves as the registrar at Nebraska Christian College in Papillion, Nebraska, and works as an on-call chaplain at a nearby hospital. She is mother to three teenagers and wife to Dr. Andrew Wood, professor of intercultural ministry at NCC.