Thursday, August 28, 2008

Africa University Rises to Zimbabwe Challenges

This week, news outlets reported that Zimbabwe’s annual inflation rate rocketed to 11.2 million percent in June, the highest in the world.

This news comes only a few weeks after I visited Zimbabwe to participate in the Africa Central Conference on the campus of Africa University. During that visit, the cost of a soft drink was 250 billion Zimbabwean dollars – or about $1.80 in U.S. currency. The Federal Reserve Bank has since dropped 10 zeroes from the currency, turning 10 billion dollars into a single dollar.

As I arrived in Zimbabwe, the three parties in the country’s political crisis had just signed an agreement to end the political violence and negotiate to find a peaceful resolution to months and months of violence. The violence has ebbed, but the political crisis continues without a full resolution.

Amid the tension, the country is calm and Africa University is open. At one point during the crisis, Africa University was the only university in the entire country to remain open, holding classes, making payroll, and feeding its students and thousands of its neighbors. Our university is an inspiration in this troubled land.

This is not to say things are not difficult at Africa University. They are.

Hyperinflation makes it increasingly difficult to keep up. At this point, the reserves are basically depleted. Africa University has to do a juggling act in order to pay bills and keep up with expenses. University fees—in Zimbabwe dollars—have to be reviewed every month because of the rapidly escalating costs, though fees paid in U.S. dollars remain the same. Monthly salary increases are necessary in order to hold on to the workforce.

Our churches’ help is needed so Africa University can continue to educate future leaders and serve as a shining example for the continent. The best way to assist is to send in your Africa University apportionments for 2008 early—and to pay 100 percent.

While money is important to Africa University, your prayers are the foundation for its success. Please pray without ceasing for Zimbabwe and the university.

--James Salley, Associate Vice-Chancellor for Institutional Advancement, Africa University

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

It's about TIME

Actually, it’s all about time. We all have only so much of it. The decisions we make about how we use it, what we do with it, to whom we give it. We can waste it, we can kill it, or we can make the most of it.

A friend reminded me of a line from the movie Steel Magnolias, “I’d rather have thirty minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special.” Time can be that precious, or it can be something that can’t slip away from us fast enough.

So what does this have to do with Connectional Giving? Well, it is our time we give to the church that makes a difference. How many United Methodists will spend vacation days this summer taking part in mission trips, VIM Work Teams, Volunteering a vacation Bible School? Connectional Giving is not just about the dollars we put in the plate, but the time we put in to make our church – individually and collectively – effective in its ministry.

In fact, those monetary gifts we put in the plate reflect our time as well. The hours we’ve put in at work this week. The years we’ve worked in the past to secure an income in our retired years, and the ability to continue to support the work of the church.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, is quoted as saying “Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” It is not a call for us to build big portfolios and stockpile money to buy our security. It is a call to first be a good steward of our time, to make the best use of each minute.

All of us will trade our time, our hours and minutes and seconds for the things that matter to us. For the time you have given to empower both the local and the global ministry of The United Methodist Church, I say a heartfelt “thank you!”

--Rev. Dr. Ken Sloane, Director of Communications Ministry, United Methodist Communications

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

At what point do we cave in?

If the Power Ball Lottery were $20 million, would you buy a ticket?

What about $70 million?

What if it was $200 million?

At what point are we tempted by material desires and fantasies of living in the lap of luxury that we turn our back on our Biblical principles?

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. 1 Timothy 6, NRSV

Did you know that in the US, 42 states have a state lottery? It seems everywhere you turn; you’re faced with the temptation of gambling. On my 70-mile commute to work in the morning, I pass five billboards advertising casinos and alerting me to which one is closest and who are the upcoming performers.

So, why shouldn’t I go? I have some extra money lying around – maybe I could turn a quick profit!

The United Methodist Church does not support gambling as a church activity or recreational activity. As part of the connectional giving system, there is a World Service Special Gift called the National Anti-Gambling Project.

Gambling is a terrible example of stewardship of the resources God gives us; it creates social costs that are hidden and often do not become apparent until long after lotteries, casinos, betting parlors and game rooms have become entrenched in communities. If we fail to defend our communities now, we will witness a wave of addiction, bankruptcy, crime and corruption.

Our children deserve a better future than one filled with preventable addiction, crime and unrest.

You can help stop gambling. You can contribute to the National Anti-Gambling Fund through your local church. Write World Service Special Gift #05-05-99 on your check.

~ Tracy Wood, Web Coordinator, Connectional Giving Team, United Methodist Communications