This week I'm highlighting some of the things that happen here that at first I found illogical or peculiar. Turns out, most often there is a good explanation for those things. You just have to wait for it to emerge. (Check out Part 1 and Part 2.)
We Want to Keep Them Here
The Bishop here is a big believer in education. He believes that improved education is a key component for making a difference in the UMC of Sierra Leone and in the country itself. I think he’s right.
One of the programs for the conference (as least since this Bishop has been here) is scholarships for higher education. My friends Rev. Josiah and Rev. Lassayo both received master’s degrees from Africa University in Zimbabwe through this program. Last week, the Assistant to the Bishop (Rev. Rogers), the Director of Connectional Ministries (Rev. Ashcroft), and Dean of the Bishop’s Cabinet (Rev. Charlie) all left for Ohio where they are completing master’s degrees on scholarship from the Conference. (Revs. Rogers and Ashcroft and I had a lot of conversations about the best way to handle the cold weather before they left. I gave them my sister Marde’s advice. It’s all about the layering!) At Annual Conference they celebrated all of the scholarship recipients of the years. If my memory serves me, there are something like ten people who have completed or are completing higher degrees at international schools.
But I noticed early on that most of the people being sent internationally for education, with a few exceptions, are people who are later in their careers. People with grown children and grandchildren. People who have already accomplished so much in ministry. People who are serving in positions that, in the States at least, people would retire from. I started to ask myself why the Conference wasn’t choosing their young promising ministry candidates and pastors to complete their seminary training internationally. It seems to make sense to make an investment in people that will serve the church for a long time after they complete their education.
Again, the answer makes really good sense. When young men and women go overseas, they are much more likely to stay there and not come back. As it turns out, its a risk to send young men and women overseas because they don’t have the families, the responsibilities, or the career successes yet to pull them back home. Often they make connections in their place of study that lead to job opportunities and relationships that keep them there.
In his address at the UMU inauguration, the bishop talked about how this brain drain leaves Sierra Leone and other countries like it at a significant disadvantage in their quest for growth. He quoted an article from the Chicago Tribune which stated that in 2010 there were more Sierra Leonean doctors practicing in the city of Chicago than there were in the whole of Sierra Leone. Whaaaaaat?! How is a country that is struggling so deeply to make things better for its people supposed to do that without the people trained in the things that make a society developed?
So what is a Bishop to do when he/she believes that education is vital to achieving their vision but sending pastors to be educated means that the conference loses those pastors to lands with greater opportunity? Well, build a university that meets the standards of those international schools right at home. That’s what. And that’s exactly what Bishop Yambasu has done with the help of so many leaders and partners.
This week, I started as a Lecturer at United Methodist University Bishop Wenner School of Theology in it’s second semester of existence. If this is not a worthwhile endeavor, I don’t know what is.