Gerald Bates, president of Friends of Hope Africa University, is now serving as Rector of the University for the transition after Bishop Elie Buconyori’s death.
Greetings, friends, from the campus of Hope Africa University in Bujumbura, Burundi.
Marlene and I have been here almost four weeks now and are pretty well settled in to our house provided by the University. The house has basic furniture but it is always an adventure to set up a home with all the things it takes. We have done a lot of shopping! Our home is located in a quiet area near to the office complex of the President of the country, and about one-half mile from downtown Bujumbura.
Marlene is working with some of her African ladies to re-hab what has been known as the “Hughes House”, a guest facility on campus. It will be renamed “Cookie Cottage” in honor of Lorie Hughes who, during her eight years on campus (while husband Bob headed up the English department) made thousands of cookies and shared them generously with students, construction workers, night watchmen, missionaries–anyone on campus, spreading joy and encouragement. On campus she was known as the “Cookie Lady.” Now she is in Wenatchee, Washington stricken with Lou Gehrig’s disease, faithfully cared for by Bob and other family.
I am learning what it means to be Rector of a complex and growing university of over 5,000 students. Just getting to know the 20+ department heads is a task, along with understanding their needs and aspirations. We are blessed to have a very gifted and committed leadership group. It is a pleasure to work with them. And we share lots of vision! The challenge is to have the wisdom to discern what is most important and what is most doable. I am reminded of a story my grandfather used to tell about climbing a steep hill in SE Ohio where I grew up. Someone suggested they were out of wind. My grandfather exclaimed, “What do you mean out of wind!? I have got more wind than I can blow!” Sometimes I feel I have more vision than … (Insert whatever you do with such a surplus.) I have stacks of “vision” coming to my desk, and am blessed by it. Life would be a dull placed without it!
We returned last week from Kibuye Hope Hospital where we took part in dedicating some new buildings built by partner World Relief and, with builder Rev. Salvatori, marked out the foundation of a new two story student dorm. This student facility is urgently needed for our growing numbers of medical and nursing students who do their clinical training at the hospital. On the Bujumbura campus, in early September we will start construction on the Dale and Evelyn Rupert Heath Hospitality Center on campus. It will be a four-apartment, two story structure to provide housing for short-term volunteer professors. The naming recognizes particularly the long missionary career of Evelyn Rupert here in Burundi. (She was, significantly, one of the teachers of our new Bishop Nzigo.)
I want to share with you some of the Universiy’s immediate needs:
1. Assistance with the tax payment. You may remember that late last year the University was presented with a large bill and fine for back payroll taxes for which it thought it had been exempted, particularly on adjunct professors who form a large part of our teaching staff. All appeals were denied. The second payment of $40,000 is due in September. This will be a major blow to our cash flow so any help will be appreciated.
2. The student dorm at Kibuye Hope Hospital. We have concluded that there is some economy in building two floors. This means we still need about $45,000.
3. Transition Fund. The board of Friends of Hope Africa University established a fund to assist the university with the expenses of housing, travel, support services and equipment for Marlene and me while here. We are volunteers and accept no compensation for our work but Friends of HAU want to help the University with these expenses. Gifts for this purpose can be marked “Transition Fund” in the memo block on checks.
Last week I spent the day in a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Inter-University Council of East Africa which met here in Bujumbura. The experience was daunting in some ways because the 20 members of this committee are top educational professionals from the five countries of the East Africa Community. Bishop Elie was chairman of this committee at his death. We observed a standing silence in his memory. As Rector of Hope Africa University I was given a seat at the table as a full participating member. I mention this because it reflects the esteem this institution, Hope Africa University, enjoys in the academic world of the region. My treatment as Rector of Hope Africa University, a stranger to everyone in the room, underlines how God has blessed and shepherded this great kingdom project called ‘Hope’ to this point in its history.
It was Bishop Elie’s custom to announce at the beginning of each academic year a biblical theme for the year. The leadership team has approved my suggestion: “Beyond the mourning, the assured presence of God.” It is based on Joshua 1:5. And so we march into the future here at Hope Africa University assured of God’s continued presence and blessing. Please march with us in your prayers.