Thursday, October 29, 2009

Kingdom Days

Some days are “kingdom” days…..those days when the reign of God seems to be so very evident, those days when you understand what Jesus meant when he said, “The Kingdom of God is like….”. Those days when you just can’t stop smiling, those days when you feel God can’t stop smiling either. July 16, 2009 was one of those “kingdom” days for me.

Africa University Ground Breaking, 1991

To understand the significance of this “kingdom” day, I need to rewind to exactly two years before. As Director of Connectional Ministries for the North Texas Annual Conference, I was scheduled to be a part of an Africa University mission team composed of conference representatives, including Bishop Alfred and Dr. Mackie Norris, and members of St. Luke “Community” UMC, Dallas. My father, Bishop Ben Oliphint, died July 7; we left for Zimbabwe July 13, three days after his memorial service.

Bishop Ben and Nancy Oliphint visit with a new friend at Africa University groundbreaking ceremonies

The timing was especially poignant because my father had been instrumental in the founding of Africa University. He served as President of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry from 1988-1992; he and my mother attended the ground-breaking ceremonies for Africa University in 1991, and he returned again for the opening ceremonies in 1994.

Bishop Ben Oliphint at Africa University Groundbreaking

Visiting there immediately following his death was a healing experience as I spoke with faculty members who remembered him and came to understand the significance of his legacy at Africa University. A memorial tribute was given for him by Bishop Norris in the chapel services at AU. My husband, Vic, and our son, Carter was also on this trip, so it was a powerful time of healing for us all.

As we visited with the leaders of Africa University, we learned of their need for a health clinic. Only a small, one room infirmary was currently serving a student population of more than 1300. We also learned of the great need to educate more persons in the health science professions.

Bishop Alfred L. Norris

Upon returning home, Bishop Norris, who had come out of retirement to fill the late Bishop Rhymes Moncure’s term, called together a group of North Texas clergy and laypersons to share the story and the need. The enthusiastic group responded by organizing to raise $1 million----$500,000 for the health clinic, $500,000 for scholarships for health sciences. The focus of the campaign was Lent, 2008, when the entire conference joined in reading a daily devotion booklet written by North Texans with a connection to Africa University. Soon after, the Africa University choir itinerated across the conference, performing at several churches. At the annual conference session in June, Bishop Norris presented Dr. James Salley, Vice-Chancellor of Development for Africa University, with a check for $500,000 for the health clinic. Construction of the health clinic began almost immediately.

With Bishop Norris’s retirement, Bishop Earl Bledsoe was assigned to North Texas. He immediately began work on completing the $1 million pledge to Africa University. Dr. Salley returned to North Texas for another presentation at annual conference: the remaining $500,000 check for scholarships.

Clayton Oliphint, Bishop Earl and Leslie Bledsoe on the AU bus

Bishop Bledsoe invited a representative delegation to visit Africa University for the dedication of the health clinic and scholarships. Vic and I were honored to be included, and were also pleased that my brother Clayton Oliphint, pastor of First UMC, Richardson, was a part of the team as well. Once again, we sought healing in our pilgrimage as we remembered both our parents and their contributions to the beginnings of Africa University, and our brother’s service in Kenya at Maua Methodist Hospital. Our father died in July, 2007, Kelley in October, 2008, and our mother in February, 2009.

Stories about the dedication ceremony held July 16, 2009, can be found at:

United Methodist News Service and North Texas Conference United Methodist Reporter

Rev. Clayton Oliphint, Mary Brooke Casad, Rev. Vic Casad

North Texas representatives at Bishop Norris Health Centre

It was truly a “kingdom” day to see a dream fulfilled, and to realize that in just two short years, the seeds that had been planted on that first trip now bore fruit. The health clinic was named in honor of Bishop Alfred L. Norris. What an honor to be with Bishop Norris and Dr. Mackie Norris for this occasion and see the surprise and joy on their faces when the tribute was announced. How wonderful, also, to have the Norris’s daughter, Angela and her husband, Tyrone Johnson as delegation team members. They were able to see and experience Africa University, where Bishop and Mrs. Norris have visited many times and given so much of themselves to.