Monday, April 15, 2013

Follow the Money: A Tale of Two Colleges

EMU Campus Center, Harrisonburg, USA
MKC Academic Building, Ethiopia
Last week I got a postcard from Carl Hansen, veteran missionary to Ethiopia, inviting us to a 7 p.m. event at the Harrisonburg Mennonite Church April 18. His special guests are two representatives of the Meserete Kristos College in Addis Ababa, President Kiros Teka Haddis and Board Chair Kelbessa Muleta Demena. Brother Demena is also the Associate General Secretary of the Meserete Kristos Church in Ethiopia, now the largest Mennonite denomination in the world.

While I am not directly associated with MKC, I have long been interested in the church and its new college, with a current enrollment of 180 men and women, most of them training to be pastors and church leaders in this rapidly growing church. The sponsoring church, named Meserete Kristos, or "Christ is the Foundation", has over 225,000 baptized members in more than 700 congregations, and with an attendance of twice that number. This means that it now has well over twice the members as its mother church, the Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA), with 899 congregations and 97,439 members..   

As a reflection of the huge disparity in wealth among worldwide Mennonites, US Mennonites have a total of five colleges and two seminaries, each with budgets far, far surpassing that of this one fledgling Anabaptist-related college in Ethiopia, with an annual operating budget of around $375,000.

There is something fundamentally wrong with this picture. If we really believe that God shows no favoritism, that our Creator loves and cares for everyone on the planet equally, how can we justify this monstrous gap in distribution of resources?

For example, as a loyal alumni of EMU, I can understand its perceived need for a $7 million fund drive to renovate its Science Center, but I also have to ask how can we justify investments in such projects when the MCUSA constituency, while awash in wealth, is actually shrinking in numbers, while MKC supporters, though desperately poor by our standards, are growing rapidly? 

There may be no seemingly easy answers to such questions, but at a most basic, simple level, is this really that complicated? Shouldn't it be obvious that, as we pray "Thy will be done on earth (everywhere) as it is in heaven" that God's will would be something approaching equality among God's people? At least I find it hard to read the Bible any other way.

At the very least, shouldn't we begin appointing believers from the Global South to serve as decision-making board members of each of our church institutions (via skype)? And meanwhile, should we consider a moratorium on new construction or expansion of our existing institutions until our world neighbors have more of their needs met? And could/should MCUSA have its colleges and seminaries become one "multiversity" (on separate campuses) to avoid competing with each other for needed dollars and adequate student enrollment?

Believe me, the Meserete Christos College has no problem recruiting students. But it does face huge challenges in raising funds in one of the most impoverished countries of the world.

I look forward to meeting with these good folks from Meserete Kristos, and meanwhile urge all my friends to do so as well, and to bring their check books.

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