A Legacy to Uphold

A Legacy to Uphold

Nazarene higher education is an endearing legacy of the holiness movement. It is our responsibility to uphold it.

According to Peter Senge, “We often spend so much time with the problems along our path that we forget why we are on the path in the first place. The result is that we all have a dimmer, even inaccurate view of what’s really important to us.”1 Indeed, such are the problems in higher education today. It was tempting to craft yet another episode on “the challenges in higher education,” but, taking a cue from Senge, I have decided to focus this article on our Church’s legacy in the ministry of education, tempered with reflections on my personal experiences from over 34 years of involvement the Church’s educational ministries.

The Church of the Nazarene’s focus on education can only be fully appreciated in light of our doctrine and teaching on the imperative of holiness.

From the moment of the Church’s founding was the biblical truth and personal experience of God’s transforming work in a person’s life; a transformation which was at the same time so liberating, so empowering, and so endearing that it needed to be preserved, propagated, and bequeathed to generations to come. This personal and communal experience of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit led so many of our founders to commit to taking the gospel to all the ends of the earth, including Africa.

While it may be true that God could have led someone like me into His marvelous light in any number of ways, I know unquestionably that I am a product of generations who have passionately heeded God’s call on their lives to come to Africa to preach and teach about the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

From the earliest days, Nazarenes identified education as a key ministry focus area.

For them, it was impossible to separate the message of holiness from evangelism in the life of the Church. But education, as understood by the Nazarenes, is not an end in itself. Education is a means for sharing the message and the life of holiness. In all the educational institutions in our mission field areas, our focus has been unequivocal. We have relished the opportunity to proclaim the message of God’s saving grace and to model a life of holy living on our campuses.

At Africa Nazarene University (ANU), this missional commitment is captured in our vision statement which expresses our desire to be “The university of choice for Christ-centered academic excellence, research, and transformative leadership,” as well as in our mission statement: “providing a holistic education that equips individuals with excellent skills, competences, and Christian values.”Our missional commitment is excellently displayed through the life of Ms. Maria Njeri, the valedictorian speaker at ANU’s 2018 commencement. Maria began her speech by thanking God for His grace and went on to thank ANU for the opportunity she had been given and her wonderful mentors and lecturers who had stayed the course with her. She concluded her speech by admonishing the class of 2018 that ANU had not only equipped them with an education to ignite Africa’s future, but they had also been equipped with character, and that it was on character that they would be measured, regardless of the profession or career they chose.

While these words can be heard from many a commencement podium, they were extraordinary when Maria spoke them. Before coming to ANU, she had sought admission to three other universities in Nairobi who had all turned her down because she is “differently abled,” as she says. Maria lives with cerebral palsy. She is the first person living with cerebral palsy to graduate from ANU. Maria now works with the United Nations Office in Nairobi to advocate for people who are differently abled, thanks to ANU, where she found Christ and found her purpose with the support of a holiness community. That, for me, is Nazarene holiness education as it was meant to be.

Our schools are powerful hubs that bring together Nazarenes who desire a Christ-centered education, as well as young people of faiths who see in our holiness colleges and universities something to aspire for.

The imperative of holiness also means that Nazarene education is not only important for the purpose of evangelism, but is also critical for the discipleship of believers. A. K. Bracken, in an article titled, “The Church and Her Colleges,” observed that “indeed, our colleges had their very beginnings in their founders’ loyalty to our distinctive doctrine . . . There were already colleges in abundance to do all else that colleges were supposed to do. They lacked one thing: they did not promote holiness. To the early Church leaders, the solution of their problem was simple—they would found colleges that were definitely committed to the promotion of their doctrines and practices.”2

It was this same determination to take the message of God’s saving grace to all nations across the continent of Africa that gave birth to ANU nearly 25 years ago. Through Nazarene professors and staff, thousands of students are taught about the basic beliefs of the Church of the Nazarene, biblical ethics, and spiritual development. It is this legacy of holiness-centered education that compels us to keep marching on and raising our banner, “Holiness unto the Lord!”

Even in the midst of all kinds of challenges, we know who we are: a holiness people compelled to make disciples of all nations, cheered on by the witness of our founding fathers and mothers who were determined to take the message of holiness to all corners of the world.

At ANU, when we touch and are touched by individuals like Maria, we know we are being true to our legacy.

We urge Nazarenes across the world to continue investing in our colleges and universities. There is a great heritage that we can bequeath to those who come after us, ensuring that the Church remains strong and grounded in our doctrines. This, for me, is a sure recipe for keeping the passion for evangelism and the discipleship of all nations alive.

Stanley Bhebhe is Vice-Chancellor of Africa Nazarene University in Nairobi, Kenya.

[1] Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization (New York: Doubleday Publishing Group, Inc., 1990), 126.

[2] A. K. Bracken; The Church and Her Colleges, Herald of Holiness, August 3, 1935.

Holiness Today, Jul/Aug 2019