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Back to Zimbabwe

John Wesley members drawn to teaching at Africa University

Chrissy and I are back in Zimbabwe. We’ve been warmly welcomed! We have been struggling with numerous frustrations, all very minor. Because we’ve taught at Africa University so many times, we often focus on its challenges rather than its triumphs. But we should emphasize one thing that AU does VERY well: it fulfills the UMC mandate to be radically International, to unite students from many African nations into a diverse community.

— Post on Facebook, September 1, 2019

Zimbabwe sunset

It’s half a world away and yet a second home to Ab Abercrombie and Chrissy Hope who have returned to Africa University in Zimbabwe to teach for the semester Ab, a retired Wofford College professor, teaches wildlife management while his wife, Chrissy, a retired professor from the College of Charleston, teaches rural development.

Their journeys to Zimbabwe began almost by accident. When the president of Wofford College asked Ab to go in his place to teach for a semester in 1992, Ab and Chrissy went with a sense of adventure. What they found was a remarkable institution full of bright, eager students willing to make substantial sacrifices for the chance at an education.

They were hooked and now they’ve returned more than a dozen times.

“We never wanted to leave here or, when we’re there, we’re never ready to leave to come back,” Ab said of their sojourns.

A large portion of Ab’s instruction is in the field while Chrissy has a more traditional classroom. The official language at the university is English which is also the official language of Zimbabwe.

In addition to his expertise in botany, Ab is noted for his appreciation of snakes and has become the defacto critter-catcher for the campus. On occasion, he’s gotten a 2 AM call to remove a python from the chicken house. Dangerous snakes, like “an enormous black mamba” that was terrifying residents, don’t phase him. He simply moves the reptiles elsewhere. “I don’t believe we should kill something merely because it is inconvenient.”

They arrive loaded with lab equipment, petri dishes, microscopes and, this year, four GPS receivers – items that can create issues getting through airport security. They also travel with a camera to record the stunning beauty of the landscape and the students.

Living conditions for faculty at the college are spartan by US standards. The couple is usually assigned a farmhouse where they have one room to themselves and share a kitchen. “If we can get electricity, we can get along,” Ab said before this most recent trip.

AU students on a field trip to Gonarezhau National Park.

Your church apportionments to the United Methodist Church provide funding for Africa University. It also receives funds through World Service Special Gifts, a UMC endowment program. The institution draws more than 1200 students from 36 African countries and offers degree programs ranging from bachelor’s to Ph.D. level. According to its website, Africa University strives to have half of its students from Zimbabwe with the other half coming from countries across Africa.

If you wish to keep up with Ab Abercrombie’s chronicles of life at Africa University and Zimbabwe, you can follow him on Facebook.