Servanthood at the core for UCU Fulbright
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2020/01/servanthood-at-the-core-for-ucu-fulbright/
(The Fulbright Program is designed to improve intercultural relations, diplomacy and competence between people in the United States and other countries. This is the second of three stories about American Fulbright Scholars serving with Uganda Christian University.)
By Patty Huston-Holm
“It all starts with a conversation,” said Paul W. Robinson.
Amidst raindrops on fig and lemon trees, sips of hot tea and bites of freshly made banana bread on a chilly Friday afternoon, Dr. Robinson shared what he felt would be the beginning, middle and ending of his appointment as a United States Fulbright Scholar. He spoke from the patio of the Uganda Christian University (UCU) apartment of his daughter, Rachel, who directs the Council for Christian Colleges and University Uganda Studies Program on the Mukono campus.
“Ultimately, it’s about servanthood,” he said, distracted briefly as he and his wife, Margie, pointed to the delightful sights and sounds of the African parrot. “For all cultures and not just people who are Christian, this is key. To serve, you begin with listening.”
Forty years of teaching African history, anthropology, development studies, research methodologies and community health with half in East Africa, plus 65 years of life and learning, have told him so. The Wheaton College (Ill.) Professor Emeritus and Fulbright Scholar will spend the next year with UCU’s Institute of Faith, Learning and Service to help nurture and deepen the university’s practice of integrating the Institute’s three components for students, staff and programs. African leaders, including the late South African President Nelson Mandela and Nobel Laureate and Kenyan Professor Wangari Maathai affirm that Africa’s greatest challenge is developing leadership that is intellectually grounded, ethically formed and committed to service.
Robinson hopes that in some small way that he can support the work of UCU colleagues leading the Institute that was launched in 2010 as well as those within the School of Research and Post-Graduate Studies who share his servanthood passion.
“It’s my understanding that in some regards as the university grew in 20 years, it faced challenges that resulted in a diminished focus on faith and learning,” said Robinson, who has studied and taught in several American and African universities. “This is a pretty common experience in Christian higher education globally. Institutions frequently lose their core.”
Robinson was born in the Belgian Congo as a son of missionaries. When he was age eight, his family fled as refugees from the Congo’s first post-independence civil war to Kenya. There, he met and later married Margie, his high school sweetheart who also was born in the Congo. Together, they forged a life crossing continents and raising three children while being engaged in university teaching, development and church service.
His life and work were informed by a two-year academic and spiritual journey in the desert areas of Kenya and Ethiopia while doing field research for his Northwestern University doctoral dissertation. During that time, he had conversations with sages of the Gabra camel-herding culture to learn how they survived and flourished in one of Africa’s harshest physical environments.
“It’s important to recognize that we all can learn from each other,” said Robinson, who is an American citizen with some roots in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Montana but who considers Africa another home. “We should never be so busy with the reality of where we live that we can’t do that.”
Robinson’s long list of service includes: director of an international study program at St. Lawrence University (Nairobi, Kenya); leader of a USAID-funded initiative responding to the East African HIV-AIDs epidemic; co-founder of The Christian Bilingual University (Congo); elder involved in urbanization work at Nairobi (Kenya) Chapel; and director of a Wheaton College Human Needs and Global Resources Program that engages 200 organizations in 40 countries worldwide. He also continues to serve on boards for a half dozen Christian organizations involved in education, development and missions.
While the Western world sees its role as serving less-developed countries of “the majority world,” Robinson believes that “at the heart of service is a commitment to listening, learning and being present.” Countries known as “developed” have a lot to learn from those they would serve about injustice, suffering, community and more. The traumas of Africa – “fleeing from post-independence Congolese militias, soldiers with guns at barriers and borders, losses and heartache” – remain a part of him, but the “courageousness, resilience, hospitality and generosity of African people and the vibrancy of Africa’s vegetation, tall elephant grass, bird song, hearth-smoke in evenings and mornings” are stronger, he says.
“Africa is a place where people care deeply about their neighbors and want to help them, and serve them,” Robinson said. “It is a continent of abundant and rich resources that could be the life-blood of its peoples, but because of poor leadership and a global economic system that primarily extracts its resources, Africa remains a continent of deep inequalities and poverty.”
In addition to research student involving UCU’s climate and culture, the professor will teach two courses that focus on global perspectives and transforming poverty.
Paul Robinson looks at UCU’s mission, vision and core values, realizing that often for all universities, these are words forgotten or misplaced in the midst of daily tasks of listening to student stories of financial woes, teaching and grading papers. The UCU commitment to offering a “complete education for a complete” person aligns and resonates with his core passions and work.
“How do you effectively teach a whole person?” he asked. “You need to look at the foundational questions of what knowledge should be understood, what skills should be developed, what attitudes fostered, what values modeled, what experience needs to be involved and finally but most importantly, what service should be incorporated.”
With answers to these questions as a baseline, Robinson hopes that a process will be deepened to encourage a more concrete and sustainable model to strengthen UCU.
To support Uganda Christian University programs, students, activities and services, go to www.ugandapartners.org and click on the “donate” button, or contact UCU Partners Executive Director, Mark Bartels, at firstname.lastname@example.org.