The United Methodist Church in Mission

Mt. Chiremba, Where Africa University Began

By Chomingwen Pond, a United Methodist missionary who taught for three years at Africa University in Zimbabwe

Chomingwen Pond

The weekend before I left Mutare, I fulfilled a long-standing dream of climbing to the top of Mt. Chiremba. It is the highest peak in the Africa University area and has long been regarded as a sacred site. Solomon Kupa, a theology student who graduated in December, offered to guide Susan Henthorn and me to the top of the mountain as a farewell gift. We met him early on a blessedly cloudy Saturday morning and set off through Old Mutare United Methodist Mission Center and up the mountainside.

Kupa assured us he was choosing "the long, easy route" up the side of the mountain, but to me, it felt straight up. If there was a path, we never found it. Kupa hacked our way through long grass, short scrub, and thorn trees. After more than two hours of climbing, we reached the top. In the distance we could see Christmas Pass. Beyond it, low clouds hovered over the city of Mutare. Beneath us stretched the rich valley with cultivated fields, a Shona village or two, Old Mutare Mission, and Africa University.

What makes the top of Mt. Chiremba special is that this is where Africa University began. A century ago, when the routing of the railroad necessitated moving the village of Umtali (as it was called then) to the other side of the mountains, Methodist Bishop Joseph C. Hartzell obtained the buildings at Old Umtali from Cecil Rhodes and the British South Africa Company for use as a mission station. Not long after, Bishop Hartzell made the climb to the top of Mt. Chiremba. There he knelt and prayerfully offered the valley to God for the spreading of the Gospel. And there he received a vision of young people from all over running to the valley, schoolbooks under their arms.

Among the first institutions to be established at Old Umtali Mission were a primary school and an "industrial" school. Hartzell High School followed. Africa University--with its undergraduate programs in theology, agriculture and natural resources, management and administration, and education, followed by its master's degree programs--is the latest educational offering in fulfillment of Bishop Hartzell's vision.



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