University from Scratch

When you contemplate the dreaming spires of a University like Oxford and the learning accumulated through centuries, you wonder how it could be possible to start a University? Yet there was a time when Oxford University was starting from scratch. Like most of the ancient Universities in Europe it was inspired by a vision of faith. To this day it retains as its motto: “The Lord is my light”.

Since 1980, records show that 178 new Christian Universities have been founded worldwide, many of them in Africa. The movement of faith that has swept the continent has spawned the vision to create institutions of higher learning. In part, this is a matter of offering educational opportunity to young people when state institutions are not able to keep up with demand. But it seems also to spring from an instinct of faith to engage with knowledge and forge understanding.

This instinct can be found today in Nampula in the north of Mozambique where I have spent the last week. If you were to look at the life and operations of the Evangelical Church of Christ in Mozambique you would not guess that it could contemplate founding a University. It is a largely rural church in a remote part of the country, tracing its origins to outreach from the Church of Scotland mission at Blantyre in the early 20th century. It has come through torrid times in its history during Portuguese colonial rule and the civil war that followed independence. It is a miracle that it survived at all.

Not only has it survived, however, but it is looking with vision to the future. Despite minimal resources this vision includes starting a University from scratch. The first steps are very small ones. Most of their ministers have had no formal theological training so an intensive course has been launched to provide them with theological skills. A Theological Education by Extension programme offers training opportunities for lay leaders. An education department has been established to build on these beginnings. These are modest steps. But there was a day when the University of Oxford was taking its first modest steps. Today in Nampula are some visionaries who also believe that “the Lord is my light”. It is inspiring to be with them and imagine what might be possible.


  1. Greetings also from Alloway and Burns country. I was in at the beginning of Scotland’s first completely new University in Stirling in 1967 and worked there for 11 and a half very exciting years. When we started, all we had on site was a castle, a cottage and a huge estate which now houses a flourishing campus. Ian joined us as the second CofS chaplain in Jan. 1973 when we met for a first time and were married 20 months later! Best wishes to Nampula as it embarks on its exciting journey! Ian and Lorna Paterson


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