The Rev Wee-Li Tan serves as President and CEO for the Florida United Methodist Foundation, Inc. Tan, who has been on the job since moving to Lakeland from Boston at the beginning of 2011, is an enthusiastic cheerleader for the ongoing ministry of the nation’s second largest Methodist foundation.
“This is the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done,” Tan said. “I love finances, and I love ministry. This foundation is where finance and ministry come together in the context of stewardship. Our focus is on supporting ministry and helping churches and individuals be more faithful stewards.”
Tan’s love for mission goes back many years. Prior to his 12-year tenure with the New England Foundation (1998-2010), Tan served as pastor of the Church of All Nations, a United Methodist congregation in Boston. During that time, Tan’s Boston church was selected as one of five examples used to illustrate the original Vital Congregations study, and he was tapped for several leadership roles at the General Conference level, including the General Boards of education and discipleship.
His relationship with Africa University began while he was serving on the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. He is now a dedicated fan of the work of Africa University, which was founded in 1992 by The United Methodist Church worldwide.
“I was elected to be director on the board of Africa University nine years ago,” Tan said. “I served the last five as treasurer. I’ve seen such transformation over the years. Africa University is making a tremendous difference raising leaders,” he said.
The institution, established in 1992, is located in Zimbabwe. Its declared mission is to “Provide quality education within a Pan-African context through which persons can acquire general and professional knowledge and skills, grow in spiritual maturity, and develop sound moral values, ethics and leadership qualities.” Tan said, “Africa University came from a 1998 action of the General Conference. It is one of the best things we have done right as a church.”
With six faculties plus the Institute of Peace, Leadership and Governance, Africa University is dedicated to training leaders for the African continent who will remain on the African continent.
“It’s the fruit and fruition of the dream to educate leaders and to transform lives through education,” Tan said. “AU brings together future leaders in church and society, building international relationships across the continent, working together in cooperation for the future.”
In Africa, there is dynamic growth and profound need, as The United Methodist Church in Africa is growing in leaps and bounds. But there is a vacuum in trained leadership, both in the church and society.
“The hope is in the stories,” Tan said. “Ultimately, ministry is captured in the stories of lives transformed, of communities transformed, and of societies transformed. It’s about the leaven in the bread. One person can make a difference.”
Commenting on funding challenges, Tan said that there are many advantages to educating future leaders in Africa, not the least of which is cost. “It costs $5,400 for one student for one year,” Tan said. “That covers everything.” Reasonable as such a sum may be, $5,400 still represents an insurmountable hurdle for the majority of students—young men and women who represent the best hope for the future of the troubled continent.
Tan spoke of an East Angola- Florida Conference partnership, mentioning Armando and Icel Rodriguez, Florida Conference leaders who have seen both the need for and the impact of education in Africa. The couple recently spent a year in Angola as missionaries, and Armando now chairs the East-Angola Florida partnership.
“We have a firsthand view of the East Angola Conference and the needs,” Rodriguez said. “And now we have two Cuban Methodist medical missionaries there. It is a very exciting project.”
Rodriguez said the church in East Angola is identifying leaders who have a heart for the church. There are 90 to 100 students who graduate annually from the Quessua school, but few have the resources to pursue higher education.
“To invest in these leaders is to invest in the country as a whole,” Rodriguez said. “After 40 years of war they don’t have leaders with business and administrative training. So when we send students on to Africa University, it’s about leadership formation. We’re training future pastors and leaders.”
This is a time to refocus for Tan. Having served the nine-year maximum, Wi-Lee Tan rotated off the Africa University board at the February 2012 meeting. However, rather than coming to a conclusion, his relationship is shifting in emphasis.
“My first responsibility here is the Florida Methodist Foundation,” Tan said. “But as an elder in the United Methodist Church I am called to be connectional, and called to serve. I am available to bear witness of what God is doing, to share the story of Africa University in the Florida Conference. This is our United Methodist institution. Africa University is something we as a connectional church have chosen to make ours.” Additionally, on a more personal level, Tan and his wife, Lynn, have decided to support a student from East Angola.
“Because I’m leaving the board,” he said, “Lynn and I wanted to make a gift to support one of our East Angola students. And what is more exciting is that matching gifts are being found. The good news is that, through various resources, we’ll probably be able to raise funds for three orphans (from East Angola) to attend Africa University.”
Tan is anxious to see more people seize the opportunity to make such a strategic difference in the future of the continent of Africa. “I have seen how this university transforms lives and I want to help,” Tan said. “Companies around the continent say they want AU graduates because of the quality, the standards, and the integrity.”
“It’s about the relationships,” he said. “That’s what we’re seeing again and again.” Tan said he believes the future is bright for Africa University, but that the institution still needs the prayers and financial support of the Methodist world in order to prosper. “We need to continue doing this right,” Tan said.
Armando Rodriguez agrees. “To help these students is an excellent investment; the return will be immense. It will help the growth of the church and the stability of the country. I’m very optimistic. There are so many needs and it’s easy to get discouraged; but your money can make a difference, and impact a whole nation!”
Contact Armando ( or Icel Rodriguez for more information on the partnership and how you can help.