Dr. Thomas Curtis - 1998 A Award Recipient
"Christian love in action" is more than just the motto for United Methodist Volunteers in Mission, an organization dear to the Asburian we honor tonight.
A Georgian, Dr. Thomas Curtis came to Asbury College from his hometown of Albany. On campus he met an Alabamian, Margaret Williams. They graduated together, both members of the class of 1953. Together they have lived out their "Christian love in action" in countless ways around the world.
Dr. Thomas and Margaret first answered God's call to action in a two year assignment as Salvation Army officers. Then, they both pursued graduate degrees at Emory University in Atlanta. Tom earned the Master of Divinity degree from the Candler School of Theology and, later, the Doctor of Ministry from Emory. Further graduate studies at Boston University resulted in a Master of Sacred Theology.
In 1957, he became a member of the South Georgia Methodist Conference, serving pastorates in Alabama and Georgia. In 1960, the Board of Global Ministries assigned the Dr. Curtis and his family to what was then Southern Rhodesia where they served until 1976. He then accepted his first assignment with United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (VIM), an organization he was to head for the next 20 years.
As the first full time coordinator of VIM, this alumnus organized short term missions outreaches around the United States and the world involving pastors and laypersons from the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church. Through this volunteer movement, hundreds of teams and thousands of individuals worked as partners with churches and agencies around the globe. Volunteer assistance ranged from disaster relief to church construction, Vacation Bible Schools to rural medical clinics in the United States and as well as in more than 50 other countries of the world.
In God’s timing, Dr. Curtis’s rare gift of leadership was needed to jump-start the organization of a new college for the continent of Africa. In 1991, it appeared that Africa University in Zimbabwe, despite all in roads that had been made for its establishment, would remain a dream. The government of Zimbabwe had refused to grant the university a charter until building began. Through a massive effort, headed by Dr. Curtis, six VIM teams were sent to renovate the farm buildings at the Old Mutare Methodist Mission. By March 1992, classrooms were built, the charter granted, and Africa University -- the first United Method istinstitution of higher learning on that continent opened its doors.
Dr. Curtis understood the importance of this effort. His love for and commitment to Zimbabwe and its people was born of years of service as a missionary during the country's climb toward independence in the 1960s and 70s.
It was Rhodesia where Dr. Curtis served as pastor, district superintendent, high school principal and administrative assistant to Bishop A.T. Muzorewa. He also was a key member of various church councils in the region.
During his last term in Africa, Dr. Curtis became a significant contributor to the initial negotiations between Bishop Muzorewa and former Prime Minister Ian Smith which ultimately led to Majority Rule in the country.
In 1978, the Carter Administration asked Dr. Curtis to return to Rhodesia as an emissary to assist in furthering what became a historic political process.