Tuesday, May 30, 2017

TEE Re-Visioned

Reflection 6 of 6, from our recent visit to East Africa:

When we arrived in Tanzania in 2012, we talked to Mennonite leaders in Kenya and Tanzania to understand what kind of training is most needed to provide leaders for the future. What we heard was to renew the program known as Theological Education by Extension (TEE). TEE programs were led in the 1980’s and 1990’s by missionaries, but when the missionaries left, the programs were soon discontinued.
TEE leaders in Kenya Mennonite Church meeting in Nairobi.
We saw the reasons being mostly financial – teachers’ salaries, transport to visit outlying areas, and study materials all needed funding that was beyond the ability of the local church to provide. So we began to plan a program that used local pastors as teachers, which eliminated the need for travel, and we developed simply Bible-based studies which could be easily reproduced. This approach was new to many leaders and not all adopted it, but those who used it found it helpful. Our attitude was that we are planting seeds, expecting that someday the seeds will grow and produce fruit, perhaps different in appearance from the seed we planted, but appropriate to the environment.
The main reason we planned our recent visit was to meet with those who are using TEE to hear their reports and to encourage them. A meeting was planned in Nyabange for Tanzanian leaders and another in Nairobi for Kenyan leaders. We thought the materials were being used in two or three locations, so what we heard was beyond our expectations. One after another told how they were using the study materials we had produced, some for personal study, others for Sunday school type meetings with their churches, others to disciple new believers and leaders. The use of the study materials is much more widespread than we knew.
Then the groups took another step to bring the TEE study program under the auspices of the churches, in both Tanzania Mennonite Church and Kenya Mennonite Church. They are asking each diocese to appoint a regional coordinator, and each church district to appoint a local coordinator. The coordinators will get together to plan a curriculum that will result in a certificate. They identified some additional studies to add to the curriculum and stated that they will write the materials. We saw fulfillment of Apostle Paul’s description, “I planted, another watered, but God has been making it grow” (1 Corinthians 3:6).

Healing Wounds of Division

Reflection 5 of 6, from our recent visit to East Africa:

Forty years ago Tanzania Mennonite Church was shaken to its core by serious conflict. Causes included tribal and clan loyalties among church leaders, and a bishop who refused to honor the church constitution did not call church conference assemblies, and brought legal charges against the church when he was challenged. Eventually, several leaders who were loyal to the bishop formed another denomination, the Evangelical Tanzania Mennonite Church. In the nearly 20 years since the death of the bishop, the intensity of the conflict has decreased, but it remains mostly unresolved.
We learned of efforts towards understanding and reconciliation between the two groups, enabled in part by new leaders who did not experience the conflict in such personal ways. One of the issues to be resolved is ownership of church properties, where former Tanzania Mennonite churches chose to join the Evangelical Tanzania Mennonite Church and maintained possession of the building. The conflict divided families, as some persons associated with the new group, while others maintained loyalty to the original group. The former General Secretary Magiri said, “Like putting stitches in a wound, we have tried to bring the two edges together, so it will heal. We are trying to resolve the issues through conversation and negotiation, rather than in the courts.”

We are grateful to see bridges of understanding being built, and pray that new unity will bring a stronger church and a testimony to God’s grace and forgiveness.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Miracle at MTCEA

Reflection 4 of 6, from our recent visit to East Africa:

We arrived in Nyabange, also known to some as Bukiroba, the site of Mennonite Theological College of Eastern Africa (MTCEA) on Saturday, April 29. One year ago as we were leaving Tanzania, there were only 5 students. Enrollment at MTCEA had been declining for several years, support by churches was very low, and there was little active ownership by Tanzania Mennonite Church. The need to train leaders was clear, but there was little hope for MTCEA’s survival. As one former missionary stated, “MTCEA is like Lazarus in the grave, waiting for Jesus to show up and bring it to life.”
MTCEA students in the chapel for a seminar with
Steve Wiebe-Johnson, Mennonite Mission Network
(photo by John Wambura)
What we encountered on our visit this year passed all our expectations. The largest group of students in MTCEA’s history was 32 students – now there were more than 50 students beginning an 8 month study program, and not all the students had arrived! Sunday evening Joe was asked to address the student-led evening prayer time, and it was an amazing experience to share with the group – it felt like a miracle was happening, totally beyond our expectations. The latest count we have heard recently is that 89 students have arrived, in addition to several local persons taking evening classes.
The new leadership of Tanzania Mennonite Church brought new vision and trust, and that has laid the foundation for the new life at MTCEA. General Secretary John Wambura has been actively recruiting students, but the quick turnaround was more than human effort – we saw God at work. There is a great hunger among African youth for Bible teaching and they are committed to evangelism and church ministries, and they responded to the opportunity for study. At least three-fourths of the students are under 40 years old, considered youth in Africa.
Students at MTCEA, 29 May 2017
(photo by JohnWambura)
We questioned the wisdom of beginning a program when there is no principal appointed, the governing board has not yet met, and there is no guaranteed source of funding, but General Secretary Wambura told me, “You people from the West need to have all the organization in place before you begin. We are tapping into the momentum, and we will organize as we go along.”

We continue to pray that this training program will provide leaders who will carry Tanzania Mennonite Church into the future and help to reach the goal of 1 million members by 2034.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Students and Young Adults in Mission

Reflection 3 of 6, from our recent visit to East Africa:

A couple weeks before we left on this trip, we received a request for assistance to help build a church building. Each $10 will buy a bag of cement, and 100 bags are needed. When I presented the request to a local church, Grace Fellowship, two people stood up before I could take my seat, and each handed me $20 and said, “I want to buy two bags.” Other contributions from this church brought the total to $700. Our Sunday morning church, Living Hope Fellowship, contributed $1,000, and family members contributed $100. The total we took to Tanzania was $1,800, which the General Secretary said would provide the 100 bags requested for the church, and 80 bags towards repairs at the Mennonite Theological College of East Africa (MTCEA).
Students and a teacher from Kasoma Secondary School
who requested a church in Rwanga village.
The new church building is in the village of Rwanga-Majita, about 30 miles south of Musoma. The economy in the area is based on agriculture and fishing, and many are subsistence farmers. Several months ago, General Secretary John Wambura was invited to speak at a conference of the Christian Students Union held at Kasoma Secondary School in Rwanga, resulting in 17 baptisms. While there, one of the teachers and student leaders brought a request for a Mennonite congregation and a church building.

Local believers who attended the dedication of the plot where
the church will be built. Cement blocks and digging the
foundation in the background.
Having a church building shows intention to stay in the community. General Secretary Wambura encouraged them to do what they can and he began to look for funds to supplement their efforts. We were able to visit the site where they have begun digging the foundation and at that time they had made 1400 cement blocks. A business man who grew up in the village offered to pay for the roof after the walls are built. They plan to have the building finished in time for a regional gathering of the Christian Students Union in September 2017.

As we traveled around Tanzania, we encountered numerous groups of students and young adults who are committed and eager for training to do evangelism, discipling, and church development. Their interest is being matched by initiatives by church leaders to provide seminars and internships in leadership and church ministries. We pray the church will take up the challenge to encourage and use these young adults to bring life and wholeness to Tanzania.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! (Psalm 133:1-3)

After a weekend in Dar es Salaam, a time of renewing friendships and interviewing several people about the history of Mennonites in the city, we traveled to Arusha, where a seminar was in progress for the five new bishops that had been ordained about one month earlier, along with the two bishops who continue to serve. To many Tanzanian Mennonites, the selection and ordination of these leaders is a source of hope for the future of Tanzania Mennonite Church. We saw a new sense of vision and spirituality as they talked about building peace, unity and love. Their discussions included ways to work towards their vision to grow from the present 65,000 members to 1 million by 2034, which is the 100 year anniversary of Mennonites in Tanzania. They agreed to continue meeting and to visit each other, strengthening their unity and vision.

In Psalm 133, the psalmist compares unity among leaders as the oil of anointing for service, and as the refreshing dew that promises new life. The new vision is aggressive, but not impossible for those who are called and empowered by God.
Tanzania Mennonite bishops, wives, and seminar attendees in Arusha, April 25-28, 2017

Monday, May 22, 2017

) Love is stronger

April 18 – May 13 we were in East Africa to follow up our four year efforts to develop a training program for Tanzania and Kenya Mennonite church leaders. What we encountered was beyond our expectations. The day after we arrived in Dar es Salaam, Friday afternoon, we were walking along a busy street with a wide sidewalk. Without warning, a motorcycle approached us from behind and skillfully grabbed Gloria’s purse from her shoulder, and soon disappeared by weaving through the traffic. Others on the sidewalk saw it happen, but were unable to do anything to stop him. However they were concerned, thankful that Gloria was not injured, and offered to help us go to the police to file a report. Fortunately, we had left our passports at the hotel, but she did have cash we were carrying for unexpected travel expenses.
Two days later, Sunday, Joe was invited to preach the two worship services at the Segerea Mennonite Church in Dar es Salaam. At each service, Pastor Emmanuel Hagai announced what happened and invited the congregation to give contributions to help make up the loss. After the services, we were handed an envelope with the equivalent of about $90, which we humbly and gratefully accepted, knowing it was given by persons who are not wealthy financially, but willing to sacrifice to show their love and concern for us. They gave “not out for their wealth, but out of their poverty,” as Jesus said of the widow in the temple (Mark 12:44). Their generous love helped to heal our feelings of loss and violation.

Monday, October 31, 2016

We planted, others watered, God gives the increase

After all, what is Apollos? What is Paul? We are simply God's agents in bringing you to faith. Each of us performed the task which the Lord allotted to us. We planted the seed, and (John and Ibrahim) watered it; but God made it grow. Thus it is not the gardeners with their planting and watering who count, but God who makes it grow. Whether they plant or water, they work as a team, though each will get his own pay for his own labor. We are God's fellow-workers, and you are God's garden. (1 Corinthians 3:5-9)
Seminar in Shinyanga, Tanzania
As we left Tanzania and Kenya four months ago, we emphasized to the church leaders that we had only planted the seed and given them tools for leadership training, now it was their work to carry on. In many ways it was a challenge to our faith to leave what we had spent four years in planning and producing, in the hands of local leaders. But over and over we told ourselves, this is not our work, but the work of God to carry on through local leaders. We prayed for just a few leaders to catch a vision and burden for further leadership training in our Mennonite churches. We as partners from the West want to continue to support deep spiritual growth in the leaders but also want to see it springing out of local
Participants at the seminar in Shinyanga, Tanzania
initiatives from within the churches.
Missionary Peter Sensenig with his translator
Recently we received Facebook messages that affirm our faith in God's working with the seeds we have planted. Bishop Joseph Nyakyema and Shinyanga Diocese held a seminar for church leaders of Shinyanga and Tabora KMT Dioceses. Pastor John Wambura taught "Leadership Strategies and Tools," Pastor George Nyaundi taught "Mission and Church Planting," and missionary Dr. Peter Sensenig taught "Conflict Resolution among Leaders" and "Christian-Muslim Relations."
Pastor John Wambura wrote to us, “You planted the SEED, I am just watering it! They said ‘We need more practical training for change.’ Your impact is proved by the attendance from Sumbawanga of six participants!!” Sumbawanga is a remote area in southwestern Tanzania where we had spent four months to provide more intensive training!
John emailed us further explaining that he met with the Sumbawanga participants to evaluate their progress and their needs in both spiritual and economic development. Their proposal for working at these areas include building five new churches, training leaders for these churches and helping them to establish financial stability. We praise God for the work he is doing among these leaders and watering the seeds we planted. We pray that it will "yield fruit in its season." Continue to remember the "team" working in the garden!!

Pastor Ibrahim Samwel with five leaders from his district.
Standing (left to right): Pastor Ibrahim Samwel, Elder Lidaness Kipeta, 
Pastor Jackob Tanganyika (Kalambo Nondo), Evangelist Judith 
Namwimanzi, Evangelist Emmanuel Silondwa (Kapozwa), and 
(seated) Evangelist Tabu Michael.