Friday, February 14, 2014

Home at Last ... with Many Lessons Learned

I have touched down in MN and am finally home.  What an amazing trip this was!  The purpose of my travels was to gain a better understanding of the mission work that we are doing at Iambi Hospital, gather ideas for what God might be calling us to do when a Zumbro group returns this October, and begin to establish some relationships with our ministry partners -- both at Iambi and in the Central Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania (ELCT).  I don't have all of the answers, but I certainly have a much better idea about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for our ministry in this beautiful country.

Bob, Sue and I parted ways on Tuesday afternoon.  As you've read, they were able to spend their remaining time building their relationship with the new medical officer in charge of the hospital, Dr. Nyenje.  From what they have shared it sounds like it was time very well spent.

all of us following our meeting at Iambi Hospital

I departed Nkungi Village and Iambi Hospital with Bishop Steve Delzer and Kathy Bolin from our synod to spend time with the leaders of the Central Diocese and Hartmot, our ministry partner from the Pommeranian district of the Lutheran church in Germany.  Doing cross cultural ministry in another country is always enlightening (and to be honest, challenging).  Adding to the table partners from Germany, along with our African and American partners was fascinating.  I have learned so much and have such great appreciation for the mission we all have to serve God's people in this region of Tanzania.

We traveled Tuesday from Nkungi Village to the city of Singida.  Singida is where the offices of the Central Diocese are located.  (In the ELCT a diocese is comparable to a synod in the ELCA.)  We arrived in time to check in to our hotel (yes, it really was a beach front hotel complete with a shower and good restaurant!).  

three of Bishop Alex's top assistants in the diocese office
traveling in the back of the vehicle with us

scenes from the drive from Nkungi Village to Singida

kids in the area start learning how to carry items on their head as soon 
as they are old enough to learn how to walk

Being able to relax at dinner was especially enjoyable.  Much of our conversation that evening wasn't about Tanzania, but instead about the vision that Bishop Steve has for ending food insecurity in our synod back home.  It was a great conversation and I look forward to the work that we will all be doing together.  Our newly elected bishop leads with a vision for us to be a church that is reaching out to our neighbors -- in Rochester, Southeast Minnesota, Tanzania, and beyond -- and it is exciting!

On Wednesday morning we were welcomed to the Central Diocese office.  How powerful it was to share communion with all of the staff of the diocese office.  So many thousands of miles away from home, we gathered around the same table and celebrated Christ with us.  

the Central Diocese office

By this time I was finally starting to get the hang of the Tanzanian way: be prepared, you could be called upon to offer a speech or prayer at any time.  The bishop's assistant took great joy in saying often, "And now the young pastor will pray for us."  Yes, that was always me. 

After our service in the chapel we gathered with Bishop Alex in his office, along with all of his senior staff members, to offer feedback from all that we had seen and experienced in the past days.  Bishop Steve, Kathy and Hartmot had been traveling around the diocese for the past week visiting all of our synod's ministry partners in the region.  Zumbro's partnership with Iambi Hospital and Nursing School is just one of the many partnerships in the area.  Even though I was only able to offer thoughts about the work being done at Iambi, it was incredibly helpful to hear about all of the other places that they visited.  Learning about the challenges that are faced in the whole area helps me to understand even better the work we are doing at Iambi.  It was also helpful to discuss with the diocese leadership what they saw as the priorities at Iambi.  There is so much work to be done.  We can't do it all (nor is it our responsibility to do it all) but it is good to hear from the leaders regarding what they see as priorities for our work.  We certainly aren't in a position to come in from America and state what we want to do.  This is a partnership and we will work together with the diocese and hospital staff at identifying how our partnership can be most helpful and meaningful -- both for them and for us.  It was a good meeting.  There were some hard conversations had, but there was also much to celebrate.

Following our meeting we were promptly taken to a large room where there was a head table prepared for the four of us and Bishop Alex.  Our Tanzanian friends have a much grander understanding of hospitality than we do!  It was a great celebration.  More speeches thanking one another for our partnerships, more prayers, more gifts, and, of course, more food.  I have a brand new Tanzanian dress made for me by the women of the diocese!  I truly felt honored and humbled to be representing Zumbro among all of these wonderfully gracious people.  

gathered with the staff of the Central Diocese

After more photos and farewells, we departed with Bishop Alex for the city of Arusha.  Arusha is home to the main offices of the ELCT (this would be compared to the ELCA's main offices in Chicago).  We had some meetings lined up for the next day, but first we all stayed overnight at the Mwangaza Lutheran Center, the same place that Bob, Sue and I had stayed our first two nights in Tanzania.  

Our time with the leaders of the ELCT began with another chapel service at 7:30am on Wednesday morning.  "Karibu," we were greeted with, which means "You are welcome here."  Again we were all asked to introduce ourselves.  How fun it was to bring greetings to the ELCT from our little congregation in MN.  When Pastor Jason handed me the Tanzanian hymn book a couple of months ago I looked at him like he was crazy thinking that I would be able to actually read from it.  "Just take it," he said, "you'll get it."  Sure enough.  By the end of the trip I could sing from it whenever we worshiped (which was daily).  I even think I know the meaning of a few words that I was singing!

Our first meeting that day was with the leaders of the ELCT.  The presiding bishop was not in town because he also serves as a bishop of one of the dioceses, but we met with his top assistants and learned a great deal about the structure and management of the greater church.  It was fascinating to learn about the mission that they do in their country, as well as about the financial help that they seek from countries like the United States and Germany.  Hartmot serves as the General Secretary of his district, and so throughout this meeting he was primarily the one offering advice about the financial management and technical systems that the church uses.  And you guessed it, with all of these leaders in the room, when Bishop Alex said, "And now we will pray..." I knew it was my turn.

our gathering with leaders of the ELCT

Our next meeting was with an organization called the Lutheran Mission Cooperative (LMC).  This is an organization that coordinates a great deal of the Lutheran outreach ministry being done by the northern countries in Tanzania.  Kathy Bolin, who serves as the coordinator of all the work our synod does with our companion synods, was primarily leading this meeting as she sought out answers to some questions she had.  The LMC is the organization that our synod uses to wire money to our ministry partners in Tanzania.  The leader of the LMC is from Sweeden, and so now sitting around the table doing ministry together were people from four different countries.  I listened and learned.

the staff of the Lutheran Mission Cooperative

Our last meeting of the day was to travel to Makumira University, located between Arusha and the Kilimanjaro airport.  Bishop Steve was meeting with some folks on behalf of one of the Sudanese pastors in our synod.  As we were walking into the university I saw an animal running around as a squirrel would be scurrying about on one of our midwest college campuses.  But this was Africa, and the animals that were everywhere were monkeys!  Since a safari wasn't a part of this trip, Hartmot and I determined that this visit was our safari and we spent a couple hours watching and taking photos of the monkeys.  We're quite sure the locals all thought we were crazy.

Our next stop was on to the Kilimanjaro airport.  Hartmot departed first and so we wished him farewell.  My plane didn't leave for a couple of hours, and Bishop Alex made it clear that they would not leave until I could check in for my flight.  So Bishop Alex, Bishop Steve, Kathy and I found a little stand near the airport where we could sit and visit.  The conversation that followed turned out to be perhaps the most interesting conversation of the whole trip as Bishop Alex shared his own call to ministry journey.  Alex was raised in a Muslim family.  After spending his high school years attending a Christian learning hour, he chose to be baptized as a Christian.  He talked about how he kept trying to avoid his call to be a pastor, but that God continued to persist.  I asked questions and he shared all sorts of stories about what it was like to grow up Muslim in Africa and then tell your parents you were converting to Christianity.  

Finally, I asked Alex why he thought the Lutheran church in Tanzania was growing so fast (I believe it is the fastest growing Lutheran church in the world).  With great passion he explained their system of pastors and evangelists.  It was wonderful to learn from him and to then spend time talking with Bishop Steve about the challenge we face in the United States, and in particularly our own synod.

Alas it was time to leave and begin my journey home.  I have learned so much and have been so honored to represent Zumbro so far away from home.  The ministry that we do in Tanzania is so, so important, and I thank you for whatever part you have played in that.  

What made this trip especially exciting was that while we were in Africa, Zumbro adopted it's new mission statement:  Our journey of faith leads us to build bridges of understanding and peace, to reach out with compassion, and to share the love of Jesus.  Our work in Tanzania is an amazing example of how we are living out this mission together.  God needs us.  The people of Tanzania need us.  I can't wait to imagine the ways that we can live this mission out together in the coming years.

pastor lisa

Bishop Alex and Bishop Steve leading us in prayer
a wonderful representation of the ministry that we share together

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Bob & Sue's Farewell

A note from Sue:
Yesterday (Wednesday) after chapel, Dr Nyenje escorted Bob & I back to the guest house for tea. God was with us, because the sky broke open and we spent the next four hours in deep conversation about his hopes and challenges for Iambi Lutheran Hospital.  Afterwards we walked through the wards together and pointed out many items that Zumbro has supplied and many notable improvements.

Friends, I am typing on Bob's cell phone and so must be brief.  We missed Lisa after she left, especially during the farewell party when Bob and I were seated at the head table for the duration.  We knew their thanks were for all of you, and we're sorry that we represented you so badly when we were asked to dance.

Today "Baba Bob" (Papa Bob) & I said many goodbyes and drove to Singida and then to Dodoma. We hope to see Gary and Carol Langness in Iringa before going on safari in Ruaha National Park.  The landscape was lush after the recent rains. We're staying at the Lutheran hostel in Dodoma, and we miss our quiet village.  We have much to tell you when we get home!

And from me:
I'm sitting in the Kilimanjaro airport in Tanzania waiting to board my first flight.  I hope to arrive to MSP in about 24 hours and home to my own bed and shower shortly after that!  It has been a marvelous trip and I have much to write about and many photos to share.  For now I wait to board my plane in the dark.  That Tanzanian electricity is only so reliable!  :)  See you on Sunday!
pastor lisa

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Day Full of Meetings

Today was the day that we were able to hit the ground running and have many conversations with the hospital staff.  We started bright and early with chapel at 7:30am.  The nursing students were present and their choir sang a beautiful piece.  Following chapel we met with the principal of the nursing school and were given a tour of the boys and girls dormitories.  The students are such wonderful young adults! 

the girls' dorm

the boys' dorm (they are much more crowded)

This afternoon Bob and Sue spent a lot of time talking with Dr. Nyenje.  They feel as though after this one afternoon they have a better understanding regarding the hospital’s situation than they ever have.  The need is so great ... and so is the opportunity. 

I spent the afternoon visiting with some of the nursing students.  I was able to learn about their families, why they want to be nurses, what a difference this school will make in their lives and the lives of their families, and just generally get to know a few of them.  The students aren’t yet comfortable with us mzungu (white people) visiting.  I walked into their classroom this afternoon.  All of the students were studying and visiting with one another.  They instantly jumped up and stood at attention.  Ya know, just like our confirmation students do when I enter the room.  J

Perhaps one of the highlights of my day was being invited to have tea with the nursing school principal and teacher.  Though we had nice conversations earlier, it wasn’t until we relaxed and shared tea together that they really began to open up.  They are certainly wonderful people that truly care about the nursing school they are operating.

Later this afternoon Bishop Steve Delzer and Kathy Bolin arrived from our synod, along with an assistant to the bishop in Germany and two assistants to the bishop from the local Tanzanian diocese.  We had a brief meeting in Dr. Nyenje’s office and then took a break before meeting back for dinner later.

Tomorrow we will all meet together in the morning and then Bob, Sue and I will part ways.  Bob and Sue will be remaining at the hospital until Thursday and then heading on to a safari.  I’m going to be leaving Iambi tomorrow afternoon with the folks who just arrived today for meetings in the Tanzanian bishop’s office on Wednesday.  I will then travel back to Arusha on Wednesday with them and depart Tanzania on Thursday night. 

Good night from Iambi!

Here are a few more images from our day:

a mother weighing her baby (a little different than in the US!)

the hospital cooks

some folks waiting for the clinic to open

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Reflections from Sue Jenkins

Wow!  We have had the most amazing day!

We began with breakfast served to us in the guest house.  (For those who have traveled to Iambi before, know that the guest house, like the hospital, is glowing with new management.)  The worship service (which they call “prayer”) began at 8:30 and ran a very short three hours.  I have marveled before at how we can follow the service in a foreign language, because the Lutheran liturgy and the Christian lectionary are international.  What a blessing from the church to its people!

We were asked to introduce ourselves, and we took the moment to ask the congregation to greet all of you at Zumbro.  Pastor Lisa posted this on the web, so you can view it by clicking here if you didn’t already see it at the annual meeting.  The service included many prepared anthems by three choirs, and whenever there was a lag (for example, the offering took longer than planned) someone would call out the name of a song and a choir member would immediately begin to lead it for the congregation.  

the younger choir sings (and dances!)

There were two offerings, two members told their stories, and after the service an auction of the gifts in kind.  (Dr. Nyenje bought us free-range eggs for a treat.)  

the children watch as the eggs are auctioned

After the service, Nalaila Yasayo, the head of the Cher de Laco community for recovering lepers, approached us with a greeting.  He embraced Lisa and told her, “You are from Zumbro, and because of you a woman walks.”  For only $300 Zumbro provided a prosthetic leg for a woman from his community so that she can walk.  Together we can do so much.

We were invited into the sacristy for pop and cookies following the service, and we sat with Pastor Gunda, Pastor Msengi with Christalumba, Pastor Amani and his wife, and Dr, Nyenje.  Dr. Nyenje was a great host, gently cuing us when to stand, when to sit, and when we should speak.

Pastors Lisa, Msengi, Amani, Gunda

Doctors Nyenje, Sue, Bob

We had a rest for a few hours and lunch in our guest house.  Then Dr. Nyenje sent a van to pick us up for an afternoon “entertainment.”  We would never have guessed what came next!  The van dropped us off inside the hospital gate where there were two lines of young people, the women in pink dresses, the men all in white, waving palm branches and singing!  They were singing for us – but really, for you at Zumbro.  Then we realized that these bright young people were the nursing students!

the most unbelievable welcome

Each of us were given a bouquet of local flowers and we danced in the front of the line into the chapel.  We were seated at the head table with Dr. Nyenje, who led a program with greetings and introductions from the heads of the hospital departments.  He and Ulumbi Lynaga, the principal of the nursing school, spoke of the accomplishments of the hospital and nursing school, and their needs.  We were invited to greet them.  Lisa and I told the story of the first Thanksgiving, and how the native people so generously shared their food and knowledge with the newcomers who had come to America looking for a place to worship Jesus.  Lisa presented the gift from Zumbro – a Thanksgiving banner.   Hilary Mbuko translated for the students.  There were more speeches, and then the nursing students (who had slipped out) processed into the chapel, singing and dancing.  They had written a song just for this day –
            Welcome, welcome, welcome at Iambi –
            Let us be together!  Let us be together!

an outstanding performance by the nursing students

They repeated this chorus about 17 times – dancing and singing – and the director was a petite young woman with a thousand watt smile.  (Julie Neumann – wish you were here!)  They sang two more songs for us, until Dr. Nyenje began tapping his schedule.  

Dr. Nyenje took us on a brief tour of the campus.  We’ll write more about the campus on another day.  Then we had dinner with the staff of the hospital.  There were more speeches, greetings, and pop.  

another amazing meal

We walked back to our guest house, with some of the hospital staff insisting on carrying our backpacks.  Once we were back, Lisa was able to share the video she’d made for the congregational meeting.  Our African friends were eager for more, so Lisa shared pictures of our church, the Christmas bazaar, and last May’s blizzard. 

Friends, we were humbled and honored, and wish that you could have been here to be greeted and celebrated.  The hospital has new leadership and new hope.  Their hope comes in part because you have cared enough to share their dream of bringing health care to the Mkala region of the Central Diocese.