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

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