A new Moravian church, located in the Sukuma village of Mabangwe, was consecrated to Christian service on December 18, 2011. The celebration marked the culmination of nearly five years of evangelism, planning, negotiations, and construction.
Mabangwe is located 60 kms south of Sikonge, 140 kms south of Tabora, in western Tanzania. The area is inhabited primarily by Sukuma, an animistic people, most of whom have never heard the name of Jesus.
The tribe, valuing cattle more than education, typically keeps their children out of school to tend to their herds. Although the necessity of providing forage for their animals requires most to live as nomads, many of those in the Sikonge district have settled in villages easily recognized as Sukuma by the distinctive grass roofs on their homes.
Oscar Pyumpa, a Moravian pastor from the Nyamwezi tribe, began visiting the Sukuma located on the edge of his parish in 2007. As his evangelism began to bear fruit, he sought assistance in his effort. Bibles and hymn books were provided by both Central Moravian Church and the Society for Promoting the Gospel. The Society also gave the pastor funding for a motorbike and helmet that enabled him to more easily reach this rather remote area.
As the congregation grew, the elders requested and received permission to use the local primary school as a temporary place of worship. Their attention was then directed towards the erection of a permanent sanctuary.
In December 2008, Pastor Pyumpa accompanied two Central members to the building site. The foundation was in place. The congregation had been cutting bricks from clay, drying and firing them, and then using them to erect the walls. Construction had begun in earnest.
In July 2010, a contractor experienced in church construction from the village of Sikonge inspected the site. While the walls had been nearly completed, they were judged of inadequate strength to support the weight of a roof. Members of the building committee were assembled and in the subsequent discussion it was decided that their work would continue under professional supervision. Funding to finish the structure was to be provided by the Society and Central Moravian.
The church was completed in May 2011, but scheduling difficulties delayed the consecration until after the short rainy season had begun in December. Mchg. Richard Lwali, the executive secretary of the Moravian Church of Western Tanzania, presided. Ten pastors, two evangelists, and three choirs, including one from a Sukuma congregation begun only months before, managed to arrive in spite of rain soaked and rutted mud roads. The rain was quite heavy at times, but nothing dampened the enthusiastic joy the Sukuma expressed during the service. Members of the congregation spontaneous joined the choirs in the dancing and singing. Two young Sukuma, a man and a woman, both of whom graduated as evangelists this January, were introduced to the adulation of all present. Near the conclusion of the 3 ½ hour service, fourteen children were baptized.
As the benediction was given, the rain miraculously stopped and the congregants were able to walk the 400 yards to their previous house of worship where the festivities continued with the traditional chicken and rice dinner.
Before the baptism the congregation consisted of 76 adults and 34 children. Witnessing the enthusiasm and determination of these Sukuma leaves no doubt that their numbers will continue to grow.
Bill Hoffman is a member of Central Moravian Church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Photos by Peg Hoffman.