“Katika mauti ya Yesu Kristo, nakubatiza wewe Into the death of Jesus I baptize you…”
I had the privilege to repeat this phrase as I baptized more than 130 infants, youth and adults while visiting 10 congregations in the southern district of the Western Province of the Moravian Church in Tanzania (MCWT) this past September.
I travelled with Gillian Taylor, the chair of the British Province, and we were hosted by Bro. Ezekiel Yona, chair of MCWT and Bishop Isaac Nicodemo. It took five days of sometimes long travel over mostly dirt roads to visit the different villages and congregations.
We went through some areas of game reserve, giving us a new appreciation for why many pastors in Tanzania would benefit from a motorcycle to help them make timely visits to the outstations of their parish, which are led by evangelists. We heard of a pastor visiting one of his outstations using a bicycle who quickly turned back when he saw lions on the road ahead of him.
Some congregations that we visited were doing well financially, but several were quite poor and in an area of the country dealing with limited water and isolation that made marketing produce difficult. Some had no electricity.
Yet, all of the worship services were filled with people of all ages, with large numbers of children sitting together on the floor or ground near the front. Persons from the outstations also came and their choirs would take turns bringing the joy and energy of their music to worship.
During our trip, buildings were dedicated and pastors installed. Pastors’ spouses were installed alongside their husbands and throughout the trip it was evident that the pastor’s wife had an important role in the ministry — not only in making sure that meals were prepared for the guests, but also in participating in meetings, bringing greetings to the congregations and in leading prayer.
Bishop Nicodemo shared with us that the primary purpose of MCWT is evangelism. In addition to their outreach to the Sukuma population that has migrated into Moravian areas in Western Tanzania, the church has outreach in Burundi, Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda. They previously supported work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Lake Tanganyika, which are now Unity Provinces. In fact, some of those we baptized were new converts from Islam.
MCWT shares the gospel in both word and deed. At each congregation we visited, the provincial leaders strongly emphasized the education of children. The province has schools at Bishop Kisanji Girl’s School, and the Bible College and Lusangi Seminary in Sikonge.
The schools struggle to maintain the buildings and provide the resources needed for learning. At Kisanji, a new dormitory has the outer walls completed; both the British province and individuals from the US Southern Province helped in this effort; but a major crisis recently has been the limited water supply to the school. They are developing a strategy by which to meet this need.
In addition to education, the province has long supported efforts to provide health care to its people, although the current hospital at Sikonge and other Moravian dispensaries in various communities are financially strapped and in need of renovation. It is hoped that an assessment can be done of the Sikonge hospital to help with decision-making about its future. MCWT would love to renovate the Kitunda Mission dispensary as well, and is working on a plan for these efforts.
We were told that our visit to these communities was very important because no foreign partner had yet visited these congregations. They spoke of ongoing needs for motorcycles, solar energy, and musical instruments that we hope to add to our Second Mile project list. Scholarships for education might also be a way to help.
Bishop Nicodemo stressed to me the importance of our partnership. Sometimes it feels like the definition of “partnership” is related to providing funds. But back in the 1990s I recall that Bishop Nicodemo (then not a bishop but chair of the MCWT province) came to a partnership consultation with the Board of World Mission. Of all present he gave the best image of partnership, with two persons holding hands and walking together (not one in front of the other, he said). Partnership is mutual.
I wonder if the Moravians in Tanzania realize the tremendous gift that they are to us, with their energetic worship and expressions of faith, as well as their persistent evangelism in the midst of sometimes very difficult circumstances, including increasing tension with those of the Muslim faith. Walking hand-in-hand to me is true partnership, and I am grateful that in spite of many differences between the Tanzanian church and the North American church, we can still walk together in mission.
Judy Ganz is Executive Director of the Board of World Mission in North America