The Sukuma are the largest tribe in Tanzania and the second most prevalent group in the Sikonge district. The vast majority are animistic. Most are nomadic, traveling through the more remote areas of the country with their cattle. In the southern part of the district, however, there are, several Sukuma communities where tribal members have built homes.
Mabangwe and Utimule, villages located 60 kms south of Sikonge, were founded in the mid 20th century by the Nyamwezi, the dominant tribe in the district. Each had a small Moravian congregation. In 2003, near the end of a three-year drought, the Nyamwezi left in search of more fertile farmland. They were replaced by the Sukuma who developed large but socially isolated communal settlements. The church buildings, abandoned, eventually collapsed.
Oscar Pyumpa, a 46 year old father of five and member of the Nyiramba tribe, is the sole pastor in the Ugunda parish. It has thirteen congregations and historically included both Mabangwe and Utimule. His home, next to the Moravian church in the Nyamwezi village of Ipole, is located 40 kms north of the Sukuma homesteads.
Since being posted to Ipole in 2006, Pastor Pyumpa has felt called to evangelize the Sukuma. Using his bicycle, he was able to reach the area from his home in two hours. By the end of 2008, he had planted a new Moravian congregation in each village. While still small, both were large enough in 2009 to be assigned their own evangelist. This “semi-pastor” is responsible for church activities in the pastor’s absence.
The two congregations have continued to increase in size. Utilizing grants from the Society for Promoting the Gospel and Central Moravian Church, both have received Bibles, liturgy books, and hymnals. Each evangelist has a bicycle, and Pastor Pyumpa now has a motorcycle to facilitate his travel to the region. The new church at Mabangwe, which currently has a membership of 246 children and adults, was consecrated in December of 2011.
Less than one year ago there were no religious organizations of any affiliation in the Sukuma villages of Mwamulu or Kondi, which are located still deeper in the bush. Each now has a small but growing Moravian congregation. Following the pattern established at Mabangwe, and with the permission of the local government, both are utilizing the local primary school as their place of worship.
Julius Mdauzi, Pastor Pyumpa’s most senior evangelist and himself the father of five, divides his time between these two communities which are separated by nearly 12 kms of footpaths. His efforts are being rewarded; at Mwamulu there were 14 baptisms in mid July, increasing the church enrollment to 32. The parishioners at Kondi, who were only organized in December of last year, already number 67 and 11 more were baptized in late July. Utilizing a second grant from the Society, Bibles, liturgies and hymnbooks were provided for both of these congregations, and a bicycle was purchased for their evangelist.
In less than six years, through the efforts of Pastor Pyumpa and Evangelist Mdauzi, four Moravian congregations have begun among people who had never heard the good news of Jesus Christ. Nearly 400 Sukuma have been baptized. Following in the footsteps of their Moravian forefathers from the eighteenth century, these two men are changing the lives of multiple tribal members. They have planted the seeds; now they need our prayers and support to make them grow.
Bill Hoffman is a member of Central Moravian Church and leads the Adopt a Village program. He provides frequent reports on the work of the church in Tanzania, home of more than half of the Moravians worldwide.