Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Opportunities and the Reach of God's Grace!

I've spent quite a bit of time on the road the first couple of weeks here in Tanzania. After the graduation service, we traveled south to visit the Tanga district of the CLC-Tanzania. This is a coastal region of Tanzania on the eastern side of the country where mainland Tanzania meets the Indian Ocean. To get there you drive through a very arid region that is blocked by a range of mountains that keeps the area from receiving much moisture. But once you turn to the east and cross over the hills, it becomes very tropical.

Tanzania is in the southern hemisphere, so the seasons here are just the opposite of what we have in the U.S. That means that it is summer here. As you would expect, it is very hot. While I was in the Tanga Region, the daytime temperatures were in the high 90s and the humidity was way up there as well. I call it "jungle hot."

The CLC-TZ has had congregations here for many years. This is the district where Pastor Michael Gondwe has served most of his ministry. His home town is Muheza, just a little east of Tanga Town. He is now the Dean of Academics at the CLC-Tanzania Wittenburg Lutheran Theological Seminary. For the past three years, he has been dividing his time between the Tanga District and the seminary in Arusha. He has also been working with and training Pastor Pascal Kimemele for many years. Pastor Kimemele serves a congregation in the Korogwe area and a few other congregations and preaching stations in the region. He has been appointed to take over as the district leader after Pastor Gondwe and his wife make the move to Arusha where he will serve full-time in the seminary beginning with the new semester in late January. 

All of this brings us to the reason for the visit to the Tanga District. There are a couple of new pastors/evangelists that Pastors Gondwe and Kimemele have been working with for the past couple of years. Jeremia wanted me to meet them and to review the lessons they have been studying. There are also some new opportunities to consider in the area as well. One such opportunity is the area known as the Chongoleani Peninsula. This is an area just north of the city of Tanga and just south of the Kenya/Tanzania border on the coast. There isn't much there right now, but that is about to change. In May, the Uganda and Tanzania governments signed an agreement to build a large port at this site to be the terminus of the East Africa Oil Pipeline that will run from the Uganda oil fields, through Tanzania, to the Indian Ocean where it will be shipped all over the world. A city is currently being laid out on this barren stretch of land that will one day soon be bustling with construction workers and the many shops and services needed to support the construction of the new port and eventually the ships that will be coming in and out for many years to come. The government of Tanzania has designated plots of land for churches and the CLC-TZ has been approved to receive a plot where they plan to start a new congregation.  Pastor Kimemele and Missionary Joseph Kaira will be working together over the next several months to do outreach as they work on building the church. They will begin with a simple tent, then they will add a metal roof, and eventually the walls. Praise the Lord for such an opportunity! 

Pastor Kaira had been a Lutheran missionary on Zanzibar for many years. He started four congregations and trained men to lead them before he returned to the mainland. He labored there for more than 30 years. His first several years did not yield a harvest at all. He explained his frustrations of not seeing one individual convert from Islam. He said that many times in those first few years he almost gave up and went back to mainland Tanzania. His labors have not been in vain. There are now that four Lutheran congregations of Christians being fed by the Word. These congregations continue to spread the Gospel where Islam is the dominant religion.  He is now nearing the age of retirement, but he has not lost his zeal for serving the Lord. He has now built a home and started a congregation in Amboni just a short distance north of Tanga. I had heard about the work that Missionary Kaira had been doing but had never had the chance to meet him. It was a real pleasure and a privilege to spend a few days getting to know him and to see some of the other places in the area where he has been working to spread the Gospel. This man has a great zeal for the Lord and spreading the Good News. While in Tanga District, I had the opportunity to visit and preach at seven different congregations and preaching stations over just a couple of days. 

The Land at Chomgoleani Designated for a CLC-TZ church

The spot where the presidents of Tanzania and Uganda met to commemorate the new pipeline

Missionary/Pastor Joseph Kaira and his wife

New CLC-TZ congregation in Amboni, Tanga District

After a few days in the Tanga District, we began to make our way back north. Along the way, we spent time in the CLC-TZ Ruvu District. This is the very arid region I mentioned before. This is where the Maasai live. It is a very harsh environment and during these summer months, it is also very dry. The Maasai are cattle and goat herders. They count their wealth by the number of cows they have rather than the Tanzanian Shillings they have in the bank. Since vegetation is sparse in this region, they move around quite a bit to find grazing areas for their cattle. Most of the villages you see this time of the year are occupied only by women, children, and the aged. The villages are built out of sticks and clay, the materials they can find in the area. Within these "developed" areas, families build what they call a Boma. This is basically a family compound built in a circle with a hedge of twisted thorny branches that form a fence to keep the family and their livestock safe from predators. 

The reason we traveled off the main road for several hours to reach this, mostly forsaken and forgotten, area of Tanzania was to visit two CLC-TZ Maasai congregations. These two congregations have been served by lay-evangelists for the past several years but will now be served by recent CLC-TZ seminary graduate Israel Yakobo. He is a son of the region and well respected by the people. There are also a few other preaching stations in the area that he will also serve and train evangelists. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania had started working in the area a number of years ago but they folded up their tents a few years ago when the Maasai would not go along with their liberal and false teachings. Pastor Israel's father is the chief of this Maasai area. You can tell that he is highly respected among the people. He and Israel are both very tall and this is considered a very good thing among the Maasai. While Israel has been away studying these past three years, they have been busy building two church buildings. There are about 100 people in this area that will be served by Israel in these two church buildings and many more in other Maasai Bomas where he will begin outreach efforts. 

Maasai worship area under a tree surrounded by a thorny hedge for protection

Maasai worship area under a tree with Pastors Jeremia, Kimemele, and Israel

worship area to the for a new church building to the right

Framework for a new mud-wall church building

Pastor Jeremia giving construction advice to Pastor Israel

Pastor Israel Yokobo on the left next to his father

As I said before, this is a very desolate and harsh place to live, especially during the hot dry season. There is no water available so it is all brought in by donkey trains. Each donkey can carry 100 liters. There are also no villages or shops in this area so, everything they need is brought in. It took us about two hours to drive from the nearest town on the main highway. I would guess that it must take a donkey train at least a couple of days to travel the same distance. And there are many dangers along the way. We were told that a young Maasai boy was recently injured by a Chui (leopard) that was attacking one of the goats he was tending. When he tried to beat the leopard with his staff, the cat turned on him and basically ripped his arm off. I can't even imagine how he survived such a thing without immediate care. They were able to slow the bleeding and he eventually made it to a hospital where they amputated his arm. We were told that the Chui is still living in the area, probably within a few kilometers of where we were at. But, we were assured that we did not to worry because it was too hot for him to be moving around during the day and he would not come out to hunt again until evening. They said they often find paw prints and paths where he would drag his prey. Elephants also make their way through this region during this time of year in search of water. These too cause much damage and kill people every year. 

Maasai Village in the Ruvu District

Getting directions from a Maasai on a motorcycle

This turns into a shallow lake during the raining season but is dry most of the year

Pastor Israel Yakobo's Boma

Praise the Lord for the privilege and opportunity to proclaim the truths of His saving word in so many places. 

By His grace alone we are saved! All of this is His gift to ALL!

We just finished up the 2nd day of the CLC-TZ Pastoral Conference. The rest of the day will be spent meeting with the leaders of the CLC-TZ to discuss future projects and seminary organization and needs. We will also gather for worship this evening at 9:00 pm. 

Two of the new seminary graduates will sit in on the meeting as they are being trained and encouraged for future leadership. I have already gotten to know them and they are fine young men who are certainly dedicated to the Gospel ministry and gifted by the Lord in many ways for service in His kingdom. These are both young Maasai men. Please keep them in your prayers as they work into the new roles the Lord is preparing them for.

The CLC-TZ pastoral conference is being held at YMCA Hostel and Meeting facility in Moshi Town, at the foot of Mt. Kilimajaro. This town is normally crawling with tourists who are planning to summit the mountain or at least climb around the foothills. (I don't really have a bucket list...but this is definitely on my "someday list" ... Someday!!) The Covid pandemic has reduced tourism to a trickle and the economy is really suffering here. I am glad that we were able to bring, at least, a little business to this town. 

The Lord has blessed us with glorious views of Mt. Kilimanjaro the past two mornings. That is not always the case. Many times when I have been here you barely catch a glimpse because of all the clouds. I never grow tired of the beauty of this amazing country!

Some of the CLC-TZ Pastors gathered for the conference
From left to right...Pastors Jeremia Issangya, Edward Kivunyo, Solomon Isaya, Pascal Kimemele, Michael Gondwe, Robert Aloyce Looskira, Israel Yakobo, and me.
Mount Kilimanjaro...tallest mountain in Africa

Monday, November 22, 2021

CLC-TZ Seminary Graduation 14 NOV 2021

After years of prayers, delays, setbacks, frustrations, and Covid, the Lord blessed the CLC-Tanzania with five new pastors today. These men left their homes and families and trained for three years to be faithful preachers and teachers of God's saving word!

A six-hour graduation service followed by a feast and great fellowship celebrated God's grace, blessings, provision, and the graduation of Pastors Solomon Isaya Lazier, Edward Olesakays Kivunyo, Rabieti Anderson, Robert Aloyce Loskira, and Israel Yakobo Isack...the inaugural class of the Wittenburg Lutheran Theological Seminary.

It was a wonderful day with over 200 church members, families of the graduates, CLC-TZ pastors, and several local government officials in attendance. Pastor Jeremiah, who is the President of the CLC-TZ and principal of the seminary has a close friend who serves as Minister of Parliament in the Tanzanian government. His office is in the capital city of Dodoma. He was unable to attend but sent the Assistant MP to bring personal greetings and words of congratulations to the seminary and the graduates. It was clear that this man is well respected among the people and it was a great honor to have him present.

I had the privilege of preaching words of encouragement from Joshua 1:1-9 to the graduates and those in attendance. We were reminded of God's love throughout the Old Testament as He sent prophets to remind and encourage the people of His promise of a Messiah. We were also encouraged by God's faithfulness in keeping His promises when He sent His only Son to live, die, and rise again as the fulfillment of God's promise to send a Savior. The newly graduated pastors of Wittenburg Lutheran Theological Seminary were encouraged with the truth of God's saving word so that they could be strong and of good courage, knowing that God is always faithful and that He will be with them wherever they go.

Pastor Jeremia Issangya

Pastor Michael Gondwe

Seminary Graduates

Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!”But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. Romans 10:13–17

Sunday, November 7, 2021 Tanzania (Nov. 2021)

Flag of Tanzania
On Tuesday, November 9th, I will be leaving for a long-awaited trip to the Mission Fields of Tanzania. Having been sidelined by the Covid pandemic for the better part of two years, I am eager and feel incredibly blessed to travel overseas again. I'll be in Tanzania for about a month.

I'm especially thankful for this opportunity to travel to Tanzania because I will be able to attend and offer words of Gospel encouragement at the graduation service for six men who have successfully completed four years of training at the TZ-CLC Wartburg Lutheran Seminary in Arusha. Tanzania has been somewhat of an anomaly during the pandemic as classes have been conducted (uninterrupted for the most part) during the pandemic. This has allowed the students to finish their studies on schedule. Graduation will be held on November 14th at the seminary in Arusha. Individual ordination services will be conducted at their home congregations as we visit. 

Maasai Worship Service in 2019
 TZ-CLC leaders Jeremiah Issangya, Michael Gondwe, and Godson Mshana have put together a rather busy schedule for the four weeks I will be in Tanzania. We will be visiting three new areas of outreach located in Zanzibar, Dodoma, and the Maasai regions in the Arusha and Pare districts. We will be visiting preaching stations, attending ordinations services, and conducting pastoral training seminars for the leaders and pastors who serve in these areas. 

The outreach efforts on the island of Zanzibar are exciting. The TZ-CLC has been sharing promising reports on the opportunities with contacts there for the past several years. Over the past three years, TZ-CLC leaders have made two previous visits. There are currently three preaching stations on the island being served by pastors and lay evangelists who have come out of the Ev. Lutheran Church of Tanzania. The ELCT is affiliated with the very liberal Lutheran World Federation (LWF). They are working with the leaders of the TZ-CLC to be better equipped to serve the Lord as faithful preachers and teachers of God's saving word. We are hopeful that one of these individuals will be able to attend the seminary in the not-to-distant future. Zanzibar has a population of roughly 750,000-1,000,000 residents. Recent census data indicates that the island is predominately Muslim accounting for 99% of the population. Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Jainism make up the other 1%. Archeological finds date Islamic history on the island back to the 10th century. From the late 1400s to the 1600s the island was a Portuguese colony until the Sultan of Oman seized control and re-established Islamic rule. This island received its independence from Great Britain in 1964 and shortly after formed a union with mainland Tanganyika to form was is now known as the United Republic of Tanzania. What a privilege our Lord has given to be involved in bringing the truth of God's saving word to this unique part of the world where the Gospel is so desperately needed!

I'm also excited and thankful for the privilege of attending and teaching at the TZ-CLC conference that is scheduled for Nov. 17-19 in Moshi. This will be a gathering of pastors and lay leaders where we will hear lessons and essays from pastors of the TZ-CLC with the goal of growth in our understanding of God's word. We will also have time to discuss the work and future plans of the TZ-CLC and the seminary. 

It's going to be a busy four weeks of travel, teaching, and visits. I will travel from St. Louis to Washington, DC to Vienna, Austria to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. The trip will take nearly 44 hours. Once there, I will travel with leaders of the TZ-CLC by car, Land Cruiser, Dala Dala, Bus, and Airplane to reach all the areas where the Lord has given us the opportunity to proclaim the Good News.

As always, your prayers are requested and much appreciated, knowing by faith, that our God, who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, will surely provide all that is needed for this visit to be a success in honoring Him, proclaiming the truths of His saving word, and serving the sheep of His Tanzania-CLC flock with the Gospel!