Friday, December 10, 2021

Finishing Up In Tanzania...Dec. 2021

It's Wednesday (12/8) in the early morning hours as I begin this blog post. I'm here in Arusha, my 29th and last day in Tanzania. Yesterday I spent a few final hours at the seminary with Pastor Michael Gondwe, reviewing everything we have discussed over the past few weeks. Pastor Gondwe serves as one of the three Instructors and as Academic Dean. He will be leaving his parish pastoral duties in the Tanga District in January to serve full-time at the seminary. They plan to begin classes in late January with a new cohort of ten students. They have decided to extend the course of instruction from three to four years by adding a pre-seminary year. 

Pastor/Instructor Jeremia Issangya (L) and Pastor/Instructor/Dean Michael Gondwe (R)

More on the Wittenburg Lutheran Theological Seminary in an upcoming blog post. 

We also traveled to Marangu (about 2.4 hrs east of Arusha) on Tuesday to visit the wife of Pastor Ebenezer Malyi. He passed away after four or five years of struggling with diabetes and various other health-related issues. Pastor Malyi was one of the original pastors whom the CLC began working in the early 2000s. He is well known to most CLC members who have traveled to Tanzania to assist in spreading the Gospel here. He leaves behind a wife, one son, and twin daughters, along with the congregations and preaching stations he served for many years. 

Pastor Ebenezer Malyi in 2018

On the way back to Arusha, we made a quick visit to the Adonai Childrens' Home run by a member of the congregation that Pastor Jeremiah serves in nearby Arusha. He tries to visit often and plans to begin sending the seminary students there every week to teach the children. Some of the children are now confirmation age and will begin classes soon. Efforts are underway to start a preaching station near the home. This charity organization is registered with the government and operates entirely on donations. She assists in the care of fifty children and about twenty widows. Eight of those fifty children have no living parents, and they live with her. She is an amazing woman with a heart full of our Savior's love! I first visited this home about three years ago. You can read more about it in a blog post from January 2019.

Since my last post, the past couple of weeks has been a whirlwind of travel, visits, and activities. We returned to Arusha from the CLC-TZ pastoral conference held in Moshi, about an hour away. We had a quick overnight turnaround in Arusha before we left early the next morning to travel to Dodoma, about an eight-hour drive to the south. Dodoma is in central Tanzania and serves as the capital city. It is a relatively small city. Most business activities and international embassies are still located in the big city (6.5 million) of Dar Es Salam on the coast. The reason for our visit to Dodoma is a new preaching station that has developed over the past couple of years from a family that moved to Dodoma from the Tanga District. Pastors Gondwe and Kimemele have been serving this small but eager group by making periodic visits and working with the Evangelist named Joseph. They meet in a temporary shelter they have constructed on a piece of land loaned to them by the owner located in a developing area on the outskirts of Dodoma. They have seventeen adults and sixteen children and youths involved. The Evangelist's 21-year-old son has expressed interest in attending the seminary. We visited with him for a while, and Jeremia is working on scheduling a time for him to come to the seminary for a visit and interview. The group is small but dedicated. Unfortunately, the shelter they have been using for worship needs more work after the winds, and dry weather have done a lot of damage since they first assembled it. They hope to purchase some land nearby to build a permanent church building. 

Temporary Church in Dodoma

Some of the members of the CLC-TZ Preaching Station in Dodoma

After the worship service, a meeting with the leaders, and some tea and snacks, Jeremia and I hit the road to return to Arusha. Along the way, we stopped to visit Jeremia's cousin on the outskirts of Dodoma and then again in Babati to briefly visit his daughter, who is married to a national police officer stationed at the  Tarangire National Park. It was late when we arrived back in Arusha, so I was happy that we had an open day to get some rest, do some laundry, and get caught up on email and correspondence courses. 

Tuesday, we made the long dusty trip to visit the Mbuyuni congregation south of Arusha. It takes about two hours to get there. This was my fourth visit to Mbuyuni. This congregation is served by Pastor Edward Kivunyo, who recently graduated from the seminary. He is assisted by Pastor Robert Looskira, who also recently graduated from the seminary. Together they serve the congregation and a few preaching stations in the area. Pastor Looskira is being trained for a future leadership role in the church body. He will be assisting Pastor Jeremia in the many duties he is responsible for as a district pastor, president of the CLC-TZ, seminary instructor, and one who is responsible for most of the administrative duties of the church body. 

Current Church Building in Mbuyuni

Permanent Church Building Under Construction at Mbuyuni

Mbuyuni Congregation Gathered for Worship

Pastor Edward and the Choir at Mbuyuni during the offering

The next day we flew to Zanzibar to visit CLC-TZ evangelists and the preaching stations they serve on the island. It's quite a long story how the CLC-TZ got involved in spreading the Gospel on this predominately Muslim island. The work in Zanzibar began with a former KKKT (Swahili acronym for Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania…think ELCA and Lutheran World Federation) missionary that lived and worked on the island for around 30 years. He is back in mainland Tanzania now doing outreach in the Tanga area. He has trained evangelists on the island, but he is aware of no ordained Lutheran pastors. We met with one Evangelist who leads a group in Stone Town, the historic part of the main city on the island. There had been unusually heavy rains the three days before we arrived, and much of the island roads were unpassable, so we could not visit the other preaching stations. It was a disappointing trip, but the preaching station we met with had about 30 in attendance on a rainy Thursday morning, and they were encouraged to have us bring them the word. They meet in the Mbweni old fort that later served as an Anglican school for girls freed from slavery. We didn't get to take a guided tour, but I read online that the caretaker/tour guide is a direct descendant of a freed slave who served as an Anglican Deacon at the school. The ruins sit on the island's west coast as part of a Marriot beach resort owned by a local Zanzibarian. The hotel has been closed for a while but plans to reopen soon. One of the members of this little group of believers knows the owner who lets them use a room for worship. It was certainly a unique place to worship. It doesn't sound like they will be able to continue to worship there once the resort reopens. They are currently looking for a different location. 

After church picture of those gathered in Zanzibar

Ruins of an old Zanzibar fort and school where the preaching station meets

Gathered for worship inside the ruins

The exterior of the Mbweni Ruins in Zanzibar

Left to Right...Pastor Michael Gondwe, Pastor Jeremia Issangya, Evangelist John

Zanzibar is an interesting place. Controlled first by the Portuguese and then by the Omanis from the middle east. This is the place of the last open and hidden slave markets in the world as slaves were still being sold to middle east sultans until it was officially closed in 1909. With the help of David Livingstone, The Anglican Christ's Church was built on the very spot where the slave market was at. There are a lot of reminders of the past in the church. The altar sits on the very spot where the slave market was located and just behind the altar is where the whipping post had been located that is marked on the floor with a round piece of red marble to signify the blood of the slaves that had been spilled there. There is also a wooden cross made from a branch of the tree in Zambia, where the heart of David Livingstone is buried. Before he died he told his two traveling companions that he wanted to be buried in Africa. When he died, they were ordered to prepare his body for transport back to London to be buried in West Minster Abby, but they removed his heart and buried it under a tree. They cut a branch from the tree, made a cross, and presented it to the church in Zanzibar to commemorate his involvement in abolishing slavery in East Africa.  The island is predominantly Muslim, with just around 5% being Christian. Ethnically, it is as diverse as it comes since it served as the predominant slave trade location for all of East Africa for more than 400 years with slaves being brought from all over mainland Africa to be bought and sold. Most of the slaves were taken to the Middle East and Asia. What a privilege to be a part of the spread of the Gospel among the people of Zanzibar. 

Underground chamber where up to 75 slaves were held for market

In remembrance of the evils of the slave trade in East African and Zanzibar

Chains are some of the actual chains used at the slave market many years ago

The David Livingstone Cross

Interior of Christ's Church...the altar sits on the site of the old slave market

The exterior of the Church

Only the Lord knows how things will progress for the outreach efforts of the CLC-TZ in Zanzibar, but having two young men study for four years to be prepared to preach and teach the truth of God's saving word among the people of Zanzibar is a good start.

My last few days in Tanzania involved visiting one of the original congregations that the CLC began working with many years ago. This congregation is in Leguruki, about an hour and a half to the west of Arusha. Originally served by Pastor Malyi before his health deteriorated, it is now served by the elders of the congregation and Pastor Jeremia (and seminary students) who make periodic visits. Pastor Jeremia, his wife, and I made the trip to Leguruki on Sunday morning for worship. There had been a death in the village a few days before, so many of the members were attending the funeral and were not in attendance. Those who did attend were very appreciative of the word of God received. I had the privilege of preaching an Advent-themed sermon based on the question that John the Baptist had his disciples ask of Jesus..."Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another?" The theme of the sermon was "Christmas is the Celebration of a Promise Made and a Promise Kept." Following worship, we gathered for a meal of rice and roasted goat. Then we visited one of the elders of the congregation at his home. He is also the chairman of the village. He recently had surgery, and his recovery has been slow. We encouraged him and his family with Psalms and singing and prayer. 

Kanisa Neema Kiluteri (Grace Lutheran Church) in Leguruki

Interior of Grace Lutheran Church

On Monday, I had the privilege of finally visiting Pastor Lengutai. He is getting up there in years and had been sick for a few weeks and was not able to attend the seminary graduation. He is Maasai and was trained as a Lutheran Missionary many years ago to spread the Gospel among tribal people of northern Tanzania and southern Kenya. He has taught some of the classes at the seminary over the past few years. He is a highly respected Mzee among the people and the students. Pastor Lengutai is also simply a wonderful man. I was very thankful that I got the opportunity to visit with him again. He tells wonderful stories about spreading the Gospel out in the bush and about some of the other tribes that he has worked with. We spoke about the current need and opportunity to reach out with the Gospel to the Hadza tribe in northern Tanzania. This is a tribe of people who were still dwelling in caves and surviving as hunters and gatherers until recently. It is estimated that there are about 1,500 Hadza people still living in Tanzania and about 400 or so still living by their traditional ways. In other words, they do not have domesticated animals or raise crops. They have no written language, which is completely unique to their tribe. They communicate through clicks. This tribe is thought to be the last true hunter/gatherer tribe in Africa. In recent years they have begun to come out of the forests and trade with the Maasai and now to others. Tourism has also begun to offer visits to some of the areas where they live, which has lessened their fear of outsiders. Pastor Lengutai says the harvest time has come, and the fields are white among the once elusive Hadza people. Pastor Jeremia is planning to begin outreach among the Hadza soon. What a privilege to be involved in such an opportunity to bring the Gospel to these precious souls for whom our Savior died!!! Pray for this effort!! Again, I am so thankful for the opportunity to spend time with Pastor Lengutai!

Pastor Jeremia (middle) Pastor Lengutai (right)

After we took tea with Pastor Lengutai, we drove to downtown Arusha to meet with the lawyer who has been working on getting the seminary property officially titled in the name of the CLC-Tanzania. The land was donated to the church for the seminary by the Issangya family. The CLC-TZ has been officially registered with the Tanzania government for a few years, but to own and develop land for the church body rather than a local congregation, changes needed to be made to the constitution. This all takes time and expertise. We met with the lawyer three times while I was here. I've learned a lot about the process. First, a church must be approved and registered with the local government. Once the local government (municipality) is satisfied that the church is legit and the pastor is of good reputation, things move to the regional (state) level for approval and registration. Once the regional process is complete, then the national government gets involved to begin their process of reviewing the records of the local and regional for approval. This can take up to three or four years.

Blog Continued...I finished writing this after getting home on Thursday evening. 

I was able to get a same-day Covid test and make the trip home. With the rise of the new Omicron variant, the U.S. changed the Covid testing requirements from 72 hours before departure to one day. This was announced late last week and went into effect on Monday morning. This presented a bit of challenge because the testing facilities in Arusha send their test samples to a laboratory in Dar Es Salam, and the turnaround time is listed as 36 to 72 hours. They were caught off guard by the change in requirements, so they said they were trying to do their best to get the results back in 24 hours but could not guarantee anything. After Jeremia's son (a safari guide and well-versed in the tourism industry) made a few phone calls, he found out that a laboratory near the airport offers rapid tests for airlines that require rapid testing for their staff and passengers. We made a few more calls and actually drove to the lab on Monday to find out if I would be able to get an appointment even though I did not work for an airline and if the test would meet U.S. CDC requirements for travel. We found that the testing was available for anyone, but they could not tell us if the tests would qualify under the new requirements. I decided it was worth a try. I arrived at the airport six hours early to ensure I had time to get the test and results. Turns out I needed almost all of that time. When I arrived at the lab, there was no one there. So we called the number on the door, and they said someone would come to administer the test. We waited for about an hour and then we saw someone in a white lab coat walking over from the airport. The test was quick and I had the results in about 15 minutes. But, he couldn't give me any documentation. He said he would email the results to the Tanzania medical offices and they would send the results to the airport, and I could pick them up at the health check kiosk located at the departures entrance. When I got to the airport, there was a long line of people waiting to get their temperature taken at the kiosk before entering the airport. We waited for a while and then went to get a cup of coffee while the line went down assuming that they were all there for an earlier flight. They didn't have my test result documentation printed and signed yet when I finally got there. So, more waiting. Once I had the document in hand, I tried to enter the airport, but I was too early to check-in for the flight, so more waiting. They open the doors for check-in three hours before departure. People began lining up about an hour before that. So, I reluctantly got in line and waited. When I finally made it to the check-in counter, the airline agent didn't want to accept the negative covid test because it didn't say "PCR." I showed her the CDC website that indicated that an antigen test was acceptable and then showed her a screenshot of the CDC website that said that an antigen test was acceptable.  She looked it over and then looked at her computer screen for a long time before calling a supervisor over to take a look. The supervisor didn't seem too impressed with my test results either. She made several phone calls and then left with my test results. When she returned, they spoke in Swahili, so I am not sure what they were saying, but I kept hearing mentions of PCR and agents in Frankfurt. I tried to ask them what was going on or if there was a problem. They just kept saying something about not having a PCR test.  They finally had me sign some sort of affidavit that stated that I had been tested negative and would agree to get tested again when I got home. As near as I can tell, they allowed me to fly out of Kilimanjaro with the understanding that a U.S. immigration officer in Frankfurt would make the decision if I could continue on to the U.S. When I went through the documents check at the Frankfurt airport before boarding the flight, the agent barely looked at the test; he only wanted to see the date and didn't seem too concerned with the type of test, for which I was very relieved. He didn't really look at it that carefully, he just wanted to see the date. And when I pointed out the date on the form, he stamped it and passed me through. When I boarded the flight in Tanzania, I was pretty convinced that I would probably need to spend a day or two in Frankfurt trying to figure how to get tested so I could get on a flight to the U.S. But, I figured it was best to get halfway home and to a place that would be better equipped to do the required testing. So, here's the bottom line, I guess it doesn't really matter at this point if I had the right kind of test or not because the Lord answered the prayers I was saying while standing in lines all day and got me passed through every checkpoint. Thank You, Lord!!!

So, now I am safely home, laying low for a couple of days, and scheduled for a covid test on Monday morning to make good on the affidavit I was required to sign.

Thank you all for your prayers and words of encouragement while I was in Tanzania. The trip was good! I didn't get everything on my list accomplished, but the Lord is faithful, and he brought many blessings along the way. What a privilege to serve Him...the King of kings and Lord of lords who loves us all so much more than we can ever fathom!! 

Pastor Jeremia (right) and his son Elisha

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

November 2021 - CLC Missions Prayer List

Myanmar – Life continues to be difficult for our brothers and sisters in Myanmar as the military junta continues to rule with severe brutality, especially in Chin State where the CLC-Myanmar is located. Just recently we were informed by Pastor K. of the CLC-Myanmar that soldiers came to his home and demanded money. When he refused to give them any, they ransacked his home and found all the money that had been sent by CLC Kinship to help care for orphaned children in their care. More than $6,000 was taken. Pastor K. also reported that a Baptist pastor of a large congregation in the same area was arrested and later released after they took more than $19,000 from his congregation. There is concern that they will come again to demand more money from Pastor K. assuming that he is receiving financial support from the U.S.  It has been reported that the military is using torture to get to those who are planning and leading the resistance.  Pray for justice and peace for all the people of Myanmar.  Pray especially for our brothers and sisters in Christ that the Lord will grant them strength and courage and boldness during these difficult times. Ask our loving Lord to protect Pastor K., his family, and the children he and his wife care for from further violence and suffering.

India – Extremely heavy rains have caused extensive flooding throughout many of the regions of southern India in places where the BELC is working. Leaders of the BELC have reported that around 400 BELC pastors, their families, and those they serve have been affected. The CLC Board of Missions recently sent disaster aid to provide some minimal assistance to those who are suffering. Ask the Lord to provide all that is needed for our brothers and sisters in Christ, who have so little to begin with, to recover from the floods. Pray for the Holy Spirit to strengthen the faith of those affected that they may shine forth with the light of Christ to those suffering around them that are trapped in the darkness of unbelief.

Bangladesh – Pastor M. recently had his home broken into on a Sunday morning while he was conducting a worship service. His laptop and all of his money were stolen.  He is fairly convinced that he was targeted because he is a Christian pastor. Pray that the Lord would bring justice to this situation and that Pastor M.'s property will be returned. Pastor M. also asks that we continue to pray for himself and several individuals who have recently converted to Christianity from Hinduism.  These individuals have been physically assaulted, persecuted, and falsely accused of crimes. One man (an evangelist/elder) and his wife were assaulted.  The evangelist/elder was hospitalized with a fractured skull and brain damage and continues to suffer.  Ask the Lord to protect and defend His new disciple and to give him the necessary strength and courage to persevere under persecution.

Nepal – Pastor Raju recently injured his neck. He underwent an MRI to determine the extent of the injury. Thankfully, it was determined that surgery was not required. A neck brace and physical therapy over the past three weeks have shown positive results. He received word this week that he should be able to begin traveling again soon. Thank the Lord for providing good medical care for Raju and that He has blessed him with quick healing.  The building project has been delayed due to Hindu festivals and Raju’s injury. Pray that construction will be able to get back on track so that seminary classes can begin in February.

Liberia – Pastor John Hein recently returned home from a visit to Liberia where he and Pastor Joseph along with others of the CLC-Liberia spent time traveling to different areas of rural Liberia to conduct Bible seminars for several groups of pastors and leaders who are interested in learning more from the CLC and becoming better equipped to be faithful preachers and teachers of God’s saving word. Thank the Lord for safe and uneventful travels for Pastor Hein to and from Liberia and while he was in-country.  Ask the Lord to bless the Word that was taught and preached in the seminars that it will accomplish that for which He sent it as He has promised.

Tanzania – Missionary Ohlmann will be returning home on December 9th from a one-month visit with the CLC-TZ. While he was there, he had the opportunity to preach for the graduation of five students from the Wittenburg Lutheran Theological Seminary in Arusha. He was also able to travel extensively through the districts of the TZ-CLC to conduct pastoral training seminars and visit new preaching stations. The seminary faculty is currently interviewing a new cohort of students to begin classes in late January.  Ask for the Lord’s continued blessings as they begin their new calling from the Lord in the Gospel ministry.  Pray that the Lord will provide faithful men for the school year.

2022 Mission Helper Trip – The CLC Mission Helper Trip that was canceled in 2020 and 20211 is tentatively scheduled for East Africa in July of 2022.  Our brothers and sisters in Christ in East Africa are eager for the Mission Helper Teams to come again to assist them in the work of proclaiming God’s saving word.  Pray that our Savior will clear any obstacles that may stand in the way of this trip.