Our January 2019 Newsletter – Living in God’s Garden

In most of our newsletters we talk about our work and the work of the ELCT – and that’s normal. It’s why we’re here and it’s why you support us; to do God’s work among God’s people, our sisters and brothers in Tanzania. There will be lots more of that news in months and years to come. But this time, I want to talk about another aspect of God’s work here in this part of God’s good earth: the plants and their environment.

If you take a good look on Google Maps at our campus, you easily see that we live in a beautiful garden. Let me illustrate that with a small satellite snapshot of TZ:

tanzania capture

This is a recent Landsat pic of our part of northern Tanzania. You can easily see the green zones around both Mt Kilimanjaro to the right and Mt Meru to the left. The blue dot is our campus, just inside the year-round garden zone that Meru provides. Outside those gardens many of the lands are semi-arid, turning green or brown depending on the rainy or dry seasons. Inside them, where we live, the land is green and lush all year round. The rice farms just outside campus grow rice year-round – three crops a year. The same is true of all the other grains, vegetables, and fruits.

Much of Tanzania is semi-arid, producing crops just once a year. Other parts are lush, growing year-round. Where we live the extinct volcanos force rain (and on Kili, snow!), thus creating these year-round Edens in the midst of semi-aridity. Even on the above pic you can see the multitudes of streams that flow out from each mountain. Our campus water supply comes directly from one of those springs, giving us fresh clean water all year! Inside both Arusha and Kilimanjaro National Parks are rain forests.

The climate scientists tell us that one of the major effects of climate change may be that the global mechanism that brings rain to the tropics (the ITCZ) will narrow. People here report that the rains are less certain, which is a very serious problem for poor countries that depend so heavily on agriculture. The short rains didn’t happen a couple years ago, and many people in several places in Tanzania simply starved. We here in the garden around the mountains do not worry for ourselves, but we must worry for our neighbors.

But let us also celebrate the works of God in the extraordinary plants around us! Here are just a few of them.

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So, allow me to close with some theology…

God’s works are so much greater than ours! More beautiful, stronger, stranger, more brilliant, so full of life.

We cannot do our job of witnessing to the glory of God and the gospel of God unless we see and enjoy and love ALL the works of God, including those that are not about us and for us. We have to find our place within God’s works, and not imagine that God’s works are all about us. All of these beautiful works witness to the great glory and majesty of God just as much as does the gospel – Glory be to God for ALL of God’s work!

 

Please check out our FB page M&CinTZ, where Cynthia has posted even more Tanzania and Zanzibar pics. We’ll post this newsletter, as always, on our webpage mcintz.wordpress.com.

Soon we will begin to make arrangements for our congregation visits in August, September, and October! We look forward to seeing even more of you all!

We SO appreciate all our sponsors! If you or your congregation would be interested in sponsoring our work, please contact us!

In the peace of Christ,

Mark Rich and Cynthia Holder Rich

Cynthia.HolderRich@elca.org   Mark.Rich@elca.org

 

DECEMBER 2018 MISSION UPDATE

Cynthia Holder Rich and Mark Rich,

in Tanzania for the ELCA

Serving with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania

 Advent peace and joy to you! This month, Cynthia reflects on the meaning of mission and the good news of great joy brought to all people—with the call to fear not!

 In our first foray in international mission service we moved to Madagascar in 1998 with our young family. I had been serving as pastor of a congregation in Illinois, where I left a group of great people with whom I had wonderful friendships. Many members followed our life and work overseas, sending words of encouragement and much-appreciated care packages. One friend was particularly fascinated, sending lots of questions and comments on what we shared. We had a lively correspondence, the kind that we who live and serve far from both family and all things familiar really enjoy.

In the same year, Barbara Kingsolver’s novel The Poisonwood Bible was published. The story of the Price family, posted to the Congo before independence, became very popular in the US and encouraged many to reflect on what mission is/was about. The protagonist, mission pastor Nathan Price, wants to “save Africa for Jesus”. His mission fails, in part because he encourages people to accept baptism in a crocodile-infested river. The rest of the family eventually leave Congo, having had a perfectly horrible experience (including one child’s death), abandoning Nathan to his weird obsessions about his misguided work. Some used the publication of the book as a convenient opportunity to take part in what they were already predisposed to do: denigrate all mission activity and all missionaries. According to those in this camp, all mission personnel were no more than dense and ridiculous blunderers, people who dismissed and decried local cultures and ritual life while imposing their own cultural values and religious sensibilities in ways that were colonial and imperial. End of story.

SO, when my Illinois friend wrote that she had just completed The Poisonwood Bible, and that she now understood SO MUCH MORE, SO MUCH MORE DEEPLY, about what we were up to in Madagascar—I spent days in something of a foul mood.

Last week, I had moments to reflect on these events when another “missionary”, not a fictional character but all-too-real, died after attempting to “bring the Gospel” to what he called “the last stronghold of Satan”. Repeatedly and illegally visiting an island that the Indian government had long listed as out of bounds for any except its inhabitants, white US citizen John Allen Chau came close to inhabitants, yelling at them (presumably in English, which islanders do not speak) that Jesus loved them, and finally paid people to drop him off on shore. When his transport team came back the next morning, they witnessed his body being buried on the beach.

Responses have been quick and predictable.

Some have called Chau a martyr, and have reminded us that missionary work is dangerous.

Others have decried his missionary quest, pointing out his missiological errors.

Still others have found a new opportunity to raise questions about the whole mission enterprise, questions that the work of authors like Kingsolver and James Michener (check out the Rev. Abner Hale in Hawaii for another exemplar of the missionary fool, and for narratives of disease epidemics brought by Europeans which echo current concerns for people on the island Chau sought to visit) raised in other eras.

As our professional lives have been defined in many ways by international mission service, this is a painful moment.

To be sure, we grieve for those who loved John Allen Chau. Advent is marked for them, this year and in years to come, by this loss.

And, in Advent, we who follow the Prince of Peace must contemplate what it means to bring “good news of great joy” to all.

Mission is about bringing this news. As we tell our students, the bringing of this news, whether in preaching, teaching, or living testimony in service and ministry—the bringing of this news must be done in the best, most skilled ways the gifts God has given make possible for each of us. We cannot afford to be boring, slipshod, or unprepared. We are bound—obligated—called to do our best in bringing the best news that ever was.

(And yes, friends, we can tell stories of being unprepared when the Spirit bailed us out. These stories do not provide an excuse to be unprepared. They are evidence of the amazing grace of our loving, compassionate, understanding and forgiving God, not a foundation on which to build a life of ministry, witness and service.)

Here in Tanzania, we serve among people whose lived memory of brutally formational colonization colors the way they understand the Gospel. As those who brought the good news came with the colonists—and sometimes, collaborated with the colonizers with the aim of benefitting European powers and robbing Tanzanians—the good news they brought came with baggage. Patriarchy, misogyny, hatred and demonization of the other, a high value on whiteness and lighter-colored skin tones, and a love for submission that was built into church practice and doctrine—all of these and more came with the good news.

The good news is, this good news—the news brought by angels to Mary, Joseph, shepherds, Elizabeth, John, and the Magi and a host of others—the same good news brought to nearly every corner of this wide earth—this good news is sufficiently powerful that it has and does shine through the many layers of twisted stuff that has come with it.

The bad news is, the twisted stuff is often understood as and confused with the good news.

Many of our students have identified and are writing about particularly Tanzanian ways of understanding and seeing the Gospel at work, assiduously removing layers of cultural baggage to find the treasure within. This is God’s doing and it is amazing before our eyes. In a context where many kinds of oppression and injustice rip voice, life and health from people, the amazingly visible, tangible, and transformational good news is sure and true, making a real difference. To see our students working to find and proclaim it is awe-inspiring.

To be in mission means to walk with people as they discover and join in this work. To be in mission is to glory in and to point out what God is doing and how Jesus is changing lives and giving life. To be in mission is to open oneself to learning—to correction—to confession and repentance when one has wronged others, no matter the cause. To be in mission is to live the good news, focusing on Jesus and following his example of loving all, breaking every boundary, and standing with outcasts and all those the world excludes. To be in mission is to fear not.

All who follow Jesus are called to mission. Twisted cultural baggage confused with the good news is not a problem particular to Africa or to poor communities. Colonized minds, belief systems and theologies/ideologies can be found everywhere the good news has been proclaimed—not just in Tanzania. Naming injustice and lifting up those who are oppressed—Jesus calls all disciples to this work. All who follow Jesus are sinners. To be in mission, wherever one lives and serves, means being committed to continued learning, listening, and growth toward authentic sharing of the Gospel’s truth. To be in mission is to answer the call to turn away from fear and toward the love Jesus calls us to share.

As Advent dawns, we recommit to bringing Jesus’ good news in the best ways we can discern, and to continue to grow in our abilities so to do. In a broken and fearful world, we are given courage by the Spirit for this work. All with whom we are in mission—those here in Tanzania, our mission colleagues near and far, and all of you who follow and support our work—help us to continually grow in our understanding of what mission is. We look forward to a year of growing in this knowledge together. Thanks for sharing this sacred journey with us.

Advent blessings, Mark Rich (Mark.Rich@elca.org)

and Cynthia Holder Rich (Cynthia.HolderRich@elca.org)

 

TANZANIA UPDATE: Back at it

We returned to our home in Tanzania a couple days ago, exhausted from travel, thoroughly jetlagged, and grateful for a safe journey. We’ve been unpacking, resetting internet and phone service, greeting friends and colleagues, and marveling at the sights, sounds, taste and feel of life here.

–Mandarins are in season. These are very sweet, easy to eat, and contain many seeds. A handy plate is a must.

–The small bananas (sometimes referred to in US markets as “baby” bananas, a misnomer as they are this small when full-grown) are just as sweet and tasty—much more so than those generally available in the US—as we remember. Mark took a quick look through our patch of banana plants, and we now have FIVE huge bunches growing! We have no idea how we will deal with them all – but we’re pretty sure our gardener does!

–Pineapples, too, are smaller, sweeter, and more tasty than counterparts available elsewhere.

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–The fall rains have begun. As I write this, it has rained for nine hours, and it is still raining. This shorter rainy season should come to an end in late November or early December, just in time for all the holiday tourists to arrive.

–The rains bring cool and damp weather. Many in the US picture Africa as hot and dry all over—one big continent where it is always and everywhere breathlessly warm. When travelling in the US, we are often asked how we are handling the “cold” fall weather, as we are thought to be acclimated to high heat. As we live on the slopes of a major mountain, the image of hot and dry Africa doesn’t fit our context. Overnight temps are in the low 60’s year-round, and daytime temps range from in the 60s (like today, when it is raining), to the high 80s-low 90s (in January and February, before the longer rains begin). Houses are not heated, and it is almost always colder inside than out. The weather calls for many days and nights of bundling up. We made a few trips to secondhand stores when we were in the US to stock up on fuzzy socks, flannel pjs and sheets, and sweatshirts for use on these cold, damp days and nights.

–We are getting back into the groove of the practices of life here: filtering water; turning on the water heater when we need it hot (and turning it off when we don’t have such a need), and sleeping under a mosquito net.

–While we live on a university campus, we still hear many more sounds of the local fauna than we did in Columbus, OH. On our first night back, along with a host of insects and other birds, hornbills and colobus monkeys were active. The hornbills are all over campus, and are apt to call anytime of day or night—often in our yard. They are both loud and argumentative with others of their species. We hear the colobus from up the slopes of the mountain. Although we haven’t seen them, we hear them often. Their call our first night was a lovely welcome home. Take a listen for them on this audio recorded near our home—you can hear hornbills calling right before the colobus get going, around 3:30 on this file (https://soundcloud.com/listeningearth/colobus-monkeys-call-in-the ).

–The campus is still pretty deserted, as classes have not yet begun. We look forward to the return of students and colleagues in coming days. Our calendars are slowly filling with assigned courses, faculty meetings, and supervisory sessions. As we prepare for the coming academic year, we are grateful for our time away and for the chance to return to this amazing part of God’s good creation.

 

 

 

September 2018 Mission Update

In Tanzania for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Serving with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania

Greetings to you all from Columbus, Ohio! We are in the US during the break between academic years, spending time with our children and handling business that is very much easier to address from a US address. As we prepared to come stateside, we took part in two important conferences for which the ELCA took a leadership role: the ELCA/ELCT Bishops’ Summit, and the 1st Annual International African Lutheran Conference. We were grateful to take part as observers. These conferences evoked deep gratitude and raised deep questions about a central issue for our work: What does it mean to be in relationship, to be brothers and sisters, with people whose lives, cultures, and experience of church are so very different? Or, more simply: What is it to be in mission today?

In his opening address to the Bishops’ Summit, ELCT Presiding Bishop the Rev. Dr. Frederick Shoo stated that “Companionship is not for the weak, nor the faint of heart.” The ELCA’s Companion Synod program, begun decades ago with ELCT dioceses and now encompassing churches around the world, includes 20 companion relationships between US and Tanzania. All the bishops involved from the US and Tanzania were invited to take part, along with representatives from their dioceses or synods. There are six ELCT dioceses which do not have ELCA companion synods; bishops from these newer dioceses also took part.

We saw a number of issues emerge, including:

  • Profound and lasting joy in relationship. It was wonderful to see disciples from very different contexts be so excited and happy to see each other. Relationships built over years made for wonderful reunions. We were blessed by being able to take part as this happened.
  • Different styles of companionship. Some ELCA synods contribute significant levels of funding to their companions, and others contribute much less. Some synods send people every year—or even many times a year; others have not sent visitors for years. Some synods support their ELCT companions to visit the US, while other relationships have not done so. These different styles have inadvertently created a sense of inequity for some in the relationships between ELCT members and leaders
  • Decline in ELCA membership/funding while the ELCT grows. When the companion synod program began there were many more members and much more funding available for mission relationships from the ELCA. Since the beginning of companion synod relationships between the ELCA and the ELCT, the ELCT has experienced precipitous growth. ELCA synods have 120 relationships with Lutheran partners around the world, with many synods having more than one relationship. As was clear during the summit, new dioceses are looking for companion synods—while many ELCA synods are already feeling stretched in their current relationships.
  • Who gets to decide? How can the clear and often thorny dynamics of power and privilege in companion synod and diocese relationships be faithfully negotiated? Issues of race, gender, language, history—both wonderful and painful—and the issue of money and the power to give and receive were repeatedly raised in conversations.
  • Deep gratitude for God’s amazing grace. In worship, in song, in prayer, around tables and the Table, the grace of God did not fail to show up and surprise. All the issues, questions, and complex concerns did not dim the real and present participation in God’s Spirit together, and the shared sense of how indebted we all and each are to God for the opportunity to be in relationship.

The First Annual International African Lutheran Conference began with the closing service of the Bishops’ Summit, as all participants gathered around the Table for worship and communion. As with the Bishops’ Summit, the ELCT served as gracious host for the IALC. Lutherans from across the continent gathered with Lutherans from the African diaspora, including many from the US. Issues and challenges facing African and African-American Lutherans were discussed. African speakers included the new General Secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches, the Rev. Dr. Fidon Mwombeki, a clergy member of the ELCT; the Rev. Dr. Elieshi Ayo Mungure, Area Secretary for Africa for the Lutheran World Federation, also clergy in the ELCT; and Bishop Ernst Gamxamub, president of the Lutheran Church of Namibia. Speakers from the US included the Rev. Dr. Wyvetta Bullock, Assistant to Presiding Bishop of the ELCA; the Rev. Dr. Joseph Bocko, ELCA African National Ministries Program Director; and the Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Grantson, an ELCA pastor serving a church in Maryland who grew up in Ghana, and who currently serves as the Chairperson of the IALC.

The conference resulted from years of work among Lutherans in the US and Africa, including some challenging conversations about what issues to discuss and how to hear and listen to each other. Issues challenging African-American Lutherans in the US are often quite different than the challenges facing Lutherans and Lutheran churches on the African continent. This brings difficulty when people try to understand each other. We were humbled to watch many participants persist in the struggle to understand and empathize with situations that were not like those they personally faced. We were blessed to take part in this important conference.

FINALLY, a number of ELCA leaders who took part in the IALC visited Tumaini University Makumira to tour the campus and meet with the Rev. Professor Faustin Mahali, the Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University and one of our key supervisors. We are joyfully excited at the possibility of growing partnerships with ELCA institutions through the discussions started last month.

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SPECIAL THANKS and welcome to the saints of First Lutheran, Plano, ILPastor Lauri O. Maki Jr. and the saints of Bethel Lutheran, Ishpeming, MI; and Pastor S. Kim Lee-Brown and the saints of St. John Evangelical Lutheran, Princeton, IL, for covenanting support for us and joining us in this journey! If you or your congregation are interested in exploring ways to join us — please be in touch!

AS ALWAYS, THANK YOU for supporting us with your prayers – with emails and messages – with financial support! As Paul said, we thank our God every time we remember you (Philippians 1:3). As we prepare for our second year at the University, we are aware how much our ministry depends on your steadfast support. Thank you!

Peace in Christ,

Mark Rich (Mark.Rich@elca.org) and Cynthia Holder Rich (Cynthia.HolderRich@elca.org). Also check out our FB page, M&C in TZ.

August 2018 Newsletter

AUGUST 2018 MISSION UPDATE      MARK RICH AND CYNTHIA HOLDER RICH

In Tanzania for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Serving with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania

Greetings! We’ve been VERY BUSY over the last couple months with work required to complete our first year of teaching here at Tumaini University Makumira. The year has been rich and we have learned so much. Here, a few details of what we’ve been up to and where we have seen God at work recently.

Cynthia was pleased to accept the invitation of the ELCT Women’s Office to speak at their quadrennial Women’s Assembly in June. The conference theme was “Overcoming Gender-Based Violence”. Hundreds of women from across the nation gathered in Shinyanga for learning, worship, and fellowship.

Second semester ended June 29, which threw the campus into the frenzy that is University Examinations. Over 10 days, students gather in three sessions a day to write exams. Here’s a view of the Assembly Hall during exams.

TUMA Assembly Hall exam

In addition to exams, each student, undergrad and graduate, writes a research thesis. Graduate students have to defend them before a panel of internal and external examiners. We laughed when this stack of theses to read arrived at our house! It took a lot of hours to get through these in time for the days of oral defense of theses.

theses

Both of us supervised a number of Bachelor’s and Master’s research theses. The students must write in English, which is for most their third language. It is not an easy task, and supervising the work takes time, energy and patience. We are grateful that we were able to bring much of our library with us, and it has been put to good work this year with our classes and research students. Fortunately, our students did reasonably well.

After days of oral defense, all academic staff of the university gathered with external examiners to hear their reports of what they had heard, read, and experienced. It was an informative time to reflect on what is happening academically at Tumaini, and to think with others about how what we do might be improved, expanded, and given more depth. The number of Tanzanians who are able to complete a university education is very low, currently in the single digits nationally. We’re grateful for the opportunity to serve with colleagues who are doing important work to increase the educational standards in the country.

We are looking forward to two conferences this month. Bishops and representatives from ELCA Companion Synods and their ELCT Companion Dioceses will meet next week in Moshi, Tanzania for an ELCA/ELCT Companion Consultation. Tanzania mission personnel are taking part as observers. Many friends and colleagues from the churchwide staff, particularly from Global Mission, and from a number of ELCA synods have arrived or are arriving soon. Please join us in prayer for good, creative and faithful outcomes from the consultation.

Following on the heels of the Consultation is the 1st International African Lutheran Conference. ELCA Domestic Mission staff have been central in the planning for this event, which will also be held in Moshi. Many ELCT leaders will take part, along with Lutheran leaders from across the continent and the African Diaspora. We are very much looking forward to seeing many friends and making new connections!

In all of this, we thank God for you—for your prayers, for your calls, emails, and messages, and for your financial support. We couldn’t do it without you! And, we are seeking others to join us in this journey of mission, witness and service. If you are interested in learning more—check out our updated Mission Profile on our website here, and also follow us at our FB page. Links to contribute support are included at the bottom of our Mission Profile. AND, we will be in the US in late summer. If you’d like to talk by phone, Skype, or Messenger about joining us on this journey, please be in touch at the email addresses below.

AND, Grace Lutheran Church, Pembine WI, St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church, Princeton IL, and Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church, McHenry IL: thanks so much for walking with us!

In Christ’s peace,

Cynthia Holder Rich (Cynthia.HolderRich@elca.org) and Mark Rich (Mark.Rich@elca.org)

The Role of the Church as the Climate Changes

The Role of the Church as the Climate Changes

By Cynthia Holder Rich

tz rain oneIt’s the rainy season in Tanzania. We live in the northern part of the country where Mount Meru forces rain much of the year (and at about 20’ shy of 15,000’, the amount of rain forced is significant). We have some rain in most months of the year, so we didn’t know what to expect when the “real” longer rainy season (March-May) began.

Now, as we have learned, there’s a reason they call this the “rainy” season. At this point, the rain has been coming steadily for hours every day (and often, every night) for months. At our house, this means that our clothes, which dry on a line on the back porch, are generally damp when we put them on. There is always some mud on the floor, no matter how much cleaning happens. Mold might be found on cloths left too long on tables. And salt, no matter what tricks we play to keep it flowing, has to be dispensed with spoons or fingers. It simply will not come through the tiny holes. The air has been much too wet for much too long.

tz rain twoWe’re grateful for the rain, despite the inconveniences. This heavy rainy season—which locals call “normal” – is the first “normal” rainy season the area has experienced in a decade. This is because the climate is changing – indeed, it has already changed and the changes keep coming.

Yes, I know. People in other areas of the world fight and debate and make decisions that impact people around the globe based on disagreement on this central concept. To say that the climate is changing or has changed is deemed “political” in some places, and pastors being “political” might result in their termination. Just ask Father Patrick Conroy.

In Tanzania, however, there is neither fight nor debate. It is not considered “political” to see, or to note, the changes in the climate. Because Tanzanian people–the entire society, and much of the economy–live close to the land, the fact that the weather has changed is not in doubt. Everyone in Tanzania knows that things have changed, and that many negative impacts have come along with the changes. Everyone knows, and no one disagrees.

As we prepared to move here, we both did some reading about the country, the people, the geography, the animals, and what challenges Tanzanians are facing. Climate change was on the list of issues that emerged, so we knew that was one challenge our future students would be confronting. At Christmas, we travelled outside the rain zone of Mt. Meru and saw how very few kilometers’ drive it took us to arrive in a much dryer landscape, with much less vegetation to feed people and animals.

Besides agriculture, another main economic driver for Tanzania is tourism. Tourists become aware of climate change, too – mainly through their views, and their comments upon, the snowcap on Kilimanjaro, and on beach erosion, and the number of animals seen in places like the Serengeti–and how these have changed over the years. Tourist raves and complaints on TripAdvisor and other websites drive how many visitors come, so keeping tourists happy in a context of climate change has become a governmental concern. This is challenging, as all of these are impacted by rainfall amounts, which the government cannot control.[1]

At Tumaini University Makumira, our Tanzanian students come from every part of the country, so have grown up with a variety of experiences of climate change. This semester, I am teaching Missiology and Ecumenism. Just like every other course we are teaching this year, this is a “new prep” for me – every class session has to be newly-created. For one class session, I decided to try writing a case study[2] based in experiences familiar to the students in the class. This is an approach that has some risk attached for instructors who’ve been in the country as short a time as we—so might get the particulars in the case wrong.

In the case, there was a pastor, grateful to be called to a congregation of devoted and active people in a small village. The village also featured a mosque, a large and growing Pentecostal congregation, and a traditional healer whom many people in town respected and consulted. Tension, and competition, had grown between these religious leaders.

Everyone in town was also impacted by climate change–the rains had not come at all last year and they were late, and light, this year. Last year, people had less money, so giving to the church decreased. A substantial number of people in town began to experience hunger, and the pastor preached about the need to pray for and serve those in need. The sermon elicited no response—except for the visit of some wealthy members, who shared that pastoral energy should be put toward caring for the congregation rather than getting involved in caring for others.

This year, hunger is worse. Some people are in serious need. The diocese called, asking for an increase in giving, as other congregations had decreased their pledges. The church treasurer stopped by, stating that the congregation’s budget would have to be adjusted, and the pastor’s salary was probably going to be cut. And the leader of the women’s organization came, with much enthusiasm for the congregation taking a leadership role in gathering all religious organizations to develop a community-wide strategy to address hunger in town, and to work toward the development of a better future for all.

The case study evoked laughter and much deep discussion. Small group reports focused on a variety of cogent issues relating to ecumenical mission—gratifying to this teacher, as I’m always happy when my teaching leads students to make informed connections. In the large group discussion, I asked if they had experienced changes in the climate like those described in the case. Responses from every corner commenced, of “yes!”, “it’s very common!”, “so often”. So I asked, “What does climate change mean to you?”

“It means death”, stated one student.

Struck, I said, “Say more.”

“It means that people get sick”, said one. “It means more people are poor”, said another. “It means that people leave villages and move to cities”, said one. “Yes, and that means there are fewer people to care for the elderly and the sick”, shared another.

So I asked what for me is a constant in class: “What is the role of the church?”.

This month, people in many countries celebrated Earth Day, a day to remember the Earth and its gifts to us all, a day that has become part of the annual rhythm for a growing number of people around the world since it began in the early 1970s. The March for Science also took place this month, gathering people in many communities to stand up for scientific findings and the scientific method of developing learnings and understanding “truth” about the world.

scott pruittAnd this month, Scott Pruitt, US Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, testified before US Congressional Hearings. Mr. Pruitt has led the Agency for 14 months and change. In that time, the EPA has de-emphasized science—particularly scientific findings on climate change—and Mr. Pruitt recently suggested that climate change might be a good thing. Pruitt promotes a “pro-business and pro-environment” stance, deemed by many in the scientific community as aspirational and inaccurate. However, that inaccuracy is only problematic if you believe in science.

Or, if climate change means death to you.

A recent review of 50 peer-reviewed[3] articles on climate change in Tanzania found that changes in the climate have resulted in extreme drought, crop reductions, extreme flooding, greater temperature swings and a greater number of temperature extremes, increased food insecurity, increased outbreaks of infectious disease—especially diseases that are insect- or water-borne, and increased loss of life through disease, hunger, malnutrition and starvation. Authors recommended the building of increased infrastructure for irrigation (which brings its own problems, as they admitted), and a great increase in government and other budgets in the health sector.[4] From whence the money is to be procured is not discussed in the article, but other tables would surely have to take this up.

In a time of increased climate change and decreased funding for mission, What is the role of the church?

In a time when many in the US—including many Christians—deny climate change and scientific findings about it, What is the role of the church?

In a time when the church is encouraged to “not be political”, What is the role of the church?

We who follow Jesus spend most Aprils, and this one too, in the Easter season. This is the time in our faith walk when we focus on new life—resurrection—love coming again like wheat gloriously springing forth green.[5] This is the time when Tanzanian brothers and sisters in Christ, who begin most every sentence with Bwana asifiwe! (Praise the Lord!), pray for rain—just enough, not too little and not too much. They pray, for without rain, or with too much rain, death will surely come. We who follow Jesus believe in life, which Jesus came to bring in abundance (John 10). Following this one surely calls us to seek ways to work toward life for all, and that in abundance. How do we promote life? How can we support those whose life is vulnerable and at risk?

In this Easter season, we are called to cast out fear and act in love, courageously and joyfully serving those in need who wear the face of Christ. As the changing climate has put these at risk, we who have been blessed with safety, strength, and resources must seek to protect and defend the earth, our home, so that all may receive life in all its abundance, just as Jesus promised. May we do so, not counting the cost.

[1] We encourage those that visit us to read up on American Lutheran Rick Steves’ understandings of travel and tourism. Check out his top ten tips here.

[2] While lecture is the assumed method of teaching here, I lean on instruction I have received, primarily from my Mother, Ellagene Morgan Holder, and my professors at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Drs. Linda Vogel and Jack Seymour, in developing more interactive ways of teaching and learning. I thank God for them all.

[3] Peer-reviewed is the gold standard for academic writing – if an article is called “peer-reviewed”, it has gone through a process of three or more academics in the research field of the article reading, commenting on, and approving its findings before it is published.

[4] Ojiji, Frederick et al, “The Impact of Climate Change on Agriculture and Health Sectors in Tanzania: A Review”, in International Journal of Environment, Agriculture and Biotechnology, vol. 2 issue 4, July-August 2017, 1758-1766.

[5] Text from “Now the Green Blade Riseth”, by John MacLeod Campbell Crum (could he be any more Scots??? Now there’s a name to make a Presbyterian heart’s sing.)