Mission Update – The Ongoing Effects of Colonialism

We promised on Facebook to write some things about what we’re seeing of neocolonialism—that is, the continuing effects of how Tanzania was subjugated first to the German Empire and then to the British Empire. We’ve got a couple stories to share with you, and we’ll discuss those as we tell them. The first story comes from Mark’s Old Testament course for undergraduates.

I (Mark) was going through the Garden of Eden story from Genesis 2 and 3. I showed them from the story itself that the concept of original sin is simply not there. I also explained that this story has played a quite out-sized role in Western Christian thinking because of the (mistaken) belief that Genesis 3 is talking about original sin; the idea that all sin, suffering, and death in the world is happening because Adam and Eve ate the wrong fruit. I went on to teach them about Augustine, the 4th century theologian who invented that concept of original sin. It is because of him that we teach that concept in the church (to the extent we do). Augustine took this idea so far as to say non posse non peccare: it is not possible not to sin, which is a rather extreme thing to say.

I had learned these things back in the 80s in seminary, and I didn’t think I was teaching anything extraordinary, but I suspected it might be extraordinary to my students, and it was. A few of them were quite insistent that, no, this is just what the story says, and that basically we don’t have Christian theology and the Christian church without it. (They were rather upset with me that I was teaching them something besides original sin!) I learned that their baptismal liturgy mentions the first sin of Adam and Eve, which is washed away—partially—by baptism—a new learning for me! Cynthia and I also know that a lot of the preaching that happens in the Lutheran church in Tanzania is focused on preaching against sin – rather than preaching how Jesus is overcoming and conquering sin through the gospel.

Here’s the first problem with the idea of original sin: the belief that we are essentially sinful people, who are only partly healed and cleansed by Christ, makes people believe that they are unable to be responsible for their own thoughts, feelings, and actions. Put another way, it says that we are all essentially children; that we are too weak to be fully responsible, mature, and adult; and that we can therefore never really change ourselves and our lives.

We should notice that Jesus Christ never says these things about us. Rather, he tells us “Be mature as your heavenly Father is mature” (Mt 5:48 – usually mistranslated as “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”). When he teaches us to forgive each other (including our enemies!), to believe and not to fear, to love God and one another, to share our material blessings with each other and with the poor, to refuse to do evil in any circumstances – he is teaching us those things with the full expectation and belief that we can and will actually do them! However, the original sin interpretation of Genesis 3 encourages us to believe that we can never really do what Jesus teaches.

And here’s the second problem: there is a political dimension to the belief in original sin. That belief is exactly what the European imperialists (and some African leaders since then) have wanted and needed African people to believe: that they are essentially irresponsible children who cannot rule themselves. To believe that it is not possible for me not to sin is to believe that I am a child incapable of governing myself, rather than an adult who is responsible for myself, my family, my community, my country, and yes even my sins. Again, Jesus did not teach this childishness because he was trying to empower people who were themselves under the imperial boots of Rome. But to the European imperialists and some leaders since then, this original sin belief has been extremely useful. The political meaning of the idea of original sin is that democracy is impossible and authoritarian rule is necessary because people can never really grow up – they are basically just small children who need adults to govern them.

Please understand: I’m definitely not saying that there is no such thing as sin – far from it! There’s all too much of it, in so many places and ways, including the church! It’s just that I’m entirely convinced that the gospel is way more powerful than sin, and through the Holy Spirit God empowers us to become mature, gospel-led adults instead of weak sinful children. We don’t become perfect (short of the resurrection), but we can and should become mature. All of us, Africans and Americans, can maturely participate in our own lives, cultures, societies, and the world, and we can do so for good rather than for evil. Jesus is leading us in doing just that.

Our second story is about science labs at the university. First, some background. The imperial colonial powers that ruled Africa never intended nor attempted to establish universal education. They and the Christian missions did establish some schools of varying quality, but there were never enough of them to educate all children – not even close – and they weren’t trying to do so. They only meant to establish enough schools to provide enough workers and bureaucrats and clergy for their own businesses and governments and churches. The point of colonialism was never simply to improve the lives of their subjects: it was first and always to produce profits for and to strengthen the European imperial powers. (By the way, this is exactly why the American colonists revolted against the British Empire, so that their own investments and labor could go toward improving their own lives and communities rather than the British Crown.)

So after colonialism ended in the 1960s, these new and still-poor countries faced massive deficits in education. It was only in the early 2000s that Tanzania was able to make the commitment to achieve universal education through high school. That has meant a huge investment in hundreds of buildings and many thousands of teachers, with equipment coming in a distant third in priorities. That is also why Tumaini University Makumira has a huge education program, graduating hundreds of new teachers each year.

There is now an especially crucial need for science teachers, as they tend to get hired away from schools to work in industry as scientists. We recently built a set of science labs here at the university, but again the problem is to afford the equipment for them. The university is working on that problem because, obviously, they can’t train science teachers without stocked and equipped labs.

So these are a couple of instances of the ongoing effects of colonialism, even now in 2021. Tanzanians are working hard at overcoming these, and it’s a real joy for us that we get to be part of that growth, strengthening, and maturing!

Thank you all for your support in this gospel work that it is our honor to do!! Christ has risen, friends—Eastertide blessings to you all

Mark and Cynthia

Epiphany greetings, friends!

We write, deep into the first semester of the 2020-2021 academic year. Our classes are humming along and other projects are progressing as well. We write here of two: an Intensive Student Reading Group on Race and Christian Theology, and an experiment in training for congregations in Mission Engagement.


In mid-2020 when we were still in the US and watching the news of protests and movement in race relations, we started discussing how university students were engaging—and sometimes initiating—national and international conversations about race. This led to dialogue with Cynthia’s brother R. Ward Holder, who teaches at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire, and to two grant applications to develop a joint student learning initiative on Race and Christian Theology, bringing students from Saint Anselm’s and Makumira together in learning about key African and African American thought about race and theology—a combining of topics not made by many of those leading protests and movements demanding an increase in racial justice.

Makumira students began meeting last month, discussing African (Emmanuel Katangole, Tinyiko Maluleke, Elieshi Mungure) and African American (Howard Thurman, Martin Luther King Jr., James Cone, Vincent Wimbush, Delores Williams, J. Kameron Carter, M. Shawn Copeland, Angela Sims) authors, and preparing to hear lectures by prominent theologians, both African and African American, starting late this month. Here, we share a few comments and ideas expressed by our students in the first few weeks.

*“From the experiences of my life, I had assumed that all Whites hated all Blacks—so I was surprised that white professors invited us to discuss this. I decided to see what you had to say.”

*“I worshipped at a church in Germany at the invitation of our mission. There were two paintings in the sanctuary: one of White, blond, blue-eyed Jesus, and one of Black Satan. When we mentioned it to our hosts, they apologized—but they didn’t move the art.”

*In response to conversation about Fort Jesus, built on the Kenyan coast by the Portuguese to both control the African coast and to make trade in ivory, gold, and enslaved Africans possible: “Why would you name a fort for Jesus? Where did European Christians get the idea that colonizing Africa and enslaving Africans were good things to do? How is that okay? Where did this start?”

*About the Letter from the Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King: “King was very brave to challenge White clergy. How could he do that, as that was where he received his support?”

*About Katangole’s Born from Lament: The Theology and Politics of Hope in Africa: “Africans have hope. Africa is not a hopeless continent. AND, we have to look at what happened here critically, how what happened continues to impact us, and what role race has played in what happened in the colonial period.”

We are learning a lot from our students from these meetings. Please pray for us and for our students taking part.


Cynthia serves on the Presbytery of Scioto Valley Global Mission Network. The network conversed for much of 2020 about the need for training for engagement in global mission for congregations. An online course was developed, envisioned as “confirmation class about global mission”.  Approval was sought and gained, and network members got to work planning.

Cynthia is working with network members and PC(USA) mission personnel in facilitating the course, which is meeting one Saturday morning a month for five months. The first one happened in late January, with over 60 people in attendance! Participants are reading in preparation for each session. Starting in the second session, breakout groups will discuss what is being presented during the class. A number of congregations have sent groups to participate, who have committed to take learnings back to their churches to grow mission engagement.

We are excited about the potential of this model for mission education, and are hoping and planning to make the model portable and workable in different contexts, with content adjustments as needed for denomination and participant interests. To that end, a member of the staff of Mark’s synod of membership, Northwestern Ohio Synod—ELCA, is sitting in on class sessions, with the hope that we can at some later date offer the class with synod members and congregations. For now, enjoy these pictures from Session 1, which had the theme “What is Mission, and Why do we do it?”


Our MTh students in Missiology and New Testament presented proposals for their research projects last month. Their projects are really interesting and very much needed. (We commented on some of these in our last newsletter, which you can find here.) Supervision of student research at all three levels (bachelor, master, and doctoral) is a big part of our work here, and it is a significant source of joy and fulfillment for us both. We’re grateful to get to do this work! Our students learn so much from the process—and so do we. We become better at this work through doing it! This is surely a sign of God’s grace. Happily, all our students’ project proposals were accepted this month. They will continue this research in the field for the next six-seven months.

AS ALWAYS, we thank God for you all for all the ways your support makes our service possible. May Christ be revealed to you in present and tangible ways in this Epiphany season!

In the peace and joy of Christ,

Cynthia and Mark

Advent 2020 Mission Update

Mark Rich and Cynthia Holder Rich, teaching at Tumaini University Makumira Arusha, Tanzania

…they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sward against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.     Isaiah 2:4

We are reading Walter Brueggemann’s thought-provoking devotions in his Celebrating Abundance this Advent season. One day, the scripture above provided the theme on which Dr. Brueggemann reflects, saying that in the vision laid out in this text, people are “decontaminating bombs and defusing the great weapons systems. The fear is dissipating. The hate is collapsing. The anxiety is lessening. The buildup of competitive threat is being reversed…”

“Let us beat swords into plowshares” by
Evgeniy Vuchitech. Part of the United Nations collection

It occurs to us that the prophet, and Brueggemann with him, must have seen and be seeing something different than what the world has on offer—something different than what the world sees. The vision seems to have little resonance with the world in which we live, where violence, fear, hate, anxiety, and competition seem to reign supreme. Even conversations about the global health crisis that has consumed this year and carried over a million souls away to date have been politicized and weaponized. The way the world sees—and what the world sees when it looks around—bear little resemblance to the prophet’s vision.

Brueggemann’s reflections brought our graduate students to mind—budding scholars with whom It is a joy to work. One student is writing about elder abuse and the gender implications therein—how many older people, and particularly older women, are at great risk of abuse within their homes and families—and how the responsibility for caring for older people, the majority of whom are women, falls on the next generations of women. The stories this student tells of the plight of older women and the younger women whom the community expects to take care of the elderly are often heartbreaking. The student argues that care for the elderly among us, and those who care for them, must become more centrally located in the mission of the church—and that an increase in equity between men and women is God’s desire.

Another student is researching deforestation in his home area and the ways in which deforestation—driven mainly by the actions of large, wealthy companies—increases the growth of economic inequity and poverty in Tanzania. It also drives climate change, and the impacts of climate change fall mainly on those who have less, while the wealthy are able to move if/when changes in conditions make living in a place less comfortable or more difficult. This student is convinced that these are issues that are related to the Missio Dei, the mission of God, and as such are issues the church must confront and work to mend and to heal.

A third student is writing about a major conflict that occurred within a diocese (equivalent to our synods) of the ELCT, which actually ended only with the splitting of the diocese. These kinds of conflicts, whether they happen within whole denominations, dioceses, congregations, or even families, are deeply wounding and scarring to the body of Christ. This student is looking into how the apostle Paul dealt with a similar conflict within the church at Corinth, in Second Corinthians. How does the gospel of Christ face, diagnose, and resolve such conflicts that, at bottom, deny the gospel?

As we work with our students, we often marvel at their ability to persist in ministry in contexts of great injustice and deep suffering. How do they keep preaching the Good News? How do they keep hammering away at horrid and heinous situations that inspire grief and anger—situations that can and do lead many to despair? For our students, we have come to realize that they persist because they see something that some cannot. They see a vision that some cannot. They see a future that some cannot.

Emmanuel Katangole, a Ugandan scholar and theologian who teaches at the University of Notre Dame, speaks of the ways in which Africa is viewed by many as a hope-less continent, and its people as hope-less people. In his 2017 book Born from Lament: The Theology and Politics of Hope in Africa, he quotes Jason Stearns’ Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa, an epic work about the civil wars in Congo. While Katangole sees much to commend Stearns’ work, he ends his book on a note of despair, because, as he sees it, Congo and its people lack vision and leadership. Dr. Katangole takes issue with Stearns’ conclusion, as it does not square with his own experience of people in Africa. It doesn’t square with ours, either.

Our students and colleagues share at least one characteristic—they all have the same ability to see. They see the future—not the future that analysts and international commentators see—not what Jason Stearns sees—not whatever paltry news coming out of Africa that appears in the US would suggest to you about the future of this continent and its millions of amazingly diverse peoples. Our students and colleagues see a future that is not made up of war, disease, famine, drought, locusts and disasters, natural and human created. Katangole narrates stories of many faithful Africans, who share in the lament that emerges from profound suffering—and moves beyond that lament to hope. He argues that lament energizes resistance, leading then to hope’s realization in a future where God’s will is made manifest over all the earth. Hope in the midst of suffering is birthed at the intersection of not knowing what the future might hold, and believing that Jesus is in that future, empowering us to resist, to innovate, to call upon church and society to build a future different than the past, and to find ways to resolutely move toward that hopeful future through challenging what is and seeing what God sees. Our students and colleagues see what Isaiah saw—a vision that is different than the past and diverging from the present. To research suffering in the present and to call church and society to move toward a future free from tribulation, despair, and grief requires the ability to see the vision prophets see, the vision God sees, the seeing and imagination that grounds the Incarnation.


Bachelor of Divinity students line up to receive their diplomas.
Pastor Mariam Charity, Cynthia’s supervisee, receives her Master of Theology degree

We celebrated graduation this past weekend. It is a joy to see the future unfolding in front of one’s eyes! By far the biggest single set of programs at Tumaini University Makumira are the education programs. We graduated 576 bachelor students to become primary and secondary teachers, and 21 master students to become school administrators. These numbers are by far the majority of our graduates!! Tanzania is making immense efforts to improve its educational system, and our university is a major part of that effort. The country’s efforts only took serious practical shape in the 2000s, and they are still a fight. As of 2018, the public schools still had on average one teacher for every 51 students, and only one textbook for every 10 students. The country has made immense improvements since the colonial period, during which no efforts were made toward universal public education. Our graduates are so proud, and so are we! To all our supporters, your support is directly contributing toward this very good work—thank you all!!!


We pray with and for you that God might grant us all vision to see as God sees, the divine imagination that moved God to send Jesus, the vision that Isaiah shared of a world without war, the very same vision that animates our students in their research and ministries. May we all be so blessed! May our Advent preparations open our eyes, our minds, and our hearts, that we may see Jesus and be moved to follow him more nearly. As this strange and difficult year comes to a close, we count you all among our blessings.

A favorite Tanzanian folk art wood carving. We think of this as the heavenly host over Bethelehem, singing Utukufu kwa Mungu! Glory to God!

Grace and peace to you all in this holy season! Cynthia and Mark

So long Ohio; tunarudi Tanzania


Greetings from Columbus OH! We are still here—BUT NOT FOR LONG!

We have received approval and booked tickets, and will be back home on campus by the middle of next month! We’re grateful, excited, and looking forward to seeing our students and colleagues soon. The 2020-2021 academic year starts in late November, so we are happy to be able to plan to be back home. WE ARE TAKING SAFETY PRECAUTIONS—masks, distancing, and monitoring of any sign of symptoms will be part of our life for the foreseeable future.

CONGRATULATIONS PASTOR MARIAM CHARITY! Pastor Mariam Charity defended her MTh thesis in Missiology, entitled “On Being a Married Woman Pastor: The Cost of Service as Pastor, Wife, and Mother”, late last month. Cynthia served as supervisor of this research project, which outlined the ways in which identities as pastor, wife, and mother create overlapping burdens that can become unsustainable. As the defense was set for morning in Tanzania (7 hours ahead of EDT), we took part in the wee smalls! (check out the clock on the computer!) Pastor Mariam’s work is superb and should serve as a guide for the church to move toward greater justice and inclusion.

EVERYWHERE WE’RE INTERPRETING…We are grateful to have been able in this season to make 31 (almost all virtual) presentations in congregations since March! We’ve also worked with both ELCA synods and PCUSA presbyteries to share about the mission of God in the world and particularly in Tanzania and at Tumaini University Makumira—and this work is continuing, with a number of meetings in coming weeks before we leave the US. As lots of congregations, synods, and presbyteries have gotten much more adept at online ministries of many sorts, we hope and expect to take part in congregations from Tanzania. BE IN TOUCH if you’d like us to share with you!

CAN WE JOIN YOU IN ADVENT? Shout out to Olivet Lutheran Church in Sylvania, OH and Pastor Nathan Tuff for the suggestion of our making a video recording that they will share as part of the congregation’s Advent observance and celebrations. This has moved us to ask: where might we be able to share an Advent reflection via video recording? Is this something we could share more broadly? PLEASE BE IN TOUCH if we can share a recording with you for use in worship, education, fellowship, or celebration.

GRIEF AND GRATITUDE—Cynthia’s brother Calvin Holder became gravely ill after surgery in late spring this year. He died in August. We are both grateful that we have been in the US during this period, as communication was made much easier; and we are both sad that the pandemic made visiting Calvin and our sister-in-law Arlene during his illness impossible—in fact, even Arlene was rarely able to visit him in the more than three months he was hospitalized. This loss of the first of our siblings has moved us both to be more intentional about reaching out to family and friends as this strange season continues. All Saints will be especially poignant for us this year. We know we join millions of brothers and sisters around the world remembering those who have been lost.

VISIT TO FAMILY AND CAPE COD—with the kind invitation and of clergy friend Anne Weirich (thanks Anne!), we were able to visit family in the Boston area and spend healing and restorative days at the coast. This required Covid-testing before the trip and social distancing during visits. We celebrated family birthdays—in a garage, socially distanced, with chilly temps! Here we share some views from this special time, along with some views of the beauty of fall in Massachusetts and Ohio.

We think of all of you, living through this challenging time. We send this with our prayers for you and your ministries, and with requests for prayer for us as we prepare to return to our work. May the blessings of autumn be with you all! We wish you peace in Christ, safety and health. Blessings!

Sincerely, Cynthia and Mark

July 2020 Mission Update – Online Teaching Continues

GREETINGS from HOT and HUMID Columbus Ohio!


Our lives got much busier as Tanzania opened all universities on June 1. We are now teaching online—pioneering a way of teaching not attempted before at Tumaini University Makumira. We have learned a lot! And we and our students continue to learn how to make this way of teaching and learning work. We are teaching three days a week and spending other times meeting online with students, supervising student research at all three levels (bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD—see more about this below), and communicating with our university and mission colleagues.

Zoom class
Cynthia’s online missiology Masters class

The good news: IT IS GOING WELL! After a number of bumps and stumbles in the first couple weeks, we can now say that this form of teaching and learning works for university students in Tanzania. The possibilities this could open in terms of bringing scholars and scholarship into conversation with our students really excite us. We’re grateful for the support of the University and ELCA Global Mission for us to continue to be a part of the University teaching community while we are in the US.


THANK YOU to all congregations, church staff members, and pastors who have invited us to present since we have been in the US! Thanks for the invitations from Arusha Community Church, Arusha TZ; Holmen Lutheran. Holmen WI, and Pastor Allison Cobb; Bethlehem Lutheran, Granada Hills CA and Pastor Megan Hunt Fryling; St. John’s Lutheran, Sterling IL and Pastor Jacob Gawlik (along with cooperating congregations St. Paul Lutheran, Sterling and Immanuel Lutheran, Rock Falls IL); and Olivet Lutheran, Sylvania OH, and Pastor Melissa Micham and Director of Faith Formation Donna Mens.

WE WOULD LOVE TO VISIT WITH YOU! If you would like us to preach—present on our mission—teach a class—or if you have another thought—BE IN TOUCH! We are available. AND WE HAVE AN IDEA FOR YOU!

Jesus Sees Women

Together, we authored Jesus Sees Women: a six-session downloadable Bible study, offered for Lent but appropriate for other times as well. Olivet Lutheran, Sylvania OH, used this study during Lent. As happened to other congregations, some ministry plans at Olivet got disrupted by the pandemic. Recently, we took part online with the faithful Bible study members as they completed the study, having a wonderful conversation about the relationship of women and men to Jesus and with each other, in Tanzania, in the US, and around the world.

Bible study with Olivet
Olivet Lutheran Bible study members

We would very much enjoy leading this study with people from your congregation! If a congregation or group of congregations are interested in offering a late summer or early fall study—OR if we could gather a group of people interested in taking part in this online study with us—PLEASE BE IN TOUCH! You can find out more information about this study and arrange to download it for use at https://www.thethoughtfulchristian.com/Products/TC0615/jesus-sees-women-an-adult-lenten-study.aspx

We are also ready to preach and present on mission in Tanzania—let us know how we can be in ministry with you and your congregation.


Among the parts of our work which we find really fulfilling is the supervision of student research. This year, we are supervising students exploring + how very few men are involved in the life and lay leadership of the church, and what to do about this state of affairs; + the role of the church in women’s economic empowerment; + how people with disabilities can engage in ministry leadership; + ways that Lutheran pastors and congregations can work effectively with Muslim congregations and faith leaders to build up communities; + the Jacob stories in Genesis; + Maasai understandings of the church; and + the meaning and understanding of Lutheran identity in Tanzania. We learn so much from our students every year. This is such a blessing!

CONVERSATIONS ON RACE AND CORONAVIRUS—let us know what you are thinking, saying, and doing

In every class and conversation we have with students and colleagues, two topics come up: racial relations and coronavirus. Sometimes, the conversation mixes the two. We are interested in what conversations you are having in your congregations about these two topics, and what it means to be in the church in this time. Many of you know that there are at least two ways to understand time: chronos, which involves calendars and clocks; and kairos, an understanding of how God uses time. How is God using this time in your place? What are you being moved to think, to be, to do? We will reflect more on these next month. ANY REFLECTIONS YOU CAN SEND OUR WAY WOULD BE MOST APPRECIATED.


We are enjoying tomatoes from one potted plant. We’ve eaten a number and there are more coming! Here are some views of what God is bringing forth. (And for a musical take on Make our Garden Grow, check out this video of Bernstein’s piece from Candide: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-DROkQJc_F0)


We have received word that many of our sponsoring congregations are continuing to faithfully fulfill their covenants of support. THANK YOU. We know that many congregations, and many faithful members within congregations, are really struggling in this season of job loss—and for some, the loss of homes, health, and loved ones. Our ministry is made possible by your support. We know that for some, these are sacrificial gifts of love. We are so grateful.


Mission Update June 2020

Greetings from COLUMBUS OHIO, where we have been since mid-March! We are grateful to have been in touch with so many of you all—through preaching, presentations, and conversations online.

Now, we are entering a new phase of this season of evacuation from the field. Tanzania reopened all universities on June 1. We begin teaching online this week. We will be the first lecturers to have ever taught online at Tumaini University Makumira in the institution’s history! We have A LOT to try to master, and we are working rather feverishly to climb a steep learning curve. We have many friends and family members who had to figure all of this out in a span of two weeks or less in March, so we know it is doable. We look forward to seeing, hearing, and teaching our students!


Protestors march in Columbus, Ohio June 5, 2020

We write you from one of the hundreds of cities across the nation whose life has featured protests for more than a week. Racism and racial violence, and the names George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and many others are raised in calls for the development of a society where an increase of justice, safety, and democratic principles is evident and visible and tangible for all citizens. On top of the coronavirus pandemic, which has also hit the Columbus area hard, the days can feel very heavy.

On a bright and cool morning this week, I walked into a local store during the early senior hours. It felt completely normal. I felt completely normal. I was lost in thought about the news broadcast I had just heard in the car. I was moving through the world, thinking about what was happening—and not thinking about what I was doing.

I entered the store, grabbed a cart, and started wheeling through the aisles—and stopped.

People around me were wearing masks (of course), and I, lost in thought, had left mine in the car.

I wheeled around, walked quickly out of the store, and got my mask.

After returning to the store, with my mask on, I remembered something I have often realized in this new season. Wearing a mask makes it harder to breathe.

My shopping that morning afforded me an opportunity for reflection on these times in which we are living and moving and having our being. As it is harder to breathe, I was more aware of how fast I wanted to finish my shopping. As some people in Columbus see the wearing of masks as a political statement, I was aware that some others fixed an angry stare on my mask-covered face. As I worked to observe the directional arrows on the floor in each aisle and stay at least 6 feet from other shoppers, I was aware of how I was moving through the space—and how others were—in ways that I am often not. Some people were not wearing masks—which signified potential danger. Some shoppers weren’t working to avoid others—also potentially perilous. Although the store was to be open only to seniors and others with medical conditions, the presence of a group of noisy teens moving through the aisles reminded me that the store’s posted policies were probably not being enforced. That is, the rules set in place to protect me could not be relied upon to do so.

Back in the safety of the car, it occurred to me that all of these factors are forcing me to be more self-aware, to think, to stop, to question—to ask whether a trip is necessary, whether a space is safe, who is around me, and whether the rules in place will offer me shelter.

In February, before the growth of a global pandemic turned the world upside down for so many of us and so many in the world, we wrote in this space about Being White in Africa. Since then, on top of the spread of the coronavirus with so many people getting sick, so many lives lost (over 112,000 in the US alone at this writing) and so much grief, protesters have thronged the street in cities in all 50 states and in many countries across the world, demanding increased access to justice for Black, indigenous, and other people of color.

Wearing masks has heightened our awareness of where we are and how we are perceived as we walk through the world. It has given us a chance to reflect on what it means to always have to be aware of where one is and how one is perceived—as some of those we love have had to do throughout their lives (for more information on this, check out a few stories of our loved ones’ daily realities in a recent post on Facebook). It has reminded us of how hard it is to breathe when being in public leads rational people to be anxious. And—unlike the color of one’s skin, for our friends and family and colleagues who are not white—the masks are something we can take off. We who follow Jesus are called to reflect on the realities different people made in the image of God face and in which different ones of us are forced to live. Reflection could—and must—lead to confession—repentance—and change.


This unexpectedly long season away from Tanzania has had us missing our yard and our garden there. One way we have accommodated is to put some plants on the back patio of our sons’ townhouse. We are grateful to see the flowers and tomatoes growing outside our door!


Last month, one of our teaching colleagues who taught Old Testament and Hebrew to generations of Makumira students and was beloved by many across the church, the Rev. Habukuki Lwendo, died after a short illness. We are very sad to lose a great colleague and a wonderful teacher, and we thank God for his ministry, witness, and service. Thanks for joining us in prayer for his family. We ask you also to pray for the people of Tanzania, the church there, and our colleagues and students. The virus continues, and while we teach from here, we are keenly aware of the difficulty of social distancing in Tumaini’s dorms, classroom buildings, and offices.

Be in touch if we can preach, teach, or present at your congregation online! Thanks for your prayers and your support, which make all that we do possible.

In Christ, Cynthia Holder Rich and Mark Rich


Greetings from Columbus Ohio!

We have been busy over the past month, NOT with the things we had planned (like teaching second semester courses at Tumaini University Makumira), but busy, nonetheless. As many people are spending a lot of time at home, engaging as they can with others, we wanted to reach out and greet you all.

First, we say with joy: Christ is Risen! Hallelujah! We hope each and every one of you and your congregations had a blessed and joy-filled celebration of the truth of Christ’s resurrection. We know that your celebrations were different this year than other years—as were the last weeks of your Lenten observance, and as your life together is now.

Sunburst batik
Tanzanian Sunburst batik

While many things have changed, the reality of life as Easter people has not! We see new life in the natural world around us, and also in the incredible bursting forth of new skills, new ways of outreach and the making of community, and the blessed persistence of love we see expressed in many places—no matter what impact social distancing is having on us all! Congrats to all pastors, musicians, educators, Council members, committee chairs, and congregations who are taking this all in stride and continuing to proclaim the good news: Jesus lives, and because this is true, we live in him.

We have kept ourselves engaged while in the US. In addition to daily walks (thank you, Columbus Recreation and Parks Department!), praying and worship (thank you, everyone who is streaming and sending resources!), cooking and spending some time catching up on US television, we have been doing what we can to keep ourselves busy and out of trouble. Our activities over the past month include:

  • Preaching and Presenting: we’ve both had opportunities to preach and present. We are open to more of these! We, like many others, have been learning a lot in these days when the computer and the phone are among the few approved and safe ways of contact. And, like many others, we have found ourselves upping our game, out of necessity! And, as learning for any reason is good, we thank God. So, if you want us to preach, teach, or present at your congregation—your women’s group—your youth fellowship—your virtual VBS—or whatever—be in touch!

One particular way we are presenting is a 60-90-minute online program called Teatime with Your Missionaries. By the time you read this, we will have led this presentation a few times with a number more dates already on the calendar.

The presentation starts with a 3 minute video with music, a Palm Sunday anthem from the church in Tanzania sung by the choir of one of our students who already has earned his bachelor’s in music and will complete his bachelor’s in theology this year when the universities reopen for his final semester. (The video is attached to this email.) We continue with a power point presentation on Tanzania, the church there, and our work. We then share about what Covid-19 and the global pandemic means in Tanzania, and how we in the US can be in community with the people of Tanzania at this difficult time. News of projects to produce Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) locally in Arusha and across Tanzania that our medical colleagues are coordinating with others, and the support needed for this project, is part of what we share in the presentation.

If you would like to have us present Teatime with Your Missionaries, or preach, or teach at your congregation—OR if you want to take an offering to support the local production of PPE in Tanzania—OR IF YOU WANT TO DO BOTH–we would love to hear from you. And enjoy the video! It includes a taste of the beauty of Tanzania’s music, land, animals, and people.

Jodi Steve masks
ELCA medical missionaries in Arusha Jodi and Steve Swanson model locally produced masks, which are hard to find and urgently needed by health care providers across the country. This work is really crucial at this moment of global pandemic.

  • Keeping in touch with our students and colleagues: We both have students doing research who have been in touch since we returned to the US. Some of them are being able to continue their research and writing while in their home villages. We’ve also heard from our university colleagues. Life on campus is quiet at present—the students are gone, worship is not happening at the chapel, the library is closed and all staff are on unpaid leave till at least mid-May. The threat of the global pandemic in many countries in Africa, including Tanzania, is exacerbated by fragile health care systems, fragile governments, and fragile economies. We pray for Tanzania, the University, and the people there each day. Thank you joining us in prayer.

Zoom call 4 20 2020
Meeting with our ELCA East Africa colleagues on Zoom, April 20: From the top L—April Trout, Cynthia and Mark, Bethany and Steve Friberg; Row 2, Daudi Msseemmaa, Mark and Linda Jacobson, Mary Jo Maass; Row 3, Jodi and Steve Swanson, Bob Kasworm, and Alex LaChapelle

Finally—we have not been in the US to enjoy spring since 2017, as our normal schedule has us returning to the US in late summer. Here are a few views of the glory of spring here in central Ohio.

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We think of you all and pray that this finds you safe and healthy. Thanks for your support! We thank God for you.

Eastertide peace and joy,

Cynthia Holder Rich and Mark Rich




Mark Rich and Cynthia Holder Rich

Tumaini University Makumira, Arusha, Tanzania

We will remember March 2020.  March 2020 has become memorable where we live. We began the month, seeing new parts of the country and continuing to marvel at the beauty that is Tanzania. We will end the month, having journeyed to the US, not sure when we will be able to return home.

Early this month, we traveled to Mwanza, Tanzania, to visit friends and see what is happening in theological education at Nyakato Theological College, one of three zonal colleges of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania. Nyakato provides education for aspiring pastors, parish workers, and evangelists. The ELCT has a significant clergy shortage, so schools like Nyakato are providing essential leadership development. We have been invited by leaders at the college to consider returning to teach intensive courses sometime in 2021. We are grateful for the invitation and will be working with our supervisors and the calendar to see what might become possible. We discussed the upcoming Easter vacation with our friends, putting some tentative plans in place for them to come our way.

We returned to campus, took part in faculty meetings, and began planning seriously for the second semester (which would begin on 23 March). We talked with colleagues, looked up resources, and began reviewing syllabi.

On Sunday, March 15, we enjoyed dinner at our home with missionary colleagues. We talked about what was happening, but there was no particular sense of urgency about the conversation.

Then the next morning, we, along with all other ELCA long term mission personnel, received a request via email to return to the US as soon as possible because of the coronavirus outbreak. We talked—to each other, to doctor friends, to our family, to mission colleagues. Then a case was diagnosed in Arusha—and the government closed the schools, and then they closed the universities. So—reservations became available—and we rushed to get the house ready to be unoccupied for a while, talked a lot to family and friends, and tried to maintain calm.

Our Dean and a member of the University administration came by to wish us well and pray with us. They shared their own feelings about what was happening and their thoughts of what would happen next. Thinking of these dear people as we left campus, not knowing when we would return, brought me to tears.

The journey was like all the others, in some ways. Although we were travelling from sub-Saharan Africa, most of the people on the flights were white (part of what it means to be white in Africa, which we discussed last month in this space). The planes we boarded were quite full, and the trip was looonnngggg.

Closed restaurant Detroit

And, the journey was very different in other ways. Many people onboard wore masks. Many travelers had cut their trips short and scrambled to get reservations. There were many anxious people on the flight. Surfaces on the plane were being cleaned much more frequently. I got up to get coffee in the middle of the flight, and the KLM flight attendant in the galley asked me where I was going. I shared, and he said, “I hear that many people in the US are buying guns to fight the virus. Is that true?” As we conversed, I reflected on the oddness of the situation for our world at this moment.

We heard from flight attendants about expected layoffs, and thoughts of pooling paid leave days to help out those among their coworkers who needed help. Another shared that as of Saturday, the schedule for Amsterdam-Detroit flights was shifting from five a day to one a day—which would put a lot of people out of work. In the airports, the bars and restaurants were all closed, and the number of people is markedly down. We arrived in the US, still trying to understand where we were and why—knowing we had left our life and work thousands of miles away, and not sure how to respond. In the midst of a global crisis, what is the faithful thing to do?

The advice of Martin Luther , made in 1527 as the plague was ravaging Wittenberg, has been circulating on Facebook: “I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me…If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See – this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not test God.”

Early in the history of the church (251 AD) the second of several epidemics swept through nearly the whole Roman Empire. Bishop Dionysus of Alexandria described the panic: “At the first onset of the disease, [the pagans] pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treated unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease; but do what they might, they found it difficult to escape.” And he described how believers responded to the suffering: “Most of our sisters and brothers showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves…Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their place…”

Although these earlier witnesses did not understand how germs work and their forms of medicine were primitive compared to ours, they still understood contagion and caring, and how Christ was calling them. As William McNeill pointed out in Plagues and Peoples, “quite elementary nursing will greatly reduce mortality. Simple provision of food and water, for instance, will allow persons who are temporarily too weak to cope for themselves to recover instead of perishing miserably.” The Egyptian bishop praised the martyr-like behavior of many of his flock during the plague, yet we can also affirm that a noticeably higher percentage of Christians than pagans survived the epidemic because of this simple ministry of care.

Things are different now; we have better medicines and practices and professionals to administer them, large institutions of medical training and care that didn’t exist in early and medieval times. And yet there are things that are not so different. In most countries, including the US, leaders are unprepared for the crisis.

The gospel has also not changed. We followers of Jesus know that we too must continue to care, even when that must be done as remotely as possible. We must make changes in our ways of living not only for our own safety but for our neighbors, family, and friends. And we also continue to be the people of faith, hope, and love—faith with each other and with God even during uncertain and frightening times; hope that life counts for more than mere physical existence; and the love of God that is greater than death itself. As the apostle Paul put it (Rom 8:35-39): “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

And so let us continue to be careful and full of care. Be in touch with each other. Take part in online worship. Volunteer. Learn the truth and help set people free. As you are able, give. Rest. Ask God for ideas. Pray always. And as you pray, please include Tanzania and Tumaini University Makumira in your prayers. We are very concerned about the strength of the Tanzanian health care system when the number of cases rises.

We so appreciate your support. We could not do what we do without your assistance. As we seek with you to remain faithful during this crisis, we hold Paul’s benediction from I Thessalonians 5:13-22 in mind. John Rutter has set a version of this to music, and a link to a performance of this piece by the Cambridge Singers can be heard at this link.

May God’s grace, peace, love, compassion and strength be with you all.           

Mark Rich and Cynthia Holder Rich