Building upon the foundation that was laid

Cynthia and I had a wonderful opportunity to visit the new Cultural Arts Center here at Makumira! We’ve included some pictures of it here, along with these reflections.

To say the center is beautiful is an understatement; it’s stunning. It’s not just a terrific performance venue (built in the shape of a Maasai shield), but also a beautiful library and tech center (built in the shape of a drum), along with a conference center and rehearsal space. A great deal of money from many sources, along with many dreams, plans, inspiration, and prayers went into building it and its programs and staff. Through it, the music and dance forms unique to Tanzania are being built up and spread around the country and the world, to the glory of God.

Of course, this is also true of the whole of Tumaini University and Makumira Seminary before it. The seminary was built here in the 1950s; the university in the 2000s. They were built by people who believed in the gospel and in the people of Tanzania. They saw that it is worth it to invest not just their money but themselves into the growth and future of God’s people here and throughout Africa. They were all joint efforts and investments with the Lutheran sisters and brothers here and their brothers and sisters in Europe and North America.

Now Cynthia and I have been blessed to come teach and learn in this good and beautiful place among our sisters and brothers we had never seen and known before. We do so in the humble awareness that our work has been prepared and made possible by so very many saints from here and around the world before us. What an honor! What a calling!

2000 years ago the Apostle Paul spoke in a similar way to the community at Corinth: “9For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building. 10According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. 11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.”

Please notice a few things here. First, Paul is talking about the community itself and not an actual building. I started out this post talking about buildings, but only in order to point to the people whom God is building up into God’s temple, which is not made with hands. Second, Paul switches from active voice to passive from verse 10 to 11: “like a skilled architect I laid a foundation” to “the foundation that has been laid”. In the Bible generally, the passive voice is used for God’s activity; we call it the divine passive. Paul is doing that here. God has laid the foundation who is Jesus Christ, and that is the only possible true foundation for the church and everything we do together as the church.

Just like the church in Corinth, we Christians often try to build upon other things and other people than Christ. The result is always the same as the Corinthians found – conflict. In the many years of my ordained service in the church, I’ve seen many congregations in conflict or struggling to recover from conflict. Conflict has become nearly endemic to churches. And it is very, very powerful. It took Paul, with all his enormous spiritual gifts and intellectual talents, years to get to the end of that conflict. But he did do so, for the gospel is worth nothing less.

These conflicts always happen when the brothers and sisters of God’s temple forget that their one and only foundation is Jesus Christ. So many other things are presented to us as our real foundation: money, the infallible Bible, an infallible pope, social position, success, some charismatic leader or another, secular power or favor, etc., etc. These are all false foundations, and they always result in conflict. Always! Whenever I see conflict happening in the church, I know that these people have forgotten the One who is their sole foundation, and they are trying to build on something else for some other purpose than God’s reign.

Cynthia and I too are builders. Through teaching and research with our fellow faculty and students here at TUMA, we are building up, along with them, the whole body of Christ for the glory of God.

You too, sisters and brothers, are also builders. “Each builder must choose with care how to build on it.” Let us all do our building while remembering and considering the one foundation that has been laid by God!

If you feel called to help us in our work, please go to our online commitment page. Thank you!

In the peace of Christ,

Mark Rich and Cynthia Holder Rich


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