Greetings from Tanzania! The rainy season is winding down and “winter”, East Africa style, is here. We think of you all, beginning to come out of Covid precautions and enjoying summer weather. University midterms are over,
and we and our students are busy finishing this academic year.
MISSION FROM THE MARGINS
Every year, Cynthia teaches the BD5 (last year of the Bachelor of Divinity program) course on “Missiology and Ecumenism”. During the course, students read the World Council of Churches’ most recent statement on the mission: Together Towards Life (click on the title to find the link to the statement). Together Towards Life is based on the work of the Holy Spirit in the world and
the church, from the work of the Spirit in creation, with the prophets, with Jesus and in the life of the church from its earliest days; on the work of the Spirit to call the church to unity in mission and witness; and the catalyzing effort of the Spirit which calls us to share the good news as evangelists.
One section of Together Towards Life focuses on Mission from the Margins: how the church is called by the Spirit to name those who are marginalized by the world and the church as leaders of the church’s mission efforts. In class discussion, it became clear that students had read the sentence “mission from the margins” as “mission to the margins. Students began talking of the church’s responsibility to the poor, to take care of the oppressed, to reach out to those who are suffering—all of which is true, and not the point of this section. I
noted what the document said—which took students aback. As we began to discuss this, a few students began to see and to comment on how allowing the marginalized to lead the mission of the church would completely transform what we do and how we do mission. “The poor see things that others do not”, said one. “They would suggest different actions”, said another.
We talked about the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC), the major ecumenical organization on the continent. As the students are well aware, the Rev. Dr. Fidon Mwombeki, a Tanzanian, is the current General Secretary of the AACC. I asked students to reflect: if the AACC, as an ecumenical, international organization of churches, chose their leadership from a mission-from-the-margins model—who would be in leadership? The students quickly noted that among African nations, Tanzania would not be in leadership—mission from the margins among Africans would be led from elsewhere. Where? The answers came quickly. “Central African Republic.” “South Sudan.” “Eritrea.” “Mali.” “Somalia.” “DR Congo.” “Mozambique.” “Burundi.” “Malawi.” “Niger.” And, I asked, what would happen if people from these countries led the church in mission? “We would do different things.” “We would be more activist.” “We wouldn’t accept the inequality.” “We would speak more against oppression.” “We would stand with those who are at the bottom of society.”
Students saw the revolutionary power of a mission-from-the-margins model—how the church and its ministry would be transformed if those who have suffered the most from oppression in the world and the church would lead our efforts. We ended class—and we ask you, as well—by praying for the African nations where people live with the least—who surely will, in Jesus’ words, be first one day.
CHANGES IN AN ENGLISH-SPEAKING COMMUNITY CHURCH
In our four years in Tanzania, we have often preached or worshipped to join friends who were preaching or leading service at Arusha Community Church, an English-speaking, international congregation that founded many years ago. If you look at the pictures on the website of the church, you will see an impressively multicultural, multiracial gathering. Before the pandemic, this was what we experienced most Sundays we attended or led service.
Covid-19 changed the nature and being of Arusha Community Church—like it has with many congregations around the world. The church closed its doors and went online for some months. We took part from the US during the months after we were evacuated. While the church is now worshipping in person, all services are also livestreamed, and a large number of people continue to take part from their homes. In fact, friends of the congregation from many places around the world also take part in worship regularly through the livestreams and the recordings.
We have been struck since we returned to Tanzania with the racial makeup of the congregation. Many expats have left and have not yet returned. Other internationals are planning to leave soon. And, the vitality and strength of the congregation continues to grow. On June 6, 9 young people, all Tanzanian, were confirmed. Each one shared their faith with eloquence and strength. They are being equipped as leaders for the church—a gift to us all in the Body. We were blessed to take part as they were confirmed.
Some of the confirmation student families invited a local choir to join in the celebration. You can see part of their after-service-performance at this link: https://youtu.be/JBLD-JY-9zY.
As the world and the church change, we continue to marvel at the work of the Spirit calling us all to join in God’s mission. We ask you to join us in prayer for the young people confirmed last Sunday, and for the people of the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Eritrea, Mali, Somalia, DR Congo, Mozambique, Burundi, Malawi, Niger, and all who need the care, compassion, and love of God. We thank you for your prayers and support for us. May you know the power, wind, and fiery joy of the Spirit and be moved to share the good news!
In Christ, Cynthia and Mark