So long Ohio; tunarudi Tanzania

MISSION UPDATE—MARK RICH AND CYNTHIA HOLDER RICH
TUMAINI UNIVERSITY MAKUMIRA, ARUSHA, TANZANIA
OCTOBER 2020

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!

 TEACHING UPDATE

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.

CONGREGATIONAL VISITS

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.

STUDENT RESEARCH

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.

GOD MAKES OUR GARDEN GROW

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)

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT

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.

GRACE AND PEACE TO YOU ALL—CYNTHIA AND MARK

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!

MEANWHILE, IN THE US…

protests_6.5-4
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.

OUR GARDEN GROWS

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!

PRAYER REQUESTS

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

MISSION UPDATE APRIL 2020

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

 

 

MARCH 2020 MISSION UPDATE

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

Being white in Africa

Greetings from Tanzania!

We had some wonderful days over the holidays with our niece, who has lived and served with Peace Corps in Mozambique for the last few years. Reflecting on our conversations led us to some deep thinking about an issue that is clear to everyone here but often difficult to discuss elsewhere: being white in Africa.

We live and serve at a university with over 75 staff and faculty and nearly 4000 students. There are five white folk in that group. We are 2 of them. Everyone knows who we are—students in law, education, and social sciences, whom we have never met and will never teach—they, along with their professors, know who we are. We stand out—not just because of Cynthia’s white hair nor Mark’s great height. No, the color of our skin makes us remarkable and memorable in ways that are different, requiring adjustment on our parts.

We look like early missionaries—and colonists—who arrived in East Africa in the 19th century. We come from and represent a partner denomination—one of a group of 13 partners, all of whom are majority white denominations and organizations, which provide a lot of the university’s financial support. We witness lots of examples of donor-driven activity here—programs that exist because someone—generally a white person—in a foreign city far away decided that the program was needed, or the building should be built, or a staff or faculty member should serve here.

We teach at a university that has one of the best academic libraries in East Africa, a library that holds the largest group of research about the church in East Africa in the world (RESEARCHER FRIENDS TAKE NOTE), and a book and database collection that would look paltry and insufficient for any institution of like size in the US. Our students come to us from an educational system that is underfunded and schools that are overcrowded. These realities have a great impact on what, and how, we can teach.

Over the last three years, we have had a number of students leave campus for a time because of the death of one of their children. Others have left because their wife or husband died. On two occasions, one of our students has died. The terminal illnesses varied in these cases, having only one thing in common: they were all treatable.

We serve in a deeply patriarchal society, the impacts of which splash over into the church. Some parts of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania partner with the ELCA. Others partner with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Our students, and many in the ELCT, perceive that the money of the partners comes with strings attached—either pressure TO ordain women or NOT TO ordain women. Leaders strive to keep all relations with the partners copacetic, while (sometimes openly) resenting the power that these white-led partners in ministry have over ministry here.

All of these issues are impacted by RACE—so being white and serving in Africa, a distinctly non-white space, puts us in positions that are clearly privileged and often painful. Tanzania is in the process of registering all residents with national identification cards. The process includes many steps and lots of visits to different offices. The lines are long and require patience—and for us easily-burned white folk, hats, as we stand in the hot sun. In one of these lines last month, our years in Africa rendered us both not surprised and chagrined when a government official, seeing us through a window, came out and told us to jump the line and come inside. Part of this is because our process is different—and longer—because we are not citizens. Part of it is because we are white. Walking past old people, pregnant women, moms carrying babies, and people with disabilities to get served first is awkward, and it reinforces colonial ideas about race which we work to disrupt.

As white disciples serving in Africa, we really grateful for our colleagues and students, who have welcomed us to ministry here at the University. Serving here offers opportunities for deep conversations about all of these issues in our classes, as race impacts the way we read the Bible, understand mission history, comprehend God, view the church and relate to each other. Being white in Africa has changed us.

Ugandan missiologist Emmanuel Katangole, now a Professor at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, views the sacred act of eating together as a missiological model that bridges differences and creates space for the building of mutual understanding. When you approach the table of our Lord at your congregation’s worship, we invite you to think of the millions of African Christians, joining with you across the miles in the Eucharist. And if you want to experience the power of this sacred act firsthand, we invite you to consider visiting!

In this Epiphany Season, we wish you all new revelations of Jesus’ love and grace, and renewed awareness of God’s presence and power. A blessed New Year to you all!

Peace in Christ,

Cynthia Holder Rich and Mark Rich

 

JANUARY 2020 MISSION UPDATE

Kili Christmas morning 2019
Kilimanjaro early on Christmas Morning 2019

Greetings from Tanzania! Happy New Year!

We had some wonderful days over the holidays with our niece, who has lived and served with Peace Corps in Mozambique for the last few years. Reflecting on our conversations with her has led us to some deep thinking about an issue that is clear to everyone here but is often difficult to discuss elsewhere: being white in Africa.

We live and serve at a university with over 75 staff and faculty and nearly 4000 students. There are six white folk in that group. We are 2 of them. Everyone knows who we are—students in law, education, and social sciences, whom we have never met and will never teach—they, along with their professors, know who we are. We stand out—not just because of Cynthia’s white hair nor Mark’s great height. No, the color of our skin makes us remarkable and memorable in ways that are different, requiring adjustment on our parts.

We look like early missionaries—and colonists—who arrived in East Africa in the 19th century. We come from and represent a partner denomination—one of a group of 13 partners, all of whom are majority white denominations and organizations, which provide a lot of the university’s financial support. We witness lots of examples of donor-driven activity here—programs that exist because someone—generally a white person—in a foreign city far away decided that the program was needed, or the building should be built, or a staff or faculty member should serve here.

We teach at a university that has one of the best academic libraries in East Africa, a library that holds the largest group of research about the church in East Africa in the world (RESEARCHER FRIENDS TAKE NOTE), and a book and database collection that would look paltry and insufficient for any institution of like size in the US. Our students come to us from an educational system that is underfunded and schools that are overcrowded. These realities have a great impact on what, and how, we can teach.

Over the last three years, we have had a number of students leave campus for a time because of the death of one of their children. Others have left because their wife or husband died. On two occasions, one of our students has died. The terminal illnesses varied in these cases, having only one thing in common: they were all treatable.

We serve in a deeply patriarchal society, the impacts of which splash over into the church. Some parts of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania partner with the ELCA. Others partner with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Our students, and many in the ELCT, perceive that the money of the partners comes with strings attached—either pressure TO ordain women or NOT TO ordain women. Leaders strive to keep all relations with the partners copacetic, while (sometimes openly) resenting the power that these white-led partners in ministry have over ministry here.

All of these issues are impacted by race—so being white and serving in Africa, a distinctly non-white space, puts us in positions that are clearly privileged and often painful. Tanzania is in the process of registering all residents with national identification cards. The process includes many steps and lots of visits to different offices. The lines are long and require patience—and for us easily-burned white folk, hats—as we stand in the hot sun. In one of these lines last month, our years in Africa rendered us both not surprised and chagrined when a government official, who saw us through a window, came out and told us to jump the line and come inside. Part of this is because our process is different and longer because we are not citizens. Part of it is because we are white. Walking past old people, moms carrying babies, and people with disabilities to get served first is awkward, and it reinforces colonial ideas about race which we work to disrupt.

As white disciples serving in Africa, we are really grateful for our colleagues and students, who have welcomed us to ministry here at the University. Serving here offers opportunities for deep conversations about all of these issues in our classes, as race impacts the way we read the Bible, understand mission history, comprehend God, view the church and relate to each other. Being white in Africa has changed us.

We are looking forward to congregational visitors this year—a great way to start these kinds of conversations. Ugandan missiologist Emmanuel Katangole views the sacred act of eating together as a missiological model that bridges differences and creates space for the building of mutual understanding. We share some pics below of US college students and our students eating together, experiencing the power of this model. We have no doubt that everyone who takes part in visits here will have this as part of their time. The impact of visiting is both significant and lasting! If you want to talk about coming to see what God is doing here at the university, please be in touch!

We are preparing our 2020 congregational visit schedule. Some dates are reserved, and others are in conversation. Congregations pay for travel, meals and lodging. We expect by March 1 to have the weekends reserved. There are some August, September, October weekends and lots of time during the week available. Contact us soon if you’d like to see us this year! We really look forward to seeing you! Here, some views of our life over the past month, including the visit to campus of a  J-term class of 30 students and their profs from Carthage College, an ELCA school in Kenosha, WI.

As always, we thank you for your support, without which none of this would be possible. Blessings in this Epiphany season! May you see, hear and experience God’s revelation in new and powerful ways as this year begins.

In Christ, Cynthia Holder Rich and Mark Rich

 

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We’re back! Our November 2019 newsletter

MISSION UPDATE    November 2019     Mark Rich and Cynthia Holder Rich

ELCA Mission Personnel serving at Tumaini University Makumira

near Arusha, Tanzania

 We’re back!

After many weeks in the US, we’re back at Tumaini University Makumira, and grateful to be here! We’ve spent a couple weeks greeting friends, setting up life, and preparing to teach. And as always, we’re working to let go one rhythm, one set of rules, one way of doing things in order to pick up another.

We’re back, where if one wants hot water, one turns the hot water heater on.

We’re back, where we filter our water before drinking.

We’re back, where a mosquito net drapes our bed each night.

AND back, where our students are so very grateful for the opportunity to study theology. Back, where colleagues are grateful for our presence, and where we are grateful for their support. Back, to be reminded that in this part of the church, every pastor sees him or herself as called to evangelism, in a highly religiously-pluralistic context where less than half the population is Christian.

We’re back, where we are not in charge. Where the class schedules and course load agreed upon before we left the country have changed in many ways, for reasons beyond anyone’s control. Where students we thought would be here are not and some we didn’t expect are here—also for reasons beyond anyone’s control, including the students’ themselves.

Back, to hear a new Anglican student say he enrolled here because Tumaini is “the best Christian university in the country”, to hear another state how he has been able to apply what he has learned from us in his ministry, to have a woman student come quietly and share how happy she is that we have returned. Back to greet the first students we have had as Bachelor’s students in our time here return for graduate studies. Back to see growth in many areas at the University, and concern expressed in others.

We’re back, and so grateful for the opportunity to be here!

MANY, MANY THANKS to all who welcomed us during our home leave, for visits, classes, worship, presentations, and conversations. We so appreciate you all! Enjoy some pics of our time in the US, and a few from our yard here now, as the short rainy season bursts forth. In this month of All Saints, we’re grateful for all you saints of God!

Peace and love, Cynthia and Mark