GREETINGS FROM MAKUMIRA! We write on a sunny day, after many months of grey and chilly Southern Hemisphere cool weather. Spring has arrived, and we are grateful to be able to greet it here one more time.
The past month has been busy with final examinations, reading student theses, and the many meetings that are required to close out the academic year. As always, we had many exams and theses to read, comment on, and grade, and our master’s students orally defended their work. We are grateful that we will continue supervising student research after we leave in October, with both of us having continuing and new relationships with students at all academic levels.
We are happy to continue this part of our work in Tanzania, yet we are also preparing to leave behind many other parts of our life on this campus: dear people, good friends, wonderful ministry we have shared with colleagues. Leaving these will not be easy! We are giving away and selling many things as we prepare to return to the US. Our library—over 1500 books gathered over two PhD-holding pastors’ careers—and the bookcases we had built to hold these were received this week by the staff of the Makumira university library.
We’re grateful to be able to build up the university library here! We gave both our own books and many new volumes that many of our sponsoring congregations and other friends and supporters have given funds to purchase. We plan to revisit the University at least once a year to meet with students whose research we are supervising, so we hope to continue to build on this good foundation. Watching the books and bookcases go out the door inspired us both to remember key moments in our time here, and to thank God for this opportunity. We are also feeling melancholy as we anticipate the grief of leaving this wonderful place. We thank you in advance for your prayers as we transition to the next things God has planned for us both.
Last month, we escaped to the Indian Ocean coast near Tanga to read theses and exams, and to swim daily. We were granted beautiful weather in a beautiful part of God’s creation, to read, to think, and to enjoy the beauty God has gifted to all who live here or are able to visit.
We are reflecting and praying a lot as we prepare for the next adventure to which Jesus calls us. The campus becomes a quiet place after the students leave. We are both engaged in research and writing, while doing needed tasks to be ready to depart next month. This quiet time, before the storm of departure and transition, is a blessing for which we are very grateful.
We continue to pray for you all. Difficult news from the US, with the pandemic, storms and wildfires, and continuing upheaval for many congregations, communities, and families, draws us to think of you all. How are you all faring? Are you back to worship in person, or online, or both? How is ministry going as the pandemic continues?
Next month, Cynthia will co-lead a day-long Bible study with Dr. Angela Olotu, the dean of the Faculty of Theology here, on “Misleading Theologies in the Tanzanian Context”. We were invited by Lutheran Mission Cooperation, an organization of all the international partners with the bishops of the ELCT. The meeting will be held here on campus, and we look forward to good conversations there. On the next evening we will board a plane to return to the U.S.!
Thank you for your continuing support, financial, notes, calls, and messages, and your prayers! Without these gifts, we surely could not have taken this journey, and we couldn’t begin to think clearly about how to journey on from this place.
When we first moved to Tanzania in 2017, Cynthia and I knew that our library collection would never return to the States with us. I just estimated that our combined collection comes to more than 1,400 books!
Our dean of the theology faculty, Rev Dr Angela Olotu, had asked me, Mark, to make a list of the books we will be donating. I foolishly agreed, not thinking that it was that many books. I succeeded in making a list of two shelves of books (about 2.5 meters of books), and that came to 108 books. So with some quick measuring of about 35-37 meters of bookshelves, I came to estimate that we have about 1,400-1,500 books. I can roughly estimate a total value of that collection to around $35,000 to $40,000 US. That’s what comes from two PhDs having lived, worked, and studied in the US for over 40 years!
Having just sent the e-mail making that official offer of our collection to the university, I feel almost like we’ve just lost a member of the family. It’s a shock! These books have moved with us for decades, just like family. One of them I’ve had since I was a child (I’m probably going to bring that one back to the States!).
We are of course making this donation in the hope that the ideas in these books will benefit our students both now and in years and generations to come. Most of our students really have not gotten the idea that books are really for them, because there’s usually such a dearth of books and bookstores here in Tanzania. Buying and reading books are, frankly, a dimension of life only in places of the world where there’s enough money to afford such things.
As you may also have guessed by now, dear reader, this also means that we are planning to leave the university and Tanzania. We will return to the US around October 9 or 10, having finished out our four-year contract. Family matters constrain us to return. We will, however, also continue to visit the university in years to come. We will continue to supervise PhD students. The government is also pushing universities to include online instruction in their offerings, so we hope to continue to teach in that way as well. Mark is also planning to work on fundraising for Lutheran universities in poor countries.
Study Bible for students
The Bibles used by most of our students are the Revised Standard Version, which was first published in 1946 and last revised in 1971. (Later editions appeared with added books such as Maccabees, Sirach, and Wisdom of Solomon). No students in the US use the RSV. American students are using either the New Revised Standard Version (which is a new translation from original texts) or the New International Version or (God help us!) the English Standard Version (ESV).
The one and only reason our students here use the RSV is that it is cheap. The copyrights on that version have lapsed and so it can be published cheaply. It’s not a good translation. It contains many mistakes; it doesn’t use anything close to contemporary English. This is why no one uses it any longer in the US. But it’s what our students can afford.
So I’ve made it a point to buy and bring to Tanzania in our luggage copies of the HarperCollins Study Bible of the New Revised Standard Version, and I’ve been giving them out to students. The students are of course very glad to receive them, and most of them have never had a study Bible before. Some of them do have study Bibles, but those unfortunately are often RC Sproul’s version of the ESV (*groan*). That’s the only study Bible I’ve seen that is actually evil – it actually does harm to women and all the people who love them and appreciate them. (Yes, I’m angry about it…)
Some of you may notice that the Bible on the far left is actually a Lutheran Study Bible from Augsburg Fortress Press, and the one on the far right is the Oxford Press version. So I had some extra study Bibles on hand, and I gave them out too!
The Great Migration in Serengeti
We finally after four years got the chance to visit Serengeti National Park to see the great migration that happens annually between the Serengeti in Tanzania and the Maasai Mara Reserve in Kenya, and back again. It really IS exactly like what the guidebooks and videos say it is! The line of migrating wildebeests and zebras stretches literally from horizon to horizon, thousands of animals walking in a line – not single-file, but close. Here is a map of their migration throughout the year:
Thanks to our good friends and mission colleagues from the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission, Hanna Martikainen and Kimmo Tappanainen, for hosting us on this visit!
We were also blessed to see the great Ngorongoro Crater, a natural wonder of which pictures can never do justice! If you’ve ever seen Crater Lake in Oregon, it’s about that same astonishing magnitude, but with plants and animals in addition.
We look forward to invitations to visit you all, either in-person or online, anytime from now to the end of this year! We are still trying to figure out what our employments will be once we’re back in Columbus, Ohio, in October. God willing, that will work out well and we will continue to serve our Lord Jesus once again back in the United States!
May the peace of Jesus be with us all! Thank you all for your support in the work we are honored to do!
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!
Greetings from Tanzania! The rainy season is winding down, and blue sky is poking through the clouds more often, reminding us that May and June are two of our favorite months here. We are both super busy (2nd semester situation normal), as we work with bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD students engaged in important, original research—on top of a full and over-full schedule of teaching. In 2020, many required courses were not offered as some teaching staff were not present and others were ill and engaged in caring for families. As a consequence, our 3rd year students are currently taking 9 classes—at least 3 more than in a normal semester; and many instructors (including us!) are covering a more-than-regular load.
ADDITIONALLY, 2 projects—one begun in 2018 and another initiated last year—came to fruition this month. Both address issues of how people who are different relate to each other and bring the damage done by historic and ongoing colonialism, with attendant racial overtones, to mind.
RACE AND CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY
In the aftermath of the national and international reckoning about race and justice last year, Cynthia and her brother, the Rev. Dr. R. Ward Holder, a professor at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire, began conversations about the possibility of joint work. Those first discussions culminated in new course designs, grant applications, bicontinental planning, and a teaching and learning experience in Race and Christian Theology. Students were introduced to literature by leading African American and African theologians and discussed these together. Grant funds made it possible to have two African and three African American theologians give lectures online, which students watched and then took part in discussions together with the scholars. 17 Makumira bachelor’s and master’s students took part with over 20 students from Saint Anselm.
We cannot in a short article share all that occurred or what happened for us and within us from working with students on these issues over the past six months. We can say that what has happened has been a remarkable, difficult, at-times-painful, and thoroughly amazing gift of growth and grace. We share here a few responses from participating Makumira students to give you a glimpse.
“I took part in this because I had always thought that all White people hated all Black people. That was my experience, in society and the church. I was interested in what White professors would say about race.”
“Our brains have been colonized to believe that anything good must come from Europe.”
“There is a relationship between patriarchy and the religion of whiteness.”
“How can we solve this? The churches must work to solve the problem of hatred between people.”
“In the church, we talk a lot about things we are not ready to do.”
“The church has responsibility because the church is called to speak for the voiceless. For racism, it has to start with White people…the change must start with them.”
“The church has a prophetic voice around race. If the church can give space for racism to operate, the church can also play a part in ending racism.”
There is SO MUCH MORE to share about these experiences—please be in touch to learn more.
CHRISTIAN ZIONISM IN AFRICA BOOK LAUNCH
We arrived in Tanzania in the fall of 2017. We encountered many things that were new to us—food, culture, language, and ways of life which we had not known before. One thing among those that struck us both was frequent sightings of Stars of David and exhortative sayings on buildings, transit vans, and Bible covers carried by our students into classes, urging all to “Pray for Israel”, for God to bless Israel, and for everyone to stand with Israel. This seemed odd, as there is almost no Jewish community in Tanzania. So what was this all about? We began a learning process that led to engaging research on many fronts, and learning that Christian Zionism, a form of belief and practice centered around a number of ideas, was very much present on the ground and in the churches of Tanzania. Here are a few of these (with the caveat that not all Christian Zionists believe all of these, and there are wide variations in how these beliefs are discussed and understood).
Jesus will return at the end of time to Jerusalem. For this to happen, Israel must be in power in Jerusalem.
The modern state of Israel and the ancient Israel of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are equivalent. That is, the Israelis who live in Israel today—and those who lead them—are the chosen people of God. Not supporting them is denying support to God—no matter what happens.
Blessing Israel is a commandment from God (Genesis 12:3, an oft-quoted text in the movement).
Those who bless Israel will be blessed—as blessing Israel and blessing God are one and the same. Those who curse Israel will be cursed—for the same reason.
Zionism, the idea that Jewish people deserve a homeland where they can live free of the centuries of deadly anti-Semitic thought and action—which continue today with tragic results—has led to much international action on legal and geopolitical fronts, and to the establishment of the State of Israel. Christian Zionism is a newer phenomenon which has some of the same goals as Zionism and some that are very different—the return of Jesus at the end of time as a primary example.
While Christian Zionism has its roots in Britain and history in the US church, the movement has moved into many poor countries across the globe—including many in Africa. Many of the formerly colonized peoples of Africa were less than open to the new Israeli state’s overtures, particularly after the Six-Day War of 1967 and the 1973 Yom Kippur War, which both ended with much-increased territory, taken from land that had been granted to form a Palestinian state. Moves by Israel and Christian Zionist organizations have worked to change the initial reluctance of many African leaders to work with and support Israel. Israel has offered military and development aid to many countries on the continent, in return for their support of Israel and for not recognizing Palestine in international forums. Christian Zionist organizations, many of which are staffed and funded from the US, are very active in Africa, spreading the message that support of Israel is necessary for economic growth, and that it is the only faithful way to worship God.
We began working toward what became Christian Zionism in Africa (click on the title to purchase the hardcover or e-book) in 2018. 14 scholars from across Africa took part. The book was to be published in early fall 2020—a date the pandemic did its best to slow down. Publication came in December. The book launch was held as rockets flew over Gaza and Israel and the daily death toll and reports of suffering mounted. Everyone present was aware of what is at stake in the positions Christians take and how we use our power in the world—particularly in Israel and Palestine. The issues at hand are difficult and complex. As with the discussions of race and theology noted above, there is so much more to say. We pray for the coming of a just peace, the end of occupation, and for all who follow Jesus to take up the challenge of working to discern the way toward an end to bloodshed in the land called Holy.
As many congregations work to reopen in safety and health in the US, our prayers for you and your ministries continue! May the Holy Spirit fill you will power for ministry in this Pentecost season. Thanks so much for your continued support! Cynthia and Mark
From top left, then clockwise: Pr Godluck Kitomari, theology faculty; Book launches are fun!; Prof Dr Ismail Mbise, Deputy Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, receives a copy of the book for the TUMa Library; Dr Nehemiah Moshi, contributor and member of Faculty of Theology; Legal scholar Sara Ryan, contributor; Dr Benjamin Parsalaw, contributor, Faculty of Law; Dr Samuel Mhajida, University of Dar es Salaam historian and contributor.
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
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.
RACE AND CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY
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.
MISSION ENGAGEMENT 101
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?”
GRADUATE STUDENTS PROPOSE RESEARCH PROJECTS
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!
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…”
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.
UNIVERSITY GRADUATION 2020!
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!!!
ADVENT BLESSINGS TO 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.
Grace and peace to you all in this holy season! Cynthia and Mark
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
GOD MAKES OUR GARDEN GROW
That brings us tomatoes!
Even if only in a pot
Gardening still happens
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.