The Sound of Resurrection

Lent and Easter arrive in the fall in Tanzania, after the hot summer months. Christmas is celebrated when it is hot, and by Easter, the weather is cool. Christians in northern Tanzania expect to celebrate Easter wearing their warmer clothes—and they hope the day will bring the need for umbrellas as well.

During our first Lenten season here in 2018, people often remarked to us how much it was raining. As we were new, we didn’t know why that was remarkable. After a while, we asked about it. We learned that 2018 was remarkable for its rains, for it was the first year in many that the fall rains were “normal” – that is, it rained most every day from March-May. If you do a web search for times to visit, you will be discouraged from coming then, because of the rain. Some of our favorite restaurants close as so few tourists arrive, because of the rain. It’s hard to take part in my favorite form of exercise—swimming—because of the rain. Books and tablecloths in houses start to grow mold—because of the rain. It rained so much last year that we both got pretty tired of being cold last year. With no indoor heating, the moisture in the cool air can make everyone feel pretty chilled.

hail on March 6
Hail on March 6

So, we thought we knew what to expect this year. We brought warm pjs, flannel sheets, and sweaters back from the US, confident that we were now prepared. BUT this year is different than last year. This year, we had a few days of rain in late February, and we both thought the rains had begun. We even had hail, a new experience for us here, in early March.

And then the rains stopped. From March 6 to March 30—one short shower all told. For the first month of what is supposed to be the fall rainy season, we had very, very little rain. Our lawn got increasingly crunchy. The campus got increasingly dusty. The dust in our home was everywhere. Days were hot. Nights were humid and stuffy. People with respiratory conditions struggled. Everyone prayed for rain.

dust storm
A dust storm near Arusha

Finally, on March 31, the rains started. Since then, we have had 8 days where at least some rain has fallen. Sometimes it has rained all night long. We, like everyone else in northern Tanzania, are so happy to see and hear it. Some nights, we snuggle under our warm blankets, lulled to sleep by the sound of falling rain. When it rains, everyone is so very happy. And everyone is so very concerned.

A regular, reliable rhythm of the rains in this part of the planet is needed in its season to ensure the continuation of life here in its many forms. The “short” rainy season in November 2018 was almost a non-event. The delayed long rainy season raises anxiety for everyone, from herdsmen, to farmers, to market sellers, to everyone buying in the market, and to even those involved in the very large tourist industry—for if the rains would go away and dry up altogether, the animals the tourists come to see would leave too.

As we waited for the rains to start, I thought about a book I read a few thousand times to our children, Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain by Verna Aardema. As the title suggests, the story, set in East Africa and echoing an ancient tale, is told in rhyme. Ki-pat, a Maasai man who looks like many who live here in the Arusha area, shot down the rain with a special arrow and bow he fashioned using an eagle feather. His actions ended a time of drought when “the rains were so very belated that all of the big wild creatures migrated”. It’s a fun story, and the artwork looks much like the area where we live. The last pages look just like a Maasai boma.

Bringing the rain to Kapiti Plain

We still like and highly recommend the book. And we have come to understand why a lack of rain is part of many African tales.  Ki-pat’s scrawny cows were saved when he shot down the rain, but today, no one is looking for eagle feathers to solve the problem of increasing drought. Everyone is thrilled and grateful when it rains, and deeply concerned when it does not. Everyone in this agriculturally-based society knows that a few days of rain will not prove enough. The cumulative impact of fully four months of rain a year is needed to nurture life here. So a delay or a shortening in the rains makes everyone worry.

Watching Our Planet, the new documentary narrated by David Attenborough, early in this rainy season put much of the anxiety Tanzanians are feeling into a broader context. The stark and chilling impacts of climate change globally are undeniable, as the amazing videography demonstrates. Damage has been done. We have changed our planet home—we have harmed it. At times, the harm seems irreparable. One rational reaction to watching Our Planet might be to throw up our collective hands and to say, “Well, that’s it. Game over. There’s no use in trying. We have done irreversible damage, and there’s nothing we can do.”

And by the grace of our loving Creator, that would be patently untrue. NO, I am not trying to be a Pollyanna, to look unthinkingly on the bright side, or to shut my eyes to what the world around me is saying. I am sharing a claim of faith.

God has gifted us with a creation that regenerates and revises course as circumstances change and when needed. As many of the episodes demonstrate, God’s creatures and creation are wondrously adaptable. Many times over the course of the planet’s history, adaptation and regeneration has been required, and at those times, as scientific researchers have documented, adaptation has occurred. God’s creation is indeed very good.  For many of these moments of change and adaptation, humans were not part of the equation. God’s creation has adaptability built-in to regenerate and bring resurrection where it seemed death would have the last word.

Now, at this moment when change is needed, we are here, and as the Psalmist reminds us, we have been made “a little lower than God” (Psalm 8:5). This has given us enormous power, and with this power comes responsibility. God has created us, equipped us with intelligence and imagination, and called us to be stewards of the gift of creation. At this moment of climate crisis, we are called to steward better—much better—than we have in the last 50 years.

Easter reminds us that God has created life with a rhythm—birth, death, resurrection, new birth—and then the cycle begins again. The sound of resurrection here in Tanzania is the sound of the rain falling upon the land. The rains remind us that birth and death have come, and that God continues to bring new life where only death existed before. As we thank God and celebrate Easter for the inestimable gift of new life in Jesus, we praise God for the rains, and pray that the whole human community will decide to take our faithful role, that resurrection, regeneration, and adaptation may come again.

We thank you in advance for adding prayers for rain here in East Africa to your devotional life.

Eastertide blessings,

Cynthia Holder Rich               and                  Mark Rich             

And check here for a look at the precious rain in our thirsty yard.



Lenten reflections from Tanzania

In this Lenten season, I have been pondering IDENTITY: how people find and form identity—just how we figure out who we are. Identity is about what it means to be me, or you, or us, and just what happens so that we, or you, or I came to our/your/my sense of self.

The news in this Lenten season is chock-full of identity stories. There are stories of identities formed around hate of the other: the massacre at two mosques in New Zealand, the defacing of headstones at a Jewish cemetery in Massachusetts, moves to remove the citizenship of all non-Jews in Israel. For many—or most—involved in these activities, hate—the desire to destroy—forms a significant, and sometimes consuming, part of their identity.

There are those whose identities are formed through fear. Fear of those coming over the border, or fear of people who are different, or fear of people whose faith is unlike their own—these fears are very powerful, and often, contagious. All human beings are at risk of infectious fear impacting their identities.

And there are stories of identities formed through living through disasters: horrific loss of life in the Ethiopian Airlines crash, loss and transformation of life through flooding in Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri, and obliteration of whole communities in Mozambique. No matter what happens to those who are left behind after these disasters happen, their lives, and their understandings of life, will have gone through a process of involuntary reformulation. Their identities will change—indeed, they are changing even as you read this.

And sometimes, we see people forming identity through disagreement with others. I communicated with one of my legislators, encouraging a vote on a particular issue. My mistake—I communicated on the legislator’s social media page, which gave some people who disagree with me the chance to respond. I was called stupid, ignorant, unthinking, and irresponsible. And then, a couple days later, I received word from one who communicated his “hope that your family would be violently attacked.” At least one person so disagreed with me that part of his identity was a burning desire that I and those I love the best would be personally harmed.

Identity is a key part of the journey of faith. A couple stories illustrate.

We serve in a context that is unapologetically patriarchal. We are grateful that the church we serve here, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT), voted some years ago to ordain women. Some of our students have shared that the decision to ordain women only came after pressure from northern partner churches, including the church that appointed us, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Since then, some partners, including the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, have pressured some dioceses to stop ordaining women. Both the first decision, for ordination, and the second, against ordination, have been backed up with funding support. Women’s ordination is very much a contended issue in the church and among our students. Our women students carry this contentious issue in their bodies, their spirits, and their identities. Many of our women students are quiet in class, not volunteering answers nor asking questions. Many of them will come to the teacher on a class break and say, in a very low, nearly inaudible voice, “I’m sorry, Dr., I have a question.” To have to be sorry to have a question—to know that one’s vocation is an issue about which faith leaders disagree—this is formational for the identity of our women students. It is formational, as well, for the men—who either grieve and protest the patriarchy, or quietly—and sometimes more outwardly—support it as a principle of faith.
Last month, leaders of the United Methodist Church from across the globe gathered to discuss their common identity, and what role sexual identity and orientation play in that identity. Living in Africa, we were not disinterested observers, although neither of us is United Methodist. The votes taken did not settle the identity issues on the table, although some may have hoped for consensus. Some commentary since the meeting about the impact of “the Africans” taking part has been significantly short of the nuance and complexity required. When disciples from richer countries and disciples from poorer countries gather with the implicit/explicit agreement that their identity includes equality in discussion and decision-making, a great deal of care is needed. This is particularly true when the gathering includes former colonists and formerly-colonized folk, gathering both at decision-making tables and the table where Jesus is our host. So many issues of identity fly around the room at such meetings! There are no easy ways to discern identity or form common identity. So, we can see energy put to answer questions of who is to blame—who is identified as wrong—which in these contexts, we often see labelled not just as “wrong”, but, more strongly and punitively, as “unfaithful”. When we see people deciding that they are able to define the identities of others in the community of disciples, we need to pay attention, slow down, and take particular care.

I’m preaching in a couple weeks, and the scriptures for the Sunday are all over this question of identity. The people of Israel eat of the produce of the land and their own labor, and at that moment the gift of manna ceases to fall upon them. Their identity changes, in the providence of God, from receiver to producer (Joshua 5). Members of the church at Corinth are encouraged to understand that in Jesus, their identity has changed. This change is so thorough-going that they will see everyone else differently, and that their own identity has become one of ambassadors for Christ (II Corinthians 5). And Jesus shares parables of the lost (Luke 15)—sheep, coins, and a son. The son, in particular, goes through a process of identity formation, and reformation, and reformation yet again. Finally, he who identified as lost, as slave, as not worthy is identified as worthy, as beloved, as found.


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Every year during Lent, we travel the road of identity formation, of discerning what it means to find our identity in our Savior, of thinking through questions of who Jesus is, and so, who we are. We struggle, truth be told, to find our identity in Christ. Much too often, we find our identity in hate—in disagreement—in how we are more faithful than others, who we label unfaithful or much more awful names. Much too often, we attack others on the basis of their gender, their race, their orientation, their lifestyle, or how many diplomas they have on their wall or how many dollars are in their accounts. Every Lent, faced with the reality of our own sin in identifying with everything but Jesus, we wonder where hope can be found. Every Lent, we despair, we agonize, and we struggle, asking with Paul: “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).

And then, without fail, the One who sought the lost sheep, who sees God in the woman who found the lost coin, who ran to greet the lost son—this very One comes to greet us, and to kiss us, and to adorn us with festal garments. This One is not asking who we are or what we have done—because this One KNOWS US better than we know ourselves. This One, even Jesus, knows that we ARE WORTHY, we ARE VALUABLE, and because we are dearly loved, we can share this with all who are lost, and lonely, and afraid.

Disciples are given this holy season for many reasons. Here are just two. We receive the season of Lent so we can think about our identity, and how we have formed our identity through emotions, thoughts and values that do not reflect Christ—that are, in fact, part of how we sin. And, we also receive this season so that we have at least one time a year when Jesus can remind us of how he sees us. May we all take this precious time as the gift that it is and come to Holy Week ready to recommit ourselves to seeing ourselves, and others, as Jesus sees us all.

Cynthia Holder Rich

February 2019 Mission Update

GREETINGS TO YOU ALL! We write on a hot day, as first semester classes have come to an end. We are thinking of you all—particularly those living through weather that is dangerously cold, icy, and snowy.


We both have been blessed by good education, at public school, university, and graduate levels. We often think of those who taught and formed us, and from whose mentoring we continue to draw as we teach students here. Of the many things that we have been taught, critical thinking is among the most valuable, whether the subject matter was music, philosophy, art, aesthetics, theology, ethics, economic development or ministry.

We have come to value this part of our education even more as we teach and work with students who have not had this kind of educational background. Most of our students have learned in overcrowded classrooms, with few teaching materials available, in an educational culture convinced that the teacher holds all the wisdom in the room. Our students arrive at University having learned well—and excelled in learning—how to conform to expectations, how to repeat what has been told, and how to not (that is, never, ever) challenge authority. Educators and educational administrators come by this approach to teaching honestly. This is a legacy passed down by colonial and mission leaders, who had no interest in encouraging critical thinking among the colonized. Once this approach was established it became very difficult to uproot.

Additionally, Tanzania is an incredibly beautiful land—and a very poor country, where teaching, like lots of the other activities of life and ministry, is just harder than it is in countries that have more resources. For example, some of the lecture classes here at the University have 700 students in the class. It would be great to have smaller classes and interact more with students—and that doesn’t happen because the funds needed to hire more teachers aren’t in the budget.

Finally, the teaching of critical thinking skills may bring questions to, and from, those in power. Paulo Freire, whose very important book Pedagogy of the Oppressed was published 50 years ago, was arrested, tortured and exiled by Brazilian authorities for his work empowering poor people through education. Freire spoke against what he called the “banking” model of education—where students enter as empty vessels and teachers deposit knowledge—and spoke for education as freeing people for critical thought and action. Half a century later, Brazil’s current leaders see Freire’s work as dangerous. Thinking critically carries risk.

Our students are preparing to serve as pastors and leaders for the church. For all of us as disciples, thinking critically about one’s culture is a required part of following Jesus. Jesus calls this, “loving the Lord your God with your whole mind” (Mark 12:30). It is also one of the most difficult things about discipleship—to commit each day to following, both when it confirms our cultural values and when it conflicts with them. This is hard for disciples in the US. It is equally hard for disciples in Tanzania.

We are working with our students toward a more integrated ecclesiology—a more fulsome understanding of church, where the people of God, each and every one, gather, bringing their individual gifts together to build holy community. To approach the church in this way takes open minds and hearts, and an inspired curiosity about what God might have in store for the future. It takes faith in the power of the Spirit to change the present. It takes sacred imagination. It takes critical thinking.

To help students move from educational and ministry goals like conforming and repeating, toward goals of thinking and imagining—this is often not an easy task. It takes a lot of work, and there are some days when we both wonder if progress is happening. And, by God’s grace, we are regularly granted the opportunity to witness when the change, the integration, and the joy of transformative ideas happens for a student. When that happens, it is wondrous to behold.

We are both blessed with experiences of this wonder regularly. This month, we share some pictures from Cynthia’s Introduction to Christian Education class, where Paulo Freire’s work is part of the curriculum, and where student groups taught on grace, salvation, nonviolent approaches to change, freedom, forgiveness, and more—and encouraged us in the class to think critically about Scripture and faith.

In the coming months, we will share about our work supervising student research, where we are often gifted with the chance to glimpse students integrating their faith, their education, and the quickening of the Spirit to grow our common understanding of faith and ministry in Africa and beyond. These kinds of experiences make us so grateful for the opportunity to do this work. Your support makes our teaching here possible. We can’t thank you enough!


We were pleased to welcome visitors to campus from Carthage College, an ELCA school in Kenosha, WI, last month. Both the Women’s Choir and a J-Term class on Religion in Africa visited Tumaini University Makumira. One of the professors for the class, the Rev. Dr. Andrea Ng’weshemi, is an alum of Tumaini and a former ELCT pastor. He and Dr. Fatih Harpci of Carthage’s Religion faculty brought 32 students to TZ. Some of our students took time to visit with Carthage students about research. And the concert given by the Women’s Choir made for a wonderful evening!

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We live in a wonderful place, and we daily thank our Creator God for all the bounty and beauty of the world. There are so many reasons that Tanzania is one of the top tourist destinations in Africa. Here’s a few pics from the glories we have seen over the last month.

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We are in the process of planning congregational visits for August, September and October 2019. Our weekends are filling up—there are just a few Sundays available. Midweek dates are very open Please be in touch soon if you want us to come! We look forward to meeting many of you later this year.

AND, if you or a congregation you know are interested in joining with us on this journey of mission, witness, and service—please let us know! We can point you to a variety of ways that you can take part through prayer, virtual and physical visits, and financial support.

Our prayers for you all, and for your ministries, continue. Blessings as you seek to follow Jesus where you are! Thanks for helping us follow Jesus in this place.


Mark ( and Cynthia ( and on FB M & C in TZ

Our January 2019 Newsletter – Living in God’s Garden

In most of our newsletters we talk about our work and the work of the ELCT – and that’s normal. It’s why we’re here and it’s why you support us; to do God’s work among God’s people, our sisters and brothers in Tanzania. There will be lots more of that news in months and years to come. But this time, I want to talk about another aspect of God’s work here in this part of God’s good earth: the plants and their environment.

If you take a good look on Google Maps at our campus, you easily see that we live in a beautiful garden. Let me illustrate that with a small satellite snapshot of TZ:

tanzania capture

This is a recent Landsat pic of our part of northern Tanzania. You can easily see the green zones around both Mt Kilimanjaro to the right and Mt Meru to the left. The blue dot is our campus, just inside the year-round garden zone that Meru provides. Outside those gardens many of the lands are semi-arid, turning green or brown depending on the rainy or dry seasons. Inside them, where we live, the land is green and lush all year round. The rice farms just outside campus grow rice year-round – three crops a year. The same is true of all the other grains, vegetables, and fruits.

Much of Tanzania is semi-arid, producing crops just once a year. Other parts are lush, growing year-round. Where we live the extinct volcanos force rain (and on Kili, snow!), thus creating these year-round Edens in the midst of semi-aridity. Even on the above pic you can see the multitudes of streams that flow out from each mountain. Our campus water supply comes directly from one of those springs, giving us fresh clean water all year! Inside both Arusha and Kilimanjaro National Parks are rain forests.

The climate scientists tell us that one of the major effects of climate change may be that the global mechanism that brings rain to the tropics (the ITCZ) will narrow. People here report that the rains are less certain, which is a very serious problem for poor countries that depend so heavily on agriculture. The short rains didn’t happen a couple years ago, and many people in several places in Tanzania simply starved. We here in the garden around the mountains do not worry for ourselves, but we must worry for our neighbors.

But let us also celebrate the works of God in the extraordinary plants around us! Here are just a few of them.

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So, allow me to close with some theology…

God’s works are so much greater than ours! More beautiful, stronger, stranger, more brilliant, so full of life.

We cannot do our job of witnessing to the glory of God and the gospel of God unless we see and enjoy and love ALL the works of God, including those that are not about us and for us. We have to find our place within God’s works, and not imagine that God’s works are all about us. All of these beautiful works witness to the great glory and majesty of God just as much as does the gospel – Glory be to God for ALL of God’s work!


Please check out our FB page M&CinTZ, where Cynthia has posted even more Tanzania and Zanzibar pics. We’ll post this newsletter, as always, on our webpage

Soon we will begin to make arrangements for our congregation visits in August, September, and October! We look forward to seeing even more of you all!

We SO appreciate all our sponsors! If you or your congregation would be interested in sponsoring our work, please contact us!

In the peace of Christ,

Mark Rich and Cynthia Holder Rich



Cynthia Holder Rich and Mark Rich,

in Tanzania for the ELCA

Serving with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania

 Advent peace and joy to you! This month, Cynthia reflects on the meaning of mission and the good news of great joy brought to all people—with the call to fear not!

 In our first foray in international mission service we moved to Madagascar in 1998 with our young family. I had been serving as pastor of a congregation in Illinois, where I left a group of great people with whom I had wonderful friendships. Many members followed our life and work overseas, sending words of encouragement and much-appreciated care packages. One friend was particularly fascinated, sending lots of questions and comments on what we shared. We had a lively correspondence, the kind that we who live and serve far from both family and all things familiar really enjoy.

In the same year, Barbara Kingsolver’s novel The Poisonwood Bible was published. The story of the Price family, posted to the Congo before independence, became very popular in the US and encouraged many to reflect on what mission is/was about. The protagonist, mission pastor Nathan Price, wants to “save Africa for Jesus”. His mission fails, in part because he encourages people to accept baptism in a crocodile-infested river. The rest of the family eventually leave Congo, having had a perfectly horrible experience (including one child’s death), abandoning Nathan to his weird obsessions about his misguided work. Some used the publication of the book as a convenient opportunity to take part in what they were already predisposed to do: denigrate all mission activity and all missionaries. According to those in this camp, all mission personnel were no more than dense and ridiculous blunderers, people who dismissed and decried local cultures and ritual life while imposing their own cultural values and religious sensibilities in ways that were colonial and imperial. End of story.

SO, when my Illinois friend wrote that she had just completed The Poisonwood Bible, and that she now understood SO MUCH MORE, SO MUCH MORE DEEPLY, about what we were up to in Madagascar—I spent days in something of a foul mood.

Last week, I had moments to reflect on these events when another “missionary”, not a fictional character but all-too-real, died after attempting to “bring the Gospel” to what he called “the last stronghold of Satan”. Repeatedly and illegally visiting an island that the Indian government had long listed as out of bounds for any except its inhabitants, white US citizen John Allen Chau came close to inhabitants, yelling at them (presumably in English, which islanders do not speak) that Jesus loved them, and finally paid people to drop him off on shore. When his transport team came back the next morning, they witnessed his body being buried on the beach.

Responses have been quick and predictable.

Some have called Chau a martyr, and have reminded us that missionary work is dangerous.

Others have decried his missionary quest, pointing out his missiological errors.

Still others have found a new opportunity to raise questions about the whole mission enterprise, questions that the work of authors like Kingsolver and James Michener (check out the Rev. Abner Hale in Hawaii for another exemplar of the missionary fool, and for narratives of disease epidemics brought by Europeans which echo current concerns for people on the island Chau sought to visit) raised in other eras.

As our professional lives have been defined in many ways by international mission service, this is a painful moment.

To be sure, we grieve for those who loved John Allen Chau. Advent is marked for them, this year and in years to come, by this loss.

And, in Advent, we who follow the Prince of Peace must contemplate what it means to bring “good news of great joy” to all.

Mission is about bringing this news. As we tell our students, the bringing of this news, whether in preaching, teaching, or living testimony in service and ministry—the bringing of this news must be done in the best, most skilled ways the gifts God has given make possible for each of us. We cannot afford to be boring, slipshod, or unprepared. We are bound—obligated—called to do our best in bringing the best news that ever was.

(And yes, friends, we can tell stories of being unprepared when the Spirit bailed us out. These stories do not provide an excuse to be unprepared. They are evidence of the amazing grace of our loving, compassionate, understanding and forgiving God, not a foundation on which to build a life of ministry, witness and service.)

Here in Tanzania, we serve among people whose lived memory of brutally formational colonization colors the way they understand the Gospel. As those who brought the good news came with the colonists—and sometimes, collaborated with the colonizers with the aim of benefitting European powers and robbing Tanzanians—the good news they brought came with baggage. Patriarchy, misogyny, hatred and demonization of the other, a high value on whiteness and lighter-colored skin tones, and a love for submission that was built into church practice and doctrine—all of these and more came with the good news.

The good news is, this good news—the news brought by angels to Mary, Joseph, shepherds, Elizabeth, John, and the Magi and a host of others—the same good news brought to nearly every corner of this wide earth—this good news is sufficiently powerful that it has and does shine through the many layers of twisted stuff that has come with it.

The bad news is, the twisted stuff is often understood as and confused with the good news.

Many of our students have identified and are writing about particularly Tanzanian ways of understanding and seeing the Gospel at work, assiduously removing layers of cultural baggage to find the treasure within. This is God’s doing and it is amazing before our eyes. In a context where many kinds of oppression and injustice rip voice, life and health from people, the amazingly visible, tangible, and transformational good news is sure and true, making a real difference. To see our students working to find and proclaim it is awe-inspiring.

To be in mission means to walk with people as they discover and join in this work. To be in mission is to glory in and to point out what God is doing and how Jesus is changing lives and giving life. To be in mission is to open oneself to learning—to correction—to confession and repentance when one has wronged others, no matter the cause. To be in mission is to live the good news, focusing on Jesus and following his example of loving all, breaking every boundary, and standing with outcasts and all those the world excludes. To be in mission is to fear not.

All who follow Jesus are called to mission. Twisted cultural baggage confused with the good news is not a problem particular to Africa or to poor communities. Colonized minds, belief systems and theologies/ideologies can be found everywhere the good news has been proclaimed—not just in Tanzania. Naming injustice and lifting up those who are oppressed—Jesus calls all disciples to this work. All who follow Jesus are sinners. To be in mission, wherever one lives and serves, means being committed to continued learning, listening, and growth toward authentic sharing of the Gospel’s truth. To be in mission is to answer the call to turn away from fear and toward the love Jesus calls us to share.

As Advent dawns, we recommit to bringing Jesus’ good news in the best ways we can discern, and to continue to grow in our abilities so to do. In a broken and fearful world, we are given courage by the Spirit for this work. All with whom we are in mission—those here in Tanzania, our mission colleagues near and far, and all of you who follow and support our work—help us to continually grow in our understanding of what mission is. We look forward to a year of growing in this knowledge together. Thanks for sharing this sacred journey with us.

Advent blessings, Mark Rich (

and Cynthia Holder Rich (



We returned to our home in Tanzania a couple days ago, exhausted from travel, thoroughly jetlagged, and grateful for a safe journey. We’ve been unpacking, resetting internet and phone service, greeting friends and colleagues, and marveling at the sights, sounds, taste and feel of life here.

–Mandarins are in season. These are very sweet, easy to eat, and contain many seeds. A handy plate is a must.

–The small bananas (sometimes referred to in US markets as “baby” bananas, a misnomer as they are this small when full-grown) are just as sweet and tasty—much more so than those generally available in the US—as we remember. Mark took a quick look through our patch of banana plants, and we now have FIVE huge bunches growing! We have no idea how we will deal with them all – but we’re pretty sure our gardener does!

–Pineapples, too, are smaller, sweeter, and more tasty than counterparts available elsewhere.

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–The fall rains have begun. As I write this, it has rained for nine hours, and it is still raining. This shorter rainy season should come to an end in late November or early December, just in time for all the holiday tourists to arrive.

–The rains bring cool and damp weather. Many in the US picture Africa as hot and dry all over—one big continent where it is always and everywhere breathlessly warm. When travelling in the US, we are often asked how we are handling the “cold” fall weather, as we are thought to be acclimated to high heat. As we live on the slopes of a major mountain, the image of hot and dry Africa doesn’t fit our context. Overnight temps are in the low 60’s year-round, and daytime temps range from in the 60s (like today, when it is raining), to the high 80s-low 90s (in January and February, before the longer rains begin). Houses are not heated, and it is almost always colder inside than out. The weather calls for many days and nights of bundling up. We made a few trips to secondhand stores when we were in the US to stock up on fuzzy socks, flannel pjs and sheets, and sweatshirts for use on these cold, damp days and nights.

–We are getting back into the groove of the practices of life here: filtering water; turning on the water heater when we need it hot (and turning it off when we don’t have such a need), and sleeping under a mosquito net.

–While we live on a university campus, we still hear many more sounds of the local fauna than we did in Columbus, OH. On our first night back, along with a host of insects and other birds, hornbills and colobus monkeys were active. The hornbills are all over campus, and are apt to call anytime of day or night—often in our yard. They are both loud and argumentative with others of their species. We hear the colobus from up the slopes of the mountain. Although we haven’t seen them, we hear them often. Their call our first night was a lovely welcome home. Take a listen for them on this audio recorded near our home—you can hear hornbills calling right before the colobus get going, around 3:30 on this file ( ).

–The campus is still pretty deserted, as classes have not yet begun. We look forward to the return of students and colleagues in coming days. Our calendars are slowly filling with assigned courses, faculty meetings, and supervisory sessions. As we prepare for the coming academic year, we are grateful for our time away and for the chance to return to this amazing part of God’s good creation.




September 2018 Mission Update

In Tanzania for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Serving with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania

Greetings to you all from Columbus, Ohio! We are in the US during the break between academic years, spending time with our children and handling business that is very much easier to address from a US address. As we prepared to come stateside, we took part in two important conferences for which the ELCA took a leadership role: the ELCA/ELCT Bishops’ Summit, and the 1st Annual International African Lutheran Conference. We were grateful to take part as observers. These conferences evoked deep gratitude and raised deep questions about a central issue for our work: What does it mean to be in relationship, to be brothers and sisters, with people whose lives, cultures, and experience of church are so very different? Or, more simply: What is it to be in mission today?

In his opening address to the Bishops’ Summit, ELCT Presiding Bishop the Rev. Dr. Frederick Shoo stated that “Companionship is not for the weak, nor the faint of heart.” The ELCA’s Companion Synod program, begun decades ago with ELCT dioceses and now encompassing churches around the world, includes 20 companion relationships between US and Tanzania. All the bishops involved from the US and Tanzania were invited to take part, along with representatives from their dioceses or synods. There are six ELCT dioceses which do not have ELCA companion synods; bishops from these newer dioceses also took part.

We saw a number of issues emerge, including:

  • Profound and lasting joy in relationship. It was wonderful to see disciples from very different contexts be so excited and happy to see each other. Relationships built over years made for wonderful reunions. We were blessed by being able to take part as this happened.
  • Different styles of companionship. Some ELCA synods contribute significant levels of funding to their companions, and others contribute much less. Some synods send people every year—or even many times a year; others have not sent visitors for years. Some synods support their ELCT companions to visit the US, while other relationships have not done so. These different styles have inadvertently created a sense of inequity for some in the relationships between ELCT members and leaders
  • Decline in ELCA membership/funding while the ELCT grows. When the companion synod program began there were many more members and much more funding available for mission relationships from the ELCA. Since the beginning of companion synod relationships between the ELCA and the ELCT, the ELCT has experienced precipitous growth. ELCA synods have 120 relationships with Lutheran partners around the world, with many synods having more than one relationship. As was clear during the summit, new dioceses are looking for companion synods—while many ELCA synods are already feeling stretched in their current relationships.
  • Who gets to decide? How can the clear and often thorny dynamics of power and privilege in companion synod and diocese relationships be faithfully negotiated? Issues of race, gender, language, history—both wonderful and painful—and the issue of money and the power to give and receive were repeatedly raised in conversations.
  • Deep gratitude for God’s amazing grace. In worship, in song, in prayer, around tables and the Table, the grace of God did not fail to show up and surprise. All the issues, questions, and complex concerns did not dim the real and present participation in God’s Spirit together, and the shared sense of how indebted we all and each are to God for the opportunity to be in relationship.

The First Annual International African Lutheran Conference began with the closing service of the Bishops’ Summit, as all participants gathered around the Table for worship and communion. As with the Bishops’ Summit, the ELCT served as gracious host for the IALC. Lutherans from across the continent gathered with Lutherans from the African diaspora, including many from the US. Issues and challenges facing African and African-American Lutherans were discussed. African speakers included the new General Secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches, the Rev. Dr. Fidon Mwombeki, a clergy member of the ELCT; the Rev. Dr. Elieshi Ayo Mungure, Area Secretary for Africa for the Lutheran World Federation, also clergy in the ELCT; and Bishop Ernst Gamxamub, president of the Lutheran Church of Namibia. Speakers from the US included the Rev. Dr. Wyvetta Bullock, Assistant to Presiding Bishop of the ELCA; the Rev. Dr. Joseph Bocko, ELCA African National Ministries Program Director; and the Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Grantson, an ELCA pastor serving a church in Maryland who grew up in Ghana, and who currently serves as the Chairperson of the IALC.

The conference resulted from years of work among Lutherans in the US and Africa, including some challenging conversations about what issues to discuss and how to hear and listen to each other. Issues challenging African-American Lutherans in the US are often quite different than the challenges facing Lutherans and Lutheran churches on the African continent. This brings difficulty when people try to understand each other. We were humbled to watch many participants persist in the struggle to understand and empathize with situations that were not like those they personally faced. We were blessed to take part in this important conference.

FINALLY, a number of ELCA leaders who took part in the IALC visited Tumaini University Makumira to tour the campus and meet with the Rev. Professor Faustin Mahali, the Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University and one of our key supervisors. We are joyfully excited at the possibility of growing partnerships with ELCA institutions through the discussions started last month.

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SPECIAL THANKS and welcome to the saints of First Lutheran, Plano, ILPastor Lauri O. Maki Jr. and the saints of Bethel Lutheran, Ishpeming, MI; and Pastor S. Kim Lee-Brown and the saints of St. John Evangelical Lutheran, Princeton, IL, for covenanting support for us and joining us in this journey! If you or your congregation are interested in exploring ways to join us — please be in touch!

AS ALWAYS, THANK YOU for supporting us with your prayers – with emails and messages – with financial support! As Paul said, we thank our God every time we remember you (Philippians 1:3). As we prepare for our second year at the University, we are aware how much our ministry depends on your steadfast support. Thank you!

Peace in Christ,

Mark Rich ( and Cynthia Holder Rich ( Also check out our FB page, M&C in TZ.

August 2018 Newsletter


In Tanzania for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Serving with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania

Greetings! We’ve been VERY BUSY over the last couple months with work required to complete our first year of teaching here at Tumaini University Makumira. The year has been rich and we have learned so much. Here, a few details of what we’ve been up to and where we have seen God at work recently.

Cynthia was pleased to accept the invitation of the ELCT Women’s Office to speak at their quadrennial Women’s Assembly in June. The conference theme was “Overcoming Gender-Based Violence”. Hundreds of women from across the nation gathered in Shinyanga for learning, worship, and fellowship.

Second semester ended June 29, which threw the campus into the frenzy that is University Examinations. Over 10 days, students gather in three sessions a day to write exams. Here’s a view of the Assembly Hall during exams.

TUMA Assembly Hall exam

In addition to exams, each student, undergrad and graduate, writes a research thesis. Graduate students have to defend them before a panel of internal and external examiners. We laughed when this stack of theses to read arrived at our house! It took a lot of hours to get through these in time for the days of oral defense of theses.


Both of us supervised a number of Bachelor’s and Master’s research theses. The students must write in English, which is for most their third language. It is not an easy task, and supervising the work takes time, energy and patience. We are grateful that we were able to bring much of our library with us, and it has been put to good work this year with our classes and research students. Fortunately, our students did reasonably well.

After days of oral defense, all academic staff of the university gathered with external examiners to hear their reports of what they had heard, read, and experienced. It was an informative time to reflect on what is happening academically at Tumaini, and to think with others about how what we do might be improved, expanded, and given more depth. The number of Tanzanians who are able to complete a university education is very low, currently in the single digits nationally. We’re grateful for the opportunity to serve with colleagues who are doing important work to increase the educational standards in the country.

We are looking forward to two conferences this month. Bishops and representatives from ELCA Companion Synods and their ELCT Companion Dioceses will meet next week in Moshi, Tanzania for an ELCA/ELCT Companion Consultation. Tanzania mission personnel are taking part as observers. Many friends and colleagues from the churchwide staff, particularly from Global Mission, and from a number of ELCA synods have arrived or are arriving soon. Please join us in prayer for good, creative and faithful outcomes from the consultation.

Following on the heels of the Consultation is the 1st International African Lutheran Conference. ELCA Domestic Mission staff have been central in the planning for this event, which will also be held in Moshi. Many ELCT leaders will take part, along with Lutheran leaders from across the continent and the African Diaspora. We are very much looking forward to seeing many friends and making new connections!

In all of this, we thank God for you—for your prayers, for your calls, emails, and messages, and for your financial support. We couldn’t do it without you! And, we are seeking others to join us in this journey of mission, witness and service. If you are interested in learning more—check out our updated Mission Profile on our website here, and also follow us at our FB page. Links to contribute support are included at the bottom of our Mission Profile. AND, we will be in the US in late summer. If you’d like to talk by phone, Skype, or Messenger about joining us on this journey, please be in touch at the email addresses below.

AND, Grace Lutheran Church, Pembine WI, St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church, Princeton IL, and Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church, McHenry IL: thanks so much for walking with us!

In Christ’s peace,

Cynthia Holder Rich ( and Mark Rich (