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.
TEACHING IN TANZANIA
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!
CARTHAGE COLLLEGE VISITS
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!
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.
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.