MISSION UPDATE APRIL 2020

Greetings from Columbus Ohio!

We have been busy over the past month, NOT with the things we had planned (like teaching second semester courses at Tumaini University Makumira), but busy, nonetheless. As many people are spending a lot of time at home, engaging as they can with others, we wanted to reach out and greet you all.

First, we say with joy: Christ is Risen! Hallelujah! We hope each and every one of you and your congregations had a blessed and joy-filled celebration of the truth of Christ’s resurrection. We know that your celebrations were different this year than other years—as were the last weeks of your Lenten observance, and as your life together is now.

Sunburst batik
Tanzanian Sunburst batik

While many things have changed, the reality of life as Easter people has not! We see new life in the natural world around us, and also in the incredible bursting forth of new skills, new ways of outreach and the making of community, and the blessed persistence of love we see expressed in many places—no matter what impact social distancing is having on us all! Congrats to all pastors, musicians, educators, Council members, committee chairs, and congregations who are taking this all in stride and continuing to proclaim the good news: Jesus lives, and because this is true, we live in him.

We have kept ourselves engaged while in the US. In addition to daily walks (thank you, Columbus Recreation and Parks Department!), praying and worship (thank you, everyone who is streaming and sending resources!), cooking and spending some time catching up on US television, we have been doing what we can to keep ourselves busy and out of trouble. Our activities over the past month include:

  • Preaching and Presenting: we’ve both had opportunities to preach and present. We are open to more of these! We, like many others, have been learning a lot in these days when the computer and the phone are among the few approved and safe ways of contact. And, like many others, we have found ourselves upping our game, out of necessity! And, as learning for any reason is good, we thank God. So, if you want us to preach, teach, or present at your congregation—your women’s group—your youth fellowship—your virtual VBS—or whatever—be in touch!

One particular way we are presenting is a 60-90-minute online program called Teatime with Your Missionaries. By the time you read this, we will have led this presentation a few times with a number more dates already on the calendar.

The presentation starts with a 3 minute video with music, a Palm Sunday anthem from the church in Tanzania sung by the choir of one of our students who already has earned his bachelor’s in music and will complete his bachelor’s in theology this year when the universities reopen for his final semester. (The video is attached to this email.) We continue with a power point presentation on Tanzania, the church there, and our work. We then share about what Covid-19 and the global pandemic means in Tanzania, and how we in the US can be in community with the people of Tanzania at this difficult time. News of projects to produce Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) locally in Arusha and across Tanzania that our medical colleagues are coordinating with others, and the support needed for this project, is part of what we share in the presentation.

If you would like to have us present Teatime with Your Missionaries, or preach, or teach at your congregation—OR if you want to take an offering to support the local production of PPE in Tanzania—OR IF YOU WANT TO DO BOTH–we would love to hear from you. And enjoy the video! It includes a taste of the beauty of Tanzania’s music, land, animals, and people.

Jodi Steve masks
ELCA medical missionaries in Arusha Jodi and Steve Swanson model locally produced masks, which are hard to find and urgently needed by health care providers across the country. This work is really crucial at this moment of global pandemic.
  • Keeping in touch with our students and colleagues: We both have students doing research who have been in touch since we returned to the US. Some of them are being able to continue their research and writing while in their home villages. We’ve also heard from our university colleagues. Life on campus is quiet at present—the students are gone, worship is not happening at the chapel, the library is closed and all staff are on unpaid leave till at least mid-May. The threat of the global pandemic in many countries in Africa, including Tanzania, is exacerbated by fragile health care systems, fragile governments, and fragile economies. We pray for Tanzania, the University, and the people there each day. Thank you joining us in prayer.
Zoom call 4 20 2020
Meeting with our ELCA East Africa colleagues on Zoom, April 20: From the top L—April Trout, Cynthia and Mark, Bethany and Steve Friberg; Row 2, Daudi Msseemmaa, Mark and Linda Jacobson, Mary Jo Maass; Row 3, Jodi and Steve Swanson, Bob Kasworm, and Alex LaChapelle

Finally—we have not been in the US to enjoy spring since 2017, as our normal schedule has us returning to the US in late summer. Here are a few views of the glory of spring here in central Ohio.

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We think of you all and pray that this finds you safe and healthy. Thanks for your support! We thank God for you.

Eastertide peace and joy,

Cynthia Holder Rich and Mark Rich

 

 

MARCH 2020 MISSION UPDATE

Mark Rich and Cynthia Holder Rich

Tumaini University Makumira, Arusha, Tanzania

We will remember March 2020.  March 2020 has become memorable where we live. We began the month, seeing new parts of the country and continuing to marvel at the beauty that is Tanzania. We will end the month, having journeyed to the US, not sure when we will be able to return home.

Early this month, we traveled to Mwanza, Tanzania, to visit friends and see what is happening in theological education at Nyakato Theological College, one of three zonal colleges of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania. Nyakato provides education for aspiring pastors, parish workers, and evangelists. The ELCT has a significant clergy shortage, so schools like Nyakato are providing essential leadership development. We have been invited by leaders at the college to consider returning to teach intensive courses sometime in 2021. We are grateful for the invitation and will be working with our supervisors and the calendar to see what might become possible. We discussed the upcoming Easter vacation with our friends, putting some tentative plans in place for them to come our way.

We returned to campus, took part in faculty meetings, and began planning seriously for the second semester (which would begin on 23 March). We talked with colleagues, looked up resources, and began reviewing syllabi.

On Sunday, March 15, we enjoyed dinner at our home with missionary colleagues. We talked about what was happening, but there was no particular sense of urgency about the conversation.

Then the next morning, we, along with all other ELCA long term mission personnel, received a request via email to return to the US as soon as possible because of the coronavirus outbreak. We talked—to each other, to doctor friends, to our family, to mission colleagues. Then a case was diagnosed in Arusha—and the government closed the schools, and then they closed the universities. So—reservations became available—and we rushed to get the house ready to be unoccupied for a while, talked a lot to family and friends, and tried to maintain calm.

Our Dean and a member of the University administration came by to wish us well and pray with us. They shared their own feelings about what was happening and their thoughts of what would happen next. Thinking of these dear people as we left campus, not knowing when we would return, brought me to tears.

The journey was like all the others, in some ways. Although we were travelling from sub-Saharan Africa, most of the people on the flights were white (part of what it means to be white in Africa, which we discussed last month in this space). The planes we boarded were quite full, and the trip was looonnngggg.

Closed restaurant Detroit

And, the journey was very different in other ways. Many people onboard wore masks. Many travelers had cut their trips short and scrambled to get reservations. There were many anxious people on the flight. Surfaces on the plane were being cleaned much more frequently. I got up to get coffee in the middle of the flight, and the KLM flight attendant in the galley asked me where I was going. I shared, and he said, “I hear that many people in the US are buying guns to fight the virus. Is that true?” As we conversed, I reflected on the oddness of the situation for our world at this moment.

We heard from flight attendants about expected layoffs, and thoughts of pooling paid leave days to help out those among their coworkers who needed help. Another shared that as of Saturday, the schedule for Amsterdam-Detroit flights was shifting from five a day to one a day—which would put a lot of people out of work. In the airports, the bars and restaurants were all closed, and the number of people is markedly down. We arrived in the US, still trying to understand where we were and why—knowing we had left our life and work thousands of miles away, and not sure how to respond. In the midst of a global crisis, what is the faithful thing to do?

The advice of Martin Luther , made in 1527 as the plague was ravaging Wittenberg, has been circulating on Facebook: “I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me…If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See – this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not test God.”

Early in the history of the church (251 AD) the second of several epidemics swept through nearly the whole Roman Empire. Bishop Dionysus of Alexandria described the panic: “At the first onset of the disease, [the pagans] pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treated unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease; but do what they might, they found it difficult to escape.” And he described how believers responded to the suffering: “Most of our sisters and brothers showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves…Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their place…”

Although these earlier witnesses did not understand how germs work and their forms of medicine were primitive compared to ours, they still understood contagion and caring, and how Christ was calling them. As William McNeill pointed out in Plagues and Peoples, “quite elementary nursing will greatly reduce mortality. Simple provision of food and water, for instance, will allow persons who are temporarily too weak to cope for themselves to recover instead of perishing miserably.” The Egyptian bishop praised the martyr-like behavior of many of his flock during the plague, yet we can also affirm that a noticeably higher percentage of Christians than pagans survived the epidemic because of this simple ministry of care.

Things are different now; we have better medicines and practices and professionals to administer them, large institutions of medical training and care that didn’t exist in early and medieval times. And yet there are things that are not so different. In most countries, including the US, leaders are unprepared for the crisis.

The gospel has also not changed. We followers of Jesus know that we too must continue to care, even when that must be done as remotely as possible. We must make changes in our ways of living not only for our own safety but for our neighbors, family, and friends. And we also continue to be the people of faith, hope, and love—faith with each other and with God even during uncertain and frightening times; hope that life counts for more than mere physical existence; and the love of God that is greater than death itself. As the apostle Paul put it (Rom 8:35-39): “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

And so let us continue to be careful and full of care. Be in touch with each other. Take part in online worship. Volunteer. Learn the truth and help set people free. As you are able, give. Rest. Ask God for ideas. Pray always. And as you pray, please include Tanzania and Tumaini University Makumira in your prayers. We are very concerned about the strength of the Tanzanian health care system when the number of cases rises.

We so appreciate your support. We could not do what we do without your assistance. As we seek with you to remain faithful during this crisis, we hold Paul’s benediction from I Thessalonians 5:13-22 in mind. John Rutter has set a version of this to music, and a link to a performance of this piece by the Cambridge Singers can be heard at this link.

May God’s grace, peace, love, compassion and strength be with you all.           

Mark Rich and Cynthia Holder Rich

Being white in Africa

Greetings from Tanzania!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace in Christ,

Cynthia Holder Rich and Mark Rich

 

JANUARY 2020 MISSION UPDATE

Kili Christmas morning 2019
Kilimanjaro early on Christmas Morning 2019

Greetings from Tanzania! Happy New Year!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ, Cynthia Holder Rich and Mark Rich

 

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We’re back! Our November 2019 newsletter

MISSION UPDATE    November 2019     Mark Rich and Cynthia Holder Rich

ELCA Mission Personnel serving at Tumaini University Makumira

near Arusha, Tanzania

 We’re back!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace and love, Cynthia and Mark

July 2019 Mission News

GREETINGS FROM COLD AND GRAY ARUSHA!

The end of our SECOND FULL YEAR OF TEACHING is coming VERY SOON! (can you hear the cheering from there????) We are grateful, happy for our students, and often frazzled with all there is to do to finish the semester. As we write, classes have come to an end and exams start in a couple weeks. We are both supervising students at the Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD levels, so there’s a lot of advising left to do. Thanks in advance for your prayers!

JUNE was a very busy month. Three ELCA bishops, two representatives from the Women of the ELCA (WELCA), and two ELCA Global Mission Area Program Directors, and three representatives from the Lutheran World Federation came to visit Tanzania and the ELCT for the ELCT Quadrennial Clergywomen Consultation. We were very grateful to be able to attend this historic event. Most of the ELCT ordains women, and in many of those dioceses, clergywomen continue to struggle to find good and meaningful pastoral work. (In case you are wondering, this continues to be an issue for US clergywomen as well!) Two of the dioceses do not yet ordain women. The meeting was held in one of these, and many strong statements were made in support of women and women’s call to serve in ministry. Thanks be to God for this gospel call that fully includes women!

Some of the visitors came to the University before the Consultation began. Theology students and faculty met with the ELCA visitors, and good conversations ensued. Here are a few glimpses from a very special day.

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A STORY FROM OUR TEACHING

The BD5 (final year, final semester theology degree) students in Missiology and Ecumenism class gather in small groups to present different aspects of missiology—approaches we can take in leading the mission of the church—using scholarly articles written about mission efforts in Tanzania. This year, the small groups chose five very different topics. We were grateful to have five thought-provoking presentations of missiological approaches, on:

WITCH ACCUSATIONS, one of the ways that the patriarchal system here victimizes women, who are the majority of those accused of being witches. Accusations often come when a woman’s husband dies, and the community or the husband’s family accuses the widow of causing her husband’s death, in order to chase the widow out of her house and off her property. The group presented ideas on how the church should respond.

ECONOMIC DISCIPLESHIP—how to live in solidarity with people living in urban poverty, and how to lift up those who are very poor. The article presented the idea that poor people can gather together and pool resources to transform their lives, and the church should stand with them in this work. The group talked about ways in which this echoed Assets-Based Community Development (ABCD) approaches, part of the class curriculum.

WANGARI MAATHAI and ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP, on the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize (2004), and how she inspired and energized women to transform their lives and the environment through saving green spaces, planting trees, and empowering women for their God-given leadership roles.

The PROSPERITY GOSPEL, on how to approach and confront ideas, brought to Africa from North America decades ago, that combine Pentecostal preaching, liturgy and music with the idea that the sign that one is faithful is prosperity in this life; and,

The building of an AMERICAN MISSION ORPHANAGE on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, and the surprising number of misunderstandings that emerged when American missionaries showed up unbidden in a community (no, they weren’t Lutheran or Presbyterian) offering to start an orphanage—and the community assumed the work would reflect their values rather than those of the donors. Just like everywhere else in the world, when we minister with children, sensitivities run high and cultural norms can really clash.

The students, most of whom are studying, reading, and presenting in at least their third language, did a marvelous job. Here’s just a taste of the energy in these presentations:

Wangari Maathai
“Wangari Maathai” and the Kenyan women she inspired protest development projects, encouraging saving green spaces and the planting of trees in order to save the environment.
Orphanage
The Orphanage Director conflicts with the Village Elders on whom the orphanage should serve and who gets to decide—American donors or the community.

THERE IS MUCH TO DO before we leave for home assignment in August! Our students are finishing research theses, final exams start soon, and there will be much reading, correcting, and marking for us to do. So we are not finding time to be bored!

We often remember you all, the faithful disciples who lift prayers, write notes, and send financial support to make our ministries possible. We are so very grateful. We look forward to meeting many of you in the next few months.

Blessings to you all,

Mark Rich (Mark.Rich@elca.org) and Cynthia Holder Rich (Cynthia.HolderRich@elca.org)

INTERCULTURAL COMPETENCY: A CRUCIAL SKILL IN MISSION

Eid-Mubarak

When Cynthia taught at Western Theological Seminary in Michigan, her department worked on outreach with local Hispanic/Latinx pastors seeking theological education. The team worked for months on plans for an intensive workshop, securing good speakers and teachers, working on logistics—food, teaching and hospitality spaces, books, lodging, and partnering with local ministerial associations to invite pastors and leaders. Finally, the big week came—but many pastors who had shown interest did not! The first day was a pretty empty experience, with the team feeling a rising sense of anxiety about the investment of time, money, and resources and how everything done had resulted in failure. THEN, in the late afternoon, pastors started showing up. The day was to have started at 8:30, and pastors started coming—in large numbers!—around 4:30! By 6 the room was full—which was wonderful—and also confusing. What had happened? Was the communication strategy wrong? Was this cultural—did people understand a full day late as on time? And, there was anger—how much disrespect did people have for the efforts that had been made on their behalf???
NO. None of these were the case. The reality was that the SOCCER (FOOTBALL) WORLD CUP was taking place. The matches were being played in Europe, so fans in the US were watching very early in the morning, resting during the day, and working at night. WE HAD SCHEDULED OUTREACH TO SOCCER FANS DURING THE WORLD CUP. It was the Western Seminary team’s mistake, and it was a big one. By God’s grace, they were able to work with the pastors and leaders to flip the schedule and have teaching every evening that week. It was wonderful! The team was grateful! And there was a lot of discussion, during the week and for some time after, about how much the team and the seminary, led almost exclusively by non-Hispanic, non-Latinx people, had to learn if they were going to offer effective educational strategies to this new culturally-different student population.
As we write this, it is Eid al Fitr, the celebration for Muslims of the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. On the Tanzanian mainland, 35-45% of citizens are Muslim, and on the island of Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous region of the country, more than 90% are Muslim. Here in the Arusha area, there are mosques in most communities. We hear the call to prayer every morning from a local mosque before the bell that rings from the University chapel at 6 am. There are many Muslim students at the University, and all of these have been fasting while taking full time classes over the last month.
Tanzania has worked hard since independence for peace between peoples of different faiths. Our students in the Faculty of Theology are all Christian, and many are already ordained pastors. Most of them have good friends who are Muslim—they grew up going to school, and playing, and having close relationships with Muslim kids and Muslim families in their neighborhoods.

school-kids-stone-town-zanzibar-tanzania-kids-school-walking-around-stone-town-zanzibar-tanzania-132009091
Muslim and Christian schoolkids getting snacks after school

Every day, we see school kids walking to and from school—mixed groups of Muslim and Christian kids walking together, holding hands, and playing—as a soccer/football game might break out at any time when space and a ball present themselves. In classes, we discuss ministry strategies where pastors and imams work together so that people facing illness, or poverty, or hunger, or drought can be served. We can get lulled into amnesia, and have to remind ourselves that these relatively easy, normal and straightforward conversations might be very different if we were teaching at a variety of seminaries in the US.
The celebration of Eid is not a set date. The decision about when it starts happens based on leaders in the Muslim Council of Tanzania sighting the new moon. So, at the beginning of this week, our Dean told us—it might be Wednesday, or it might be Thursday, and we will tell you as soon as we can. As Eid is a national holiday, and classes do not meet on the day that it is celebrated, this makes planning for teaching a bit tricky—for us. No one here, students or faculty, seems to see this as a problem, as they have lived with this religious and cultural uncertainty all their lives. So we have to learn to
do the same.
When wishing people a blessed Eid, the proper greeting is Eid Mubarak. The Kiswahili verb to bless is kubariki—based on a borrowed word from Arabic for blessing. Hebrew shares the root, with the very common Biblical word for blessing in Hebrew, berakah ( ברכה ), sounding very familiar to our Kiswahili-speaking students and colleagues. As we study and speak Kiswahili and find more and more Arabic borrowed words in the language, many of which have Hebrew cognates, we find ourselves thinking about the marvel of language and how it carries and mixes cultures.
Becoming interculturally competent is crucial for mission. From the first moment of an interview to enter mission service, this key skill is emphasized, discussed, taught and encouraged. We work on this daily, opening ourselves to learning new things, new ways of thinking, new understandings of life and ministry, new ways to share the good news.
We enjoy the learning and we are happy to increase our competence. And we struggle. We struggle with learning new things, new words, new vocabulary, new ways of being. There are times—many times—when we are tired, or homesick, or both, and we are just plain frustrated with having to learn new things in order to operate effectively here. There are times when every missionary just wants to go home where things are
easier, more familiar, and where those we love the best can be greeted face to face rather than over a Skype call. We are like all of our missionary colleagues in this. And like all of them, we know that living and serving internationally means that we have no choice but to work to become more interculturally competent—both because we enjoy sanity as a feature of life and ministry, and in order to teach and serve effectively.
We have been blessed—tumebarikiwa (can you see that Arabic root in the word?)—to serve internationally, both in Madagascar and now here in Tanzania. Our view of the world and the church has broadened in ways we couldn’t imagine before. Our international service has changed the way we serve, preach, teach and lead in the US. And, as the US becomes ever-more diverse and international, we wish the blessing—tunataka baraka—of growing intercultural competence for every US pastor, and every US believer, and every US congregation. There is joy in this work to which Jesus calls us all.

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ELCA BISHOPS VISIT THE ELCT THIS MONTH!
We are both very much looking forward to the visit of ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and Bishops Patricia Davenport and Viviane Thomas-Breitfeld, the first two African American woman bishops elected in the ELCA, later this month! They are coming to take part in and help lead the ELCT Clergywomen Consultation, a quadrennial event. We have been blessed to share in planning for this event!
Please pray for us, for the ELCT Clergywomen, who are hoping and praying for the election, at some point in the future, of women bishops in the ELCT. We know that the visit of three ELCA women bishops will prove a blessing to us all and to their ELCT clergywomen sisters.
Blessings to you all! We look forward to the blessing of seeing many of you face to face later this year. Your prayers, notes, emails, comments, and financial support make our service possible. Thank you for blessing us!
In Christ, Cynthia Holder Rich and Mark Rich

Lecturers in Theology, Tumaini University Makumira, Arusha, Tanzania

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

Cynthia.HolderRich@elca.org                       Mark.Rich@elca.org

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