In Tanzania for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Serving with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania

Greetings friends! We share two experiences in this newsletter –

  • UNIVERSITY GRADUATION happens, just like in the US, in the
  • SPRING IN TANZANIA – which is right now!

The short rains (November) have come to an end. We hear thunder on the mountain often, and we know it’s raining up there – but these days, rain rarely falls at our elevation. Now it is in the 80s and low 90s during the day, and blessedly cool breezes blow every evening. Many more flowers are making their entrances, and many can be found right in our yard – a few of these are pictured here. We’ve included a picture of our orange tree – which we share with the monkeys, who get to most fruit before it’s ripe.

On Saturday December 2, over 800 people received diplomas, certificates, and degrees from Tumaini University Makumira. Students in law, education, music, languages, computer and information technology, business, math and science, and theology robed, walked, and were celebrated by faculty, administration, and ELCT Presiding Bishop Frederick Shoo (Rev. Dr.), who also serves as University Chancellor. The speeches emphasized the impact graduates will have on Tanzania, where only 45% of students enroll in secondary education (middle/high school) and university enrollment is in the single digits. The ELCT is committed to education for church and society, and we are grateful to join them in this work.

Procession 2017

Graduation 2017

Our teaching semester continues, with midterms just before Christmas. We’re both enjoying the ministry of teaching and getting a kick out of seeing our students respond and grow. The Faculty of Theology has begun a process of curriculum review, in which we’re both involved. A lack of things to do is not a problem! If you’d like to support ELCA Global Mission and our ministry, please be in touch! Thanks for your prayers, notes, and encouragement, the best gift of the season.   Advent blessings, Mark and Cynthia!! (;

Becoming Accustomed

“Your Kiswahili is getting good,”, said Elisa, the gardener who works in our yard, making me laugh at his kindness. He wasn’t exactly telling the truth – which both of us knew – but his comment had me smiling all the way to class.

We’ve been here at Tumaini University Makumira, in Usa River, near Arusha, Tanzania, for 2 ½ months now, and each day, we feel more like we live and work here. Many things have happened that have helped us get to this point.

It helped a lot to start teaching early this month. We are both enjoying getting to know our students and the return to the classroom. We are both teaching at both undergraduate and graduate levels, as well as supervising Master’s theses. Our students are aware of their contexts, ready to think critically, excited about ministry, and enthusiastically taking part in class discussions and learning activities. We’re grateful.

It helped a lot to get back into the routine of swimming. Kennedy House, a local private school in our town, has a pool that is open for use by community members. We’re committed to a regular schedule of exercise, and having it be close, clean, and cooling on these increasingly-hot days makes going a treat.

It helped a lot that the bookcases we ordered many weeks ago arrived. It makes such a difference to be able to actually see and use resources, many of which are like old friends to us both.

It helps a lot to be here together, to continue our learning journeys, discovery of new things, thoughts, foods, and ideas, and growth in familiarity with this wonderful place as things we encounter together. We’re grateful.

It helps a lot to hear from and be in touch with so many of you. We so appreciate your prayers, on which we depend for strength, guidance and support.

Cynthia and Mark


In Tanzania for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Serving with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania

Dear friends,
The rainy season has started. As we write you, the rain, which began before we arose thisNov 2017 1 morning, continues unabated. This makes it hard for the electricity to continue, which makes us grateful for the generator owned by the University – which generally brings power back a little while after it cuts out. We’re also grateful for a warm and dry house, and for the University’s work to paint and repair the house over the last month, which has helped our efforts to make this a cozy and welcoming home. It is a very gray and wet day at Makumira – the first of more than a month to come, we understand, as the annual “short rainy season” continues.

October was a month of PREPARATION, VISITS, and THANKSGIVING
Nov 2017 2We have done much to prepare for long-term living in our house. Although some of our books are on shelves, we have ordered more shelves from the Watoto Foundation, a local social service agency which houses and educates 54 former street kids, offering them a chance at a better future. We visited the Foundation during our Kiswahili class. “Watoto” means children in Kiswahili – the Foundation’s founder, a man from the Netherlands, first learned of the plight of street children in Tanzania when he studied Kiswahili at the same training center where we studied. The students learn trades, including carpentry, welding, cooking, and hotel management, along with school subjects. We look forward to our bookshelves being delivered soon. One delivery has arrived, however–Cynthia’s keyboard, which our missionary colleague Randy StubbsNov 2017 3 offered to bring along with him! As our visas when we entered the country wouldn’t allow this as part of our luggage, we’re very grateful to Randy. Thanks be to God for supportive co-workers! Thanks be to God for the University helping us make our house a home!

We’ve both been very busy preparing to teach. Classes start on Monday, November 6, and both of us will be in the classroom that day. Mark has picked up another class – he will teach Systematic Theology I and Synoptic Gospels-Acts to undergrad students and Theology of Religions at the Master’s Level. Cynthia will teach Introduction to Christian Education (thanking God daily for the good work of Drs. Jack Seymour and Linda Vogel of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, her main professors in the Master of Christian Education program) to undergrads and Gender and the Bible at the Master’s Level. Please pray for us as we begin this important work!
Nov 2017 4As classes begin next week, New Student Orientation is going on now. Mark and I got in on a bit of it, attending the first chapel service of the new school year (which starts every day at 7:20 am) – thanking God for the ability to get up in the morning! We met the Student Body President, who was busy with many responsibilities during orientation. We were grateful to see two women students leading Chapel worship, and to see so many more people on campus. Tumaini University Makumira has over 3500 students enrolled in a host of subjects. We thank God for the opportunity to teach at this vital institution.


Nov 2017 5We were pleased to visit the Lutheran Centre, head office of the ELCT. We visited with Mr. Brighton Killewa, General Secretary, and the Rev. Anza Amen Lema, Youth Coordinator, learning much about the ELCT. The church is a very large and fast-growing church that is engaged in mission work in all of its eight neighboring countries, as well as conducting serious evangelism efforts in three mission areas in Tanzania, which may become dioceses at some point in the near future. We thank God for the opportunity to serve with such a vital communion.
Nov 2017 7We also received a visitor from the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Daniela di Mauro, part of a team from the WCC working on the Conference on World Mission and Evangelism, which will be held near campus in March 2018, and the companion Global Ecumenical Theological Institute, which will gather 120 theological students from across the globe to learn together on the Makumira campus. We are grateful to God to be part of the local organizing committee. Ms. di Mauro met with Faculty of Theology Dean Angela Olotu (our boss!) and University Administrator Mr. Eliakim Lekoringo and us to plan, and then toured the campus, ending with a visit to the Cultural Arts Center, where Director Randy Stubbs greeted us. We’re looking forward to a great event in March!
We also visited Moshi, Tanzania and caught our first glimpses of Mount Kilimanjaro lastNov 2017 6 month. What a thrill! We continue to thank God to live and serve in such a beautiful place.

We received word late last month of our first sponsoring congregation-THANK YOU, Calvary Lutheran Church, Green Bay WI! We continue to receive contributions to our missionary fundraising page-THANK YOU to all our supporters! We are grateful for all who are supporting us through the ELCA Tanzania page-THANK YOU! And most importantly, for all of you who are remembering us in your prayers, daily, weekly, and/or at worship-THANK YOU! We are still looking for congregational sponsors and individual supporters. More information on how to covenant to provide ongoing support is available here. THANK YOU!

Prayer requests: For wisdom and strength as we begin teaching; for our children, Joseph, Paul and Ella, all involved in young adult adventures in growth and learning; for Tumaini University Makumira and its ministry; for the ELCT and its many ministries; and for the people of Tanzania, many of whom live in significant poverty. Although the economy is growing fast, many people are not benefitting from this growth, and women and children are among the most economically marginalized citizens. Thank you for including us and all of these prayer concerns in your devotional and worship times. We could not be here, nor do the work we do, without your prayers and support. Thank you so much.
In Christ, Mark Rich ( and Cynthia Holder Rich (  And please follow us on Facebook: M&CinTZ

Why Luther? Or, why should Luther matter to us now?

There have been several essays on Luther recently in popular media, including the New Yorker, Religion News Service, The Christian Century (see also here), The Wall Street Journal, National Geographic, and others.

These have often focused – rightly – on Luther’s late and virulent anti-Semitism; virulent even for a time and place in which anti-Semitism had become normal. This 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation has been an appropriate time for raising popular awareness of the shocking, historic, and baleful effect Luther’s anti-Semitism has had in the past century.

This shock is, in part, a strong sign that many people now are themselves moving past our own culture’s anti-Semitism. I recall a phone call I got out of the blue several years ago from a young seminarian at a Lutheran seminary who had just learned about Luther’s vile rantings. She demanded to know right then how she could keep on not only in seminary but in a church that carried his name. I don’t recall everything I said to her, but I am glad to be able to say that she is now a talented pastor within that church.

There are many sins that can be laid at Luther’s feet (or cast at his head!), but we ought also to ask if there are any blessings that should also be traced back to him. We should do this not only in the interest of being honest with history, but also as a backstop to our own foolishness. While necessary, it’s also way too easy to condemn the sins of our ancestors. We so easily chalk up morality points for ourselves while failing to see the massive logs in our own eyes.

I don’t want to make an inventory of all these blessings – there are those far more qualified than me to do so. I’m not a Luther scholar. I get my intellectual and spiritual juice from Jesus far more than from Luther. (And wouldn’t Luther actually prefer it that way?) But I would like to put forward one blessing that Luther has left us.

Luther was the first in the modern era to make freedom one of the great priorities of the Christian life. By contrast, freedom (to be exact, free will) was just one among hundreds of questions Aquinas dealt with in his Summa. But Luther not only devoted a whole treatise to it (On the Freedom of a Christian), he also changed his name from Luder to Luther (or ‘Freeman’, as we might say in the US), and he liked to refer to Galatians as his Katie. It is, of course, in Galatians that Paul insists that “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

In this treatise Luther famously asserted, “A Christian is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.”

Now what idea is there that more defines modernity than the idea of freedom? As soon as we moderns hear the first part of Luther’s statement above, we thrill in recognition (even though the word ‘lord’ strikes us as anachronistic). So yes, Luther is truly one of the great ancestors of our modern love of freedom! Q.E.D.!

But then there’s that very weird second line, “a Christian is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.” Thud! The soaring balloon of our modern narcissistic self lands hard, and fast. ‘What duty? What servitude? What subjection? What can those possibly have to do with freedom?’ we modern barbarians demand to know.

Well, that’s just where things get all Christian. At the great risk of vastly oversimplifying Luther’s great treatise, such free duty, service, and subjection only become freedom in love activated through faith in Christ and, we might also say, through Christ’s faith in God and love of us. There can be no selfishness in true freedom because love is the height of human life (says Christ), and it is only in that love that we become free.

Let me quote the next few lines of Luther’s treatise:

Although these statements appear contradictory, yet, when they are found to agree together, they will be highly serviceable to my purpose. They are both the statements of Paul himself, who says: “Though I be free from all, yet have I made myself servant to all” (1 Cor. ix. 19), and: “Owe no one anything, but to love one another.” (Rom. xiii. 8.) Now love is by its own nature dutiful and obedient to the beloved object. Thus even Christ, though Lord of all things, was yet made of a woman; made under the law; at once free and a [105] servant; at once in the form of God and in the form of a servant. [my emphasis]

Luther was at great pains to argue that such divine love cannot be earned, but we can only get to it through faith in Christ. He was having to argue this in the face of one of the biggest salvation-for-money systems ever devised, and authorized by none other than the vicar of Christ on earth.

So we owe Luther both the duty to correct him for his sins (and there were more of them than his anti-Semitism) and also to hear his proclamation of Christian freedom. Although he goes on to talk much more about justification by faith in the rest of this essay, we also need to hear his teaching about how freedom is grounded in Christian love.

Because we moderns are not very much there. We have learned a lot about selfish freedom, irresponsible freedom, freedom from; and we’ve learned very little about the freedom of serving and of giving for others, freedom for. Take a look at the WSJ article, for example. Any love there? No. And our modern economics, politics, and culture are all so much the poorer for it.

I think Luther still has things to teach us in the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Building upon the foundation that was laid

Cynthia and I had a wonderful opportunity to visit the new Cultural Arts Center here at Makumira! We’ve included some pictures of it here, along with these reflections.

To say the center is beautiful is an understatement; it’s stunning. It’s not just a terrific performance venue (built in the shape of a Maasai shield), but also a beautiful library and tech center (built in the shape of a drum), along with a conference center and rehearsal space. A great deal of money from many sources, along with many dreams, plans, inspiration, and prayers went into building it and its programs and staff. Through it, the music and dance forms unique to Tanzania are being built up and spread around the country and the world, to the glory of God.

Of course, this is also true of the whole of Tumaini University and Makumira Seminary before it. The seminary was built here in the 1950s; the university in the 2000s. They were built by people who believed in the gospel and in the people of Tanzania. They saw that it is worth it to invest not just their money but themselves into the growth and future of God’s people here and throughout Africa. They were all joint efforts and investments with the Lutheran sisters and brothers here and their brothers and sisters in Europe and North America.

Now Cynthia and I have been blessed to come teach and learn in this good and beautiful place among our sisters and brothers we had never seen and known before. We do so in the humble awareness that our work has been prepared and made possible by so very many saints from here and around the world before us. What an honor! What a calling!

2000 years ago the Apostle Paul spoke in a similar way to the community at Corinth: “9For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building. 10According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. 11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.”

Please notice a few things here. First, Paul is talking about the community itself and not an actual building. I started out this post talking about buildings, but only in order to point to the people whom God is building up into God’s temple, which is not made with hands. Second, Paul switches from active voice to passive from verse 10 to 11: “like a skilled architect I laid a foundation” to “the foundation that has been laid”. In the Bible generally, the passive voice is used for God’s activity; we call it the divine passive. Paul is doing that here. God has laid the foundation who is Jesus Christ, and that is the only possible true foundation for the church and everything we do together as the church.

Just like the church in Corinth, we Christians often try to build upon other things and other people than Christ. The result is always the same as the Corinthians found – conflict. In the many years of my ordained service in the church, I’ve seen many congregations in conflict or struggling to recover from conflict. Conflict has become nearly endemic to churches. And it is very, very powerful. It took Paul, with all his enormous spiritual gifts and intellectual talents, years to get to the end of that conflict. But he did do so, for the gospel is worth nothing less.

These conflicts always happen when the brothers and sisters of God’s temple forget that their one and only foundation is Jesus Christ. So many other things are presented to us as our real foundation: money, the infallible Bible, an infallible pope, social position, success, some charismatic leader or another, secular power or favor, etc., etc. These are all false foundations, and they always result in conflict. Always! Whenever I see conflict happening in the church, I know that these people have forgotten the One who is their sole foundation, and they are trying to build on something else for some other purpose than God’s reign.

Cynthia and I too are builders. Through teaching and research with our fellow faculty and students here at TUMA, we are building up, along with them, the whole body of Christ for the glory of God.

You too, sisters and brothers, are also builders. “Each builder must choose with care how to build on it.” Let us all do our building while remembering and considering the one foundation that has been laid by God!

If you feel called to help us in our work, please go to our online commitment page. Thank you!

In the peace of Christ,

Mark Rich and Cynthia Holder Rich