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

 

Our October 2017 newsletter – We’re here!

OCTOBER 2017 MISSION UPDATE: MARK RICH AND CYNTHIA HOLDER RICH

In Tanzania for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Serving with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania

Dear friends, We’re here! We made it to Tanzania, just one short month ago. Life has been BUSY since then. Here are some of the highlights of our time.

ARRIVAL: Our trip from the US was long, tiring, and went exactly according to plan. Dr. Joe Troester, who serves with his spouse, the Rev. Deborah Troester, as ELCA East Africa Regional Representatives, met us at the airport and transported us to a hotel for the first night.

GRATITUDES:                                                            tired and amazed

•Safe flight

•Both of us AND all our luggage(!) arrived on the same plane

•A familiar face was there to greet us

FIRST DAY: Joe and Deborah picked us up and took us on a tour around Arusha, stopping at the Lutheran Centre, headquarters of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania, a grocery store, the cellphone store, and a restaurant for lunch. We then made it to our house for our first night in our new home.

GRATITUDES:                                                      Arusha and Mt Meru

•New friends to show us around

•Getting into the house

•Beginning to get a sense of Arusha, a bustling and diverse city of 400,000 people at the foot of Mt. Meru

FIRST WEEK:  We spent time figuring out where everything was, started organizing the home, and met with staff at the Training Centre for Development Cooperation, a project of the Danish government and a variety of aid organizations. TCDC is known for training both in Kiswahili and in economic development strategies. We made plans to begin Kiswahili study in our second week.

GRATITUDES:                                                                  Frida Teri

•Beginning to get over jetlag

•Setting up the house

•Making plans

SECOND WEEK:  We met with the Rev. Dr. Angela Olotu, Dean of the Faculty of Theology at Tumaini University Makumira. She shared about the academic context, the seminary, the student community, faculty members, and asked if we would teach particular classes for the fall semester. Mark accepted her invitation to teach Dogmatics (Systematic Theology) I for the Bachelor of Divinity program, and Theology of Religions at the Master’s Level. Cynthia will teach Introduction to Christian Education in the Bachelor’s program and Gender and the Bible in the Master’s program.

We also began intensive Kiswahili study with a very skilled Kiswahili teacher, Mrs. Frida Teri, and began to realize what a gift TCDC is to our area and to many around the world.

Finally, we visited Arusha National Park with Melanie Nelson, an ELCA volunteer teacher at a school in Bukoba, on the Lake Victoria coast, who was also studying Kiswahili at TCDC. We had a wonderful day!

GRATITUDES:                                                                   Just a few of the animals

•Getting our courses assigned

•Beginning Kiswahili

•Being in class together and working together to learn

•Having a GREAT teacher

•Time to see beautiful flora and fauna in and around Arusha, and Arusha National Parks

•A friendly and supportive mission community who are present and helpful

THIRD AND FOURTH WEEKS: We concentrated on Kiswahili study, while continuing to set up for life on the campus of Tumaini University Makumira.

GRATITUDES:

•Finishing Kiswahili Beginning Intensive

•Being able to understand a few words

•The ability to construct and speak a full sentence seems MIRACULOUS!

•Beginning to understand the rhythm of life here, and to keep working to settle in

NOW: We have plunged headlong into preparation to teach. The semester begins November 2, in just under a month. We have much to do, and we’re so grateful to be here!

GRATITUDES:

•Good internet access in our home

•Continuing good work to set up our home

•Partnership with the university to make things work

•The ability to be here and serve the gospel of Jesus Christ in this way

WOULD YOU LIKE TO WALK WITH US ON THIS JOURNEY?

There are many ways to do so.

      Pray for and with us.

We know so many of you are holding us in prayer. Thank you! We join you in prayer, that we might continue to learn and grow, and that what we offer here might be of service to God.

Follow us on our blog or Facebook page.

We are posting essays regularly on our blog, MandCinTZ.com. Our Facebook page, M&CinTZ, has lots of pictures and reflections on our life and service.

Take part in our Team ELCA crowdfunding campaign.

We were invited to take part in ELCA Global Mission’s pilot crowdfunding project. Through this site, you can make a one-time gift to get our mission fundraising work off the ground. GIFTS OF ANY LEVEL ARE SO VERY HELPFUL. Thanks so much to you who have already given! Find information and a giving form here.

Give through the ELCA Tanzania page.

All those serving as longterm mission personnel in Tanzania are listed on the ELCA’s Tanzania page. Information and opportunities to give are found here.

Become a sponsoring congregation.

Is your congregation interested in forming a relationship with us as we grow in faith and mission together? A form that can be filled out online can be downloaded here, or you can talk to staff who can share information on how to take part, by calling 800-638-3522, ext. 2657, or emailing globalchurch@elca.org.

We look forward to hearing from you – in email (Mark.Rich@elca.org, Cynthia.HolderRich@elca.org) or on Facebook. Thanks so much for walking with us! We couldn’t do it without your support.

Peace and love, Cynthia and Mark

On Changing and Being Changed: Reflecting on Language, Culture, Mission History and Mission Present

 

By Cynthia Holder Rich

We’ve been learning Kiswahili. While we will teach in English, Kiswahili is used a lot in Tanzania. It’s useful to know the lingua franca, and it’s also basic courtesy as guests in the country to speak to people in their language. We will eventually have to preach and lead worship in Kiswahili, so we’re grateful for the time to begin learning it.

Learning a new language as an adult is a process of tricking one’s brain into accepting a new way of thinking about words, about ways of being, about life. Language carries culture, and the way a language is formed and makes meaning – how words are used and combined to articulate thought, values, norms, ideas, and ideals – these play a substantial role in the work of conveying the formative knowledge of a particular society.

Serving as mission personnel appointed to teach at the undergraduate and graduate levels at a theological seminary brings us into conversation with the Swahili Bible – Maandiko Matakatifu ya Mungu, Holy Texts of God, known as Biblia,. The first Swahili Bible was completed in 1890. The translation used now was completed in 1952 – so, more than 60 years of critical thought about the text and its meaning do not inform this book. Additionally, for most people, there is only one “real” Bible – the one they’ve heard and read all their lives – so any suggestion that Holy Scripture says anything different than what they’ve always heard might well seem jarring – and perhaps wrong.

If this seems challenging, consider the role that mission personnel have played many times over in early Bible translation initiatives. Consider then what it might mean if new and younger generations, new members of the mission family, come along and suggest that their ancestors might have made mistakes. Picture what that means in cultures that revere ancestors – like so many all around the world. Think as well of the colonial, imperial, hegemonic impulses that were carried along with the clear, complex, and long-lasting good in the name of Jesus that many missions accomplished, and how these impulses, good and bad, walked right into the way early missionaries understood, translated, and interpreted scripture and culture. Ponder the ways in which early mission efforts, ideals, and Bible translations may have supported, enhanced, and baptized local norms which Jesus came to confront – such as patriarchy, oppression, or the disenfranchisement of minorities.

And think with me, dear reader, what it means if one of the newest kids on the missionary block, the one inviting/challenging her mostly-male students to think differently about scripture—and thus about culture—is a woman.

In our Kiswahili class, we’ve been practicing writing prayers. Our teacher, a woman of great and innovative pedagogical skill, has encouraged us to understand that prayers are most often addressed to Bwana Mungu – Lord God. Bwana is also the way she addresses Mark.

We are learning Kiswahili, the language of many of the largest and fastest-growing Christian communities in the world. We are having new thoughts as we begin the journey toward seeing the world in a new way, carried by this language’s structures, ideas, and history. We pray that God will keep us mindful of the mighty mission heritage into which we have entered here, that we might see its impacts, positive and negative, on how the church understands and lives out its call to follow Jesus. We ask God to make us open to the teaching our Tanzanian brothers and sisters in Christ have to share, that we might grow in faith and understanding. Our move here gives us opportunity to focus on what God would have us do in this space, and gives us practice in humility, in not knowing, in being outsiders. As we find ourselves changing and being changed, we seek ways to grow in faithfulness and to stay true to the call that brought us here. We appreciate all who stand with us in prayer toward these ends.

About those nine noun classes…

One of the best discoveries of the last two weeks (and it was a mere two weeks ago today that we landed here!!), is that the Swahili language is quite beautiful in its logic and clarity. Its speakers move with ease through some pretty clearly-observed grammatical rules with some irregularities, but not that many.

Its noun classes group together many varieties of things in the world. It’s not so strict a classification system as the scientific system of binomial nomenclature, but it clearly provides a kind of rough taxonomy of life. That is, Kiswahili’s noun classes are not merely a matter of operating language correctly but also of seeing the world in a Swahili way.

(This way of speaking and seeing was worked out without any input, thank you, from the wazungu – white people).

Cynthia and I look forward to seeing the ways in which the Tanzanians likewise work out their relationships to God. Genuine relationships with God can be influenced, but never forced. Just like with human relationships, they have their own life and power. They are facing many of the same questions and issues that Americans like us face, but always in their own way, their own context, their own language. And of course they are also facing issues and problems that are very different from ours.

Those differences of culture and life help to show us even more facets and dimensions of God’s love for humanity, God’s good news for us wayward humans. We struggle both toward and against the light of God, and if we have sense, we share notes with each other along the way.

Thank you to all who read this, and please share your notes with us along your way! The grace of God is big enough for us all to share, but it is never enough for any of us if we fight over it.

And if you are so moved, please help us through our support webpage. Thank you!

Mark and Cynthia

Transitions

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. Proverbs 3:5

We made it. We shared the news with family and friends – after a long trip that went exactly as planned, we made it. All the way. To Tanzania, our new home.

Before we got on the plane, we engaged in a season of bittersweet, rushed anxiety – finishing last tasks, getting together with friends, saying hard goodbyes to loved ones, asking each other millions of questions about the preparation process. The boarding door closed, ending that time and plunging us into a time called “transition”.

We now live in this space. The house we’ve been assigned – a four bedroom, two bath home that once served as a consulate – turns out to be as advertised. We are glad we packed some things, and we wonder what we were thinking when we packed others. Good folks who lived here before left us some needed supplies. We are on the hunt for those that we lack. Some things are working well – others, not at all. The house is a complete mess as we begin to figure out a sensible fashion (that is, a way that makes sense to us) of where everything should go.

Meanwhile, we find ourselves in a place where assumptions about life, work and ministry that work well in Ohio, or Boston, or Chicago have little interface with reality here. When problems arise, responses we might make elsewhere often won’t move us toward resolution, and well might make things worse. We are less competent here at “adulting” than we might be elsewhere. What do we do when the washer floods the bathroom? How do we find and use a water filter? Where is the best place to buy bread/hardware/blankets? How do you say hello, or thank you, or I need you to come at 4 pm? How will we ever learn to be competent in this space?

Transitional moments can inspire a number of reactions in people. As the realization hits that we don’t know what we need to know, some panic; others engage in escape strategies; others withdraw; and still others find ways to fight and deny the truth of their incompetence in the context. We’ve both had our moments in each of these responses, while working to keep our sense of humor intact.

Transition offers the faith community opportunities to stand in the place of Jesus for those unsure how to move forward. We offer our testimony: the faith community here has done just that. Tanzanian and American disciples have stood ready to answer questions, serve us meals, get us where we need to go, and guide our steps in this transitional space. It’s amazing how small things – like the gift of salad, washed and safe to eat – can make a huge difference in one’s day, and remind us that God, who loves us, sends us companions for this journey. Daily discoveries – like the awesome bread at the Tanz-Hands Bakery, part of an integrated project assisting people with disabilities, or the Arusha Lutheran Medical Centre, a wonderful institution serving people from all walks of life, supported by many disciples around the world – these offer moments of joy and awe.  And the encouragement of many to take it easy, go slow, and engage in self-care – we are working to take this advice seriously and see it for what it is – no more nor less than the actual grace of Christ manifested in this place, offered to us as free gift.

Arusha Lutheran Medical Center

As we continue to move through transition, begin language study next week, and prepare to begin teaching, we are grateful for this gift of time and the opportunity to share it with you. And we want to know – what transitions are you moving through? What are you learning? How are you responding? And where is the Spirit of God showing up on the road?

On to the Next Adventure – by Cynthia Holder Rich and Mark Rich

After more than a year of imagination, prayer, thought, conversation, and discernment, we are ready to move onto our next adventure in life and ministry. We leave early next month for our new life and work in Usa River, Arusha, Tanzania, as Lecturers (Faculty) in Theology at Tumaini University Makumira. We will serve the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania, appointed by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

A Return to the Familiar

In many ways this is not so much an altogether new thing as a return to something familiar. Many will know that almost two decades ago, we left the US with our three small children for life and work in Fianarantsoa, Madagascar. We all grew and learned so much on the island. The scenery, the animals, and most of all the beautiful people of Madagascar remain in our hearts. We have made many visits back, and we cherish many lasting friendships from our time there. Among our learnings was so much about the US and American culture and the church, faith and ministry in the US. The church in Madagascar has a unique, vibrant and dynamic witness in the world. We will always be grateful for our first chapter in mission service, and we said when that came to an end (and many times since) that we really wanted to serve in that way again.

In God’s providence, that which we have thought about and dreamed of is coming true.

We will be serving, again, with a church that is growing­, vital and active, in a country where poverty is a daily reality for many too many people. Once again, we will serve with a great community of mission and national colleagues, many of whom have already reached out to us with support, prayer, and valuable advice. We will teach, as before, at a graduate seminary, preparing leaders for the church. These parallels have helped us think about and prepare for this move.

Beginning Something New

And, there are many ways that this opportunity differs. We will serve on the African continent, rather than on an island where the people do not identify as African. We will teach in English, the language of instruction throughout Tanzania. We are older and, we hope and pray, wiser.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And our three small children – well, in the last 20 years they have gone and grown up, becoming three great young adults. Moving without them along for the ride feels truly weird. We are inordinately proud of and grateful for the people our kids have become. We’re both sad to be moving away from them, and so appreciative of the support and encouragement they have given and continue to give us.

We look forward to learning a lot (including Kiswahili – while we won’t teach in it, worship and much of life is lived in the language of the people). We have been reading, listening, and watching everything we can about Tanzania. We’ve had great conversations, in person, via email, Skype and Facebook, with so many great people who have offered such good and helpful information. And we are just about ready to take this leap into God’s good future.

Walking With Us

Both the ELCA (Mark’s church) and the Presbyterian Church (USA) (Cynthia’s church) approach mission from a stance of accompanying and walking with those with whom we serve.  (To learn more about this approach, see an ELCA statement here and a PCUSA statement here.) Entering mission service means stepping into and claiming the legacy of wonderful moments of a great history of witness, healing, proclamation, prophecy and work for justice – and stepping into and acknowledging painful moments when colonial and dominating impulses led to injury and dealt pain and even death.  We are bound by the call of Jesus to walk with and learn from people of different cultures and languages. We are called to walk with Jesus and learn from him, even as the two disciples did on the Emmaus road (Luke 24:13-35). We have been honored and humbled to walk with and learn from the faithful people of Madagascar, where many walked with and accompanied us on the journey. Indeed, the support of those who walked with us made our walk possible. We look forward to learning how to walk with and accompany the faithful people of Tanzania, and we will need others to walk with and accompany us. There are a number of ways you can walk with us on this journey.

angela olotu
The Rev Dr Angela Olotu, Dean, School of Theology

 

TZ missionaries
Some of our wonderful colleagues who serve with us in Tanzania
Tumaini campus
A view of the campus of Tumaini University Makumira

First and foremost, you can PRAY FOR AND WITH US. God’s grace and providence in Christ is the solid rock on which we stand. We depend on the prayer support of people in many places and spaces to help us do what we do not understand, things we cannot at present do – which we will be called on to do.

Second, you can FOLLOW US on this blog – just click “Follow” in the bottom right hand corner. Please also follow us on Facebook at the link at the bottom right of this page. Your responses to what we write – your comments, thoughts and likes – will be a powerful source of accompaniment.

Third, you can SUPPORT US. We are grateful to be able to go where God has called us, and excited at the chance to take up this amazing opportunity. We hope to walk with congregations, organizations and individuals on this journey whom God has gifted with the capacity for financial support of mission. Congregations and individuals can sign covenants of ongoing support – the covenant form can be downloaded here; support us with one-time gifts; or you can jump in on something really exciting – we’ve been chosen to take part in a pilot of crowdfunding for mission personnel. Check out our page here and let us know what you think!

Fourth, we can VISIT YOU. We will be developing ways to visit with you and your congregation from Tanzania, using Skype or other technologies. Sponsoring congregations and groups can invite us to join in worship, education, and other ministries when we are in the US. We both look forward to seeing what God is doing in your space, and sharing with you in the journey to which God has called us.

Finally – eventually – you can VISIT US. We’d love to show you, once we begin to learn, what God is doing in Tanzania. And while you’re there, Mt. Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti, and so much more awaits your appreciation and wonder. If you, your group or your congregation would be interested in a visit sometime in 2019 or beyond, please be in touch.

Thanksgiving

We are thankful to God for this opportunity. We are thankful to the wonderful staff of ELCA Global Mission for sending us. We are thankful to our family and friends for their love and support. And we are thankful to you for walking with us thus far. We look forward to walking with you and the people and church in Tanzania in all the ways God makes possible.