Tanzania: Dispatch Six

Bishop Mpango

New Challenges

The time with Bishop Chidawali has ended. There was a last celebration of the Liturgy at the cathedral of King of Kings. Following this the last distribution of things were made; lesson plans, books, and thank you notes with little girls. There were tearful good-byes, “please come again. Your visit was so good”. It brought hope and expectation that the future would indeed be better.

It was a long bus trip to Dar es Salaam. I arrived during rush hour and 98 degree weather. My stay was in a hotel there on the seventh floor – a hotel without a lift (elevator)! I won’t be staying there again. Now I transfer to the next task of ministry.

The next task is to pay an official church visit to the Diocese of Western Tanganyika, the biggest diocese in the Anglican Church of Tanzania, under the leadership of Bishop Gerard Mpango. The Bishop was in Dar and we met at dinner with his wife, Margaret. It was delightful. He has traveled extensively in the USA and Margaret went to school in Michigan. The purpose of the visit to the diocese is to become familiar with the bishop, the diocese and the the people there and for them to get a flavor of who we are in order to begin a long lasting, mutually supportive relationship.

Later I found myself on the flight to Kigoma on the southwest corner of Tanzania. It was a three hour flight. I arrived on the shore of Lake Tanganyika. Across the lake, in plain sight, is Congo (old Zaire). Further south along the border is Zambia (old Northern Rhodesia). It is a stable country. Their first president, Kenneth Kaunda, was one of the bright stars in a time of rising democratic African leaders that included Nyerere of Tanzania, Kenyatta of Kenya, Obote of Uganda and Nkrumah of Ghana. Further down the river you will find the country of Mali, which bears no relationship, other than a name, to the ancient historic African kingdom of Mali which was located in western Africa, above Nigeria. Then comes Mozambique, most famous now as the coastal country along the Indian Ocean which produces and bottles Coca-Cola for this part of Africa.Father Mathayo Kasawongo, administrative secretary to Bp. Mpango, met me in Kigoma. I thought Kigoma was the frontier of civilization in some ways, that is until I got to Kasulu and Kibondo later on. Across the lake and north are more difficult places. For in the north you find Burundi and Rwanda – troubled lands of genocide which often continues in times of unbridled banditry. I thought that we would not have to travel too far in that direction, but I was mistaken.

The plan? Stay in Kigoma and see the people in their churches for a day until Bp. Mpango arrives on Saturday. Then it is on to Kasulu, a mountain top smaller city, limited in electricity and with minimal internet. It is the city of the cathedral of St Andrew, the diocesan headquarters, and the site of the theological school. I will be visiting up to five parishes a day. My task will be seeing and listening. I will spend much time in private conversation with Bp. Mpango. He is desirous of developing continuing relationship with a faithful Anglican diocese in America and found Bishop Fick on the MSJ website on the internet. Faithful Anglican bishops look for other Anglican bishops.

We shall see what God does with our plan as time passes.

St. Andrew’sSaturday, five churches were visited and prayers made and conversations held. I started to get to know these people. We traveled along the borders with Burundi where we viewed soldiers and many refugees. My initial impressions of this diocese is that this is a big operation. Parishes have many people and the buildings are large.

Sunday is a busy schedule. I preach at the early morning service at the cathedral with around 500 people in attendance. The later service has twice that amount. My topic for the day is Advent. Following the cathedral service, I traveled an hour north to visit another church. It was packed! There must have been a thousand people there! After that I was off to another place (maybe 750 there) where the Bishop confirmed people. I preached from Acts 8 and Jeremiah 29. We left early, traveling north, and visited three more churches. I then had the opportunity to visit the diocesan orphanage and hospital.

The diocesan orphanage and hospital is called Bethani Center. Operated by the Diocese, it is staffed by sisters from Germany. The orphanage cares only for infants whose mothers have died, mostly from malaria and AIDS. The infants come to the orphanage because most fathers cannot provide milk for their babies and the orphanage can. The plan is for fathers to visit and then for the babies to return to the family when they are weaned off of milk. That does not always happen. The head nurse, Andrea Lehmann, showed us the work and asked for help. This work is worthy of our attention.

Monday, I gathered for morning prayer with diocesan staff. Then it was back on the road with Asst. Bishop Simon, of Kibondo (a three hour journey to Kibondo). I visited three more churches including the future cathedral. In 2009, the overly large Diocese of Western Tanganyika will begin to evolve into several smaller dioceses. Kibondo will become a diocese in and of itself. The Cathedral and offices are already built. A secondary school is being built and is already in uses even in its incomplete state.

It is important to understand that the people of these parishes personally construct these churches that seat over a thousand people, by themselves. They make the bricks. They pour the foundation and the cement floors. Then, they build the walls (eighty to a hundred feet tall). They only hire contractors to put the roof on. Friends from America help with the expenses for the roofing. As you look at the pictures of these churches, you should be amazed.

Some observations.

The clergy are universally well educated and competent. While they may have only an elementary education, their theological school is very successful at preparing its students for parish ministry.

Parish practice is to have Holy Communion twice a month and to have a service of the Word on the other Sundays. Parish life includes SundayOrphan School, Bible study, women’s groups, youth groups, and community service groups. You must be a competent priest to effectively lead services that regularly have a thousand people participating. These priests are very competent.

Selected priests are sent to advanced study in America at faithful Anglican seminaries. Every leader of the diocese I met had completed advanced studies.

Bishop Mpango is loved! He has been the bishop for many years and much of the success of this diocese is a legacy to his work. When he comes to visit a parish, they all know his vehicle. People run to greet him. They dance in joy when he comes.

This is not a primitive ministry. This is a well functioning ministry that has done so for many years. They do much of the work and raise much of the needed funds themselves. Friends from America have helped greatly in some capital projects; roofing, vehicles, computer lab at the theological school, and orphanage. We have much to learn from them.

Every place I visited, the clergy grilled me. Who are you? Are you a faithful Anglican Christian? What is happening in America? The local Muslims are seeking converts among the Anglicans, telling them that the Anglican Church has become the homosexual church. What occurs in the Episcopal Church in America has an effect in the villages of Africa. How can they respond to the Muslims? These are important issues.

Visited the School of Theology. They have had a very effective curriculum for many years. It prepares the students well for ministry in the diocese. Financially strained, they still manage to have an excellent computer lab, donated by faithful Anglicans in Virginia. Their needs are financial support, professors in the proper disciplines, and appropriate books for reference. Want to send some of your old books? Contact me for the address to send them to.

This was a good introductory visit in both directions. The final night, the Bishop hosted a farewell party and 125 people came. There were speeches, gifts, and a good time. I now know them in some ways and they know you in some ways through me. They think that you are short, chubby, funny, and intelligent!

Wednesday, I left Kigoma to go to Dar es Salaam. Thursday it was a flight out of Dar to Dubai. Friday from Dubai and, chasing the sun, land at JFK in New York City on the same day. I go through customs without problems. Then, all of a sudden, a problem. There is no flight to Detroit (mechanical problems). So I stay overnight in New York. Saturday I fly to Cincinnati and land in a snowstorm. Onward to Detroit! Land in a snowstorm but no problem. Then another small problem. NO LUGGAGE!!! So we wait.

The little problems at the end of the journey do not detract from the success of the work of the past five weeks in Tanzania. There is new life and new hope in the Gospel Catholic Church. There is a new relationship with our brothers and sisters in the Diocese of Western Tanganyika. God was in charge and all worked well. Later I will post a post trip reflection.

Everyone in Tanzania send prayers and greetings and thanks to all of you. They are very appreciative of you sending someone to help them. I send my thanks to you for your prayers and donations that made this trip possible. May God bless all of you. Mungu arabariki!

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