A Growing Church Committed to Holistic Mission

The LWF delegation meets with KCMC staff in Moshi. © LWF/H. Martinussen
The LWF delegation meets with KCMC staff in Moshi. © LWF/H. Martinussen

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania: 50 Years of Unity

(LWI) Students, teachers, pastors and guests filled the white chairs in the new assembly hall of Tumaini University Makumira (TUMA) near Arusha to participate in an academic day which was part of celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT).

Speakers at the 22 June event at the ELCT university offered reflections on themes such as being in a global communion, globalization, ethics and morals and mission.

In his address on the impacts of globalization, Prof. Wilfred Mlay of the Great Lakes Initiative Leadership Institute on peace and reconciliation said that one of the positive results was that “churches in Africa as elsewhere in the South have become more assertive and are using their influence through global networks.” But globalization had also led to environmental degradation and the destruction of the natural environment, he noted. “The quest for raw materials is destroying our natural heritage for the benefit of the rich.”

Faced with the challenges of globalization, Mlay called upon the church to faithfully live out the gospel with reference to the example of the early Church and through this witness make the church a place of hope.

Other speakers included LWF General Secretary Rev. Martin Junge who offered perspectives on the global communion of Lutheran churches; Rev. Alphaus Shayo from the ELCT Northern Diocese speaking on the role of African evangelists in the Western hemisphere; and Bishop Dr Benson Bagonza, Karagwe Diocese, on new areas of mission in the next 50 years.

“That they may all be one,” was the theme of the ELCT jubilee celebrations that started with an exhibition on 21 June, followed by the academic day, concluding with Sunday worship on 23 June.

In his address at the academic day, the LWF general secretary spoke of the gifts of the global communion. “You have brothers and sisters in Chile, in Canada, in Italy, in Hungary […] where the bonds of communion connect you closely to others, who like you, worship the Lord and serve the neighbor,” Junge said.

“It is not because of who we are or because of what we do, but because of who God is and what God does that we are saved and redeemed into new life,” he noted. “This is the core of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and this is the core of Scriptures, inviting us to trust less in our own capacities and efforts, and more in God’s work and merits through Jesus Christ when it comes to finding life in abundance.”

Junge stressed that as a global communion of churches, the LWF shares the conviction that “the freedom that is acquired for us through Jesus Christ is a freedom that calls us into service and love to the neighbor and to God’s creation. Never will it be a freedom that pushes us to individualism, but to relationships, to responsiveness, responsibility and mutuality,” he added.

Holistic Mission in ELCT’s Life and Work

The ELCT has been an LWF member church since 1964, and as part of the global communion is committed to holistic mission in preaching the gospel, serving people in need and advocating for peace and justice.

Following the celebration weekend the LWF general secretary visited several institutions of the church that express its holistic mission approach. He was accompanied by ELCT Secretary General Mr Brighton B. Killewa and LWF area secretary for Africa, Rev. Dr Elieshi Mungure.

In Moshi, where the ELCT runs the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre (KCMC), a referral hospital for Northern Tanzania, executive director Dr Moshi Ntabaye explained the principles of healing, teaching and research that guide the work of the institution, where the LWF also sponsors a clinical pastoral care education (CPE) program.

Each year the hospital offers services to 8 million people regardless of faith, and currently has 1,600 student trainees undertaking medical health practice within the hospital. While doctors heal in body, we heal in spirit,” Rev. Daniel Lyatuu, who has served for 27 years as CPE program director, said about his job. We are “offering hope and assurance in the context of disease and death,” he added.

In a country where only 6 million of the 44 million inhabitants have access to Internet, radio has a stronghold. The daily Radio Voice of the Gospel (Radio Sauti ya Injili – in Kiswahili), supported by the LWF for many years, broadcasts news, music and sermons from its studio in Moshi at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Receiving the LWF general secretary, Radio Voice of the Gospel director, Mr Philemon Mark Fihavango explained that listeners to the Kiswahili station that went on air in 1963 include Christians and Muslims. Fihavango noted that the government aims to digitalize all broadcasting in the country by 2015. For Radio Voice of the Gospel, this development presents a potential to “reach all of East Africa with the good news,” he added.

Inspiration from the Global South

The ELCT came into existence from a merger of seven Lutheran churches in 1963 in then Tanganyika. In June 2013, the church could look back at 50 years together and celebrate the unity, growth and active mission of a church which is committed to proclaiming the gospel, serving people in need and advocating for peace and justice.

“One of the major gifts that churches of the so-called South have offered to the entire communion is their holistic approach to mission,” the LWF general secretary said during his participation in the 50th anniversary. “As early as the 1970s, our member church in Ethiopia invited the LWF to reflect on the notion of the ‘whole Gospel to the whole person.’”

Junge also called for more awareness to include the concept of holistic mission into the curriculum of theological education and formation. “In many parts of the world the dimensions of diakonia and advocacy are still underdeveloped and underrepresented in curricula and programs of theological institutions,” he added.

See pictures from the celebration weekend.