Lutheran Churches in Ethiopia, Tanzania meet to share and learn together

The Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) President Yonas Dibisa (seated right) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania Presiding Bishop Dr. Fredrick Shoo (center) signed a “Learning and Sharing” collaboration agreement in July.  LWF President Archbishop Dr Panti Filibus Musa is seated left.Photo: E.Adolph/ELCT
The Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) President Yonas Dibisa (seated right) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania Presiding Bishop Dr. Fredrick Shoo (center) signed a “Learning and Sharing” collaboration agreement in July. LWF President Archbishop Dr Panti Filibus Musa is seated left.Photo: E.Adolph/ELCT

Learning from one another "enhances our missional journey”

(LWI) - Leaders of the two largest Lutheran churches in Africa signed a joint initiative in July to enhance their missional journey through learning and sharing of experiences in order to enrich the churches’ ministries.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT) hosted 37 delegates from The Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) for a weeklong seminar in Tanzania under the theme of “How good and very pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity,” (Ps 133:1).

Facilitated by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the 12-18 July seminar aimed to strengthen relationships between the two churches and other Lutheran churches in the region, by “getting to know one another and share the gifts endowed to each church for the mission,” ELCT Presiding Bishop Dr Fredrick Shoo said.

Concerned with the infrequency of regional church gatherings, Shoo said, “We meet one another in Europe, we meet in America. When do we meet at home? When do we come together?”

EECMY President Rev. Yonas Yigezu Dibisa said, “The purpose of this visit is learning through sharing which means we have something to share while we are here and much to learn from the ELCT. Through this learning, a stronger collaboration is envisioned and will grow and bear more fruits in the future.”

Director of the EECMY Children’s Ministry, Yesuwork Kassu, washes her hands after visiting the ELCT “Radio Voice of the Gospel” in Moshi, Tanzania. E.Adolph/ELCT

Director of the EECMY Children’s Ministry, Yesuwork Kassu, washes her hands after visiting the ELCT “Radio Voice of the Gospel” in Moshi, Tanzania. E.Adolph/ELCT

Addressing the joint session, LWF President Archbishop Dr Panti Filibus Musa said that churches cannot be churches independent of one another. “Churches are wonderfully knit together by the power of God. They are a body that points at a reality that no single church can claim fully for itself, but that must be expressed and lived out jointly.”

Stressing the importance of the global communion, Musa said, “Never, dear sisters and brothers, should our regional processes draw us apart from our global relationships, but closer to them. Because… the ultimate inspiration of our togetherness is to express the deep richness of being fully the body of Christ, and – as Lutheran churches - being a communion of churches, gathered in worship.” He asked delegates to consider how the gathering “might strengthen and further unify and build communion relations regionally, and globally.”

Missions and outreach

The delegation also toured ELCT diaconal, educational and financial ministries.

The group learned about academic curricula at ELCT’s Tumaini University Makumira, and about financial programs offered through the Tanzanian Lutheran church’s Uchumi Commercial Bank that assists the local community with debt relief, savings, and pension plans. Later in the week, representatives from both churches gave presentations on the involvement of women and youth in ministry.

 Zakaria Osanga/ELCT

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania Women and Children Director Faustina Nillan presenting on the involvement of women and children. Photo: Zakaria Osanga/ELCT

The delegation also visited various diaconal ministries of the ELCT such as the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre in Moshi, the Arusha Lutheran Medical Centre, the Usa River Rehabilitation and Training Centre for people with disabilities, the Women’s training center at Mshikamano and the Lutheran Sisters’ Convent Ushirika wa Neema. Enriched by these experiences, the leaders agreed to share programs for church ministries, join international missions and encourage missionary discipleship movements.

Dibisa remarked, “It is good to see diaconal service in another setting,” adding that, “a connection between our university hospitals would further strengthen and broaden a relationship that already exists.”

 E.Adolph/ELCT

Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus delegation and staff of the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre in Moshi, Tanzania. Photo: E.Adolph/ELCT

Strengthening spirituality

Quoting Philippians 2:2, Shoo said, “Paul’s simple advice to Christians is to be united. There is strength in unity, not only for spreading the Gospel but for our humility and faith.”

As part of the initiative, the churches agreed to strengthen their Lutheran identity and faith by sharing devotionals, designating a Sunday for joint prayer, and accompanying one another in times of difficulties.

“We can better love others and make a bigger impact for the Kingdom when we move forward as one, speak as one - unified in one church - serving God’s people,” Shoo told the group.

 Zakaria Osanga

Synodical Vice President Ariet Medo of the EECMY communicating with Deputy Secretary General of the ELCT Rev. Rachel Axwesso. Photo: Zakaria Osanga

Being a prophetic voice

Committed to the “Great Commission” (Matthew 28), the church leaders agreed to be a prophetic voice in the world by identifying issues of injustice and inequality in the region and appealing to the international community to intervene and “condemn evil.”

Musa reminded the seminar participants of how mission partners, sister churches and the LWF stood closely with the churches in Africa as they advocated for independence and for the equal value and dignity of every human being. He said, “such sacrifices were and are still valued assets to churches in Africa.”

“The joint initiative of the EECMY and the ELCT to bring leaders together at the levels of synods, dioceses and senior management, is an example of the rootedness of the communion in the grassroots work of the churches,” said LWF Regional Secretary for Africa, Rev. Dr Elieshi Mungure.

“In coming together, we share the Gospel message of salvation and embrace each other in unwavering solidarity to serve the neighbor and witness, together, the saving acts of God.”

The Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus hopes to reciprocate the hospitality of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania in 2022 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Director of the Lutheran Sisters’ Convent Ushirika wa Neema Sister Elistaha Mlay briefs EECMY and LWF delegates on the work of their community. E.Adolph/ELCT

Director of the Lutheran Sisters’ Convent Ushirika wa Neema Sister Elistaha Mlay briefs EECMY and LWF delegates on the work of their community. E.Adolph/ELCT

LWF/A.Gray. ALCINET/F. Samari and ELCT/Neng'ida Johaness-Lairumbe contributed.