Tanzania: Heart-warming witness to the gospel
LWF General Secretary sees impact of ELCT’s work
(LWI) - Visiting the 8-million-faithful Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT), Lutheran World Federation (LWF) General Secretary Rev. Anne Burghardt says she sees ‘God at work’ in the way the member church lives out its witness.
Speaking to ELCT colleagues in Arusha, Tanzania on Monday, Burghardt stressed that as a global communion, “we are very diverse, but there is so much more that unites us than divides us, and we need to emphasise this.
LWF General Secretary Rev. Anne Burghardt – wearing a traditional Maasai fabric offered as a gift and sign of hospitality by the ELCT staff community – joins Monday morning devotion at the ELCT offices in Arusha, Tanzania.
ELCT General Secretary Eng. Robert Kitundu spoke to the importance for the ELCT of receiving the General Secretary of the global communion. “We always pray for you. In our work, we think always of the whole church. It’s about seeking the will of God. If we pray and seek guidance from God, he will lead us in a good way,” he said.
In Arusha, testimonies to the church's witness abound, in how projects have taken shape.
At Usa River, the ELCT runs a rehabilitation and training centre for people with special needs.
Through a 54-person-strong staff community, the centre currently accommodates 147 students of different ages, across vocational training programs as well as secondary school education and courses in income-generating projects.
After visiting the centre, the LWF General Secretary said the work at Usa River is “deeply inspiring — to see the pioneering role this church is taking in Tanzania in witnessing to the gospel by providing space and nurturing the abilities of people who may otherwise have very few opportunities. Through the work of the rehabilitation centre, the church helps to uphold human dignity, as all of us are created in the image of God,” she reflected.
19-year-old girl Wanumbilia, whose name means ’happiness’, enjoys a meal on the campus of the Usa River Rehabilitation and Training Centre for children with special needs, in Arusha, Tanzania. Wanumbilia has Hydrocephalus, and lives and studies at Usa River.
A beacon of sound theological education
Not far from Usa River is the Tumaini University Makumira, an ELCT-owned institution currently accommodating a total of more than 2,000 students, some 200 of which at the faculty of theology.
With close to 70 years of experience in theological education and formation since its foundation in the 1950s, the university serves today as a robust foundation for sound theological education and formation in a society that has not been spared the challenges brought on by misleading theologies, or prosperity gospel, explains university vice chancellor Rev. Prof Dr Joseph W. Parsalaw.
“The biggest danger to a Christian person is hypocrisy,” the vice chancellor said. “True theology comes not only from the head, but from the heart.
Vice chancellor Rev. Prof Dr Joseph W. Parsalaw.
Leading today not the largest, but the oldest faculty at the university, dean Rev. Dr Angela Olotu heads a team of 10 lecturers at Makumira.
‘Our work at the faculty of theology is very biblical in character,” she said. “The workers are few, but the harvest is plentiful.
LWF General Secretary Rev. Anne Burghardt (right) walks through the university campus with ELCT General Secretary Eng. Robert Kitundu (centre) and Deputy Vice Chancellor for Administration professor Prof. Dr Faustin Mahali (left).
Hélène Ralivao study program to strengthen women’s leadership
Olotu explains that Tumaini University Makumira works actively to promote women theologians in a context where they remain so far in minority. The university offers additional scholarships each year as an incentive to dioceses that nominate two female students or more to study at the university.
Another side of this support is practical: providing student accommodation appropriate for female students with young children, allowing space for the children too to live on campus, so that the women can undertake their studies conveniently.
“Currently among our first-year students nine of twenty-seven are female. So, we are not quite at fifty per cent women, but the number is growing,” the dean says.
A group of fifth-year students of the Bachelor in Divinity program of the Tumaini University Makumira attend a course session in Missiology and Ecumenism.
Working with the LWF, an additional project named “Hélène Ralivao,” to strengthen role of women and gender justice in church leadership, is about to start at Makumira.
Designed for groups of up to 30 students from all over the Africa region, the Hélène Ralivao Study Program is being established in memory of the late woman theologian Hélène Ralivao, who was murdered in early 2020 in her home country Madagascar.
The course is planned to run twice yearly at Makumira, where it will be hosted for the next three years and is intended to help male and female theology students deepen their understanding of the importance of inclusion of women in church leadership structures.
“The students will start with two weeks of intensive studies here at Makumira. They will then spend three months doing field research in their home contexts, and come back for an additional two weeks at Makumira for reporting and graduation,” dean Olotu explains.
“We see that it is very important to have women in leadership positions in our largely patriarchal society. In Tanzania, we have many ordained women and women leaders, but it is still not common to have women in the highest leadership,” she says.
And while the background to the program through the fate of Hélène Ralivao is a sad one, Olotu says she is hopeful of the impact the study course may have. “We are hoping the study course can help the issue mature, and that we will have more women in leadership in the future.
Seeing the work at Makumira onsite for the first time, the LWF General Secretary said the importance of sound theological education cannot be underestimated.
“Tumaini University shows how the ELCT is taking seriously the importance of education and appreciating this is a key aspect of our Lutheran identity,” Burghardt reflected.
“As Luther himself said in the Large Catechism, ‘If we want capable and qualified people for both the civil and the spiritual realms, we really must spare no effort, time and expense in teaching and educating our children to serve God and the world’,” she added.
“I was especially happy to see the number of young women studying theology has started to increase also in Makumira. We look forward now to continuing to help nurture theological education here in Tanzania as well as to facilitate connections regionally and globally in the future,” Burghardt said.
LWF General Secretary Rev. Anne Burghardt greets a group of students at the Tumaini University Makumira.
‘Learning not only about each other, but also about ourselves’
In the capital city of Dodoma on Wednesday, Burghardt addressed the bishop’s conference of the ELCT, speaking on the theme of “Strengthening relationships among the LWF member churches for church unity.
“The LWF will always be grateful for the role that the ELCT has played by bringing Lutheran churches in Africa together,” Burghardt said to the body of 26 bishops.
“When the LWF embraces our diversity as a gift, we experience unity in the body of Christ. Like the African philosophy of Ubuntu, we need one other’s diversity to expand our self-understanding as a communion and deepen our sense of belonging to the Creator,” she added.
As the weeklong visit to ELCT neared conclusion, Burghardt reflected that “as a global communion, we have so much to learn from another. These encounters, sharing with each other our different ways of witness in today’s world, we inevitably learn not only about our sisters and brothers in Christ, but new things about ourselves too. This is such a gift.
Written by Albin Hillert. All photos: LWF/Albin Hillert