Companion Synod and Congregation in Tanzania

New Construction and Parallel Congregational Expansion St. Paul’s and Mpuguso Lutheran Church

Contemporaneous with the recent renovations to our house of worship here at St. Paul’s, our sister congregation, the Mpuguso Lutheran Church, in southwest Tanzania is also now in the process of erecting a new church facility to house their burgeoning congregation. In order to appreciate fully these concomitant developments here in York and in Africa, a little background on the Mpuguso Lutheran Church and the long-term and growing twenty-five year Christian relationship between St. Paul’s and the Mpuguso Lutheran Church and the Konde Diocese is in order.

Update from Mpuguso-March 7, 2021:  St. Paul’s contributions have enabled Mpuguso to reach the stage where they are now.  All walls of the basement are completed.  The workmen will cover the basement with a slab that will be part of the church floor above it.  The walls of the basement are 3 meters high, separating many rooms, namely; a large pastor’s office (with a wash room); four smaller offices (for a bookkeeper, and evangelist, choirmaster, and women’s group office); four public wash rooms (two for women and two for men); it also contains a kitchen, and a lobby for church council meetings.  The plan of the whole church measures 28 meters in length by 15.5 meters in width.  For them it will be quite a large church.

Early Beginnings

In 1984, seven families in Tukuyu, Tanzania began reading the Bible together and worshiping informally in their homes. Over the course of the ensuing decade, other families joined that initial group. By 1994, the Christian enclave in Tukuyu had grown to the point where there was insufficient space in any-one’s home to accommodate everyone. Accordingly, those families put their faith in the Lord and moved forward with the erection of a church facility. Their hope was that they would all be able to worship together and then spread the Word of the Lord throughout Tukuyu and the surrounding communities.

Congregational members attending one of Mpuguso’s multiple Sunday church services.

At that same time and through the leadership of Bishops Guy Edmiston and Carol Hendrix of the Lower Susquehanna Synod, St. Paul’s was paired up with the Mpuguso Lutheran Church as “companionship congregations”.

Over the course of the ensuing twenty-six (26) years, St. Paul’s has developed an incredibly close bond with the Mpuguso Lutheran Church and the Konde Diocese.

Travels to Tanzania

Our former Pastor John Wenzke and his wife, Annabelle, along with Carl and Aaron Jacobs, traveled to Tukuyu, Tanzania to visit with our sister congregation in 1998. Following his retirement, John Wenzke and Annabelle returned to Tanzania once again in 2004 where they embarked upon a four month collaborative teaching process within the Konde Diocese. During the spring and summer of that year, Pastor Wenzke taught Christian theology to dozens of ministers within the Konde Diocese. Over the course of St. Paul’s twenty-six years companionship relationship with the Mpuguso Lutheran Church and the Konde Diocese, seventeen members of St. Paul’s have traveled to Tanzania at various points in time. Each of those visits have contributed to and fulfilled St. Paul’s mission statement in a very direct fashion. Commencing in 1995, St. Paul’s began to extend financial contributions which assisted the Mpuguso Lutheran Church in expanding its physical structure.  St. Paul’s collaborative initiatives with Mpuguso also helped to fuel the growth of the Christian community in Tukuyu. Between 1995 and 2020, St. Paul’s has embarked upon a series of other educational initiatives and collaborative ministries with the Mpuguso Lutheran Church and the Konde Diocese.

Under the leadership of Pastor Melkizedeck Mbilinyi, who had undertaken graduate studies at the Gettysburg Seminary back in 2005 and 2006, and through the guidance of St. Paul’s dear friend and Mpuguso’s senior elder, Elisha Mwamwaja, the Mpuguso Lutheran Church has been experiencing phenomenal growth. “Overflow attendance” at its multiple services is a constant (but welcome) problem. There simply is insufficient space for the growing Christian community at Mpuguso to worship together.

Pastor Melkizedeck Mbilinyi

Building for the Future 

As a result of their desire to worship and share the Word of the Lord in unison, the Mpuguso congregation has now commenced the erection of a new church facility to accommodate the phenomenal and ongoing growth of their congregation. The building contractor and his workmen started work on the foundation of the church basement on June 20, 2020. Their initial construction objective is to dig trances for the foundation, fill in concrete to hold reinforcement bars, and prepare for shuttering the concrete pillars. As we all know from our recent construction experience at St. Paul’s, Mpuguso will be dealing with a plethora of future construction challenges and significant future construction expenses.

Elisha Mwamwaja, Pastor Mbilinyi, and the Mpuguso chairperson of their construction committee, all standing within the construction site

Outreach

Over the course of our shared ministries from 1995 forward, the Mpuguso Lutheran Church and St. Paul’s, in conjunction with the Lower Susquehanna Synod and the Konde Diocese, have embarked upon a series of educational and Christian outreach initiatives. Outreach projects have included the education of young members of the Mpuguso congregation who have become trained evangelists, following their three year  education and training at the Matema Bible College in southwest Tanzania. Those young evangelists now assist Pastor Mbilinyi in responding to the congregational needs of the Mpuguso parish. Most importantly, the evangelists travel to open sites in the Tukuyu countryside (often 15 to 25 miles from Tukuyu) on a regular basis each week.  At those distant locations, they share the Word of the Lord and interface in an open-air setting with other Tanzanians who are unable to worship at the Mpuguso Lutheran Church in Tukuyu because of their remote location and/or as a result of a lack of transportation. St. Paul’s-Mpuguso/Konde Diocese educational projects have been multi-faceted. The most significant and creative educational initiative was initiated back in 2005 and 2006 when Pastor Meshack Njinga (who subsequently became the Treasurer of the Konde Diocese following his return to Tanzania) was studying finance and accounting at York College. During his eighteen month course of study at York College, Pastor Njinga was an extremely active member of St. Paul’s.  Carol Woodbury kindly provided lodging for Pastor Njinga.  Meshack could walk from Carol’s residence on Grantley to York College for his classes, and he could also hike to St. Paul’s, where he would visit regularly with Pastor Reep and participate in church events. In addition to developing a very close relationship with Pastor Reep, Pastor Njinga also worked directly with Pastors Judy and Tom McKee regarding joint Christian outreach projects between the Lower Susquehanna Synod and the Konde Diocese (Judy McKee had served as the LSS’s special liaison to the Konde Diocese and had traveled to Tanzania ten separate times in fostering that global relationship before recently joining the St. Paul’s congregation). During their discussions about educational issues in Tanzania back in 2005, Pastor Njinga referenced the financial challenges faced by pastors and evangelists in Tanzania in attempting to fund the education of their children

Establishing Education Scholarships

The Tanzanian government pays for the cost of primary school education of children, but not for secondary school educational costs. Secondary schooling in Tanzania is premised upon the English model. Students are required to take annual tests in order to move on to successive class levels. Only the brightest and most committed young women and men progress with their secondary schooling. With the Tanzanian government being unable to fund secondary studies, the costs of secondary schooling must be borne by the families of each student. With pastors within the Konde Diocese generally earning the equivalent of $75 to $90 per month and with annual cost of one year of secondary education generally running anywhere from $350 to $750 per child per year, these secondary education costs place a huge financial burden on pastors and evangelists within the Konde Diocese.

Pastors Judy and Tom McKee, Pastor Reep, Pastor Njinga, and St. Paul’s Mpuguso-Konde Committee developed a scholarship program designed to provide financial educational assistance to the children of selected pastors and evangelists within the Konde Diocese. This scholarship program was initiated back in 2006 and has continued today on an open-ended basis. St. Paul’s includes scholarships in its annual budgeting process. Some remarkable results have ensued. Bishop Dr. Edward Mwaikali of the Konde Diocese has been selecting scholarship recipients based upon their educational commitments and their academic dedication. Since the inception of the St. Paul’s-Konde Diocese scholarship program, a number of scholarship recipients have graduated with outstanding academic results. Several have pursued further graduate schooling, while others are now embarking upon meaningful and critically important public service positions within Tanzania.

Improving Healthcare

One of the initial St. Paul’s-Konde Diocese scholarship recipients back in 2006 was Omega Allen. Following his graduation from secondary school, Omega Allen was admitted to a comprehensive nursing school program, with St. Paul’s providing scholarship funding in that respect. Omega graduated and is now providing critically important medical care in southwest Tanzania at the Itete and Matema Hospitals. Ansajiye Njinga, the daughter of Pastor Meshack Njinga who had visited St. Paul’s and served as a summer counselor (and who is the self-proclaimed granddaughter of Bill and Nancy Banta) is also enrolled in nursing school. She anticipates graduating summer (2021), after which she will join Omega Allen and become a member of the Konde Diocese medical team.

In 2017, Mike Hanson provided St. Paul’s congregation with an in-depth overview of the un-served medical needs faced by most Tanzanian families. Mike noted quite explicitly that there are major gaps in the Tanzanian health-care system. The absence of medical services is particularly dire in the more rural and remote areas of Tanzania such as Tukuyu. The gaps in the Tanzanian medical infrastructure to which Mike alluded become even more critical during a medical crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Getting Involved With Mission Hopes and Dreams

Hopefully, the Lord will continue to bless St. Paul’s continued efforts to fulfill our mission statement. We seek ways for our congregation to expand and build upon the initial foundation which has been established with the Mpuguso Lutheran Church and the Konde Diocese over the course of the past twenty-six years. Jim Mummert, who has enthusiastically and ably chaired the Mpuguso-Konde Committee for a number of years, and the Mpuguso-Konde Committee respectfully suggest and offer the following mission objectives over the course of the ensuing decade:

Continuation and expansion of the St. Paul’s-Konde diocese scholarship program for selected children of pastors and evangelists within the Konde Diocese;

Further medical infrastructure initiatives, including the establishment of a medical-nursing scholarship for Elizabeth Katalima, who is a member of the Mpuguso Lutheran Church congregation (Elizabeth is currently enrolled in a nursing program and hopes to pursue an advanced nursing degree beginning in 2021 which would be in the nature of a physician’s assistant position);

Expansion of St. Paul’s Mpuguso-Konde Committee to include enthusiastic, mission minded, members of St. Paul’s congregation.

Furtherance of the make-up of St. Paul’s Mpuguso-Konde Committee with the expansion of our global African partnership through continued Tanzanian visits on the part of St. Paul’s members. Hopefully, that will include some of the current youth and younger adults within our congregation in the years ahead.

Future consideration of a full medical scholarship for Omega Allen, who has received rave reviews about his nursing contributions and who has expressed a strong interest in pursuing a full medical degree.

One time gift to support construction expansion at Mpuguso Lutheran Church. Checks should be made out to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church with“Mpuguso Appeal” in the memo line.  In October we had an Appeal for Mpuguso Lutheran Church and as of this writing, we have collected $14,280.  Your generosity is greatly appreciated.

Thank You – Special thanks is extended to our Mpuguso Committee members, especially to Joe Moyer for his preparation of this article. We appreciate their zeal for our mission relationship and for ways to extend and foster Christian Witness.

In addition to the article above that gives the history of our relationship with Mpuguso, below is information on how we raised some of the money to send to Mpuguso and what it was used for.

Our mission globally is enriched through a warm relationship with our companion synod, the Konde Diocese in Tanzania. Bishop Edmiston of our Lower Susquehanna Synod was very active in forming the link between our two parts of God’s world. He and many of his committee have visited Tanzania; in return, Bishop Israel Peter Mwakiloye and others from the Konde Diocese have traveled to Pennsylvania to meet and worship with our congregations here. This is an ongoing project and one which has brought wonderful friendships.

St. Paul’s itself has also cultivated a healthy Christian relationship with our sister congregation  within the Konde Diocese, Mpuguso Lutheran Church. The congregations have exchanged visits on many occasions over the past decades.

The Mpuguso Committee had announced a trip to Tanzania scheduled for July 2020 which needed to be cancelled because of COVID.

Through our fund-raising and support, Konde Diocese has been able to build and sustain a secondary school, provide scholarships to college for children of Lutheran pastors there, build a dormitory for secondary school girls so that they are safe while going to school.  A special offering enabled the purchase of a motorbike so that the minister could visit parishioners living at a distance.

Money from the 2015 Cookie Walk ($1,800) was used by Omega Allen for his third and final year of training to become a Clinical Officer in our Konde Diocese hospital.

Pastor George Mwakanyamaie from Konde Diocese, Tanzania, Africa visited St. Paul’s September 2016 bringing us greetings from Tanzania.

The Cookie Walk has been a vital part of our support of numerous projects in our sister congregation and without the generosity of our congregation, volunteers and scout troop over the years, mission projects such as this would never come to fruition.  There have been a lot of cookies baked, donated and sold over a 10 year period of St. Paul’s Christmas Cookie Walks.  The proceeds have helped fund the education of Ansajiye Njinga as a Clinical Medical Officer in Tanzania.  Ansajiye has promised to serve and care for her local community in the Konde Diocese when her necessary classes and training are complete.  Medical care is critically needed in Tanzania.  Through our cookie baking we have impacted the lives of hundreds of people needing medical care.

Since 1969, Machame Lutheran Hospital has hosted and operated a school to train clinical officers.  Where ever you go in Tanzania and beyond you will meet graduates of this program.  This is a three year program.  Training is provided on all aspects of medicine appropriate for clinical officers.  Graduates receive a Diploma as Clinical Officers from the Ministry of Health and is offered under the University of Dar es Salaam.  Each year 45-50 students are admitted and begin their training.  Most are from Tanzania, but students have come from across Africa.

The Clinical Officer model is the most well known medical profession in East Africa and in other parts of Africa.  It is comprised of a three-year training program, which prepares clinicians to work in rural areas especially at the health center level.  Although Clinical Officers play a huge role in the Tanzanian health system, it was soon recognized that there was a need for a more advanced health care provider that would have the clinical skills to perform emergency surgery and provide other essential services at the health center and hospital levels.   This need led to the establishment of the Assistant Medical Officer cadre.  They work in the district hospitals, health centers and health training institutions.  Ansajiye is training to be a Clinical Officer, in what is analogous to a Clinical Practitioner here.