April 2, 2010
A growing Church
"The steady growth of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT) is as a result of serious mission and evangelism work based on the fact that every member understands that evangelism is the backbone of the church mission. They are taught that every Christian is an evangelist in his or her own right." This explanation was given by Rev. Ambele Mwaipopo the ELCT Deputy Secretary General for Mission and Evangelism while on a trip to the Rukwa Mission area in Southern Tanzania from 27 February to 4 March this year.
He also attributed the increase to the involvement of the clergy who work together and in collaboration with others in fulfilling the mission of Christ.
Members of the Lutheran church, he explained: "are people who like to speak their faith and witness to each other and to others during their daily interactivity in the society at such cases as they make home visitations and when they attend each others' social functions such as wedding, baptism and funerals services".
Rev. Mwaipopo said individual members ensure that they follow up and encourage each other to be active members not only by attending church services but also taking part in Bible Studies, community prayers and home visitations hence reaching out to neighbors, friends, families, and clan members who are not so active.
Another factor that leads to church growth in Tanzania is the informal nature of the people who are always inviting visitors doing mission work in their areas. "In other words you do not need an appointment to see people you simply appear and knock on their doors," Rev. Mwaipopo said. Above all he also said the most important thing assisting the church to grow is that "the Holy Spirit is at work it is the right time to engage in God's mission."
Releasing the membership figures for ELCT, the Secretary General of the ELCT Mr. Brighton Killewa, said late February this year that the church has over 5.3 million members. In 2007 there were 4,632,480 members; 2008: 4,956,731 members and 2009: 5,302,727 members. According to the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), this makes it the leading Lutheran church in Africa and second largest in the world after Church of Sweden, which has 6.75 million members.
ELCT has twenty dioceses scattered in all regions of Tanzania as well as five internal mission areas namely: Kigoma Mission Area; Zanzibar Mission Area; Mtwara-Lindi Mission Area; Tabora Mission Area and Rukwa Mission Area.
The Bishop of the ELCT Northern Diocese, Dr. Martin Shao who led a team of eight people to Rukwa Mission Area said on 2 March 2010: "Church planting is credited to church members who want Lutheran Church services wherever they went. That was how churches in Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda and Democratic Republic were started."
Individual members in Kenya who worked during the former East African Community in the 1960s requested for a Lutheran pastor to serve them; and finally this led to the creation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya.
Bishop Shao who has been the Chairman of the ELCT Mission and Evangelism Board for many years said people who lived as refugees from Rwanda, Burundi, Malawi and Mozambique returned home and formed Lutheran churches in their respective countries.
In Congo they became aware of the Lutheran Church teachings through Kiswahili programs over Radio Voice of the Gospel. They sent a delegation to Rwanda but were directed to go to Moshi, Tanzania where the studio for the Kiswahili programs originated. This led to the creation of the Church in Congo. ELCT and its partners from abroad are sending missionaries and helping in nurturing these external mission areas through offering scholarships and other support.
Rev. Dr. Frederick Shoo the Assistant to the Bishop in the ELCT Northern Diocese who was part of the delegation to Rukwa Mission area said recently that Christians have always been the spark that starts evangelism activities in new areas. He said for example two Christians who were doing business in Rukwa had written a letter to the Presiding Bishop in the early 1980s requesting the church to send a pastor to serve in the area.
He said the ELCT members said they did not feel comfortable worshiping in other churches as they did not hold up Lutheran confessions and teachings.
The combine factors of the push from the Lutherans in Mpanda and the LWF request for the church to serve in fugee camps made the church reach a decision to go to Rukwa. Most of the efforts on evangelism has been done by the indigenous people with the assistance of care taker diocese, the Northern, South Central and Konde Dioceses.
Because of its vastness the Government opened a number of refugee camps in western Tanzania and two of the camps (Mwese and Katumba) in Rukwa were used by the refugees from Rwanda after the genocide of 1994.
At the height of the refugee crisis, in the1995, Katumba alone had 400,000 refugees. The LWF through the Tanganyika Christian Refugee Service (TCRS) asked if ELCT could send pastors to serve in the refugee camps.
Bishop Shao was among the members of the team that conducted a feasibility study on how to establish a mission station in Rukwa and is still conducting evangelism missions to Rukwa ever since 1980s.
While in Rukwa recently, in a span of five days he did not only presided over the ordination of a pastor at Mpanda Town Parish; opened two seminars; signed a memorandum of understanding with the Government for the management of Mtisi Health Centre built by the Northern Diocese; visited Namanyere and Katumba Parishes in Mpanda and three out of four parishes in Sumbawanga, met with District Commissioners in Mpanda and NkasiDistricts; but also took time to teach the leaders of the parishes.
He said he feels that he has an obligation to nurture the parishioners as that happened to be his call as a church worker.
Dr. Shoo said the three dioceses have been sending pastors and evangelists to work in Rukwa mission area for almost 30 years. Therefore they are now training people from the area so that they can take over. So far in Mpanda there are five pastors and 12 evangelists but some more are being trained at various theological colleges.
He said apart from conducting seminars and giving Lutheran confessions and teachings, the Northern Dioceses sponsors evangelism crusades or open air meetings from time to time. In 2007 the Dioceses sent 300 people from Kilimanjaro to Rukwa region and among them were100 people who played trumpets. Choirs from different denominations and groups are invited to spread Gospel message through songs.
He said at open air meetings the church ensures that it uses talented Christian preachers as well; hence pushing forward the spirit of mission among the believers.
During a visit to Namanyere Parish in Nkasi District (Mpanda) on 2 March, Rev. Henrich Ilomo, the Assistant to the Bishop of ELCT South Central Diocese who was part of the delegation was touched by the situation that he promised to send a pastor from his diocese based in Makete District to serve in the area.
Explaining what makes him tick, Bishop Shao attributed his passion to work in the mission area as that he is "just fulfilling his duty in doing God's mission (missio dei)."
To which Dr. Shoo who was principal of the former Mwika Bible College added that it is not the mission of the church rather it is God through Jesus Christ who commissioned the Church to spread the Gospel to all the people in all nations.
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