Saturday, November 28, 2009
African Teaching Mission Continues
29 Nov 2009, 1st Sunday of Advent
The MSJ mission through the Office of Foreign Missionsof OFM provides ministry education in places where such education is hard to get. Classes have started in Geita, an African town around 100 kilometers south and west of Mwanza. Geita contains the only working gold mine in Tanzania. The gold mine is a big operation.
There are two Anglican churches in Geita itself, a larger one in the center of the city, a smaller one on the outskirts, and many other Anglican churches in the surrounding area. I teach at the larger church in Geita, Christ the King, whose pastor is named Mathias. He is the biggest supporter of the classes. I currently stay with a local family.
The classes are held in the church itself. High temperatures often drive us outside to under a large shade tree. Rain occasionally drives us back into the church. There are 20 students, none of who speak any English, all who come from different Anglican churches in the area. All students are evangelists, each pastoring a church under the infrequent and distant supervision of a priest-pastor. From the data sheets I collected, the highest education level attained was 7th grade by the way we measure. Only by grace, by some knowledge of Scripture, and by personal hard work do they succeed as pastors.
One day, I asked some questions of my students. All 20 of them are lay people, evangelists and church teachers. Priests rarely come to their churches. All the students normally lead Sunday services, doing a service of the Word. In reality, they are the pastors. I asked each to describe the ministry at their church, how many members they had, and what was their average Sunday attendance. These 18 people pastor over 2,500 people and collectively serve an average of 2,000 people on Sunday.
An important moment occurred on Tuesday. I had perceived some feelings of inferiority among my students and I was asked, “Why is it that some parishes are pastored by priests and some parishes are pastored by evangelists?” I thought – Oh this is an important question. Lord, help me to give them your answer.
The reply, “The churches of most countries do not have evangelists in the same way as you do. In those countries, almost every parish has a priest who is supposed to be the evangelist. Here in Africa, you do not have enough priests for all parish churches because the education system cannot support the development of all those who might be called by God to be a priest. Yet, God wants to provide ministry and leadership for his people. In Lake Victoria, a boat without a rudder wanders aimlessly about, subject to every wind and wave, and cannot complete the journey. A church without leadership and ministry is like a boat without a rudder on Lake Victoria. So, God gives a gift to each parish without a priest; He gives them an evangelist to lead the church.” They beamed.
Initially, class was very hard for them. Translation makes progress slow. Lack of ministry education makes most material new. Prior bad teaching and bad assumptions means that they have to unlearn some things they thought they knew. There were many misconceptions about Trinity, Virgin Birth, Dual nature of Christ, and others. Changing such misconceptions is a big challenge, but they work at it.
The Holy Spirit moved mid-week. The students began to understand better. They became more participative. They thought and answered questions and discussed issues. One lady evangelist witnessed to me how she thought that God had touched her life in the class and I was able to affirm that it was God.
Thursday, I met Rev Donat and nine other priests who were visiting from the Diocese of Gahini in Rwanda, and here in Geita for an evangelization crusade. They must have talked to someone here because they asked if I would come to Rwanda and teach. I gave them my card and asked them to contact me after I returned to America.
The ministry is working. One week has been successfully completed. The students have learned much new material about what the beliefs of the church are and what is ordained ministry. Two more weeks of instruction will follow.
Thank you God. Thank you people of God. Your prayers and financial support are bearing fruit here in East Africa. The teachers of God’s people are being taught. Without you, all this does not happen. This ministry, the students in Africa, the rural church in Africa all rely on you and all thank you. Asante sana!
Fr Francis Wardega MSJ
Mission Station Geita, Republic of Tanzania