The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Telescopes to Tanzania

A look through the lens reveals 'one people, one sky'

When ELCA pastors Chuck and Sue Ruehle visit Lutheran-supported schools in the Meru Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania, they share low-cost science resources, ranging from 50-millimeter refracting Galileoscopes to 125-millimeter OneSky Dobsonian telescopes. 

Since retiring in 2010, the Ruehles have traveled thousands of miles from Wisconsin to the Greater Milwaukee Synod’s companion synod to share the night sky with teachers and students in remote villages. They and others help Tanzanian teachers learn hands-on instruction methods. Plans also call for a Tanzanian-led science education center and observatory at the Ailanga Junior Seminary in the Meru Diocese. 

It’s why the Ruehles founded Telescopes to Tanzania, which operates under a memo of understanding with the nonprofit Astronomers Without Borders. So far Telescopes to Tanzania has donated more than 50 telescopes and dozens of binoculars to schools. Those involved in the project hope astronomy can be a gateway to transforming Tanzania’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum.

A love of astronomy 
“One people, one sky” is the Astronomers Without Borders motto, but it also sums up the learnings of the Ruehles, who love astronomy and, when home, make pre-sunrise visits to the shores of Lake Michigan for unobstructed views of the Racine, Wis., night sky. 

Sue previously served Adoration Lutheran Church in Greenfield, Wis., and at theGreater Milwaukee Synod, while Chuck was executive director for Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training. Both share an interest in reinvigorating public education and have brought astronomy to U.S. schools too.

“Astronomy is a way to get folks interested in science and to see science as a gift,” Sue said, adding that an incredible awe in God’s creation draws many in. The Ruehls believe viewing stars, planets and comets through a telescope offers a sense of deep mystery. Tanzania’s unobstructed night sky is especially alluring. 

Last November they were ready for the solar eclipse in Kin’gori, Tanzania. Twenty students and their teachers came to school on Saturday to learn from the Ruehles about the eclipse. They left with solar glasses and a few small 30-millimeter scopes for solar projection. Their teachers provided handouts in Kiswahili about the eclipse and how to create pinhole viewers.

The day of the eclipse, Nov. 3, was cloudy. Gathered outside the Ailanga Junior Seminary, students wondered if they’d see anything — or if there was really anything to see. Suddenly a hole opened in the sky, and more than 300 students, teachers, villagers and leaders watched as 75 percent of the sun was obscured by the moon. 

History teacher Elineema Nassary incorporates astronomy into classes at the Meru Diocese’s Kikatiti Secondary (high school), thanks to knowledge he picked up through Telescopes to Tanzania. Despite obstacles, which Nassary said include a lack of in-country astronomy experts and advanced telescopes, he has been able to expand his school’s curriculum. “I am working hard to learn [and] I will get enough experience so as to share with my students and community at large,” he said.

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Embracing diversity