I can still see and hear them—faces shining, hands clapping, voices full and singing in parts. They are the people of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania at worship in churches bulging with people.
Seeing their smiles and feeling their love and generosity, I find it sometimes hard to remember that Tanzania is a developing country whose people need and deserve our help. Most homes have no heat or air-conditioning and, once outside the cities, also don’t have indoor stoves (only charcoal on the ground outside), refrigeration, cars, washers and dryers, personal computers or carpets on the floors. The church members and many people I saw on the streets were dressed beautifully. Many sew their clothing on foot-pedaled sewing machines or buy it second-hand.
With 2.5 million members, the ELCT is the second largest Lutheran church in Africa. The pastors, seminarians and evangelists I met and heard were remarkable—intelligent and loving. In the Pare Diocese where I visited, annual income is $150, estimate ELCA volunteer missionaries, Lori and Todd Byerly. One survey puts national per capita income at $850 a year.
I learned of many needs within the ELCT: Lutheran colleges asked for library books. (Note please, retiring pastors!) Expertise of English teachers, nurses and doctors, and nutritionists are welcome. So are people with small business know-how, like Janet Heinicke of the Southeastern Iowa Synod who led the small group I was a part of. She taught a new way of producing batik to 32 women. Ann Thye, another in the group, led a discussion on marketing. The women say they had artistic and eager students.
Other sources of inspiration to me: ELCT congregations and hospitals educating about AIDS and contributing to the national drop from 13 percent to 7 percent of new cases in one year. The peaceful Christian-Muslim relationship, which Tanzanians tell me, is because people of the two faiths are intermarried and celebrate each other’s holidays.
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