Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The End of the Road

Julie and I arrived home safely on Holy Thursday. My three month trip, begun with Christmas snows swirling around, ended with Easter snows swirling around. It was as if this African adventure was merely a bookmark in a Midwest winter. It was a wonderful trip, a tremendous cross-cultural experience, a real eye-opening opportunity. I am deeply grateful for the time I was given in Tanzania. I am also happy to be home again.

My last few days in Iringa were filled with exit interviews by members of the Iringa Diocese staff and farewell meals in people's homes. The Tanzanian people are very good at making a person feel warmly welcomed and deeply thanked. It was hard to say good-bye to some of my many new friends, with whom I had become a partner in ministry, and to the city I had claimed as home for three months. After picking Julie up at the airport in northern Tanzania, I kept talking about what she would experience when we "got home." It wasn't until I had said that a few times that she realized I was talking about Iringa and not Mahtomedi. It had become that much of a home to me.

Now that I'm home and back working at Luther Seminary, I want to take some time to let things filter through me. I really don't know what experiences will mark me forever. I'm guessing some will. Only with time will I know what those are. I feel like a different person in some ways, but maybe that's more because of experiencing a different pace of life than lessons learned. So, I plan to resume life and see what I do differently because of this experience.

I want to publicly mention people who made this trip possible for me. They begin with Kathy Hansen, Vice President for Seminary Relations who first suggested this idea to me. Also, to President Rick Bliese for endorsing the trip, Janet and Brad Anderson for their support, Bishop Peter Rogness and the St. Paul Area Synod for their support, Gary Langness who put up with me as a housemate for three months, Don and Eunice Fultz who helped open doors for my work in Iringa and "parented" me as an orphan for three months, and Bishop Mdegella and his staff who welcomed me as a member of their staff for three months. Also, Julie and my children kept me connected throughout via their regular emails. I know I didn't take this trip alone, and for that I am very grateful.

Now that I'm back in Minnesota, I am finally able to post some photos to go with the blog entries. If you wish, you can now go back to all of my blogs and see some of the things I wrote about. I hope it's not too little too late. But, thank heavens for technology that works!

Finally, thank you for taking time to keep up on my travels through this blog. It is gratifying to know that there actually were people reading this stuff! For any who have traveled to Tanzania, I hope this will refresh your memory and that you will be able to identify with some of the things about which I wrote. For those who have yet to visit Tanzania, perhaps this blog will provide an interest in you to visit the Christian church in another part of the world. It may just change your life.

Asante sana.

Friday, March 14, 2008

On The Go

There's been a bit of a gap since I last wrote a blog entry. Well, Julie arrived a week ago Thursday. I could probably leave it at that. But, not knowing how you will fill in the blanks, I will continue by telling you how we've spent our time.

Julie flew into the Kilimanjaro Airport in the north of Tanzania near the city of Arusha. Don, Eunice, Gary and I drove the twelve hours from Iringa to Arusha on Thursday to meet her there. We then spent three days in the north, visiting some very special sights. Among them was a visit to the not-quite-finished Selian Hospital. Dr. Mark Jacobson from Stillwater is building a state-of-the-art hospital in Arusha. I was stunned by how good it is. I've seen three other hospitals in Tanzania. None compare. It will set the standard for health care in Tanzania. It was to have been dedicated while we were there, but was not ready. Dedication will take place later in the year.

We also visited the head office for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania, located in Arusha. We stayed one night in the Uhuru Lutheran Center in Moshi, about 80 kilometers from Arusha. Out our window we could see Mt. Kilimanjaro. Because of cloud cover, we could only catch glimpses from time to time, but what a sight! It's the only mountain on the equator with a snow cap. But the snow is melting and the cap isn't very big anymore.

From there we drove eight hours to Dar es Salaam. Early on Monday morning, we were invited to join a group from Bethel Lutheran Church in Hudson, WI, in a private visit with U.S. Ambassador Mark Green. He is a Wisconsin native and happy to visit with people from his home area. He just finished hosting President Bush for four days in Tanzania, a monumental event for the Tanzanian people. He was very supportive of the work being done by the Lutheran church in Tanzania and very grateful for the care with which Minnesota and Wisconsin parishes carry out their partnerships.

Immediately following this visit, we drove the eight hours from Dar es Salaam to Iringa, spent one day in Iringa, and then Julie and I left for a three day safari in the Ruaha National Park. There we stayed in splendid accommodations, took three game drives and saw all the animals we wanted to see. That included abundant elephant, giraffe, zebra, birds galore, a leopard and two lions. It was a thrill.

We are now back in Iringa for the remainder of our stay in Tanzania. It felt like I was coming home after an extended vacation. That's how much my time in Iringa has affected me. It feels more like home than anywhere else in Tanzania. I know many of the people. I know the places. There is a rhythm to life here. It feels good.

So, now we will finish strong. On Sunday, Julie and I will travel to the Mwatasi parish, the partner parish to our home church of Trinity Lutheran in Stillwater. I will preach. Julie will bring official greetings to our partners. We will enjoy the hospitality of village people in Tanzania one more time. It will provide a marvelous exclamation point to this entire experience.

We leave for home next Tuesday, flying out of Dar es Salaam on Wednesday night and arriving back in Minnesota in time to enjoy the Easter weekend.

So, we remain on the go for the duration. See you soon.

Sunday, March 2, 2008


The title is a bit shocking for a blog on the Luther Seminary website. But now that I have your attention...

Bishop Mdegella is burying his younger brother today. He died from HIV/Aids. His wife died from the same disease three years ago. People say his new wife and their small children don't look too well, either.

I've met many children in their young teens who have been infected with HIV/Aids from birth. They are orphans. Over here, that means at least one of their parents has died, often from HIV/Aids. Many are in the homes of relatives. They are taking medication which is having a positive effect. Only time will tell how long they live.

Every week I hear about a funeral for a young person who has died from this disease. When you travel by cemeteries, you see rows upon rows of freshly dug graves. The natives say most are HIV/Aids related. While some of the infections may be from contaminated needles, most of it is from sexual contact.

Much is being done to educate the population. Scores of college-age students come here to teach the young children about Aids and Aids prevention. Everywhere you see signs encouraging people to use condoms and to get tested. Churches are encouraged to preach and teach about HIV/Aids, because churches are more trusted than the government. I heard one church choir sing an anthem about Aids. Even the wheel cover over the spare tire of an Iringa Diocese vehicle bears an ad for a condom company. HIV/Aids is a major problem for this country.

Yet, it's interesting that I see very little courting going on between men and women. You see literally no public displays of affection. No hand holding. No arms around the other's shoulder or waist. No public kissing. The only hand holding I see - and experience - is between two men. It is a custom for one man to hold the hand of another as they visit.

At the same time, it is not unusual for women to be pregnant when they get married. Where there's a will there's a way!

The practice of obtaining a "Bride's Price" still happens here. The fathers of the husband and wife-to-be meet to negotiate a fair price for the bride. Sometimes, the fathers are represented by others in their family for this negotiation. The Bride's Price is an acknowledgement that the bride's family is losing a member of their family through this marriage and needs to be compensated. The better the bride, the higher the price. Payment used to be made in livestock. Now it's mostly in cash. It is true that once a woman is married, she belongs to the husband's family. If she is divorced, she loses everything. If the husband dies, she is taken in by the husband's family. Not often does she ever return to her own family. It is a male dominated society, for the most part.

There is no homosexuality in Tanzania. That's what we're told by everyone. An article in a recent Tumaini University newspaper held the title, "Just say no to homosexuality."

But it's clear that, just like anywhere else in the world, sexuality is a major factor in the future of this country. Education continues to be a key. The church needs to speak of healthy relationships and healthy sexuality. But medicine is also a major key. The treatment of HIV/Aids continues to improve. Many more people are living with the disease and remain productive members of society. So we must pray, and teach, and treat.

So, that's the sex report from Tanzania. I hope you found it as interesting as the title. Oh, and this is one time I'm glad I can't attach photos to this entry. I'm really at a loss to know what pictures I'd attach!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

For My Father

When my father was a small child, a missionary visited his Sunday School class. After the presentation, the missionary asked if anyone wanted to be a missionary someday. My dad was the only one to raise his hand.

He never made it to the mission field. He became a pastor and served parishes in the United States. Since his death, several missionaries from his class told me that there were only two people who faithfully wrote them personal letters while they were in the mission field. One of them was my father. Though his feet never touched the soil of a mission field, he honored his promise from Sunday School days as well as he could.

Last Sunday, as I visited the Kilolo parish as the guest preacher, I was given a great honor. This was my second visit to this congregation. The very first Sunday in Iringa was spent at the Kilolo parish. It was where I was first introduced to the auction of chickens after worship. During worship, they gave me a piece of fabric to make a shirt and announced that I was now a member of the Kilolo parish. I am not only visiting Africa, I am now a member of an African church.

As the congregation greeted me with applause and singing, I couldn't help but think of my dad. Maybe, in some small way, I'm now fulfilling that promise he made so long ago. I am preaching in a foreign land, a former mission field. I am a member of the Kilolo, Tanzania parish. I have travelled where my father could not, preached where he wished he could have, and become a part of the church in a developing country.

Dad, I do this for you. I can't help but think he is smiling and heaving a great sigh of contentment from his heavenly perch. "My son has continued my calling." Maybe this is only the beginning. Who knows what the next generation will do with this calling?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Sights, Sounds and Smells of Tanzania

I realize that, in this blog, I've only been sharing events I've witnessed while in Tanzania. Yet, everyday, there are similar sights, sounds and smells that remind me I'm in Tanzania. To help give you a sense of everyday life, I'd like to share some of the impressions I regularly experience.

In the quiet, I hear the cawing of the black and white crow.
Car horns constantly honk as traffic moves through the main thuroughfare.
Music is everywhere - church choirs, radios, people singing their own songs.

Several times each day I hear the muezin calling from the mosques for prayer. I have to be honest with you, these muezins will never make it to Mecca. At 5:30 this morning, I was trying to decide whether I was hearing a mosquito buzzing or a call to prayer. I think it was a call to prayer.

I see school children in bright colored skirts, sweaters and slacks, walking briskly to school at 6:30 a.m. and returning home around 3:00 p.m.
I see women in colorful katangas (wrap around skirts) and matching head scarfs.

I hear the constant babble of voices in the market.
And the occasional voice from the vendors as Gary Langness walks by, "Hey Gary, my friend!" I think he's been here too many years.

In the market I see the bright colors of bananas, pinapple, mango, tomatos and onions. The pungent smell of fish, fresh and dried.

I hear the rain as it rolls across the green, rock covered hills around Iringa, blowing its way into town.

I see the mud covered walls of homes in the villages, the grass roofs filtering the smoke from cooking fires inside.
The red brick, long walls of churches, their shining metal roofs gleaming in the sunshine, used truck tires hanging from trees for bells.

I smell charcoal burning in little, round, hibachi-type grills, preparing to cook the daily meal.
I see the red, hard-packed roads with deep ruts and pot-holes, snaking through the countryside.

And I hear laughter, always laughter. Every conversation, whether in Swahili or English, is punctuated with generous laughter.

As one group of visitors from St. Paul was preparing to leave, they joined Don and Eunice Fultz of Bega kwa Bega for a meal and conversation about their trip. Several members of the group wept as they recalled their impressions of poverty and the simple life of the people in the villages. Compared to their wealth and comfortable lifestyle, they wondered what they could do to make a difference.

A member of the Iringa Diocese staff, when it was his turn to speak, gently asked these people not to weep for the Tanzanians. They had everything they needed. Sure, they were poor, but they were happy. Instead, weep for people who have more than they need, because wealth has a way of masking what is truly important in life.

Sights, sounds, smells - and lessons to learn.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Preacher Tom

For my first six Sundays in Iringa, I've attended worship in different churches every week. I've listened to Don Fultz preach. I've listened to Gary Langness preach. Finally, they said to me, "Tom, it's time to get off the bench and into the game." So today, I preached.

I felt confident going into the day. I had my sermon down cold. It was good. I was going to preach on stewardship. We have been told by the leaders of the Iringa Diocese that Tanzanian Lutherans don't know much about stewardship. So I was going to preach a stemwinder. And I did. I had them nodding and saying "amen," and answering questions. It was a good sermon. They were motivated. They told how they would respond to the question, "What will I do with my abundance?" I felt great.

But what a surprise I had in store for me. During the auction after the first service, the only item to be auctioned was a bag of pumpkin leaves. Pumpkin leaves! Have you ever eaten pumpkin leaves? No need to try.

So I preached even harder in the second service. They were with me the whole time. One young lady even committed to give 50% of all her earnings to the work of the Lord. What a sermon. It was working.

Until the offering. Would you believe, all that was given for the auction was a bag of green beans and a half dozen tomatoes? I guess I needed humbling. I hadn't bowled them over like I thought. It was a zero chicken Sunday. It was good for me.

But in two weeks when I preach again......

A great memory occurred at the end of the second service, almost by accident. The local pastor found out that an elderly lady had come that Sunday to be baptized. He asked if I would baptize her. What a thrill. She was first invited to the church by her grandchildren. A granddaughter brought her forward for baptism. She could hardly stand, but she answered all the questions and in front of the entire congregation, asked to be baptized. What powerful words they were to say her name followed by, "I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit." She may remember that she was baptized by some gray-haired white guy. I'll forever remember the joy on her face as she rested in the promises of God. "Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation..."

Who cares if it was a zero chicken Sunday. The baptism was worth the whole day.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Odds and Ends


Another Sunday in Tanzania brought a three and a half hour worship in the village of Ihemi. We had three baptisms, communion and all of the other goodies that go with worship. The announcements alone were almost an hour. But it must have been a very good worship. The auction of items given during the offering included firewood, charcoal, a bag of potatoes, a bucket of tomatoes, corn and TWO chickens. That's right, it was a two chicken Sunday! A first in my experience.


Last night, Don and Eunice Fultz, Gary and Carol (she arrived on Friday) Langness and I attended a fundraiser for a new church building for one of the local parishes. It started at 7:00 in a beautiful banquet hall. We were told we would eat at around 8:00. We sat at a table, our ears being assaulted by loud music for two hours, before the guests of honor arrived. The guests of honor were that because they were the heavy hitters, the big money. Speeches were made by the dignitaries, including the bishop and the local political leader, more music was played and sung, and then the fundraising began. It's now 10:00. No food yet.

As a professional fundraiser (Philanthropic Adviser, you know) I was interested to know how they intended to raise the money. Their goal for the night was around $20,000. This is how they did it. With a video camera displaying its image on a large screen in the front of the hall, bright spot lights and a microphone, the lead fundraiser went around the room, person by person, and asked each person to tell what they were going to give to the project. They started at our table! At 11:45 they still weren't finished, but we had made our pledges, so we left for the night. We still hadn't eaten.

We were told the next day that they raised a little more than $15,000 with more pledges from absent people coming in.


My intentions in coming to Tanzania were to work with Tumaini Univeristy Iringa College on their strategic planning processes. The thought from many bright people who had visited in previous years was that Tumaini was a great school that needed a little help to plan for its future.

Much to my surprise and delight, I found that in the past year great strides had been made in their planning. Dr. Richard Lubawa, a recent PhD graduate of Luther Seminary, is doing a terrific job, leading the planning efforts. I read through the second draft of their strategic plan, being as critical as I could be, and then sat with Richard for a conversation. Believe me, he knows what he's doing. Not only is the current document very good, but they plan to revise and tighten it two more times before they are done. Every suggestion I made, he had considered and made plans to do before I arrived. My work with them was done within two and a half weeks.

Since then, I've been working with the Iringa Diocese on their planning processes, particularly as they relate to their partnership with the St. Paul Area Synod. Bishop Mdegella has repeatedly said that two things that will be required of the Iringa Diocese moving forward are transparency and accountability. He has learned from the partners in St. Paul that they have expectations of the diocese and its organizations to use the funds given wisely and for their highest priorities.

To that end, I have developed, with the diocese, a series of three simple forms to help congregations, secondary schools, hospitals, orphanages, dispenaries and any other form of the Iringa Diocese establish their highest priories. With diocese approval, once these priorities are established, they will be encouraged to contact their partner congregations with an official request for a specific project. Also, on an annual basis, a progress report is to be made to the partner congregation in St. Paul, updating them on the progress of the project and the use of their funds. I have been meeting with pastors, treasurers and other diocese leaders, teaching them how to plan and how to use these forms.

This has been most fulfilling. I can clearly see how this will help organizations in the Iringa Diocese. I trust it will also be very helpful with the partners in St. Paul.

Other than that, I've helped host groups as they visit from the U.S. I've eaten in many people's homes. I've made a great many friends among the Tanzanian Christians here. And starting next Sunday, I will begin preaching in village churches. I think I'm ready.