Southwestern Diocese of the Lutheran Church in Tanzania and South Carolina Synod

Companion Synod Partnerships are all about being in relationship with one another. Getting to know one another. Walking together and encouraging one another in our Christian faith. In August 2017 six members of the South Carolina Synod had the opportunity to visit with our Lutheran brothers and sisters in Tanzania. Bishop Herman Yoos and Dr. Cathy Milesjczak, our Companion Partnership Co-Coordinator, have been to the Diocese several times before, but for four members of the team this was our first time to be in the Diocese and on the continent of Africa. There is no doubt that regardless of how many times someone had been there, this was a life-giving and life-changing experience for each one of us. In spite of the fact that we come from vastly different cultures on opposite sides of the globe, the relationship we share in Christ Jesus connects us in a deep and abiding way.

Here are some brief highlights of this visit from Bishop Yoos, Cathy Milesjczak, John Trump, Joe Fulmer, James Laurence and me (Ginny Aebischer). If you would like to know more about this Companion Partnership please contact one of us. We would love to share more about our relationship with the people of the SW Diocese and about this life-changing journey.

The Rev. Herman Yoos,
Bishop of the South Carolina Synod

With every visit to the SW Diocese, Bishop Mbwilo invites all of us into his office for conversation and prayer. This time it was a deeply profound conversation that I won’t soon forget. We talked about how we are approaching the 15th year of our companion synod partnership together. Both Bishop Mbwilo and I will write a letter to all of our congregations lifting up specific prayer concerns for one another this fall.

Then we began to talk about how we needed their prayers for our country because of how divided and polarized we are and the inability of our elected leaders to work together across the differences. Bishop Mbwilo shared how sad it makes him and other leaders of the world to see America so divided. He said, “All of the nations of the world look to America to see how a democracy works and how different parties can come together after an election for the good of all. It is strange for us to see America going through such conflicts and not caring about anyone else but themselves.”

Then he shared how their government has forbidden any opposition parties to meet and does not allow any dissent to take place. He also shared how their president has enacted a 20% tax on all church schools in the country, which few church schools can afford to pay. This is a serious concern in the Dioceses because their parochial schools offer a much better education than the government schools.

After sharing these mutual concerns we stopped and prayed for one another. Several pastors from the bishop’s staff prayed for the healing of division in America. And several of our team members prayed for their government and for ways church schools can continue to be a blessing in that Diocese. I wrote in my journal that “it was a profound, holy and humble conversation where we experienced together where the mind of Christ was in us and with us.” Our devotional reading that day was from Philippians 2:5. “Let the same mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus.”

Cathy Milesjczak,
Co-coordinator for the Companion Synod Relationship in Tanzania

It is always good to see a project come together. Mama Ala, Bishop Mbwilo’s wife, had informed me that the diocese was having a poor growing season. We had learned that the first crops were not successful. Mama Ala asked if we could help with the women’s project to help the poor villagers with farm supplies. The South Carolina WELCA women adopted the request as their project for this year. I was able to take their generous donation to the women in the South Western Diocese. Pastor Ginny Aebischer and I visited the women’s group and we were able to pass out some of the supplies that were already bought. It was overwhelming to see the joy on the villagers faces. One lady stood up and asked, “who am I to meet these guests, and who am I to receive these gifts?” My thoughts were, who am I to witness the love of God in such an awesome way?

The Rev. John Trump,
Pastor, St. Andrew’s Lutheran, Columbia
Among the many pictures from Tanzania there is included one of me, taken by a fellow traveler, in the Amsterdam airport, with me fast asleep on a bench. I look tired. I probably also smelled. We were on the way home from what was really a quick trip to that beautiful country, where we really only visited one small area where the synod’s three partner churches are located. The church St. Andrew’s partners with is from Makusi, and the pastor is Rev. Latinus Ngullo. He now owns a “Carolina Gamecock” t-shirt which he wore for us the day after we presented it to him. There are so many great memories that could be shared. Worship was filled with the Spirit expressed in singing, word, and community. A highlight was that Pastor Ginny Aebischer and I had the privilege of baptizing the infant daughter of Pastor and Mrs. Ngullo. We were so surprised when they asked, and yes, we said the words of baptism together. It was a powerful reminder of the fact that despite the thousands of miles between us, and the drastic cultural differences, we are one in our baptisms into Christ. As we traveled about in the Diocese we saw an example of a “safe water system” providing clean drinking water to people. We also saw the very real poverty these people exist in every day. The children at the school lunch received a single cup of a corn meal mush. The homes have little to no running water even for bathing. Sometimes we might forget how lucky we are to be living in America. Despite this the people of Tanzania always expressed thanks for all that they did have, and a deep gratitude for our presence among them. While I may have been tired and dirty as we traveled back to the states, I can certainly say that it was all worth it.

Joe Fulmer,
Messiah Lutheran Church, Mauldin
My trip to the SW Diocese in Tanzania brought many emotions. First was amazement. The smiles on all of the children’s faces were amazing. They were the “wow” on my trip. They have little in life as compared to us westerners. Our children have the best clothing, homes, food and lifestyles. They do not. But they have happiness. I never saw a frown on any of their faces. I just proves that “things” do not make one happy. It is the love of life. The love of Jesus. And the love of God that makes us content.

Next was a sense of pride. While making a trip to the village of Ngoje to look at a safe water system installed to deliver clean water to the village, a plaque on the purification building was pointed out to me. The system was dedicated to the South Carolina Men in Mission. Being a past President, and current Treasurer of SCLMM, a sense of pride swept over me. Knowing that the Lutheran men in the state of South Carolina had a little something to do with helping the lives of people on the other side of the world was overwhelming.

Was the trip worth it? Yes, it changed my life forever!

The Rev. James Laurence,
Pastor, St. David Lutheran Church, West Columbia
It is hard to remember not to use the tap water when brushing your teeth, as we were encouraged to do at the guest house in Tanzania, but important; the water is not safe to drink there. It was also a good reminder of why our South Carolina Synod is working so diligently to provide safe water for the villages in this companion synod. And this was good preparation for our visit to the safe water system in Ngoge on my last full day in Tanzania. We saw the system itself and then visited one of the taps where the water can be obtained. This tap seemed like it was in a very remote area of this community, and it wasn’t easy to find, but when we arrived we found a constant stream of people, mostly women and children, arriving with their empty 5-gallon jugs, to fill them up with this safe water.

We talked to some of them (with Pastor Nyambo’s help), and had fun trying to balance partially-filled jugs on our heads (a completely full jug weighs over 40 pounds, and it was amazing to see these women carrying these jugs away completely full!). We took pictures, of course, with one boy patiently waiting to place the jug on his head until a camera was pointed at him. We must have been an unusual sight to those who came for water, a routine day for them interrupted by these strange visitors. But the day was anything but routine for us. It was a miracle, really, to see a whole village in this remote part of Tanzania, now blessed with safe water.

It was inspiring to hear of the decline in disease due to this safe water, all because of the efforts being made by our Synod. I smiled at the boy as I took his picture, and then I turned on the tap, filled my empty hands with water, and took a long, refreshing drink of this safe, cool, delicious water, as I gave thanks to God for the miracle that I beheld.

The Rev. Ginny Aebischer,
Pastor, South Carolina Synod
Assistant to the Bishop
We had many opportunities to talk with, walk beside and learn from our brothers and sisters in Tanzania. It is clear that worship is very important to the people in the Diocese. Most often worship services last 2 hours or more and yet it didn’t feel like the services were long at all. The people of the church have deep appreciation and respect for their pastors and evangelists, but they also eagerly step up to take on various leadership roles in their church. At one of the schools where we met 450 children, the children were asked how many would like to become pastors. It was a delightful surprise to see more than 100 little hands shoot up with excitement about the possibility that they could serve the Lord and the church in the role of pastor one day. Even young children & youth lead parts of the service and the singing. They are all encouraged to assist with worship leadership and they do it with big smiles on their faces. Enthusiastic choir members, youth, children and adults, love to sing their praises and make beautiful worship music using their voices as the chief instrument. The entire congregation walks forward to give their offering. If they do not have coins or money to give, they give baskets of produce or grain that is sold after worship, and the money their gift brings is given to support the ministry of the church. It is amazing to experience their joy-filled giving of who they are and whatever they have, because while they have so little in terms of possessions, they share great joy in giving it.

I was blessed to assist with Sunday worship in two different parishes, but also with the closing worship for the first Pastors’ Wives Seminar that was held on the second weekend of our visit. When we are sharing the bread and the wine it becomes a profound and visible evidence of our connection to one another in the body and blood of Christ. The Pastors’ wives had never had the opportunity before to gather in retreat with one another. Gifts from SC Women of the ELCA made this event possible, and the women were very grateful. It was clear that they had a wonderful experience of support, encouragement, learning and fellowship with one another. They warmly welcomed Cathy and me into their midst as sisters in Christ. Worshipping and sharing Holy Communion together was a wonderful way to conclude our time in the SW Diocese. It reminds me that even when we are in our churches at home we have a beautiful connection to sisters and brothers on the other side of the world.

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