Relationship Building in Tanzania

by The Rev. Trent Pettit

In early October, I had the unique privilege of traveling with Bishop Josiah to represent our parish to the people of the Diocese of Kondoa, Tanzania, and their Bishop, Given Gaula. We traveled there in hopes of beginning a partnership with that diocese. This is an opportunity for us to affirm Christian unity in a concrete way, serving and learning from our brothers and sisters in the faith elsewhere in the Anglican Communion. To that end, Bishop Given asked Bishop Josiah if he would come and offer a conference on Muslim-Christian dialogue and evangelism since the diocese is 90% Muslim. Bishop Josiah was also asked to join Bishop Given in celebrating the rite of confirmation at two local churches.

Clergy from across the diocese attended the conference, where we spent a few days discussing ways they could get to know their Muslim neighbors, promote peace in their villages, and effectively communicate the Gospel in that context. On our last day, we traveled an hour or so into the bush to visit two congregations for confirmation. For me, this is when things got really exciting—when we got to meet the people and worship with them. In each village we were met roadside by a large group of men, women wearing colorful dresses, and children; the congregation had come to meet us and escort our SUV to their church! From there, we put on vestments and processed into mud-brick churches in the community that were already singing and dancing in praise. Between the two congregations, about forty or so young people were there to be confirmed. It was beautiful and humbling to see young people coming forward and kneeling before the two bishops for prayer.

Bishop Given celebrates confirmation annually at each church, at which point he expects the vestry to present on how the congregation has engaged in mission together and to inform the bishop of any difficulties they were facing. Not all these reports were translated from Swahili for us, but Bishop Given would occasionally turn, smiling or looking serious, to tell Bishop Josiah either about something impressive the congregation had been doing or to explain a need the church was facing. We were glad to get to hear about the church’s courage and faith as they shared accounts of all they were doing to reach their villages for Christ.

Bishop Josiah and I are looking forward to what the future holds for St. John the Divine and the Diocese of Kondoa as we engage in mission together. My hope is that we will be able to continue responding to ministerial and physical needs in Kondoa. It’s a joy to be able to begin a friendship with him and the people of the Diocese of Kondoa, especially at a time when mutual trust and understanding within the Anglican Communion is fraught and fraying. Amidst such division, this partnership is not just an opportunity for our church to help another. It is a sign of real, material hope.

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