We have just recently passed the 6 month mark since our arrival in Dodoma, Tanzania, and it has been a really incredible time so far. Although we have moved from one nation’s capital to another, it has been a big shift. Dodoma is a small city, and though it has a couple traffic circles to help us feel at home, there aren’t even any stoplights. The seminary we live is well outside of town – several kilometers past where the paved road ends. It’s rural out here, and our next-door neighbors have roosters to help us wake up each morning. We even had to chase a cow out of our yard about a week after we arrived!
Working with the students here at Msalato Theological College has been great. We have 46 students in the diploma program, most of whom are preparing to serve as priests in parishes in this region. In addition, we have eight students pursuing bachelor’s degrees, who generally are preparing to teach theology here in the Diocese of Central Tanganyika or in other dioceses throughout the country. There are also programs for students and some wives of students to study English, and a secretarial program. We spend time with all of these students, whether teaching them in class, worshiping with them at our daily chapel services, or traveling with them to lead worship at local parishes.
Each teacher and each student at Msalato is assigned to a pastoral care group. These groups meet every Wednesday morning to sing, study Scripture, and pray for each other. These same groups go out each Sunday to lead worship at local parishes, in this seminary’s version of seminarian internships. Ben’s group serves a nearby parish, and Elizabeth’s works with the girls’ high school next to Msalato’s campus. Teachers mentor and train the students, who do most of the work of preaching and leading services. It is a great joy to work with all these students preparing for ministry, to see their enthusiasm and passion for Christ, to watch them grow in skill and confidence at leading worship, and to have the great blessing of worshiping Christ with His family in this region of the world. One of our favorite songs is “Katika Jesu tu familia moja” which means “In Jesus Christ we are one family”. This song is always sung as a recessional, and after the leaders recess, each member of the parish follows them out the doors and makes a huge circle in front of the church, shaking hands with every single person on their way around the circle. It is an incredible thing to sing such a song and shake hands with everyone, from toddlers to grandmothers, some of whom don’t speak a word of English, but all of whom are singing about the deepest bond of brotherhood in the world: being part of the family of Christ.
The two of us each have our particular work and ministry here at Msalato, and we wanted to share our personal reflections on our life and service in Tanzania.
Last semester I taught first year degree and diploma theology students basic computer skills. Many of the students at Msalato arrived having never used a computer. Some did not even have electricity in their homes to run a computer. Soon after arriving, the students were presented with the daunting task of producing a well-typed, properly footnoted paper. So, it was quite a challenge that I was presented with on the first day of class, but it was exciting to watch the students progress through the semester. In the beginning, we started with such basics as how to turn on a computer, but by the end of the semester every student was able to give a PowerPoint presentation on an important saint of the church.
This semester, I am also teaching the “Computer Applications” course for the secretarial students. This course covers some of the same material as the theology computer course, but at greater depth. In addition to word processing and PowerPoint, I will be teaching spreadsheets, relational databases, and desktop publishing. One recent graduate of the secretary program, Elias Malesa, recently received a job working with databases. Since then, I have been working with him one-on-one teaching him how to design a database. He gets quite a thrill when the computer can produce results on his command. This has been some of the most rewarding work I have done!
The rest of my time is spent trying to rescue broken computers from failed hard drives, thumb-drive borne viruses, and a host of other problems. While Msalato is fortunate to have three fairly well-stocked computer labs on campus, much of the equipment is aging, so there are enough problems to keep one busy. Our students who are in the degree track (generally people who want to teach at another seminary or university) are given a donated, old laptop computer which they will be able to take with them after graduation to use in their work. I spend a large part of my time rescuing these machines, the oldest of which is more than 12 years old. As an aside, if you are thinking of getting rid of an old (or new!) laptop, we can always use one!
Though my work is largely ancillary to the goal of theological education, I am very much involved in communal life of worship. I was invited to preach recently, and you can find my sermon on the power of the Devil (and the much greater power of God) on our blog. Additionally, I, along with one other teacher, lead a pastoral care group which is assigned a local parish, Mtakatifu Petro (Saint Peter) also known as Muungano, about a 40 minute walk from campus. Worship in Tanzania generally and Muungano particularly is very lively. It involves animated sermons in Swahili and music and dance from three choirs, the Mama’s choir (which sings traditional music in the tribal language Chigogo), the main choir (which uses a synthesizer and sings in Swahili), and a children’ choir.
It has been an interesting experience teaching at a seminary so soon after graduating from seminary myself. I feel like my students and I share a certain freshness and excitement about our future ministries, and I also share a deep empathy with them when they have lots of studying to do or essays to write. The tables have turned, and I have also come to a much deeper appreciation for how hard teachers work!
Last term I taught Church History, New Testament, and Christian Doctrine, and this term I am continuing on with the second half of the New Testament and two classes on the history of the Reformation. I really loved teaching theology last term – it was such an incredible privilege to meet with my students to contemplate the mystery of God. They were full of all sorts of questions, and together we would explore Scripture and discover how the Christian theologians who came before us had done so much to help us understand how the Christian account of the world fits together. And we would laugh as we realized that, as much as we tried to learn, God would continue to be infinitely more vast and mysterious than we could imagine.
I have also found Church History to be a particular joy to teach. I love telling stories, and there are so many amazing stories in the history of the Church. So many of these stories were completely new to my students, and so for me the familiar stories of martyrs and popes and villains and saints gained a fresh power as I told them to people who were hearing them for the first time. My students and I have found so much joy in learning about the Church as it stretches all across the world and across time, and we rejoice that we, too, are part of this incredible story.
When classes ended for the Christmas break, the two of us had the opportunity to go to language school to improve our Swahili, and we were lucky enough to find a Swahili school in Zanzibar. We spent two weeks living in Stonetown, cramming our brains full of grammar and vocabulary, and also exploring the city. We aren’t quite fluent yet, but we have gotten better at basic conversation and at following along in Swahili-language church services!
Now we are back in Dodoma, and excited for our new term. We are thinking of you all, and praying for you. Please continue to pray for us as we continue our mission to grow deeper bonds of love between Christians across the world.