Showalter: Tanzanians’ audacious goal

May 22, 2017 by

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It is exciting to witness how Anabaptist churches of the Global South are pursuing their goals. Tanzanian Mennonites may be the most ambitious of all.

Richard Showalter

Showalter

The Tanzanian Mennonite Church — in Swahili, Kanisa la Mennonite Tanzania, or KMT — is a group of about 65,000 members, now more than 80 years old. The KMT is divided into 10 regions, known as dioceses, each led by a bishop. Two hundred thirty pastors serve one or more congregations.

In 2034 the KMT will celebrate its 100th anniversary. In preparation, the leaders are unveiling an ambitious set of goals they’ve dubbed “Vision 2034.”

Their vision is to add a million members within 17 years.

You heard that right. One million.

Many would say it’s an unreachable goal. That’s more than 15 new members for each current one. Take into account deaths and other inevitable losses, and it’s even more than that.

This goal would be tough to market in the West.

Even the most rapidly growing, evangelism-minded Mennonite Brethren conference would set its sights lower.

Even the biologically reproductive Old Order Amish — though they wouldn’t set goals in any case — will hardly match it.

Looking around the globe, few others are so daring.

What’s with the KMT? Naivete? Ignorance? Overweening pride?

I don’t think so. Rather, it’s a combination of simple faith, prayerful consideration of the spiritual needs around them and determination to place their resources at God’s disposal. They know they are poor and weak in earthly terms, but together they believe God is leading them into a season of harvest.

They say: “Setting a goal beyond our human ability is a proof of trust that we do our part to invite God to finish the work within our hands!”

It’s a generational change. During the past three months, five new bishops have been ordained. Others will join them soon. The church is young in age and reproductive in spirit.

The KMT has chosen a new general secretary, John Wambura, who is both humbly dependent on God and highly skilled in strategic planning and project management. His background is with the U.S. Embassy, the United Nations and the poverty-alleviation organization Oxfam. But years ago he laid down those secure roles to serve a vulnerable church. Now he is honing his skills to mobilize the church for mission-focused outreach.

The Tanzanians are not counting on the West for material resources. Yes, they’re part of a global church, and perhaps others will join them in small ways. But this is about ordinary Tanzanians.

When Wambura left the U.N. to serve what looked like an unpromising, weak church, it was a huge step of faith. Many thought he was crazy. But God came through.

Now comes a bigger test. Last month in a living room, the bishops and spouses embraced the vision together.

Will God empower this little community to reach their breathtaking goal? I don’t know. But is it less likely than what happened after a motley new generation of the first Anabaptists baptized each other from a milk pail in a living room in 1525?

Richard Showalter lives in Irwin, Ohio, and travels in Asia, Africa, the U.S. and beyond as a teacher, preacher, writer and servant.


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