Tanzanians make connections at convention

Jul 8, 2017 by and

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Hundreds of congregations have left Mennonite Church USA in the last few years, making this summer’s convention a peculiar learning opportunity for a group of leaders from Tanzania Mennonite Church (Kanisa la Mennonite Tanzania, or KMT). They are tending a vision of exploding their denomination from 65,000 to 1 million members over the next 15 years to celebrate KMT’s 100th anniversary in 2034.

The group of three bishops and general secretary are at the beginning of a four-week tour of Mennonite colleges, organizations and congregations seeking positive aspects of North America to apply to their churches. The group began in Elkhart, Ind., where bishop Amos Muhagachi is studying at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. Later stops will explore partnerships at Bluffton (Ohio) University, Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., and Mennonite Central Committee in Akron, Pa., and the bishops connected with staff from Hesston (Kan.) College at the convention.

Tanzania Mennonite Church bishops, from left, Amos Muhagachi, Joseph Mutorela, Chriss Kateti and general secretary John Wambura, attend the Mennonite Church USA convention in Orlando. — Tim Huber/MWR

Tanzania Mennonite Church bishops, from left, Amos Muhagachi, Joseph Mutorela, Chriss Kateti and general secretary John Wambura, attend the Mennonite Church USA convention in Orlando. — Tim Huber/MWR

General secretary John Wambura said the new KMT executive committee, which first met in March, has specific goals of improving church governance, community and congregational development, and bolstering education, by reviving KMT’s Mennonite Theological College.

Early results are compelling. The college — which has a goal of not being dependent on funding from places like Lancaster Mennonite Conference and Eastern Mennonite Missions — had never topped 46 students, but there are 96 students enrolled today. One congregation held a fundraiser bringing in $5,000 in one day.

Wambura hopes to equip each member to share the gospel and grow the church. To reach its goal, KMT must add 350 congregations each year, with 200 members each. The overall goal seems ostentatious, but in individual terms, it depends on each person in the church reaching one new person each year. The MC USA convention offered the bishops new strategies to try back home.

“This convention brings together women, children and adults, leaders and even church members,” he said. “While at our gathering, we bring only church leaders. We don’t bring all the youth together, all the women, the members. We don’t have the trainings [and seminars], we just come to one or two days and we go.”

The resolution approved by delegates about Israel-Palestine also offered a new viewpoint for the bishops.

“What we felt back home about Israel-Palestine is not what is here,” Wambura said. “We thought it was OK for Israel to be on top of Palestine, but here it is not good because we are peacemakers.”

Bishop Joseph Mutorela was impressed with the convention’s many programs and how neatly organized everything is.

“Nothing has gone wrong,” he said. “And the leadership of the Mennonite Church USA — how they respect one another.”

The bishops were able to network already in the first few days of their trip, learning of a future Mennonite World Conference event in Kenya and Mennonite Mission Network’s stable of educators and presenters. If MMN staff are already in Nairobi, it makes it cheaper for KMT to invite them to conduct trainings in Tanzania.

“If we didn’t come to the United States,” Wambura said, “we wouldn’t have known that.”

Wambura is aware of the irony of coming to a shrinking denomination in search of ways to grow his. KMT desires to keep partnering with MC USA, though it has close ties with and was founded by Lancaster Mennonite Conference, which is in the process of departing the denomination.

“The lesson we are coming to learn is why is it becoming smaller so we can proactively plan,” he said. “What is the cause that brought them into that.”

He would like to put more emphasis on children’s ministry than he has seen in North America, and doing more to motivate youth to participate in worship.

In Tanzania, many young people use social media apps on their phones, such as WhatsApp, to connect. Wambura hopes to find a way to harness technology for stewardship training and newsletters. He marveled at how delegates received convention materials by email and sees room for TMC to improve when it comes to accountability.

“We’ve been asking people, ‘How do you influence your members to contribute and support this?’ ” he said. ” . . . [In North America] when they give they see the output of what they are giving, that’s something we need to work on. We don’t do monthly reports; they don’t see the output immediately and see how the money is spent.”

Mennonite Church USA isn’t without its warts, and neither is Tanzania Mennonite Church. The bishops are praying for MC USA, and ask that MC USA pray for them.

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