Dear Friends in Christ,

“I lift up my eyes to the hills- from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2)

It was a blessing to have the opportunity to travel to Tanzania, July 29 – August 11. As I stated in last week’s e-mail message the purpose of the trip was 2-fold:

  1. To reaffirm the Companion Church relationship between the Northwestern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Dodoma Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT).
  2. To participate in the 2018 ELCA – ELCT Companion Synod / Diocese Bishops’ Summit, which was held from August 6-10 in Moshi, Tanzania. There were 26 ELCT dioceses that were represented by 26 ELCT bishops. 20 ELCA synods have partner relationships with 20 ELCT dioceses. The ELCA delegation included 9 ELCA bishops, 7 Bishop’s assistants, and several Global Mission Churchwide staff members.

I was joined on the trip to Tanzania by NWOS Global Mission Board members, Ron Hiatt, Becky Seibert, Pastor Robert Johnson from Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Toledo, and Pastor Bob Noble from Calvary Lutheran Church in Northwood. Pastors Johnson and Noble were able to reaffirm longstanding “companion parish” relationships. Holy Trinity in Toledo is in relationship with the Cathedral Parish of the Dodoma Diocese. Calvary Lutheran Church in Northwood is in relationship with the Mnadani Parish in Dodoma.

From August 6-10, the 2018 ELCA – ELCT Companion Synod / Diocese Bishops’ Summit, was held in Moshi, Tanzania. The picture above is a view of Mount Kilimanjaro that filled the northern sky. The white, puffy images below the mountain are clouds. The green vegetation below the clouds provides a picture of the lush and fertile landscape that is much of northern Tanzania.

So, why a Summit? As stated in the Program Book for the 2018 ELCA – ELCT Companion Synod / Diocese Bishops’ Summit, “We are at the foot of the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. It is our hope, vision, and prayer that the Bishop’s Summit will have engaging worship, inspiring presentations, and critical dialogue. We will be reflecting on opportunities for a shift or change in the companion synod / diocese relationships between the ELCA and ELCT”.

We talked about some of the reasons behind the shifts and changes in the companion synod / diocese relationships between the ELCA and ELCT.

  1. The ELCA is a shrinking church while the ELCT continues to grow.
  2. There are now 6 newly formed ELCT dioceses, who are eager to partner with ELCA synods, but current synods lack the resources and the will to enter into new partnerships.
  3. Cultural, linguistic, and geographical differences make communication and shared mission challenging.
  4. The ELCT is a church that is primarily focused on mission and evangelism. I was asked by a Tanzanian bishop, “What is the ELCA’s primary focus”? I should have been able to provide a God given and compelling response.

We also spent significant time discussing a more focused partnership moving forward.

  1. The Church in Tanzania is effective in its use of holistic evangelism. Sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ is accompanied by education, clean water, and health services. What might the ELCA learn about evangelism from the ELCT?
  2. The role of women in positions of leadership in the ELCT is growing. Many of the most passionate speakers and presenters were women clergy from Tanzania. Many of them were inspired to learn that the ELCA recently elected 6 female bishops. What might the ELCT learn from the ELCA?

At the end of the Bishops’ Summit, a group of us were taken to Mount Kilimanjaro National Park. We stood at the foot of this great mountain and learned that it takes a lot of preparation, time, and dedication to climb it. One does not need to be a “technical climber” to reach the peak (19,341 feet above sea level). One of the park guides explained the best way to climb Mount Kilimanjaro is to take 5 days to ascend and 3 days to descend. People who try to climb the mountain “in a hurry” hardly ever make it to the summit.

This is the metaphor that continues to swim in my mind as I consider the future of our relationship with the Dodoma Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT). It is a long, prayerful, and intentional journey that we will continue to walk together. Our sisters and brothers in Tanzania have much to teach us, and we have much to learn. My prayer is that as we deepen this longstanding partnership both churches will be led by God to be the Church God longs for us to be: A church that is bold in its witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and committed to developing disciples who through the power of the Holy Spirit transform this world into the Kingdom of God.