25 May 2010

Helping the Church in Tanzania to grow

Sister Lucy at the mother-and-baby clinic in Sayuni in the Diocese of South-West Tanganyika

Patrick Comerford

I spent most of the day yesterday at a meeting of the board of directors of USPG Ireland. USPG – or the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel – Anglicans in World Mission – is one of the oldest mission agencies on these islands, and was founded in 1701.

At the end of our board meeting, Linda Chambers of USPG Ireland and Bishop Michael Doe, general secretary of USPG, spoke to us about this year’s USPG Harvest Appeal, which focuses on Tanzania and the Sisters of Saint Mary in the Diocese of South-West Tanganyika, who are reaching out to their communities with God’s love and making a positive impact.

This is an exciting time for the Diocese of South West Tanganyika, whose vision is for a sustainable church, proclaiming and witnessing to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the specially-produced harvest DVD, Bishop John Simalenga of South-West Tanganyika said: “The church is helping to alleviate poverty by working with communities on social development projects.”

After studying at the USPG-supported Milo Bible School, the Sisters of Saint Mary are converting their Bible training into practical community action and say they have found a new fluency in their preaching and a fresh vision for reaching out to hard-pressed communities.

The sisters are an example of how Christians in Tanzania, and across the Anglican Communion, are embracing holistic mission, reaching out to their communities and making a positive impact.

The DVD tells how the sisters donated a dairy cow from their farm to the local church in the small village of Sayuni. The cow was sold and the money used to support local community projects. Villagers are also shown how to build biogas units and use cow manure for lighting and cooking.

Sister Lucy, who has been a member of the community for 15 years, took a nine-month course at Milo last year. She says: “I am very thankful that I was given the opportunity to train at the bible school. The courses gave me the confidence to stand in front of people and teach the word of God. It really helped me with understanding the Bible.” The Principal of Milo Bible School, Father Mathea Matwebo, says the students are taught practical skills – including farming, tailoring and carpentry – alongside church management, theology and pastoral care.

Sister Lucy helps with a range of community development programmes run by the community, which is self-sustaining and has a working farm. “We are involved in the surrounding communities,” she says. “Poverty is the biggest issue, with most people eking out a living as subsistence farmers. Consequently, most young people are leaving the area to seek jobs on tea plantations or in towns, like Njombe. So we offer training so the people can start small agricultural projects, such as a piggery, raising chickens and vegetable gardens. People come to the convent to learn practical skills so they can do it for themselves.”

The sisters run a series of weekly mother and child clinics in Sayuni and three neighbouring villages. Up to 200 mothers can gather at the clinic, patiently waiting their turn to see the nurse. Babies are weighed and monitored, inoculations are given, and both mother and child are given help with any ailments.

Another initiative set up by the sisters, Saint Mary’s Kindergarten in Njombe, is attended by over 60 children. Some of them travel up to two miles to get to the school – a difficult journey over rough terrain. The sisters also operate a tree-planting scheme – important in a region where people cut down trees for firewood – and the convent’s vehicle doubles up as the local ambulance for taking patients to the nearest hospital, a three-hour drive.

To generate income, the sisters produce communion wafers for the Anglican Church. This process is similar to making pancakes, where the mixture is put on to a hot plate, then using a cutter when the mixture has cooled to create the wafer shape.

Christina Mng’ong’o, a lay catechist and church community development leader, says: “At Milo, we learned how to lead worship, how to counsel people and how to reach out to people who are not church members. We also received practical training in gardening and farming. Now I’m involved in development activities in my village, as well as teaching religious education in a primary school.”

Bishop John Simalenga: “We wish we could do much more.”

Bishop Simalenga says: “We wish we could do much more – we would like to offer better health services, more schools, and alleviate poverty. We would like to thank USPG for giving us a helping hand in extending the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Please support USPG’s Harvest appeal and help the world church to grow.You can donate here

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

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