Tanzania - A land of many opportunites to serve the Lord
Compiled by Stephen Davies Tanzania, from contributions from missionary colleagues.
The start of Christian missionary endeavour in Tanzania can be traced back to the 1860s, but it was not until the 1950s that the first footprints of assembly-commended missionaries were seen with the arrival of the Dalton brothers and their spouses. Not wishing to encroach on the work of other mission groups, particularly in the north, their initial survey identified ‘six open doors in eastern Tanzania where there was no effectual evangelical testimony’. 1
From early starts in the far south of the country through medical work, the work grew as more missionaries arrived, particularly from assemblies in Germany, in response to Dudley Dalton’s vision of 100 missionaries for Tanzania. British and German missionaries, in fellowship together under the registration of Christian Missions in Many Lands (Tanzania), worked with a medical emphasis, the British based at Kilwa and the Germans at Mbesa. However, due to their differing modus operandi, the work of each group expanded in different directions, the Germans evangelizing across Southern Tanzania, and the British moving up the east coast to Dar es Salaam, and eventually becoming focused on the Northern regions of Tanzania. Over the past sixty years, much of Tanzania has been evangelized, assemblies established, and national believers called into the work of serving the Lord.
The purpose of these articles is to give the reader a flavour of what the Lord has done and is doing now in this vast country of opportunity, through a vastly reduced number of assembly-commended missionaries. While some centres of mission work may no longer be in operation, the focus remains on reaching the people with the gospel of the Lord Jesus through an array of opportunities as given and directed by the Lord.
Mbesa Mission Hospital was founded in 1959 by CMML(T) German Section in response to the conditions set by the chief of Mbesa, a Muslim, for the missionaries being granted permission to stay in the region. The hospital soon became known as a place where someone not only received treatment but was shown love and compassion, alongside the word of God. Although local chiefs took a vow that none of them nor their clans would accept the ‘new religion’, the love of Christ ‘sneaked’ into some hearts and, before long, people were being saved and baptized. Within the growing hospital, the German doctors and leading staff used prayer, devotions (transmitted through loudspeakers) and showing evangelistic films (with translation) to combine the gospel through deeds with the gospel through words. Thus, the message went into many villages through returning healed patients and, slowly but surely, villages opened up to evangelistic outreach. Today, New Testament assemblies, registered as Kanisa la Biblia (Church of the Bible) are well established across Southern Tanzania. Since July 2017, the 100-bed Mbesa Hospital no longer has any expatriate residential doctors and is going through a change in personnel and structure but with the Lord’s help and the involvement and commitment of local believers, there is every reason to be positive that it will continue to be a place where people in need will experience physical and spiritual healing.
Tanzania is almost four times the size of the United Kingdom. Literacy levels are low, poverty is widespread and rural assemblies, often very small, are primarily composed of those living by subsistence. The assemblies are scattered far and wide, offering few opportunities of fellowship with others, or receiving Bible teaching that is enjoyed and valued by those in the developed world. Visits from the few remaining missionaries are infrequent. Many elders are untaught in the scriptures, making the believers susceptible to error and the weakening of their testimony. Against this background, in 1970 Nanjoka Bible School, Tunduru, was established by German missionaries in the South to help teach local assembly elders and new believers to understand the word of God through short courses and seminars – some of the believers were converts from Islam. The provision has grown over the years and now offers residential courses, whereby believers are not only taught the word of God but equipped with tools for further study for themselves, so that having been taught they can then teach others. The gospel continues to reach local communities every week, through outreach teams from the Bible School and many have found the Lord during such outreach campaigns. The Bible School is under the responsibility of national believers.
In 2000, British Section missionaries received a request to commence a Bible School in the North of the country to enable students, from all the local churches in the country, to increase their knowledge of the Bible and its application to daily living. So, Berea Bible College, Moshi, was born. Courses were arranged to fit with farming seasons, costs heavily subsidized so that there was no barrier to attendance and travel fares refunded to equalize the opportunity for students to come from far away. As levels of education and literacy have improved so has access to this type of study. Initially, four short courses were offered for three months per year, but later the syllabus was modified to be completed in just the one year of full-time study. Teaching was undertaken by local missionaries, national evangelists and church elders. Subjects include Old and New Testament studies, Mission, and the Church, so that the students leave with a greater ability to serve the church. A major emphasis is to train up effective leaders who will go and teach/preach in their own home assemblies. The outcome is that scores of students are better equipped and enabled to use the whole Bible for ministry. It was determined by the local missionaries that the ministry of running the Bible School would be handed over to local believers, who were trained, equipped and enabled to continue the work after they had retired. This ambition was fulfilled in 2015 when the Tanzanian principal and the teaching staff took over total responsibility for the work.
There are local initiatives too. The Disciples of Jesus school was started in March 2014, in Kigoma town, in Western Tanzania. Using the Kigoma Town assembly buildings, a one-year Bible certificate programme is offered with fifteen courses covering the major doctrines, a survey of the Bible, and other courses related to the Christian life. In addition to classroom time, there is daily Bible reading with notetaking, scripture memorization and ministry trips to the villages. 2 The school has three full-time teachers and uses some guest teachers. Four students graduated in the first year, four in the second and eight graduated at the close of 2017. The desire and aim is to give believers a good foundation in God’s word so that they might be equipped to better serve Christ.
In 1975, Nazareth Vocational Training School was founded in Mbesa, and came as a logical consequence of an orphanage run by CMML(T) missionaries. By providing such a facility, the children could stay on until adolescence because, apart from government primary education, there was nothing else in this restricted area. 3
?It was felt important to give young people a reason to stay in the area, a good foundation for their lives, including a strong emphasis on biblical teaching in word and deed. The reasoning was that if these young people didn’t have to go away to get educated (and never come back again), some would stay and the Christians among them would continue to be useful to the church. From the very start, the church was involved and, although open for everybody, one main target group for Nazareth was the church youth.
?In an area of extreme poverty, led by Tanzanian professional craftsmen, Nazareth serves sixty-five students, largely from the local area in Southern Tanzania. These students receive three years of training as carpenters, automotive mechanics, metal workers, or electricians and finish with a government licensing examination. Nazareth provides an unparalleled opportunity to receive solid vocational training and teaching in the Christian faith.
Likewise, for the girls, ‘Bethania’, a domestic school for tailoring, cooking and a lot of general education around family (including, for some, to learn to read and write) was set up with the same purpose and focus as Nazareth. Today, former Nazareth students are all over the country, many of whom are active in youth ministries, church leadership and some now send their children to Nazareth.
In support of missionary work in Tanzania, Kanisa la Biblia Publishers (KLBP) was established by the German Section to provide literature for the people within the Swahili-speaking world, so that they were able to read, understand and teach what they had learned from the Bible and apply it to their lives. This also included aiming for low prices in order to make literature available to all who need it. The first books published were Panorama ya Biblia (Panorama of the Bible) and Imani yetu Ndiyo Ushindi (Our Faith is Victorious) in 1980, closely followed, 1986-1990, by the translation of Donald Fleming’s The New Testament Speaks and The Old Testament Speaks into a fifteen-volume complete Swahili Bible Commentary. 4 In 1993, KLBP moved to the capital city Dodoma, in Central Tanzania, in order to ease distribution, and from their new premises the above fifteen volumes, revised and updated, were published as one volume, The Bridge Bible Commentary (Biblia Inasema) in 2000. 5 KLBP are working on the Believers’ Bible Commentary by William MacDonald. The translation of the New Testament is finished, but more time and effort are needed to correct and prepare everything, together with the footnotes and alternate readings of the Bible texts. 6 Together with the publication of many gospel tracts and booklets, KLBP have just finished a series of eighteen books Masomo Bunifu ya Biblia (Creative Bible Lessons), a Sunday School curriculum spread over eight years. It emphasizes thorough Bible teaching by repeating important Bible truths in three different ages groups. This programme is supported by visual aids and a training programme for teachers. The biggest challenge is making this publication affordable. Prayer would be appreciated for future publishing projects, for improvement in KLBP’s online presence, for handing over to local staff, and for new workers in the field of revision, translation and design of new publications of books and e-books.
1 F. A. Tatford, That the World May Know, Volume 6, Echoes Publications, pg. 289.
2 Classes meet on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays from 4-6 p.m. (with about 45 minutes of sports time following class time). Many of the students are studying in high school and one man is employed, but they can all make it by that time in the afternoon.
3 Restricted because of the fighting for independence in neighbouring Mozambique.
4 This was accompanied by a translation of the Bridge Bible Dictionary (Kamusi ya Biblia) by the same author, in 1995, as an essential reference book.
5 Amongst other important publications are Wito wa Viongozi wa Kikristo (Calling Christian Leaders – John Stott), Uongozi wa Kiroho (Spiritual Leadership – J. Oswald Sanders) and Mtumishi mwaminifu wa Yesu (True Discipleship – William MacDonald).
6 Currently the office is staffed by two nationals, one missionary, and one volunteer for a year.