McCann Mission Today
Newsletter # 25
July, 2009

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. 

But do this with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15b)

FIRST ANNUAL

  THEOLOGY CONFERENCE

  June 23-25, 2009

  ENGAGING THE MUSLIM AND

  AFRICAN TRADITIONALIST

The Very Rev. Ian S. Markham, Ph.D.

  Keynote Speaker

The real value of religious traditions meeting each

other is that both can be enriched.   

Michael C. Kirwen

Sponsored by

  Msalato Theological College

  Box 264

  Dodoma, Tanzania

  Phone: 026 230 4180

  Email: mtc@maf.or.tz

The above is the front page of the brochure from our first theological conference at Msalato Theological College.  Can you tell we are proud?  It has taken a few years to clothe this dream, but it arrived in splendid fashion.  The Very Rev. Ian Markham, Ph.D., Dean and President of Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS), came the week before graduation to do the conference and to be our graduation speaker.  Actually Ian was supposed to come the weekend before graduation, but due to loss of an engine over Kenya, his British Air flight made an emergency landing in Nairobi.  Transport to and from Tanzania being limited, he finally arrived the night before the conference began, having survived the seven-hour bus trek from Dar es Salaam.  Ian took it all in good stride, beginning the next morning with his daily conference schedule of 4 hours of lecture/dialogue, ably assisted by staff of the college.

Both the English-speaking alumni and current students of the college were invited.  This was received as an outstanding educational offering by the attendees.  The five sessions were:

I.               Understanding ‘the Other’

II.             Understanding the Muslim 

III.            Islam Conversion

IV.            Understanding the African Traditionalist 

V.             Islam and Christianity in a Traditionalist Culture.  

Ian’s overall theme was based on The Tower of Babel Story—that none of us are allowed to be God.  We must hold what we consider to be the ultimate truth in humility and to understand, as Augustine said, that wherever truth is found, God is there.  Ian pointed out that Christians have inherited a tradition that learned of God through non-Christian traditions.  He specifically pointed to his orthodox heroes, Augustine (who took much from Plato) and Thomas Aquinas (who took from Aristotle.)

In regard to dialogue with those of other faith traditions, Ian spoke of the wisdom of John S. Dunne who says that engaging the other requires that we cross over and come back.   Cross over and learn and come back with those things that are compatible with the life of Jesus.  From the Muslim tradition, Christians are reminded that each day is to be interrupted with prayer and each year with fasting and spiritual renewal.  From the African Traditionalists, Christians are reminded that the Spirit of God pervades all of creation and that to be our brother’s keeper is an essential part of living in community.

The outline prepared by Ian for each of the five sessions was headed by the verse found at the top of this letter: Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15b.)  He stressed that the two great love commandments do not allow us to distort the view of the other, but instead command us to be generous, fair, and understanding.  The principles of engagement, as well as the dangers, were thoroughly discussed.  To cross over and to come back means one has to know from where one is coming.  To quote Ian: The importance of talking to persons who disagree is that it forces you to become clearer about what you think.  You cannot say that your whole theology is based on Father, Son, and Holy Spirit if you are not able to define the Trinity.  OUCH. 

Assisting in the conference was the Reverend Hilda Kabia who teaches courses on Islam at Msalato. Hilda was able to present the local attitudes and issues of the Muslims in central Tanzania.  The Reverend Canon Moses Matonya, Principal at Msalato, was able to offer many insights on African Traditional Religions.  Moses’ book, Real Power, Jesus Christ’s Authority over the Spirits, has been recently published.  The book explains how and why traditional beliefs are so pervasive.  Through a comparison to Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, Moses presents methods for the Christian gospel to reach out to these beliefs.  Interacting with Traditionalists and Muslims are everyday occurrences for pastors of this area, so the topics discussed were received with much gratitude and with a plea for more of the same in the future.  All in all the conference was a huge success and the prospects of having Dr. Markham return in the future are very real. 

The prospects are great because the Dean was made Chief of Mgunga, a village where Virginia Seminary has adopted 50 children, supplying them with school uniforms and daily porridge for the next five years as part of a diocesan project called Carpenter’s Kids.  Among other gifts, the new chief was presented with a sheep. In his acceptance speech, Chief Ian promised a return visit with his wife, Lesley, and son, Luke.

Dean Markham was not our only visitor from VTS these past few weeks.  Four students accompanied Dr. Jacques Hadler for three weeks, leaving a week before Dean Markham arrived.  Jacques did his usual amazing job of organizing everyone, himself spending one week each teaching at Msalato, at St. Philip’s, and at St. John’s.  At left Jacques is accepting the gift of a chicken from Rev. Leonard and Mrs. Mtembwe.

Josiah Rengers, a 26-year old middler from the Diocese of West VA, did a rural parish internship.  Our hats are off to this young man who did something that neither Sandra or I have done in our nearly six years in Africa.  Josiah stayed in a village for two weeks.  Josiah did not sleep for the first two nights in the home in which he lived with the family of the Reverend Leonard Mtembwe (pictured with Dr. Hadler above) a lovely quiet English speaking graduate of MTC.  A bed was brought in especially for Josiah, but he had no mosquito net and was kept awake by the bats in the roof and the lizards in the room.  On the third day he said he had an epiphany in the middle of the night that God was present with him.  For the remaining 12 nights he slept peacefully.  From the brief time we had with Josiah the night before he departed, it was obvious that he already had deep insights into both the joys and hardships of African life.  Josiah said that his two years in the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan helped prepare him to deal with the loneliness and the periods of boredom.

Meredith Holt, an unusually mature 24-year-old woman, a rising senior at VTS from Texas, taught Genesis 1-11 and Women of the Bible.  The latter course was for the entire student body for six afternoons.  Meredith is an extremely gifted teacher whose gifts of grace and wisdom were a lesson to all privileged to be in her presence.  A consistent large afternoon attendance was a tribute to her skills.  Meredith, like Josiah, had spent time in another country.  Her experience in Ghana helped prepare her for life in Tanzania.  Don’t these young people give you hope for the future of our church and world?
Karen King, a mature woman from Seabury Western Seminary in Chicago, teamed up with the VTS students.  Karen spent two weeks in an urban parish.  Although she lived in a relatively comfortable guesthouse, her mentor, the Reverend Yonas Chijete, took her on the rounds of his deanery so she was exposed to life in the village as well.  She is a gifted singer who laughs easily and was a real hit with her African brothers and sisters.  Karen is rear center in the picture

And last, but certainly not least, Leslie Steffensen, now the Administrative Coordinator for The Center for Anglican Communion Studies at VTS returned to Msalato where she and her family had spent 2006-7.   It was a joy to see her reconnect so easily with all the staff and remaining students who knew and loved her.  In addition to orienting the students to the Diocese of Central Tanganyika (herself having been in their position in 2005) Leslie taught Children’s Ministry and spent time with the women students discussing the first meeting of Women in Theological Education held at Canterbury, England, in February 2009.  Just as the participants at the conference had done, so Leslie used some of the stories of Jesus and women from John’s gospel to reflect on how the passage related to theological education. 

The Very Reverend Richard Martindale of Trinity Episcopal Church in Columbus, GA, rounds out our list of June visitors.  It is because of the generosity of the people of Trinity that the faculty houses were recently renovated, and they led the way in funding for the purchasing of the college’s minibus.  While Rich is not currently associated with VTS, he is an alumnus.  Rich shared much of the same schedule and duties as Dean Markham.  They stayed together in the guesthouse and became fast friends.  In Sandra’s opinion, they share, along with Martin, unique senses of humor.  The fact that so few others laugh nearly as heartily as they at their own jokes (think Red Skelton) is no deterrent.  In addition to his jovial disposition, Rich is a gifted preacher and like Ian, preached in the villages and for graduation events, including the Baccalaureate Service. The picture shows Principal Moses Matonya translating the baccalaureate sermon.

Following graduation, Sandra and Martin took Rich and Ian on a short safari to Mikumi National Park near Morogoro.  This was a brief sampling of African wild life.   Lots of elephants, giraffes, wildebeests, impalas, baboons, a few hippos, crocs, and Cape buffaloes.  Sorry no lions, leopards, or cheetahs.  Perhaps they will come back to see more.  From there it was on to Dar to put Rich on his Swiss Air flight and Ian on his British Air flight.  We had a great time with these visitors, and we miss their camaraderie already. Unfortunately, we only made it halfway back to Dodoma when our brakes failed, along with the ball bearings.  Ten days later the garage is still waiting for Ford parts.  Fords are rare in Tanzania.  Ours was made in Thailand.

Last weekend we traveled again to Ng’ong’ohna (don’t even try to pronounce this) the home parish of Ayubu Mazengo, the father of godson Martin Nyemo who died of malaria last June at the age of seven months.  Ayubu had asked Sandra to preach at a Thanksgiving Service for his graduation.  Sandra relived his calling to God in the sermon-- how he had prayed on a nearby mountain for three days discerning his call, how his family sang Tis sweet to work for Jesus with him when he came down, how he sold his two largest goats to get school fees, and how he walked twelve hours from Ng’ong’ohna to Msalato.  His wife Mollen sold vegetables and sacrificed as much as Ayubu. It is a story of devout commitment that we don’t hear too often. 

Yesterday eleven people from St David’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta arrived to install solar panels on some of the buildings at Msalato.  More about that next time….  We give thanks for all those who make the monumental effort to travel to see us and to help us, but mostly we give thanks to all of you who continually pray for us.  As we have said before, we are living on a sea of prayer.

Peace and joy,

Sandra and Martin

PS: If any of you are interested in following the albino crisis in Tanzania about which we wrote in our last newsletter, you might like to read today’s editorial from one of our Tanzanian newspapers that can be found at: 

http://www.thisday.co.tz/News/6027.html.

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