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Bwana asifiwe!
Or in English: Praise the Lord!

The new bishop of the North Central Diocese (NCD) of Tanzania, Bishop Godson Abel Mollel, was consecrated and installed on Sunday, February 11 in a wonderful service that included praise, thanksgiving, formal greetings, and even the presence of the Tanzanian Vice-President. I represented Northern Illinois Synod along with synod Vice-President Minnette Willard and our NIS liaison to NCD Ron Gustafson (Grace Lutheran Church in Loves Park).

The consecration service started with a procession before 8:30 a.m., comprised of all the synod pastors and leaders, as well as all the Lutheran bishops from Tanzania and 1 Kenyan bishop. Ron, Minnette, and I returned to the hotel around 5:30 p.m., exhausted and amazed. There are some pictures attached, but they cannot fully capture the fullness of the experience.

My translator for the service was Bishop Benson Bagonza. The Rev. Dr. Bagonza introduced himself to me as “a former Northern Illinois Synod pastor.” While studying at Wartburg Seminary and LSTC, he spent time throughout the synod, but mostly in the Southwest Conference. He asked about many of the parishes and people there – not many Tanzanians ask me how Trinity Galesburg is doing!

Bishop Bagonza’s greeting gives you a glimpse of the depth and history that Northern Illinois share with the NCD and Arusha region. Our relationship was established in 1991, with an in-person visit and initial meeting with Bishop Thomas Laiser. We were partnered with Arusha because a member of St. John/Peru, Martin Msseemmaa, had grown up with and gone to school with Bishop Laiser. I was part of that trip (a young 20 year old), as was a young Daudi Msseemmaa, now the ELCA East Africa representative living in Arusha. Daudi and Kellen, founder of Empowered Girls NGO, were great hosts, and we got to see Kellen’s team at work during our visit to the Maasae Girls School.

In the years since, there have been deep partnerships formed with a number of ministry partners and congregations, including:

  • Mwangaza Education for Partnership - including teacher training exchanges across both continents and including Joliet, DeKalb, and Crystal Lake
  • Selian Hospital – initially a clinic, Selian is now a hospital on the verge of international accreditation. With the assistance of Global Health Ministries, they have a new lab and diagnostics building and are preparing for the arrival of a CT machine. They are hoping to expand NICU services and space and are opening a full ER. Selian is thriving! One of their pediatric doctors is a graduate of Maasae Lutheran Girls Secondary School.
  • Maasae Lutheran Girls Secondary School – The school was being built and starting in 1991. It now operates at capacity, provide girls a fully sponsored and sheltered learning environment.  When I asked the girls what was important about this place, they told me that they were “safe”; had everything they needed to pay attention to their studies; and had a space to “heal from what the culture had done.” This is a special place, and last year had some of the best national exam scores in the country. Many from Northern Illinois and across the country have sponsored these students through Operation Bootstrap Africa (OBA).
  • School of Nursing – Finished and opened during COVID, NIS helped to build the nursing school with gifts over $100,000. They have expanded to include Social Work classes to meet a growing need across the country. There is space to expand. The head of the school cried when she saw Minnette, who headed our fundraising efforts. It is an amazing thing to see this dream come to reality!
  • Arusha Lutheran Medical Center – ALMC. This phenomenal hospital, once the only ER in the entire area among its other attributes, was also a partner project with NIS and other national donors. It is in a rebuilding phase, having had a few director transitions. Bishop Abel indicated that one of his primary goals is to get the work of the hospital back on track and is already working towards that goal.
  • Women leaders of NCD – Bishop Abel arranged for Minnette and I to spend an afternoon with the women pastors, theologians, and seminarians of the diocese. The women rostered leaders of NIS had sent gifts, but what was most appreciated was the promise of prayers and continued companionship with them. They long for more opportunities for education and service. They deeply appreciated that I had asked for the time and the many greetings and letters of support I delivered on behalf of NIS.

There were so many opportunities to see the Holy Spirit at work and the heart of Christ lived out. I remember after that first visit in 1991 thinking that I had seen the church in Acts lived out in Tanzania. That is still the case. If you have specific questions about people or places, ask me! Or Minnette! Or Ron! We saw many old friends like Bishop Bagonza.

Bishop Abel and Bishop FidlarI met individually with Bishop Abel on Monday morning before heading home. I delivered several letters for him and for companion congregations. He was deeply touched and asks that we continue to pray for him and the church in Tanzania.

The Global Mission Committee is already planning opportunities over the next few months to re-invigorate our mutual relationship with NCD and companion congregations. If you don’t know whether you have a companion congregation, ask! If your leadership doesn’t know, contact the synod. We have a current list. There will be visitors, old friends and new, traveling here. Daudi, Kellen, and two of their children will be here in August and are eager to meet with people. Watch for opportunities to learn more and strengthen your congregation’s relationship with the diocese and/or congregation.

And pray. Pray for Bishop Abel. Pray for the leaders of the NCD. Pray for Daudi and Kellen in their work. Pray for the hospitals and the schools and the teachers and all who walk daily in living the gospel of Jesus Christ in our partner synod.

Mungu akubariki (God Bless you!)

+Bishop Stacie Fidlar