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Mutual respect the key to long-term in Tanzania

Godfrey Mbelwa is Anglican bishop of the Diocese of Lweru in Tanzania. Here he speaks to CMS missionary Judith Calf of the long-term relationship between CMS and the Church in Tanzania 

I first met Godfrey Mbelwa in 1998, when I was at SAndrew’s Hall , where he had just arrived to commence his theological studies in Melbourne. Little could I imagine that more than 20 years later I would have the privilege of serving in ministry with him after he became the Bishop of Lweru Diocese. Over these years I have had the joy of seeing fruit of the long-term partnership between CMS and the Anglican church of TanzaniaI sat down with Bishop Godfrey to ask him a few questions. 

Bishop Godfrey, what is your own personal history with CMS? 

It goes back to when I was in Secondary School in Mwanza. CMS missionaries (the Halls and the Milligans) were very important in my life. Daryll and Jen Milligan nurtured my own faith and spiritual growth and were family to me when my own could not teach me about Jesus. I still have wonderful memories of visiting UKWATA (School Christian Group) in 27 Secondary Schools with Jen—sharing in ministry with her and learning from her. After training with the Church Army in Kenya, CMS then opened the door for my theological studies in Australia. Those three years were a huge blessing for me and my family. 

How has CMS contributed to the church in Tanzania? 

CMS has been part of the history of our Anglican Church. In Lweru Diocese, on the shores of Lake Victoria, we celebrate together those early missionaries in the 1930s and 1940s who came with local evangelists to share the good news of Jesus with us. The Katoke Teachers’ College and now our Diocesan Secondary School stand on land purchased by CMS in the 1930s. This has been an invaluable contribution. 

CMS has enabled the Church to become independent. They have strengthened us to stand as the Anglican Church of Tanzania. The great blessing has been to give us roots in the word of God, and to continue to partner with us in teaching pastors and evangelists. We esteem and honour CMS as giving us the roots for who we are today. We hold CMS as our parent. It saddens me to see how few missionaries there are now. I ask why? We can feel like baba ameacha watoto wake (a father has left his children’). 

Why is this longterm relationship with CMS important? 

What I value about CMS is their respect for us. CMS, over many years, has developed very good systems and policies. There is deep mutual understanding between CMS and our diocese. I really appreciate that CMS pastoral visitors come to listen to us and ask about our needs, not just coming with their own agenda.  

CMS has enabled the church to become independent. They have strengthened us to stand as the Anglican Church of Tanzania.” 

For missionaries who come, we need them to understand our language and culture. And we want them to be like brothers and sisters to us, to share in our homes and lives. That takes a long time. It is not always easy to live in our environment, so it does take perseverance and heart to keep going. Come being prepared to learn from us. 

Does Tanzania, Lweru Diocese, still need this partnership?  

Yes. We are continually doing evangelism, planting new churches and receiving new believers. But we still have an issue with our pastors and evangelists not being strong in Bible understanding. Many church leaders are not preaching well, often mixing in patterns from our traditional culture and religious heritage. We want our pastors and believers to know and be strong in the Bible. CMS has an important role to continue to strengthen our Church and leaders. 

And  it is important for CMS to see more than just Bible teaching, but a truly holistic gospel. Teach with us, but also enable us to have resources for supporting pastors and churches after they leave training colleges. We can do the evangelism, but we often need financial and material support to build a church, or provide ongoing refresher training for pastors. 

Closing thoughts 

I was greatly encouraged by talking with Bishop Godfrey.  We share history together and with that comes a deep mutual respect and understanding. We don’t always agree. Whave cultural differences and misunderstandingsbut we also laugh together, pray together, comfort each other in our sorrows and strive to build up God’s church in this part of Tanzania. All of that is the fruit of mutual commitment to partnering and serving together. Bwana Asifiwethe Lord be praised. 

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Bishop Godfrey, when asked if CMS partnership is still needed, gives a clear answer: “Yes!” Do you have the necessary skills to work alongside Tanzanian pastors and evangelists? Will you go? Contact your local CMS branch to learn of opportunities.