Kanisa la Mennonite Tanzania

Revision as of 19:54, 26 October 2015 by SamSteiner (talk | contribs) (added link)
(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Africa Mennonite Mission (1953)

The Lancaster Mennonite Conference (Mennonite Church) opened mission work in Musoma District, Tanganyika Territory, East Africa, on 26 May 1934, when John H. Mosemann, Jr. and wife and Elam Stauffer and wife, the first couples to be sent out, landed at Shirati by dhow. The beginning of the church in East Africa was on 15 September 1935, when 15 persons were baptized and 6 others received into church fellowship. The total membership of the churches in Musoma District grew by 1953 to 864. The five stations were Shirati, Bukiroba, Mugango, Bumangi, and Nyabasi. From the beginning the objective was to build self-supporting, self-propagating, and self-governing churches. No money was brought from America for the native African church. Church buildings and church operation were supported only by money and labor given in Africa, and self-propagation of the church was the responsibility of the native members. This was in the form of organized village work. Government of the church while it was small was by counseling all of its members. In 1938 the first steps were taken toward setting up the African General Church Council, when several members were chosen to counsel with the missionaries on matters of church government. The General Church Council in 1953 was made up of members chosen biennially by the churches to serve as elders or counselors. In 1948 there were 17 African elders who with all ordained missionaries on the field constituted the General Church Council, which acted in an advisory capacity. It was set up to aid in indigenous governing from the beginning. Steps were under way for formal organization of the African church and ordination of African leaders.

Elam Stauffer was ordained bishop for the church in East Africa on 5 September 1938, at Bukiroba by Henry E. Lutz. He had bishop oversight of all of the work in East Africa until 24 April 1941, when W. Ray Wenger was ordained at Mugango to assist Stauffer. He died on 9 June 1945. Since then all the ordained men on the field have assisted Elam Stauffer, awaiting the further development and organization of the African church. -- EWS

Kanisa la Mennonite Tanzania (Tanzania Mennonite Church)

Elam Stauffer summarized above the establishment of Mennonite mission work in various parts of Tanganyika, initially in an area East of Lake Victoria (1934-1940), later in other parts of the territory (1940-1950). From 1950 to 1954 the church experienced local expansion. Workers were placed in Ikoma-Mugumu, and stations were established at Kisaka, Tarime, and Musoma. Only in 1963 were workers were placed in Dar es Salaam. Thus, for 30 years Mennonite efforts focused on a two-county area, in part because applications to the colonial government and respect for comity with other missions were obstacles to expansion.

Since 1970 the church has planted congregations in Mwanza, Biharamulo, Arusha, Tabora, Dodoma, and Sumbawanga. The church had 200 members in 1944, 1,000 in 1954, 4,000 in 1964, 10,000 in 1974, 13,000 in 1984, 23,000 in 280 congregations by 1988, and 50,000 members in 280 congregations in 2003. The accelerated rate of growth after 1964 resulted from ongoing revival, programs of special training for leaders, and the transfer of leadership to national leadership (first Tanzanian bishop in 1974).

Congregational Life and Relationships

Elam Stauffer led the missionaries in efforts to establish a "self-supporting, self-propagating, and self-governing church," the classic marks of indigenization in the missionary tradition. Human efforts were fruitless and God intervened through revival. In 1942 he hovered over clusters of Christians at Mugango, at Nyabasi, and at Shirati, calling them to repent of their sins and to rely upon the indwelling Christ. In 1946 he reawakened them with concern for the body of Christ; he called them to remove barriers and walk in fellowship, to help and encourage one another. In both awakenings Stauffer led the people in responding to the Spirit. Sometimes he, sometimes they, came short and made mistakes. But God faithfully called them back, creating a quality of fellowship in which black and white, tribe and tribe, worked together in building the church.

Self-Propagation. Walking with Jesus, believers give witness in whatever they do. In the 1930s and 1940s home visitation was common. Annual spiritual life conferences provided nurture and fellowship. Each district established worship centers in new places; they recruited potential workers into Bukiroba Bible School.

The calling of national pastors and deacons added impetus to evangelistic outreach. Many of those baptized during the 1950s and 1960s had been won through weekly Bible classes in schools. Congregational youth groups and Christian groups in boarding schools provided mutual pastoral care, a springboard for evangelism. Since the 1970s, youth choirs have sung in weekly worship, in special conferences, and in marketplaces.

Self-Government. At the beginning all members shared in congregational decisions. As numbers increased, elders were chosen to assist in pastoral care. They also served in congregational and district councils; they chose representatives to General Church Council (GCC). In 1946 the council began to write a church polity. A committee was chosen to help with difficult marriage problems and another to give counsel in matters of evangelism. Other committees are formed as needed.

In 1947 the church had to choose whether to participate in the developing national education system. Recognizing that the decision should be made by Tanganyikans, the mission called a joint session with the GCC, promising to support the council in its choice. The first Tanganyikan pastors and deacons were called by their respective districts—in 1950 Ezekiel Muganda and Andrea Mabeba were ordained at Mugango and Zedekia Marwa Kisare and Nashon Nyambok at Shirati. During the decade that followed, 17 more pastors and deacons were ordained. During this period consensus developed for the name, Tanganyika Mennonite Church (TMC). As need arose, the bishop called meetings of the ordained leaders to handle matters of doctrine, church polity and the discipline of ordained persons. The first bishop was chosen in a meeting of this type, and since then, all candidates for ordination have been chosen in these sessions. Overall administration continued to be handled by GCC. In preparation for autonomy, the GCC officers served with the mission officers.

The constitution drafted by a GCC committee did not satisfy bishops of the Lancaster Mennonite Conference (MC), the sponsoring North American conference for the Tanganyikan Mennonite mission. At issue were matters of separation from the world and refusal of military service. The bishops offered suggested revisions through fraternal delegates to a special meeting of the GCC. The council offered its own revisions and adopted its constitution on 25 August 1960. The church now became a church conference (mkutano mkuu) with an executive committee (kamiti kuu) to handle matters between annual meetings. After the church received government registration, properties were transferred and the mission dissolved. In 1961 the church sent Ezekiel Muganda and Zedekia Kisare on a three-month fraternal visit to North America. This helped develop stronger ties between the conferences and congregations.

The Mennonite Theological College, established in 1962, provided special training for key leaders. This group assisted Stauffer and his assistant, Simeon Hurst, in developing a simple worship liturgy. The bishops also spent two weeks in each district training congregational leaders. The church participated in the formation of the Africa Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Fellowship and began developing relationships with the Anabaptist churches across Africa.

In 1966 Zedekia Kisare was chosen as first national bishop. This was a time of celebration; prayer and waiting had brought reconciliation and agreement. In 1972 the church revised its constitution and adopted a Swahili name, Kanisa la Mennonite Tanzania (KMT), although "Tanzania Mennonite Church (TMC) is also used. The ordination of a second bishop, Hezekiah Sarya, in 1979 was followed by the formation of two dioceses. Bishop Kisare was given oversight of the areas with large Luo populations, North Mara Diocese and Kenya, and Bishop Sarya of the Southern Diocese.

Self-Support. To help establish a self-supporting church, each catechumen, and Christian was given a card on which weekly offerings were recorded. Tithing was taught and special offerings were received at harvest, at Easter communion, and at Christmas. Each bush school pupil paid fees. Missionaries contributed from their tithes. Each district treasury supported evangelist-teachers, helped needy people, and maintained church buildings. Special funds were raised for erecting new buildings.

The move toward total self-support followed some debate between the missionaries and national leaders. In 1950 the newly ordained leaders thought they would be absorbed into the mission, whereas the missionaries were speaking of withdrawal. The missionaries opened the mission accounts to their national colleagues, and directed some overseas funds to the church's evangelistic efforts. The Tanganyikan church responded by working to do its part, for example giving a week of free labor to make possible the church's first boarding school at Bumangi. In the euphoria of national independence, the church was influenced by the political slogan, "aid without strings." Against advice, overseas funds were used to subsidize the wages of pastors. To overcome such dependency the church adopted a five-year development plan proposed by interim bishop Donald Jacobs. One goal was that each district support its own leaders. In the first year, despite droughts, floods, and cattle disease, offerings increased 50 percent. But continuing drought, the worldwide oil crisis, and war against Amin of Uganda contributed to long-term economic decline. A few pastors began to teach stewardship; in those congregations offerings doubled. By calling as pastors those who had sources of income other than church funds, the team of pastors was enlarged. As of 1988, the church leadership was not dependent on overseas subsidy.

Service Ministries

Ministries to Women and Girls. Each station held weekly sewing and Bible classes to attract women to the church. Women's conferences enlarged their circle of friendship and gave help on spiritual issues. In time the women's groups were structured to develop leadership skills. In many places church women, Mennonites included, gave leadership to the women's progress groups promoted by the political party.

In the first two decades each station provided a home where girls from pagan environments could grow up in a Christian setting; the homes at Shirati and Mugango gave some training in homemaking. Since 1964, domestic science courses at Bukiroba have been popular.

Whereas in the 1940s one-third of those attending church were women, by the 1970s they numbered two-thirds. A few women have been called as congregational elders or lay leaders in worship centers.

Medical Ministries. Mennonites in Tanzania have been diligent in ministry to the sick. Within a year Shirati had a dispensary staffed by a doctor and nurse and within 20 years a full-fledged hospital and leprosarium. After 18 years the leprosarium could be closed because new patients with leprosy (Hansen's Disease) received medication in local dispensaries and the enlarged hospital provided treatment for the advanced cases. Since 1964 Shirati Hospital has been the base for significant research and since 1974 has been conducting maternal child health clinics, part of a nationwide preventive ministry.

From the beginning there was training for medical aides. A nurses' training school was launched in 1960; midwifery was added in 1970. Each of the other five stations also moved beyond the dispensing of pills and established dispensaries. Bedded dispensaries were developed at Nyabasi, Mugango, and Kisaka. For a time some remote churches were served by a medical van or flying doctor service. For the past 50 years health ministries in Mara Region have contributed to population growth, the decline in incidence of Hansen's Disease, and some control of malaria. The Christian witness during medical assistance has brought some to the faith.

Educational Ministries. The Mennonites operated a network of bush schools in which first-generation church and community leaders got their start. Successful bush schools developed into primary schools. The first two registered primary schools were established in 1947. Through the participation of the churches, in 10 years the nation had half of its children in primary school. After the nationalization of education in 1970 the Tanzania Mennonite Church turned over 44 primary schools. Mennonites shared in developing two graded Bible courses used throughout the nation. Teacher training was perhaps the church's most important educational ministry. Across the nation Christian schools, primary and secondary, set the pace in character, academics, and sports. The Mennonites participated in the alliance that managed Katoke Teacher Training College and Kahororo Secondary School, Bukoba; they became a managing partner in Musoma Alliance Secondary School. The church sponsored students in Mennonite colleges and in vocational trainee programs.

Mutual involvement in service ministries, particularly education, helped the churches grow in unity. They began to learn from one another's heritage, a cross-fertilization which included the Roman Catholics. Together the churches trained many of the nation's leaders.

Literature Ministries. Mjumbe wa Kristo (Messenger of Christ, 1938- ) featured testimonies and Bible expositions. After the 1946 reawakening Mjumbe became a channel of communication for the revival fellowship with wide circulation. In the mid-1960s Sauti ya TMC (Voice of TMC) was launched with a major focus on TMC news. The economic hardships of the 1970s brought the demise of both.

Mennonite missionaries gave a hand in Bible translation, in compiling hymnals, and in preparing literacy primers--in the Jita, Zanaki, and Kurya languages. They helped with a Swahili primer for use nationwide and assisted in training literacy teachers in Mara Region. Two hymnals and three primers were printed on the hand-fed press at Bukiroba. The Mennonite catechism and supplement were produced in both Swahili and Luo. Tenzi za Rohoni (Spiritual Songs), released in 1950, was quickly picked up by revival fellowships; most denominations use it as a supplementary hymnal. A colportage effort in the cotton markets of Majita developed into a fruitful ministry. Musoma Bookshop was established in 1960.

Community Development. Tanzanian Mennonites learned some modern agricultural practices from missionary gardens and government extension service. A number gave leadership in community cooperatives. When Tanzania began moving rural peoples into village settlements, church youth launched a small farm which developed into a settlement. Ten miles (16 km.) away a Bumangi group functioned within another settlement. While small voluntary settlements had prospered, compulsory settlement did not work and the policy was withdrawn. Traditional agricultural methods are being taken more seriously.

By the later 1950s fewer than half of primary school graduates could find opportunity for further study. The Mennonites in Majita and Shirati experimented with establishing community schools, but failed. In the early 1980s a small vocational school was launched by Nyabasi Mennonites. Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) made resources available for a score of projects in the mid-1960s. While this gesture of brotherhood was welcomed, only a few caught the MEDA vision and succeeded.

North Mara Diocese (Dayosisi Ya Mara Kaskazini)

Established in 1980, the North Mara Diocese comprised only the political district of Tarime, plus responsibility for the churches in southwestern Kenya and in the city of Nairobi, Kenya. As of August 1988 Kisumu and Migori, Kenya, became autonomous dioceses, so North Mara projected expansion into new areas. North Mara Diocese's membership in Tanzania was 7,000 in 1987. Each of the 85 congregations had a lay leader plus congregational counselors. General oversight was provided by 6 deacons, 9 ministers, and Bishop Zedekia Kisare. Steps were underway for additional ordinations in 1988.

A three-year program of training for lay leaders was completed in the 1980s; it took the form of theological education by extension (TEE), in which each person studied at home and participated in monthly seminars in his district. In the next phase, the classes would be open to all interested people, with the pastors giving leadership. Training on higher levels would be arranged for those who did well in the basic courses. The women's auxiliary was also taking its seminars to the rural areas.

Evangelism happened through person-to-person encounters, through weekend conferences (youth choirs attract crowds to evening services), and through Bible classes in the public schools. Occasionally an evangelistic team spent several days in a community; such teams included someone qualified to dispense medicines.

Medical ministries stemmed from the 150-bed Shirati Hospital, with its medical, surgical, maternity, pediatrics, and leprosy departments plus out-patient and maternal child health clinics. The hospital supervised the Nyabasi bedded dispensary and maternity unit and several rural dispensaries. Shirati participated in medical research, particularly on control of malaria and causes of cancer. The training of village health promoters was launched, a link in the government's effort to make primary health care available to all communities. These "barefoot doctors" would promote health and hygiene, dispense simple medicines, and refer the seriously-ill to a medical institution.

The hospital spearheaded such community development projects as the bringing of public electricity to Shirati and extending the water supply to surrounding villages. Irrigation by solar power has proved feasible and additional agricultural projects were being developed. The next focus would be on small projects using local resources (appropriate technology). A community center was being established at Shirati to provide facilities for women's activities, preschool classes, and youth groups, a conference center, library, and diocesan offices.

Overall planning for the diocese and coordination of activities took place through an annual conference, its executive committee, several standing committees, and an occasional meeting of the ordained leaders. Participation in the Christian Council of Tanzania (CCT) provided fellowship, vision, resources, and opportunity for joint action and for dialog with political leaders. The diocese was enriched by fellowship and brotherly address in the Council of East African Mennonite Churches, Africa Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Fellowship, and Mennonite World Conference.

Southern Diocese (Dayosisi Ya Kusini)

As defined in 1980, the Southern Diocese included the political districts of Musoma, Bunda, and Serengeti, plus a number of urban congregations. Membership in 126 congregations was13,000 in 1987. Pastoral care was provided by 126 lay leaders, plus congregational counselors, and general oversight by 14 deacons, 21 ministers, and Bishop Hezekiah Sarya. This diocese strengthened its leadership by enlisting self-supporting people as part-time pastors. Thought was being given to dividing into smaller dioceses.

Theological education by extension Bible studies and monthly seminars were being provided for lay leaders of the congregations located within normal driving distances. It was hoped to assign one pastor to establish the program in each of the scattered districts. For those who excelled in TEE, Bukiroba Bible School was to be reopened on an inter-diocesan basis. The school of domestic science at Bukiroba continued to attract many.

There was person-to-person evangelism. Three-day spiritual life conferences, with youth choirs participating, were held at harvest time, at baptisms and communions, at Christmas and Easter. Bible teachers went to the public schools, primary and higher, and to hospitals and prisons. Efforts were made to follow up Mennonites in towns across the nation, encouraging them to meet in worship and to reach out to others. The Dar es Salaam congregation was undertaking ministries among Muslims and youth. Some districts worked with Tanzania Bible Society in distribution of the Scriptures.

As another contribution to nation-building, the church supervised the building of government's Mugumu Designated District Hospital and provided a doctor. Opened in 1980, this modern 90-bed institution provided medical, surgical, maternity, and pediatric services and a daily out-patient clinic. Supervision was given to the church's dispensaries at Bukiroba, Mugango, Bumangi, and Kisaka. The hospital shared in the training of village promoters of primary health care. Church leaders were active in pastoral ministry to staff and patients.

The diocese operated a press, a bookshop, and a hostel-conference center. Diocesan personnel supervised the building of Bunda Teacher Training College; a Mennonite chaplain-teacher serves on the staff. Some congregations, and the women's auxiliary, launched small projects using local resources and appropriate technology: pottery, agriculture, cabinet-snaking, masonry and carpentry, grinding of grain, selling staple foods, fishing, water supply, etc. Mennonite Central Committee volunteers who lived in the church communities provided help and encouragement.

An annual conference, its executive committee, standing committees, and an occasional meeting of the ordained leaders provided overall planning and coordination of activities for the diocese. This diocese, like North Mara, contributed to and received from the interchurch activities of Christian Council of Tanzania and in the inter-Mennonite bodies: the Council of East African Mennonite Churches, Africa Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Fellowship, and Mennonite World Conference. -- MMH

See also Kenya Mennonite Church.


Anchak, George R. "Experience in the Paradox of Indigenous Church Building: History of the Eastern Mennonite Mission in Tanganyika, 1934-1961." PhD thesis, Michigan State University 1975.

Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities files at Salunga, PA, and Missionary Messenger.

Eshleman, Merle W. Africa Answers. Scottdale, 1951.

Kisare, Marwa Z. and Joseph C. Shenk. Kisare, A Mennonite of Kiseru. Salunga, PA: EMBMC, 1984.

Hess, Mahlon M. Pilgrimage of Faith: The Tanzania Mennonite Church, 1934-1983. Salunga: EMBMC, 1984. Originally appeared in Swahili as Safari Ya Imani.

Kraybill, Paul N., ed. Called to Be Sent. Scottdale, 1964: 55-65, 115-22, 162-67, 172-81.

Kraybill, Paul N., ed. Mennonite World Handbook. Lombard, IL: Mennonite World Conference, 1978: 85-90, 100-103.

Leatherman, Catharine. Ye Are God's Building. Salunga, PA: EMBMC, 1959

Mennonite World Conference. "MWC - 2003 Africa Mennonite & Brethren in Christ Churches." <http://www.mwc-cmm.org/Directory/africa.html> (accessed 11 March 2006).

Mennonite World Handbook Supplement. Strasbourg, France, and Lombard, IL: Mennonite World Conference, 1984: 16-17.

Muganda, Josiah. "The Impact of the Mennonite Mission on Mara Region, Tanzania, 1934-67." MA dissertation, Howard University, 1978.

Shenk, David W. Mennonite Safari. Scottdale, 1974.

Smoker, Dorothy and Merle W. Eshleman. God Led Us to Tanganyika. Salunga, PA: EMBMC, 1956.

Stauffer, Elam W. "Account of God's Working at Shirati, August 1942." Unpublished manuscript, copy at EMBMC.

Wenger, Grace. "Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities, 1894-1980." Unpublished manuscript available at Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society.

Zimmerman, Ada M. and Catharine Leatherman. Africa Calls. Scottdale, 1937.

Author(s) Elam W. Stauffer
Mahlon M. Hess
Date Published 1987

Cite This Article

MLA style

Stauffer, Elam W. and Mahlon M. Hess. "Kanisa la Mennonite Tanzania." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1987. Web. 25 Oct 2021. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Kanisa_la_Mennonite_Tanzania&oldid=132736.

APA style

Stauffer, Elam W. and Mahlon M. Hess. (1987). Kanisa la Mennonite Tanzania. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 25 October 2021, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Kanisa_la_Mennonite_Tanzania&oldid=132736.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 21-22; vol. 5, pp. 476-479. All rights reserved.

©1996-2021 by the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. All rights reserved.