Kisare, Zedekia Marwa (ca. 1909-1999)

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Zedekia Marwa Kisare: longtime bishop of Tanzania Mennonite Church (Kanisa la Mennonite Tanzania [KMT]); born ca. 1909 in what is now Tanzania. Zedekia was married twice and had a total of 10 daughters and one son. He died on 16 July 1999 at about age 90. Marwa (Zedekia's birth name) heard the gospel for the first time from itinerant African evangelists. When he was about 10, working as a goatherd on the savanna, he and fellow herdsboys met two evangelists. They gathered the boys in the shade of an acacia tree, sang to them, read from a book, and exhorted them. Marwa completed four years of grade-school education, and studied privately to pass the eighth grade exam.

Bishop Kisare grew up in Shirati, a Luo people's village in an area called Kiseru, in Mara Region between Lake Victoria and the Serengeti Plain. Following Luo custom, he was a goatherd as a boy and a cattle-herder as a youth. His first contact with Christians was with Seventh-day Adventist African evangelists.

As a five- or six-year-old, Kisare recalls musing on the question, "How did I, Marwa, come to be a human being?" Though not much is said about God in traditional Luo worship, the answer that came to him in that moment was, "If God would not have been, then I, Marwa, would not have been. God is both the purpose (why) and manner (how) of my existence."

When he was 14 years old he began attending the Adventist church in a nearby village in Kenya. Wanting to walk pleasing to God, he was baptized and became a member of that church in 1933. He chose a new name, Zedekia, though years later, with perspective on the meaning of names, began using his given name, Marwa, in addition to his Christian name.

In 1933 he married Nyaeri Akello (Susana) from a Luo village 12 miles (20 km) away. He eventually sought work with the new mission station of the Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities (MC) at Shirati. His first contacts were Elam Stauffer and John Mosemann.

At age 26, Kisare was hired by Elam Stauffer, the first Mennonite missionary to the region, to help construct the Shirati mission station. He had been working seven years for the Mennonite missionaries when Jesus confronted him. "I am drawing a circle," Jesus told him. According to African tradition, what matters is the circle around you-your extended family, which is the traditional African village. "The Church is the new circle, the Village of God," Jesus told Kisare. "It includes all who confess me, Jesus, as Savior and Lord."

Zedekia Marwa Kisare and his wife Susana studied in the Bukiroba Bible School (1936-1939); he taught at the school during the 1950s, and in 1965 graduated from Mennonite Theological College, Bukiroba. The couple served in evangelism and church planting in the Shirati area and in the newly-established Luo settlement at Kisaka, some 80 miles (130 km) from Shirati.

The dramatic story of Bishop Kisare's life reveals a person dedicated to the mission of Christ. The story includes leadership roles in the Tanzania Mennonite Church as evangelist, minister (ordained 10 December 1950), and the first African bishop (ordained 15 January 1967), spanning the very beginning of that church through the missionary era to independence and beyond, well into the era of the indigenous church. Basic to his leadership was experiencing and preaching a revival that frees from fleshly sins, jealousy, pride, and self-righteousness, giving place to reconciliation; learning the Bible so that a concordance was not needed; making do with meager financial resources; seeing the church grow to more than 30,000 members; observing and serving the church on six visits to North America; seeing his beloved wife and coworker die in 1983; and remarriage in 1984 to Margaret Awiti.

Zedekia Kisare served as bishop until he retired in 1995; he died 16 July 1999. Bishop Kisare was noted for his uncompromising Christian principles, and looked to as a spiritual leader. He successfully gave leadership to KMT, which at the time of his death included 15 language groups. He was able to rise above tribal loyalties and affiliations and bring unity to the whole church, and he was known as a man of peace and reconciliation. In addition to his work with KMT, Kisare also served with influence on the interdenominational Christian Council of Tanzania and visited internationally. In one of his sermons on a preaching safari Bishop Kisare said, "Confession of our sin is not something we do once and then forget about. It is a way of life practiced by God's people."


Kisare, Zedekiah and Joseph C. Shenk. Kisare: A Mennonite of Kiseru. Salunga, PA: Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities, 1984.

Shenk, Joseph C. Tanzania Mennonite Church's First Bishop Dies. Mennonite World Conference. 18 August 1999. (accessed 11 October 2008).

Shenk, Joseph C. "When Jesus Confronted Zedekia Kisare." Missionary Messenger. Reproduced online at OurFaithDigest. (accessed 12 March 2006). [broken link]

Author(s) John M. Bender
Joseph C. Shenk
Richard D. Thiessen
Date Published October 2008

Cite This Article

MLA style

Bender, John M., Joseph C. Shenk and Richard D. Thiessen. "Kisare, Zedekia Marwa (ca. 1909-1999)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. October 2008. Web. 29 May 2022.,_Zedekia_Marwa_(ca._1909-1999)&oldid=156219.

APA style

Bender, John M., Joseph C. Shenk and Richard D. Thiessen. (October 2008). Kisare, Zedekia Marwa (ca. 1909-1999). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 29 May 2022, from,_Zedekia_Marwa_(ca._1909-1999)&oldid=156219.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p. 494. All rights reserved.

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