In this series, those involved with CLC foreign missions profile one aspect of our overseas endeavors.
In December 2022, I spent three weeks in Tanzania working with the pastors and leaders of the Tanzania-CLC (TZ-CLC). My time was spent teaching at the Wittenberg Lutheran Theological Seminary, attending the TZ-CLC pastoral conference, and visiting several developing congregations and preaching stations of the TZ-CLC. On my last full day in Tanzania, Pastor Jeremia, Pastor Solomon (a 2021 seminary graduate), and I made the trek to some Maasai lands that are located just to the east of the Lake Manyara National Park. It’s about a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Arusha, where the TZ-CLC has its headquarters and seminary.
The journey began with an hour-and-a-half drive on highway A104 that heads west out of Arusha. This is a busy road that carries thousands and thousands of tourists annually to four of the major national parks and conservation areas in the northern Tanzania safari circuit (Tarangire, Manyara, Serengeti, and Ngorongoro). We then pulled off of the highway onto a gravel road, and it became quite obvious by the lack of traffic that we were not tourists. We stayed on this gravel road for about ten miles until we were flagged down by two men waiting for us under a shade tree. These Maasai men would ride with us and direct us to the village of Esilalei. We followed what seemed to be footpaths or donkey-train trails through the savannah for the next couple of hours. We drove through dry river and lake beds, small Maasai villages called bomas , over hills, and through valleys, until finally we could see a gathering of people off in the distance on a small hill overlooking Lake Manyara. As we approached, you could hear the very distinctive rhythmic sound of Maasai singing and ululation as they welcomed us to their newly minted worship area under a tree.
Pastor Solomon had been invited by one of his relatives who had married into this clan to come and start a TZ-CLC congregation in the area. From what I have been told, the lands surrounding the national parks are owned by the government and purposely not developed. The Maasai are allowed to live and graze their cattle in these areas as a type of unofficial buffer zone around the parks. Most of the land is not useful for farming, and there is always the possibility and very real danger of animals from the parks making their way into these buffer zones.
A few years ago, this clan migrated from the area where Pastor Solomon is a TZ-CLC pastor to find more land for their cattle. There are still acquaintances, relatives, and marriages between the two clans. Pastor Solomon had been told that there was no other Christian outreach in this desolate and isolated area. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania (ELCT) and Catholics had visited a few times over the years but no ongoing ministry had been established. The Maasai (in general) do not agree with Catholic doctrine and have little time for the liberal teachings of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania. When they heard about the TZ-CLC, they were eager to learn more.
Much work had been done before we arrived. Rocks had been removed and arranged into a low wall around a small tree on a hill. This area would serve as a shaded meeting and worship area. After we were introduced, Pastor Solomon addressed the large crowd and explained that he had been invited and was eager to come and teach the Bible. He commended them for their work in preparing the worship area and promised to come back regularly to preach and teach.
Pastor Jeremia and I were also given the opportunity to speak. I encouraged them in their faith with Jesus’ words from Matthew Chapter 9, where we’re told that Jesus looked out on the crowds of people and was moved with compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. I reminded them that Jesus encouraged His disciples to pray that the Lord would send more workers into the harvest, and that we can rejoice on this day because Jesus has heard their prayer and sent them a pastor to feed them with God’s saving Word! They erupted in applause when I concluded with “Amen.” What a joy to share the truths of God’s saving Word with these brothers and sisters in Christ who are so excited to have a pastor!
The rest of the afternoon was spent drinking tea and eating bread with the elders of the clan gathered near a large baobab tree to discuss plans to build a church. Pastor Jeremia encouraged them to construct a temporary shelter with poles and tarps soon because of the heavy rains that would be coming soon. He also pointed to all the rocks that are in abundance in this area and commented that the Lord had already provided the building materials and that he would bring a work crew from Arusha after the rainy season to help begin construction of the church building. We concluded the meeting of the elders with a prayer and the blessing and began the long trip back to Arusha. It was another day of blessings to witness the Lord and His love at work in the hearts of His Maasai children! What a privilege to be a part of it!