by Erik M. Lunsford
Tanzanian Pastor Frank Mdindi isn’t yet used to being called “pastor.”
On a Friday in March, he jotted notes during a church history class taught by the Rev. Dr. Lawrence Rast Jr., president of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind. (CTSFW). The following Monday, by the grace of God, Mdindi was ordained.
Now, he said, he knows “how to stand in the Lutheran church with the Confessions.”View photos
In a nearby thatched hut, cows grazed outside while Deaconess Amy Rast, associate director of deaconess formation at CTSFW, taught a group of Tanzanian deaconess students.
Deaconess candidate Edna Shoo listened intently to the lecture. She said she benefited from the deaconess training and counseling and wants to continue learning with refresher courses. Her dream is to minister to widows and children in the church because of her own experience as a widow.
Mdindi and Shoo are both students at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania — South-East of Lake Victoria Diocese’s (ELCT—SELVD) Bishop Emmanuel Makala Training Center in northern Tanzania. At the entrance to the center, a young boy shepherds animals along a field dotted with dazzling yellow sunflowers.
The Rasts, along with other members of CTSFW’s faculty, teach short-term classes in the center’s two-year training program. Although the LCMS has worked with the ELCT—SELVD for 13 years, the partnership with the training center began in 2013 when Bishop Emmanuel Makala of the diocese requested CTSFW’s help in developing the training program. The LCMS Mid-South District provides financial support for the theological education of the pastors, and funding for the training program is made possible by a grant from the LCMS Global Seminary Initiative (GSI), which is overseen by the Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, dean of International Studies and associate professor of Pastoral Ministry and Mission for CTSFW, oversees the Tanzanian project.
The GSI is a special initiative for the LCMS that seeks to fill the need for trained pastors and leaders who are native to the regions and cultures in which they serve. Visiting LCMS professors and pastors help increase the capacity of partner church seminaries and encourage their faculties and students. It serves as a bridge to emerging or established church partners, as they build strong faculties of their own.
The initiative works in three ways: (1) it awards scholarships for the top students from established and emerging church bodies to attend Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, or CTSFW for advanced degrees; (2) it provides scholarships for students in other countries to attend regional seminaries in their own areas; and (3) it sends LCMS professors and qualified pastors to teach at regional seminaries around the world and to hold continuing-education classes. So far, professors have taught in South Africa, Siberia, Argentina, Chile, India, Kenya, Lithuania and elsewhere.
Theological education is one of the six mission priorities of the LCMS, and the GSI is a big part of that.
The day after the Rasts’ lectures, Quill stood in the towering Ebenezer Cathedral in Shinyanga and spoke to the 21 pastoral candidates and seven deaconess candidates, along with their family members and other guests.
“Today we give thanks to God as we celebrate the graduation of the first pastoral and deaconess classes from the Bishop Makala Training Center,” he said.
“Be alert, study, keep on reading,” Lawrence Rast advised later at graduation, reciting Martin Luther’s words as he spoke to the candidates. “Truly you cannot read too much in the Scripture; and what you read, you cannot understand too well, you cannot live too well. Believe me, I know by experience! It is the devil, it is the world, it is our own flesh that storm and rage against us. Therefore dear sirs and brothers, pastors and preachers: pray, read, study, be diligent! I tell you the truth: there is no time for us to lazy around, to snore and sleep in these evil, wicked times. So bring your talents that have been entrusted to you and reveal the mystery of Christ. ”
During the graduation ceremony, pastoral candidate Lucas Mwigulu joyfully accepted his “certificate of accomplishment” from Rast. It was next to impossible to catch him without a beaming smile all day.
“When Jesus ascended and left the apostles, and after then apostles became church fathers, so now we are on behalf of them,” Mwigulu later said, reflecting on his upcoming ordination. “Through us, the mission of Jesus will be fulfilled.”
The next day, more than 1,000 worshipers gathered at the cathedral to watch as the 21 new pastoral candidates were ordained and the seven deaconesses commissioned.
Makala preached during the service on spiritual nourishment through the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Following the service, he invited Rast, Quill, LCMS Office of International Mission Area Director for Eastern and Southern Africa Rev. Shauen Trump and a group from the LCMS Mid-South District to offer greetings to the congregation.
Thanks to the GSI, Tanzania is only one of many places where the LCMS is helping to strengthen the educational opportunities available to future church leaders and pastors around the world.
Not only that, but the LCMS is preparing to reach out in mercy by providing Tanzanian churches with tin roofs, as churches often lack the funds necessary to build beyond four walls and the wooden pews, altar and pulpit.
“We trust [the LCMS and CTSFW], and we trust their theology as true,” said Makala.
Now, they look forward together in the journey of continuing education. Makala said the theological education from CTSFW cuts through the theological “confusion all around the world” surrounding the Word of God. For a church that is growing by about 2,000 new people a year, Makala said the education of church workers is of the utmost importance.
1 Martin Luther, introduction to Spangenberg’s Postille of the Year 1542, Vol. XIV, Page 379ff. (From C.F.W. Walther, “Third Sermon at the Synodical Convention,” trans. Everette W. Meier, in C.F.W. Walther, Lutherische Brosamen: Predigten und Reden (St. Louis: Druckerei der Synode von Missouri, Ohio, u. a. Staaten, 1867), Page 11.