I spent most of today visiting officials of the Moravian Church in the Rukwa Province. I was greeted at breakfast by the Project Director for the province who also cares for the management of the conference center that I am staying at. He is a very engaging person. In addition to the conference center, the church opened a secondary school in 2009, and is engaged in a five-year program of tree planting as part of an environmental project. The province began by planting trees on a five hundred acre plot of land and now congregations are seeking assistance in planting more trees on their lands.
At 9:00 the chairman of the province, the principal of Mlimani Theological College, and academic dean arrived with the church’s Land Cruiser to take me to the African Rainbow Secondary School where we met with the head master and senior staff. I am not accustomed to being treated as an honored guest, and I am afraid that they do not understand that in the United States mere professors have little power or authority. Seating arrangements are important in Tanzanian culture and so I was sat at the head of an impromptu dais (the headmaster’s desk) with the Chairman on my left hand and the Principal of Mlimani on my right. The rest of our entourage were sitting a the long table with the head master and his staff were at the end table. Introductions were very formal. Even though each person gave his or her name they were all referred to by title. So I was professor and the chairman was “chairman.” It is not the American way, but I rather liked the structure and respect each person showed.
The school is only six years old. It is an “O” level school, but they hope to been accredited to teach “A” levels. For Americans, this means that it offers the basic high school education rather than college-preparatory education. The project director is rightly proud of how far the school has come in a short time, but the head master and the department chairs provided me with a long list of needs that they are facing. It took me about five minutes to realize that he and the staff think that I have access to resources that can help them, but I am not sure that I can. I will talk to people back in Bethlehem when I return. In addition to the fact that teachers sometimes have to work without salary, they have a critical need for textbooks and library books. They have a computer lab, but electricity is not always available. (Even now I am writing this blog in the dark relying on my computer’s battery. I’m cursing the fact that I did not pack the solar-battery light that I have just for trips like this!)
They also hoped that I could give them advice on meeting the challenges they are facing, but I am just an historian and theologian and know little about academic administration or even high school education. I made some suggestions such as sending teachers and staff out to the Moravian congregations to generate interest and support for the school. We talked about the need for pastors to recognize talented youth and help them get a quality education, and I told them about Comenius. It sounds to me like they are doing admirably under difficult situations. They are building a new laboratory building for the sciences but there is no electricity for it yet. The dormitories do not have running water, but they assured me that their students are accustomed to that. And the list goes on. Before we left, the teaching faculty joined us, and they asked me to say something to them. I remembered Christie McAullife’s statement that as a teacher she touched the future. They liked that concept a lot. I also told them that I admire what they are doing for the good of their country.
After touring the school we went to the church offices for the province where I was introduced to all of the church workers. Again we made very formal introductions. The Treasurer and I have already become friends. (Ah, the lights just came back on!) I met people who work with youth, with women and children, and the accountant. They were shocked to learn that their provincial staff is actually larger than the program staff of either the Northern or Southern Provinces in the U.S.A. While we talked the rains poured down.
The provincial treasurer was disappointed to hear about the severe financial problems the American provinces are facing. But they have staff who sometimes cannot be paid. We talked at length about the differences between our provinces, and it is clear that they are concerned that the Moravian Church in America is in such decline, but they were still hoping that I could give advice to them. But I know the past, not the future. I do think that the American Moravians may have to adopt some of the structure of the Tanzanians. They have parishes that include several congregations that are supervised by an ordained minister but served by “evangelists”. And then we had sodas and cookies.
After that we went to visit the first bishop and founder of the Rukwa Province, Bishop Kasitu. He is revered, and I can see why. He is quite elderly now, but is still a commanding and comforting presence in a room. Sadly his wife of many years passed
away last year and he is deeply in grief at losing her. Her name was Joyce, and it is evident that she was his co-worker in the church. We visited her grave, which is placed just outside the district office building that the bishop had built and where he worked as chairman until the new provincial offices were built. The grave was covered in wreaths of bright ribbons. The bishop has written a history of the province that the academic dean is editing, and he gave me a summary to help me with my own writing. The earliest work in the region was by missionaries of the London Missionary Society in Kasanga by Lake Tanganyika (where I visited). When the British were forced to move out in the early 1960s when Tanzania became independent, they asked the Moravians to assist in that region and in Zambia. The Western Province headquartered in Tabora took charge. From the beginning they planned on Rukwa becoming an independent province. The bishop also talked about an American named Lindberg who provided a great deal of financial support to his ministry. We visited the district office where we had sodas and cookies. I have a growing stack of cookies in my room!
Then they returned me to my residence. At dinner I met a Chinese man who lived in the conference center for two years (in my room, he said) and a student from the Netherlands. We chatted about our different experiences in Tanzania and our homes. She is also a Zunga and has had to get used to children staring at her and even touching her skin. It is interesting that that word is not in my Swahili dictionary, but I have heard it a lot on this trip.