I have been in Tanzania for five days and finally I begin the work that I came to do. I had breakfast with the Chairman and Project Director, and then we went to the Mlimani Theological College. It is a beautiful setting, but I did not get time to enjoy it until later. First we went into Principal Sikazwe’s office to sign the guest book and review the agenda. Then we had devotions in the chapel. I preached on the Beatitudes as an important passage for the early Moravian Church. It seemed to go well. I enjoyed the service, at least. Then we rearranged the tables for my lectures. I was so grateful that the projector worked with my computer!
I talked about the founding of the original Unity of the Brethren in the context of the Czech Reformation. I was not surprised that the students knew little about the founding. Tanzanian Moravians, like most American Moravians, have heard many times that the church was founded by John Hus. It was new information for them that the church was founded by Gregory the Patriarch long after the death of Hus. I left plenty of time for questions, and the questions were very good. Some of them came from the Project Director, Rev. Simae who often some criticism of my lecture. This led to a good discussion. Apparently what most impressed the teachers, though, was that I admitted I did not know some things and would need to study more. I gave many of the teachers and the provincial leaders flash drives with my lectures and other materials on them. They had printed out some copies of the PowerPoint slides to put in the library.
I was very tired after the lecture, but it was time for lunch with the school administrators and the provincial leaders. It was a good and engaging lunch, but I was so tired. As soon as it was over I went up to the room and slept deeply for an hour.
Then I was taken to visit one of the local churches, Yerusalem (Jerusalem), which is the church that the Chairman attends. It is a new church and they are still constructing the building. Members of the congregation are helping with the construction. Many of the elders came to a meeting in the sanctuary, and I heard about the history of the church and some of their needs. I brought greetings from Moravians in America. Then we had a question and answer time. Much of the conversation was about some of the challenges Moravians are facing in both our countries, especially the fact that young people are leaving or have already left the church. They hoped I had ideas for them, but all I could say is that Moravians in America waited too late to address this challenge and now many of our congregations have few young people and many old people like me. One of the women talked about how important it is to let the young people dance in church, and I said that most of the US congregations are too conservative for that!
Then someone asked me about homosexuality in the US. It was a question I had feared, but so far no one had asked me. I had been told that this was a taboo subject in Tanzania, but apparently that is not the case. At the most recent Unity Synod in August, 2016 the Tanzanian delegation was the largest (since there are seven provinces in the country with over a million members) nationality represented. Based on the reports of the American delegates, the Tanzanians were among the most strident in their opposition to the Northern Province’s decision in 2014 to allow gay marriage in churches and to ordain homosexuals. I did not know the right thing to say in this situation. I wanted to be respectful, but I also wanted to explain some of the reason why Moravians in America have a different view. I spoke about homosexuality being natural rather than a choice someone makes. I compared it to be left-handed. I mentioned that in the Bible the left-hand is considered less good than the right or even evil. Jesus puts the goats to his left and the sheep to his right. I also told them about how hard it was on my sister when teachers forced her to act like she was right-handed. I talked about the many gay Christians who were so rejected, despised, and excluded in the church that they grew to hate themselves and even committed suicide. Peter told me that I was clever in my answers.
After the discussion we ate together, which is the way these things should work in the church. We disagree and still eat together. But the congregation kept thanking me for coming and asking me to be their partner. I gave a small gift, which was received with gratitude.