In 2005 the church council of St Paul Lutheran voted to become a sponsoring companion congregation of a parish in the country of Tanzania, Africa. We were assigned the parish of Mgama. The members of this parish are mostly farmers who work their fields with the large hoes that everyone of all ages seem to use. The partnership formed is directed by the Saint Paul Area Synod and is based on the three principles of Prayers, Presence, and Projects. Known as Bega Kwa Bega (shoulder to shoulder as translated from Swahili ) we are one of over 65 sponsoring congregations.
Our presence has been in 2008 and 2016 when congregation members traveled the many hours to Tanzania and lived in the community. We were always warmly welcomed by the singing and dancing of the villagers as our bus entered the village after traveling the rough rocky roads of Tanzania. If only we could somehow translate the joyful worship they express in their services which last for hours that pass quickly to our own somewhat stoic worship services.
When visitors from the Saint Paul Synod visited their parishes they soon began to develop ideas of projects that would benefit the people of the Iringa Diocese. Volunteers may have thought of the projects and provided the beginning funding and training, but they also worked shoulder to shoulder with the parish members so they could eventually be in charge of projects.
During the time we have been companion sponsors we have supported the following programs to our parish: Scholarships are given for students to attend the secondary schools which require tuition. Most families are unable to provide that extra funding for schooling without the help of scholarships. Education of one person is said to help ten others in the family live a healthier improved lifestyle. A micro finance program which gives small loans to members has been started with joint funding from our congregation and members of the Mgama parish. The rate of payback for loans is 98%. Loans are used to purchase fertilizers, seeds, building materials, sewing machines, land, etc. A four-year program of teaching better growing methods, use of fertilizers and improved seeds as well as better planting methods has given larger crop returns. Crops not needed can be sold for income to use in other areas such as tuition or building materials. We have three safe water wells in our parish. Safe water sources lead to healthy living and cut down on the travel time to secure fresh water each day. The planting of trees was begun to protect land degradation and now it is a source of income for parishes when the trees are harvested for lumber. As of 2016 over one million seedlings have been raised and planted by parishes in the Iringa Diocese of Tanzania. We also support the Ilula Hospital and Huruma Orphanage with funds.
Visitors to Tanzania have witnessed how the Holy Spirit is guiding the companionship. All who have experienced the warm hospitality of our parish members will always remember their example of how they focus on relationships in their culture while we in the US tend to focus on things. Being a part of this sponsorship is truly a blessing to the congregation of St. Paul Lutheran as we continue to pray for them and they for us.