In Tanzania, Episcopal Church missionaries, Presiding Bishop share perspectives

Dialogue precedes opening of Primates' Meeting near Dar es Salaam
February 13, 2007

Collaboration between the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Tanzania -- including missionary work in the dioceses of Dar es Salaam and Central Tanganyika -- was underscored as area missionaries shared perspectives with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Bishop Mdimi Mhogolo.

On the eve of the February 15-19 Primates' Meeting near Dar es Salaam, Jefferts Schori and Mhogolo of Central Tanganyika met with seven Episcopal missionaries to hear about their commitment to global mission and in support of their work throughout the East African province.

Jefferts Schori, who is visiting Tanzania for the first time, said that "the Anglican Communion is alive and well in this kind of partnership level on the ground. I think we need to be grounded. We need to remember what our mission is and where and how we're called to live out the gospel in this world, and you are alive and well doing that work."

Earlier in the day, Jefferts Schori participated in an orientation session as one of 13 Primates new to the Meeting. The Primates include the presiding bishops, archbishops and moderators of the 38 Provinces of the 77-million-member worldwide Anglican Communion. Set to open February 15, the Primates' agenda will include, among other items, discussion of the Millennium Development Goals to eradicate poverty, hunger and preventable illness.

The Rev. Emmanuel Sserwadda, Africa partnership officer for the Episcopal Church's Office of Anglican and Global Relations, introduced the missionaries to Jefferts Schori.

Priscilla and Henry Ziegler have helped develop a sustainable community health system in the Diocese of Dar es Salaam, a program that is part-funded by Episcopal Relief and Development. One and a half years into a three-year placement, the Zieglers renovated and expanded the Buguruni Anglican Health Centre as a vital service to the local community. The center was formally inaugurated in October 2006.

"The amount of giving that comes from the people here is monumental to what we give," Henry Ziegler said. "The bottom line is about us together loving each other enough that we fulfill God's will."

The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Tanzania have historic ties through companion diocese relationships, missionary work, and relief and development projects. The Office of Anglican and Global Relations sends regular appropriations to the provincial office and the United Thank Offering has provided several grants throughout the years. ERD works with ACT to support primary health, food security and HIV/AIDS programs in some of the poorest communities in the country.

Current companion diocese relationships include Arizona with Dar es Salaam, Atlanta with Central Tanganyika, and Montana with the entire province.

Former radiologist, the Rev. Sandra McCann, and her husband, Martin, are from the Diocese of Atlanta and began working as Episcopal missionaries in the Dodoma-based Central Tanganyika diocese in 2004.

Sandra McCann teaches spirituality to degree students and is communications director at Msalato Theological College, the first Anglican school in Tanzania to run a degree program. "We feel like the luckiest people in the world working in this diocese," she said, noting her admiration for Mhogolo. "I think God really directed us here."

Martin McCann runs a histopathology laboratory at the Anglican Centre in Dodoma, where he teaches classes to students. The McCanns recently committed to a second three-year term serving the diocese as missionaries.

Leslie Steffensen, a recent graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS), is teaching theology at a local college in the Diocese of Central Tanganyika. After first visiting Tanzania while on a mission trip with VTS, she decided, along with her husband, Kurt, and their three young children, to move here to work as missionaries for a year.

"It has made me realize just how much we are a part of the Communion," she said. "When it comes down to it, it's parish to parish, church to church, people to people -- especially right now with all the politics of the Primates Meeting. What it really comes down to is the personal relationships. If we let it all become a political snowball, there's no chance for the church."

A partnership between the dioceses of New York and Central Tanganyika, known as the Carpenter's Kids Program, links parishes in a mutual relationship of prayer, communication, and support on behalf of the more than 2.5 million AIDS orphans in Tanzania.

Mhogolo explained that attaining the basic necessities of life are very big challenges for people in his diocese, "and yet in that context they know God's presence. God is there helping them, encouraging them."

Kurt Steffensen teaches at Canon Graham Walker Secondary School in Dodoma during the day and works in information technology at Msalato Theological College in the evening. His time in Tanzania, he said, has made him realize just how wealthy America is, both financially and mentally.

"I've realized just what $50 can do in this context. I could spend that at home on a video game for the children, but that's way more than a month's salary here," he said. "But it's important for money to go to the right place, otherwise it won't see its way to the people who really need it. As Leslie said, the church to church, person to person ties are really what's critical in getting the help where it needs to go."

The institutions also need help, he explained, noting that the information technology in the diocese was almost non-existent one year ago. "But the people on the street are really in need," he said. "When you write a check in the US, it's really difficult to know where that money is going, whereas if you have a personal connection, it helps to funnel that money smartly."

Kelly Alexander is also working in Tanzania through a partnership between the Diocese of Atlanta. She is teaching primary and secondary classes for one year at a local school in Dar es Salaam. Her father, Bishop Neil Alexander of Atlanta, together with New York Suffragan Bishop Catherine Roskam, shares mission partnership with the Diocese of Central Tanganyika.

Mhogolo, the spiritual leader of approximately 800 parishes in his diocese, said that "if you go to the grassroots level you learn that these people live with God, it's life-oriented, and that is what the missionaries have to serve."

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