God Gives the Growth

As East African churches experience rapid growth, the LCMS comes alongside to help prepare new pastors and church workers for service.

Across Africa, God is providing Lutheran church bodies with growth, which has created a blessed challenge: They are having trouble providing enough well-trained pastors to shepherd new believers. These church bodies are increasingly turning to The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) to help train their pastors and evangelists due to the Synod’s biblical doctrine and reputation for solid theological education.

“The appeal for scholarships for men to study at seminaries is the most frequent request the LCMS receives from Lutheran church bodies in Africa,” says the Rev. Shauen Trump, director of the Synod’s Africa region. The LCMS Office of International Mission “responds to these entreaties, energized by the opportunity to exercise one of our core competencies. Year after year, about half of the resources the LCMS invests in Africa are dedicated to planting churches and preparing church workers.”

The ‘Sweet Spot’

One of the premiere places this theological education occurs in Africa is at Matongo Lutheran Theological College at Neema Lutheran College in western Kenya. This seminary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya (ELCK) currently has about 80 students who come from a dozen different church bodies. Two LCMS missionaries — the Rev. Dr. Walter Steele and the Rev. Vance Becker — serve alongside Kenyan faculty and staff to help train pastors, evangelists, deaconesses and teachers for service to the church.

“Placing missionaries into this sweet spot for the LCMS — the teaching of the faith to the next generation of pastors — multiplies the impact among God’s people in villages and towns across the continent,” continues Trump.

On a recent February morning, Becker, who serves as dean of chapel, rang a handbell to call students to Matins in the seminary’s tin-roofed chapel. The facilities may seem simple by western standards, but here students learn from dedicated and knowledgeable professors and benefit from access to one of the best theological libraries in East Africa.

Kelvin Lenaseyan is currently studying for his diploma at Matongo. Lenaseyan’s father was the first person in his village to be baptized when Christian missionaries came to their village in Samburu, Kenya, in 1982. Unfortunately, now many of the local men have stopped attending the church.

One day soon, Lenaseyan hopes to be ordained to serve the church in Samburu. He looks forward to supplying ready access to Baptism and the Lord’s Supper and to the ongoing pastoral care that is so vital to a congregation.

LCMS missionary Rev. Vance Becker rings the chapel bell early in the morning.
LCMS missionary Rev. Dr. Walter Steele talks with seminarian Kelvin Lenaseyan following chapel.

A Thorough Education

Learning takes place outside of the classroom as well. Pastoral students at Matongo receive hands-on training that will serve them well once they graduate and are sent to their own congregations. Lenaseyan recently had the opportunity to practice his preaching skills during morning chapel, and later he traveled to the ELCK’s Othoro Project 24 site to assist with worship for the 25 children who live there. The Othoro boarding facility provides a home for children from the area who would otherwise not be able to attend school due to difficult family circumstances. At Othoro, the children complete elementary school and learn life skills, while also learning about their Savior, Jesus Christ.

Kelvin Lenaseyan assists in the distribution of the Sacrament to young men of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya’s (ELCK) Othoro Project 24 site during worship led by the Rev. Philemon Adoyo at the Othoro ELCK parish in western Kenya.

Many of those who come to Matongo hunger and thirst to learn more about the Word so that they can better teach and care for the people God calls them to serve. Lenaseyan is studying Greek and Hebrew with Steele. Although it was not required for the course of study he already completed, he is thankful for the scholarship that allows him to pursue further education. “These languages will help you not only to translate the Word, but they will help you in your ministry as a pastor,” he says.

The Rev. Frank Mdindi, who graduated from the Bishop Makala Training Center outside Shinyanga, Tanzania, in 2015, is also pursuing continuing education at Matongo. After serving in Tanzania for several years, he’s seen firsthand the importance of correct doctrine and instruction at the seminary, since incorrect teaching leads people astray.

“In other universities and colleges, they teach the theology of glory,” Mdindi says, noting that it deprives people of the comfort found only in the Gospel. “[People] think, ‘I’m sick, I don’t have a lot of money, I don’t have a car, I don’t have a good house, so I don’t have a good relationship with God.’ This is very bad. But in the theology of the cross, we know that God loves us, [no matter what] we have or we don’t have.”

Brotherhood in Christ

Through the collaboration at Matongo, the Synod works to support the ELCK as it provides high-quality formation for future church workers — both in Kenya and beyond — and goes through the process of gaining accreditation for the bachelor’s degree program. The LCMS also supports the continuous improvement of the school’s facilities, which will include building a new chapel in the center of the campus in the next two years.

Becker teaches a class after chapel.

This partnership between the two church bodies also gives Steele, Becker and other LCMS missionaries the opportunity to experience the joys and challenges of living and teaching in rural Kenya. In his role as academic dean, Steele has the pleasure of working with Lenaseyan, Mdindi and many other dedicated students. The experience has given him a new perspective on both the unity of the church in the faith and the way the Gospel interacts with different cultures.

“It’s the same Gospel, it’s the same faith, but … when you start looking at some of the biblical texts, you realize that we pick up different aspects of it because of what touches our culture,” Steele says. “[These insights] and the brotherhood that we share in Christ, that’s just part of the joy of being here.”

In all this, God gives the growth, and He provides pastors to serve the church and her people with the Word and Sacraments. The LCMS and her missionaries rejoice and serve joyfully in the opportunities to teach the truth of God’s Word in East Africa and throughout the world, so that these students can then go out and serve the people whom God calls to Himself in their local communities.

Students enjoy soccer during some free time between classes.

“God’s people are the focus of this and all of the LCMS’ mission work,” says Trump. This includes both “those people in the community of believers and those who have not yet heard the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

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Pray with Us

Lord of the harvest, You plant and grant the growth for the harvest. Your Spirit creates faith where and when He pleases through Your Holy Word and Sacraments. Strengthen the family of faith in East Africa, and especially those in Kenya who train for service to Your people. May those who teach and those who learn in Matongo do so by the wisdom of Your Spirit. Bless also those who care for children at Othoro, that all who come there would know You as their heavenly Father and see Your love for them in Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord. Amen.

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Megan K. Mertz

Managing editor of Lutherans Engage the World and chief copy editor for LCMS Communications.

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