Opening Doors for His Word

Lutheranism is spreading in Tanzania, where the church focuses on theological education, evangelism and mercy work.

“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ” (Col. 4:2–3).

On a Saturday in November 2023, under a bright and warm sunny sky in Shinyanga, Tanzania, workers perched on the roof of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania—South East of Lake Victoria Diocese’s (ELCT—SELVD) new seminary building. Wooden scaffolds surrounded the structure. The workers cut, hammered, measured, sawed and sweated. They hauled handmade cinder block to one another, an assembly line of muscle. One worker gingerly maneuvered around deep puddles from recent rains while others ascended the ladders to the second story.

This building, abuzz with the sounds of circular saws and rhythmic hammering, is where cohorts of new pastors and deaconesses will soon be taught and trained in confessional Lutheranism to serve God’s church in Tanzania.

Top to bottom: Workers build the new seminary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania—South East of Lake Victoria Diocese (ELCT—SELVD) in November 2023.

A Focus on Theological Education

Shinyanga is a small city south of Mwanza and Lake Victoria. The lake borders three countries in East Africa — Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.

LCMS missionaries currently serve in Tanzania, where they work as theological educators. The Rev. Jonathan Clausing serves St. Peter Lutheran Seminary in Himo (Moshi), which is part of the Lutheran Church of East Africa, and the Rev. Jason Steffenson will serve at the new seminary in Shinyanga. Lord willing, another missionary family will soon join the Steffensons in Shinyanga.

The ELCT—SELVD is a confessional Lutheran diocese established in 2012 with about 15,000 members. By 2022, it had doubled in size to almost 30,000 members. Currently, there are 105 parishes — with plans for each parish to plant a new church, according to Happiness Gefi, the ELCT—SELVD general secretary.

The ELCT—SELVD and the LCMS have collaborated for years, most notably on theological education. “We share the love of Christ with the support of the LCMS,” said the Rev. Daniel Mono, assistant to the diocese’s bishop.

The LCMS is not in fellowship with any church body in Tanzania, yet for years LCMS missionaries and professors have taught at the Bishop Makala Training Center outside Shinyanga. Some students at the center continue their studies at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne (CTSFW). Others go on to attend Matongo Lutheran Theological College at Neema Lutheran College in western Kenya. This seminary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya currently serves students from about a dozen different church bodies and is partially staffed by LCMS missionaries.

The first cohort of students at the Makala training center graduated in 2015. Those pastors are currently serving in the diocese’s parishes and now, with the help of their elders, are identifying other men who could serve as evangelists and pastors. The LCMS recently gave several grants that helped provide a new dormitory at the center.

Above: The Rev. Silas Mkiramweni preaches at Ebenezer Cathedral. Middle: Congregation members listen to the sermon. Bottom: The recessional spills out into the parking lot.

One of the church’s pastors, the Rev. Silas Mkiramweni, preached the Word one Sunday in November at Ebenezer Cathedral in downtown Shinyanga. Mkiramweni studied at CTSFW and was ordained in December 2019. The cathedral is the seat of the bishop, the Rev. Dr. Yohana Ernest Nzelu, who was consecrated in April 2023. He served beforehand as a school headmaster and pastor, and some of his studies were sponsored by the LCMS’ Global Seminary Initiative.

During the service, choirs sang and danced. Afterward, congregation members followed the worship leaders as the recessional didn’t end in the narthex but spilled out into the parking lot.

An Emphasis on Mercy

There are many villages in the diocese’s territory, and it’s in these areas where the malaria scourge continues. The ELCT—SELVD has assisted the Tanzanian government’s community health workers with an extensive anti-malarial program at the community level since 2020, which includes sending church workers out alongside government workers into diocesan schools and surrounding villages to bear Christ’s mercy with His Word. These teams show films about Christ and help teach residents how to use mosquito bed nets given by the project. Many beds lie on the floor, so workers stress extra precaution against malaria by tucking the nets under the mattress. The diocese also established malaria clubs in the schools. In these elective classes, students learn about malaria prevention and tell their families about what they learned.

Students in the anti-malarial program gather during class.
A resident watches as a community health worker demonstrates the proper use of a mosquito net.

The diocese’s deaconesses also care for children and women with albinism. One community home for children on the campus of a Lutheran high school in Mwadui, outside of Shinyanga, was built with ongoing support from the LCMS. In the villages, these children are persecuted for their albinism. But at the home, they receive care for both the body and the soul.

After worship on this November Sunday, LCMS missionary Shara Osiro visited the school with ELCT—SELVD leadership. As they arrived, children ran up to Happiness Gefi and her husband with ebullient smiles and joyful hugs. When Osiro sat on the couch in the living room, a child immediately crawled into her lap.

Happiness Gefi, the ELCT—SELVD general secretary, greets children at the home in Mwadui.
LCMS missionary Shara Osiro sits with the children at the home.

Through this combined work — seminary construction, theological education for evangelists and pastors, and evangelism and education through mercy projects — God is opening doors for His Word to go forth and be heard.

“We have done many works with the LCMS,” said the Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Joseph Makala, former bishop of the ELCT—SELVD. “We share the vision, we share the mission of the church, especially connecting people to Jesus.”

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Pray with Us

Heavenly Father, You promised Your Word would not return to You empty. You have prospered the work of Your servants in Tanzania who teach and who care for their neighbors. Be with all Lutherans in Tanzania, that through them Your kingdom will be built up into Him who is the head, Christ Jesus, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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Erik M. Lunsford 

Managing photojournalist for LCMS Communications.

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