SHIRATI, Tanzania — Fifty Tanzanian Mennonite leaders, guided by Palmer Becker, a Canadian Mennonite author and teacher, studied spiritual leadership, pastoral care and Anabaptist essentials Feb. 14-16.
They used Begin Anew: Christian Discipleship Seminars, which Becker wrote. Bishop Chris Kateti of the Tanzania Mennonite Church’s Shirati Diocese invited Becker. Eastern Mennonite Missions funded the printing of the Swahili translation, facilitated by Debbi DiGennaro, Eastern Mennonite Missions representative to East Africa.
The groundwork for Becker’s visit to Tanzania was laid in July 2017, when Kateti, newly ordained as a bishop, along with three other Tanzanian Mennonite leaders, participated in the Mennonite Church USA convention in Orlando, Fla., where he met Becker.
The two had already been in communication about translating Begin Anew into Swahili. Impressed with Becker’s credentials, Kateti invited him to Shirati to present his materials.
Kateti wants to build the capacity of his team — the pastors, deacons and spouses in his diocese — to become strong leaders and to provide pastoral care.
The workshop offered an opportunity to learn and study and also to praise and worship, to meet and interact with church leaders and to relax and rejuvenate in the welcoming atmosphere of the diocesan headquarters, a one-story building around a grassy courtyard shaded by an enormous fig tree.
A pastoral couple’s life
Pastor Jakob Okeno is responsible for a jimbo (church district) with five churches. Speaking through an interpreter, he described how, after a career teaching at the elementary school level, he became a church leader: first an elder, then a deacon and finally a pastor. He credited pastoral training like this one with giving him the tools to live with others peacefully and with knowing how to coach church members.
His wife, Beddina, described her role as one of adviser to her husband and hostess to church workers.
“When visitors come to our house, I give them hospitality until they have finished their ministry,” she said.
She described doing evangelism “close by.” While her husband travels throughout the jimbo, she relates to people in the vicinity of their home.
In the Shirati Diocese, a pastor is assigned to a jimbo with multiple congregations. The diocese recognizes the tension this may have on the relationship between an itinerant pastor, almost always the husband, and his spouse. Therefore, the spouse is recognized as an equal partner in ministry.
Pastor John Ojallah noted that an ordained person in the Tanzania Mennonite Church is expected to show competence and professionalism. The church has a theological college, and most pastors from Shirati Diocese have studied there.
Kateti anticipates that pastors might use Becker’s newly translated book to train church leaders in their home districts.
In a 2015 interview for Mennonite Church USA, Becker said he wrote Begin Anew “for anyone interested in growing in Christian faith from an Anabaptist perspective, regardless of his or her background or previous church experience.”
Response to the 2014 publication was so positive that it was translated into several languages, and Becker presented the materials in places such as China and Ethiopia. He initially decided to give four years to developing and introducing the materials. Now in his 80s, he continues to be committed to the project.