This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

East Africans strengthen training for rural pastors

MWANZA, Tanzania — Mennonite bishops in Tanzania and Kenya are striving to meet the need for local, affordable training for village pastors.

Bishop Albert Randa teaches church polity to candidates for ordination in the Tanzanian Mennonite Church in Mwanza. — EMM
Bishop Albert Randa teaches church polity to candidates for ordination in the Tanzanian Mennonite Church in Mwanza. — EMM

They are working with Eastern Mennonite Missions workers Joe and Gloria Bontrager, who are implementing a curriculum and model for training leaders.

The Bontragers begin by traveling to districts with a “Training of Trainers” seminar. By teaching the basic material and modeling how to teach, they equip local leaders to facilitate the two-year training on their own.

They have done 15 seminars in seven of Tanzania Mennonite Church’s 10 dioceses and five of Kenya Mennonite Church’s seven dioceses.

“Our model is the way Jesus taught. Our textbook is the Bible, and our method is discussion,” Joe Bontrager said. “The program emphasizes the importance of leaders passing on what they have learned to others, as Paul wrote to Timothy: ‘What you have learned from me, pass on to faithful persons who will be able to teach others also.’ ”

Closing the gaps

The program is making an impact because it addresses gaps in biblical and denominational understanding.

Leaders asked to have a class on Mennonite distinctives. Many parishioners did not know what made Mennonites distinct from other denominations.

The Bontragers put together a collection of Mennonite history, faith statements and instructive articles. The Swahili translators exclaimed how interesting it was to learn about their faith.

Another reason for the curriculum’s impact is the Bontragers’ mode of instruction. African teaching is often based on lectures and rote learning. The Bontragers emphasize personal processing, reflection and discussion. The study material is not focused on simply transferring information but on creating dialogue about how to apply the material.

“This style of instruction encourages delving into locally relevant topics together, which facilitates deeper integration of material,” Joe Bontrager said.

New developments

In February, the Bontragers worked with Bishop Albert Randa to offer a weeklong training to five candidates for ordination in the Mwanza Diocese of Tanzania. Four of the five candidates came with their wives, who also took part in the training.

“This is a new development in two ways,” Joe Bontrager said. “First, a lengthy training for pastoral candidates is not usually held. Second, inviting the spouse to attend is also new. As we worked with the group, we sensed how much the spouses gained through the training and how much strength that will bring to the ministry of the new pastors.”

Most of the candidates came from villages in outlying areas of Mwanza, a midsized port city on Lake Victoria. Only one of the candidates came from a church family. Two of them came to faith through evangelism in the diocese a few years ago, and one of the candidates’ wives comes from a Muslim background.

Mwanza Diocese has ongoing efforts to address the spiritual needs of rural villages.

“Many of the villages in rural Tanzania have little, if any, church presence,” Gloria Bontrager said. “But the people are hungry for teaching and worship.”

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