NYABANGE, Tanzania — Mennonite Theological College of Eastern Africa has experienced a dramatic turnaround, going from a dying school of just three students to a thriving college in one year.
On Dec. 2, 90 students celebrated their graduation from MTCEA with singing, speeches, recognitions and even a rap that recounted the year’s experiences.
The revitalization of MTCEA is a sign of new vision and energy for Tanzania Mennonite Church — in Swahili, Kanisa la Mennonite Tanzania, or KMT.
Five new bishops elected early in 2017 initiated “Vision 2034,” a set of goals including growth and expansion of the church, renewed emphasis on social programs such as medical clinics and preschools, and stronger networks of cooperation and support. “2034” refers to the year KMT will celebrate its centennial.
Recognizing that the new vision requires trained leaders, KMT general secretary John Wambura focused on re-energizing the college. Through referrals by the bishops and personal contacts, he soon had a list of applicants for a one-year certificate program. Then he recruited teachers, some of them retired pastors willing to volunteer their time. He asked congregations to send food to support the students from their area.
As MTCEA grew throughout 2017, all was accomplished without major donations. There were times when the students fasted because there was no food, and teachers taught without pay, but God provided.
MTCEA was begun by Eastern Mennonite Missions in 1936 as a Bible school to train leaders for the emerging church, two years after EMM missionaries first entered Tanganyika (now Tanzania).
In the 1960s, the Bible school was upgraded to a theological college, which continued until 1981, when it closed due to low enrollment.
The college was reorganized and reopened in 1991. It continued with an average of 20 to 25 students, but in recent years its future was threatened by low enrollment, a shortage of funds and lack of commitment by supporting churches.
By the end of 2016 there were only three students, part-time teachers who volunteered their time, waning commitment by local Mennonite churches and leaders and a loss of financial aid from donors.
The success of MTCEA in 2017, which culminated in the graduation ceremony where 87 students received certificates and three received diplomas, has brought new hope and energy to churches across KMT.
The college was scheduled to open again this month with a one-year certificate program and a two-year diploma program.
Many of the graduates hope to continue and complete the diploma program. There is also a plan to hold seminars and in-service training courses for pastors.
A country of youth
MTCEA prepares youth to serve in churches as pastors, evangelists, missionaries and administrators. Tanzania is a country of youth, with nearly two-thirds of the population under 25 years old. Many are committed to serving in evangelism and church leadership.
Challenges facing the MTCEA board of governors include further developing the curriculum and organizational structure and planning for financial stability. The board wants at least 50 percent of the budget to come from local sources, in addition to funds from donors.
A pressing need is beds and mattresses for the dormitories and desks and chairs for classrooms.
Western churches can support MTCEA by providing faculty, financial contributions and prayer support. Those who wish to contribute in any of these ways can contact John Wambura at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1023, Musoma, Tanzania.