May 17, 2017

New Tanzania Mennonite Church bishops gather to share and plan

Written by  Debbi DiGennaro and Emily Jones
Participants at an EMM-hosted retreat for new bishops and their wives in Arusha, Tanzania, at the home of EMM workers Noah and Tricia Kaye, April 25–28, 2017. Front row, left  to right: Bestina Sigira, Sharon Mkisi, Rachel Kisare, Phanuel Mesha, Jewel Showalter, Takasa Wambura, Gloria Bontrager, Jessica Wadugu, Agnes Matuntera, Debbi DiGennaro, Winnie Mutorela. Back row, left to right: Kennedy Sigira, Albert Randa, Nelson Kisare, Gerry Keener, Noah Kaye, Richard Showalter, John Wambura, Joe Bontrager, Enosh Wadugu, Emmanuel Mwita Matuntera, Rwanga Chris Kateti, Joseph Muterola. Participants at an EMM-hosted retreat for new bishops and their wives in Arusha, Tanzania, at the home of EMM workers Noah and Tricia Kaye, April 25–28, 2017. Front row, left to right: Bestina Sigira, Sharon Mkisi, Rachel Kisare, Phanuel Mesha, Jewel Showalter, Takasa Wambura, Gloria Bontrager, Jessica Wadugu, Agnes Matuntera, Debbi DiGennaro, Winnie Mutorela. Back row, left to right: Kennedy Sigira, Albert Randa, Nelson Kisare, Gerry Keener, Noah Kaye, Richard Showalter, John Wambura, Joe Bontrager, Enosh Wadugu, Emmanuel Mwita Matuntera, Rwanga Chris Kateti, Joseph Muterola. Photos by Joni Kellar.

ARUSHA, Tanzania — When over half of the Tanzania Mennonite Church’s bishops retired at the end of their terms in January, a number of younger leaders were elected to take their place. Emerging visions for the church’s future were shared and encouraged at an EMM-hosted retreat for the new bishops and their wives on April 25–28 in Arusha, Tanzania.

The new leadership already has big dreams for the Tanzania Mennonite Church (in Swahili, “Kanisa la Mennonite Tanzania,” or KMT). Among other ambitious goals, the bishops, who oversee a combined 230 pastors, have a strategic plan to share the gospel with a million people by 2034. The 2034 date is also significant as it is the 100th year anniversary of the Mennonite church in Tanzania.

“Those targets were repeatedly referenced,” said EMM Regional Representative Debbi DiGennaro, who facilitated the retreat. “The group worked hard to evaluate how their strategic plan aligned with best practices in church leadership.” The retreat emphasized strong beginnings with its theme: “Foundations.” The seven bishops spent much of the retreat reflecting on the fundamentals of relationship building, leadership, and Anabaptist theology.  

After one session in which main speaker Richard Showalter, EMM’s former president, shared stories of healing, deliverance, and church planting among former KMT leaders, participants spontaneously began a self-searching dialogue.

Esther Muhagachi, wife of Bishop Amos Muhagachi from the Dodoma Diocese, reflected that she had not seen such church activity since she was a child. “What has happened to us?” she asked.

KMT leaders urged each other to give sacrificially of their energy and personal finances, focusing on the early church of Pentecost as their model for normal church life.

Speakers and discussion facilitators included local leaders like KMT General Secretary John Wambura and Esther Muhagachi. Contributing EMM missionaries and North American leadership trainers included Joe Bontrager, Noah Kaye, Richard and Jewel Showalter, and Gerry Keener.

“We had the best of the Tanzanian Mennonite community in dialogue with the best of the North American Mennonite community,” said DiGennaro of the retreat. “It was simply electrifying.”