January 4, 2018

Revitalized theological college a sign of new vision within Tanzania Mennonite Church

Written by  Joseph Bontrager
The 90 students who graduated from Mennonite Theological College of Eastern Africa on December 2, 2017, hold their certificates and diplomas. Tanzania Mennonite Church has helped MTCEA experience a dramatic turnaround in the last year, from a dying institution of three students to a thriving college. Photos by the author. The 90 students who graduated from Mennonite Theological College of Eastern Africa on December 2, 2017, hold their certificates and diplomas. Tanzania Mennonite Church has helped MTCEA experience a dramatic turnaround in the last year, from a dying institution of three students to a thriving college. Photos by the author.

NYABANGE, Tanzania — On December 2, 2017, 90 students celebrated their graduation from Mennonite Theological College of Eastern Africa (MTCEA) with singing, speeches, recognitions, and even a rap that recounted the year’s experiences. The celebration was all the sweeter because, in the last year, the college has experienced a dramatic turnaround that took it from a dying establishment of just three students to the thriving college of today.

The revitalization of MTCEA is a sign of new vision and energy for Tanzania Mennonite Church in Swahili, Kanisa la Mennonite Tanzania (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 pre-schools, and stronger networks of cooperation and support. “2034” refers to the year in which KMT will celebrate its 100th anniversary.

KMT General Secretary John Wambura recognized that the new vision requires trained leaders, and began to focus on reenergizing 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 who were willing to volunteer their time. He also asked congregations to send food to support the students from their area.

As MTCEA grew under the supervision of KMT 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 (EMM) 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, the future of the college was threatened by low enrollment, 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 loss of financial assistance 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 is scheduled to open again in January 2018 with a one-year certificate program and a two-year diploma program.

Many of the current graduates hope to continue and complete the diploma program. There is also a plan to hold seminars and short in-service training courses for pastors within KMT.

The mission of MTCEA is to prepare 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. Currently a pressing need is beds and mattresses for the dormitories and desks and chairs for the classrooms, due to the increase in students.

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 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or P.O. Box 1023, Musoma, Tanzania.

In 1978, Joseph and Gloria Bontrager moved to Musoma, Tanzania with EMM to serve as teachers at MTCEA (then the Bukiroba Bible School). In one of the school’s defunct periods, Joseph became the director of the Theological Education by Extension (TEE) program, a distance-learning course which substituted for the school. Joseph and Gloria were there to help the college reopen in 1991. They returned to Tanzania from 2012 to 2016 to coordinate theological training in Tanzania and Kenya Mennonite churches, with a primary focus on the TEE program. They continue to serve East Africa’s Mennonite churches as non-resident volunteer workers with EMM.