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November 12, 2015

Multiplication through the ministry of Joe and Gloria Bontrager

Written by  Nita Landis
Joe Bontrager talks with other travelers about whether they can drive through the flooded road on their way to Sumbawanga. Joe Bontrager talks with other travelers about whether they can drive through the flooded road on their way to Sumbawanga. Photo provided by Joe and Gloria Bontrager.

This article appears in the November/December 2015 issue of Missionary Messenger; sign up to read more articles like this one.

MULTIPLICATION in the making

Pastor Ibrahim Samuel arrived at Sumbawanga Mennonite Church in Tanzania about a year and a half ago, full of energy and vision. He hopes to open three new churches this year. He needs leaders for those new churches, so he has been teaching trustworthy people who will be able to pass along the truths they are learning to others.

EMM workers Joe and Gloria Bontrager are helping him. On Sunday evenings, they meet with a group of 11 leaders for teaching on personal spirituality and ministry. They discuss tools for spiritual growth and assign daily activities related to recognizing God at work, balancing work and rest, sustaining relationships, praying the Lord’s Prayer, understanding and using spiritual gifts, and being disciples that make disciples.

On Friday evenings, Joe and Gloria teach a Theological Education by Extension (TEE) class, designed for leaders but open to all, in which they have been discussing the character of the Christian leader.

Pastor Ibrahim said, “When I came last year, there was no one to share leadership at the church. But now, with the teaching through the TEE program and other training, I have people who can lead worship and preach.” He has also started a choir that provides worship music each Sunday morning, singing mostly songs that he has written. Sunday attendance at the Sumbawanga church has doubled in the past year, and around 40 adults now attend.

Another dream

In addition to aspiring to open three new churches in rural villages, Pastor Ibrahim dreams of reviving the Mennonite church in Kapozwa, a village about 60 miles southwest of Sumbawanga, only a couple miles from the border with Zambia. The Kapozwa Mennonite Church began meeting in the late 1970s after John Sikazwe and several Moravian friends read about Mennonites in a church history book and contacted the Mennonite church office in Musoma.

With encouragement from the national church, the group organized themselves as Mennonites. John was later ordained as the first pastor, but the church closed due to lack of leadership when he retired in 2012.

Pastor Ibrahim’s dream of reviving the church began to be realized on Sunday, May 10, 2015, with a worship service held in Kapozwa under a large mango tree, followed by a meeting of local believers to organize the congregation. The local believers selected an evangelist/church leader, secretary, and treasurer by consensus among the group.

The church had acquired a plot of ground several years ago but never built a building. Pastor Ibrahim is encouraging them to begin building this year, since a meetinghouse will give the church credibility in the community and provide a place to begin community ministries such as a nursery school for community children.

The Bontragers have begun driving 240 kilometers (149 miles) to Kapozwa and back to Sumbawanga every Wednesday to provide teaching to the local leaders of the newly reopened church. They focus on the character of Christian leaders, church practices and policies, and Mennonite faith.

More multiplication ahead

Joe wrote, “During our first two and a half years in Tanzania, we focused on developing the TEE program, which we introduced church-wide in both Tanzania and Kenya. For the rest of our time here, we felt drawn toward working in a local setting where there is vision but less opportunity for training and mentoring.”

“We saw that in Sumbawanga,” Joe continued. “We came to walk alongside and encourage their vision for ministry. After several months here, we plan to move to another area and provide the same kind of mentoring.”

That sounds like more multiplication in the making.

Leaders in Sumbawanga say ...

“When I read the Bible now, I begin by asking God to teach me, and I understand what I am reading. I have started to read the Bible like the daily newspaper, and I am learning so much.” — Naomi Narumbwe

“I am learning to pray, like Jesus taught His disciples to pray.” ­— Neema Kombe

“Now when I sing songs, I see references to verses in the Bible, because I have been reading the Bible. Before these studies I did not know where they came from.”
— Leaderness Abraham

“I am challenged that it is not enough that I am a disciple of Jesus; I must also lead others to become disciples.” — Judith Mwimanz

This article appears in the November/December 2015 issue of Missionary Messenger; sign up to read more articles like this one.