An open door in Tanzania
I left for Tanzania on 15 February 2011 and returned to UK on 11 March. It takes three days to travel to and from Mbeya, so that left me 19 full days for ministry.
During those days, the Lord opened the door for me to preach eight times on the radio and 25 times in churches, and spend six whole days at Utungule Bible College. There was also opportunity to lead morning devotions at two other Bible colleges.
Another part of my work was distributing books to pastors and Bible college lecturers and students. Banner of Truth, Evangelical Press and Day One were generous in donating a large number of books for this. Many others donated second-hand books of good quality.
The books were shipped into the country in a container and all arrived safely. I had planned to go in July, during the dry season, to do open air evangelistic meetings and pastors’ conferences, but felt it right to oversee the book distribution as soon as the books arrived.
About 100 large boxes of English books had been sent. Half were delivered to six Bible colleges and 62 pastors and lecturers. The other half are safe in storage and will be distributed in future to new contacts.
We also had 2,000 books in Swahili that had been translated by GBM missionaries in Kenya. These comprised 500 copies of four different titles. So far, I have direct contact with about 250 pastors, teachers and students. The rest will be distributed to new contacts, as the Lord leads.
Within this part of Tanzania, there are Lutheran, Anglican, Baptist and many Pentecostal denominations. My work was predominantly among the Moravian brethren.
Tanzania is divided into four provinces and I have only worked within the south west province until now. There are 187 Moravian churches there that all have anywhere between 1-20 daughter congregations. They currently only have 165 full time pastors, so there is a lot of lay preaching going on every Lord’s Day. They have four Bible colleges within this province.
I was also able to work among a Pentecostal group that has about 30 churches and a small college of about 20 students. There are a few interdenominational
colleges that have invited me to teach, but I have not yet had time to visit them.
There are many young men preparing themselves for the ministry. While they study, they live in very basic accommodation. Food, water, clothing, stationery, etc. are scarce.
Another need is to encourage Christians who can read to own their own Bible. Up to 50 per cent of Christians in the large cities or towns will have a Bible, but in the village churches, where there may be up to 800 members in a church, very few own their own Bible.
We are buying Bibles from the Tanzanian Bible Society at reduced rates and giving them to pastors to sell to their congregations at slightly subsidised prices. We have allowed them to pay for these by instalments.
When a box or two has been sold and the money collected, arrangements are made for more Bibles to be sent. Sometimes churches are up to four hours away from the nearest place to buy Bibles. Many Tanzanians are rural farmers and a Bible costs the equivalent of a month’s income.
Another part of the churches’ work is to try to meet the needs of many orphans and widows. Although there is not large-scale, absolute starvation in this part of the world, there are many living in poverty. Many children are under-nourished, have no medical attention and don’t go to school. Many widows struggle to eat more than once a day.
Although a major concern is to expose church leaders to Reformed expository preaching and literature, the lack of Bibles and of basic daily necessities has burdened my heart. Moravian pastors earn about £20 a month and those in poor areas get virtually no help from their congregations.
This makes it difficult for them to send their children to school and buy uniforms and stationery. We have identified those in greatest need and set up ways in which we can wisely subsidise their wages.
Plans have been made for three open air evangelistic meetings, pastors’ conferences, radio work, Bible college teaching and visiting more Moravian congregations to distribute Bibles.
A significant work has begun in exposing a large Tanzanian province to the teaching of the Reformation. The standard of biblical literacy is low and there is still a long way to go until we can call even one congregation there Reformed.
When you ask pastors what the Reformation was about and the difference between a Catholic and a Protestant, there are few who could begin to answer such questions. Very few would adequately understand the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
The liberalism of European and American Moravians filters into Tanzania and few see its danger. The executive committee of the Moravian Church in the south west province admitted to me that there are unconverted preachers among their ranks.
Even the theologically conservative missionaries tend to be Arminian. The excesses we see in the Western Charismatic movement are in Tanzania as well, although among Moravians and Lutherans they are more confined to so-called ‘fellowship groups’.
God (as many of them claim to know him) has to be shouted at, and youth prayer is accompanied by all sorts of gesticulations. The prosperity gospel is here in force, as well as other false teachings. There is little robust biblical exposition and no systematic theology taught to defend people from these errors.
Paul’s letters to the Romans and Galatians would be a mystery to most preachers here. I have not met any among the Moravians who understand the doctrines of grace.
There is an Australian missionary who is Reformed and I had some wonderful fellowship with him. He has worked with a wide range of denominations, including the Pentecostals, but his teaching against sinless perfection upset some of the Mbeya Moravians, and for many years closed the door for him to teach there. With a recent change in leadership, he has been welcomed again.
There are hundreds of congregations in need of sound teaching and tens of thousands who call themselves Christians, but have never heard the doctrine of justification clearly preached. Many, by the sovereign grace of God have repented and savingly believed on Christ, but probably many more are deceived and with a false hope of salvation.
European Moravian missionaries begun their work in 1891 and the Lord saved many through their labours. The Mbeya region of Tanzania is a part of the world where there is a large percentage of the population going to church and receiving virtually no sound Reformed expository preaching.
Most missionaries in Tanzania are involved in social aspects of the churches’ work. There are no missionaries from Reformed denominations, missionary agencies or congregations working in the Bible colleges or among the preachers. The one Reformed Australian missionary is a lone voice, like a drop in an ocean.
Years of surveying members of many different churches have shown him that the famine of sound doctrine has left people with a shaky ‘gospel’, where, even if you ‘get in’ through faith alone, you only ‘stay in’ by merit. They believe that if a believer dies with some unconfessed sin, he is lost.
The war is raging; the battle lines have been drawn. Jesus, the captain of our salvation, is there. Will you join us as we seek to bring the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ to this part of the world?
Will you kneel with us before the throne of God concerning these issues? Will you support this work and help these poor brothers in Tanzania?
The author is pastor of Montpelier Place Baptist Church, Brighton ([email protected])