Vincent and Red Bank UMCs Bring Vitality, Compassion to Tanzania

In June, the second Local Pastors’ School united Greater New Jersey’s visiting leaders with Tanzanian Methodists in a week of shared learning and worship. The school, funded by the Miracles Everywhere campaign, is a result of a 2018 resolution passed at Annual Conference that declares GNJ’s support for the growing church in Tanzania. GNJ’s recent partnership with the Tanzanian Annual Conference has its roots deep in the local churches in our conference.

Local congregations in New Jersey have been nurturing the growth of Methodism in the east African nation through their own ministries since the first churches were planted.

“It’s so exciting to see how the seeds have taken root and flourished,” reflects David LeDuc, pastor of Vincent UMC in Nutley, “and that the ministry and missionary work in Tanzania is bearing so much fruit, in terms of sharing the message and the love of God.”

LeDuc has long been involved in the United Methodist’s church evangelizing and expanding into what is officially known as the Tanzania Episcopal Area of the North Katanga Conference; the conference is named after a region in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, from which the first missionaries were dispatched to Tanzania 25 years ago. Once part of German East Africa, Tanzania became a British possession after World War I. The colonial powers brought their own empire’s preferred beliefs with them, and so the Lutheran and Anglican churches predominate even today. To grow the Methodist connection, missionaries were charged in the neighboring DR Congo to go forth and make disciples in Tanzania.

Among the first six missionaries were a married couple, Rev. Mutwale Ntambo Wa Mushidi and Kabaka Ndala Alphonsine. After crossing Lake Tanganyika, LeDuc told us, Rev. Mutwale’s boat died on the beach and so he sought shelter in an unused and dilapidated building, studying his Bible. Residents watched as a deadly snake slithered out from the shadows to regard the new arrival. Tanzania is home to some the deadliest snakes in the world, and locals had died of snakebites before, but Mutwale was unfazed and ultimately unharmed. Even the skeptic may think twice when a pastor on a providentially one-way trip shows up and scares away serpents- certainly this was a man of God with a mission. Now acting as legal representative in Tanzania for North Katanga’s Bishop Mande Muyombo, Mutwale oversees more than 70 churches throughout the country.

It was through the General Board of Global Ministries that Rev. Mutwale and Kabaka connected with LeDuc and the Vincent congregation. “We were inspired by their story and their sacrifice,” he told us, “ and how the Lord has worked in them and how they have followed their call.” After hosting the missionary couple, the congregation began raising awareness and resources to aid their work in Tanzania through mission fairs and by speaking to other local churches, both in GNJ and Eastern Pennsylvania.

These funds went toward buying land for the Tanzania church’s 15-acre annual conference center outside the primary and former capital of Dar Es Salaam. Vincent’s members were also able to help coordinate GBGM and UMCOR to have a well drilled for the site.

The lack of infrastructure, even outside the largest city, makes modern amenities into luxuries and greatly hampers travel. Additionally, the government in in the process of moving the capital from Dar es Salaam on the Indian Ocean to the more centrally located city of Dodoma, adding to the administrative and bureaucratic red tape. These are only a few of the issues facing people in Tanzania and throughout the region. The genocide in Rwanda and conflict in the Congo has a regional effect resulting in a migrant crisis.

Serving the needs of the many displaced people in the great lakes region has given shape to the Methodist Church in Tanzania today. “They care for the poorest, for those who have very little,” reported Janie Schildge of Red Bank UMC. At the Tanzania table at the GNJ Annual Conference in May, surrounded by brightly colored dresses and beautifully beaded bags for sale, Schildge explained how gaining the skills necessary to dye, sew and craft these items gives dignity and a means of self-support to the women of Tanzania, many of whom are war widows with children. “Kabaka is so gentle, so kind and loving,” she observed, “and she knows that education is the key, especially for empowering women.” By the end of conference, the dresses were sold out.

Schildge’s daughter and her family live in Nairobi, and they last visited the Tanzania conference site in January to volunteer and covenant with Mutwale, Alphonsine and their church . “There’s such a joy and passion in the church,” Schildge recalled, “they welcomed us with dancing and clapping; kids kick off their shoes while singing.” She and her husband George also host Mutwale and Alphonsine when they visit the US, and work with LeDuc and others in GNJ to continue educating churches in New Jersey about how they can aid the growth of their kin in Tanzania.

As the work of Greater New Jersey continues in Tanzania, so does the work of local churches and individuals within the conference. From a single pastor in a broken-down boat a quarter century ago, to over 70 churches and a burgeoning mission center, the Methodist church in Tanzania has come a long way. Mutwale cited a French saying: “Petit a petit l’oiseau fait son nit,” or “little by little the bird builds its nest.”