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November 12, 2013

Love is the Only Tool of Mission

by Admin

At the recent Church of England Partners in World Mission Conference Revd Lillian Gaula and her husband Bishop Given Gaula, from the Anglican Church in Tanzania, spoke with passion about Christian Muslim relationships, Female Genital Mutilation and forced marriage. Canon Phil Groves shares some highlights of their talk and reflects on how their core theme of love being the only way impacts on a Continuing Indaba methodology.

Diocese of Kondoa

Throughout history Christian Muslim relationships have been a place of conflict and creativity. In recent years there have been significant tensions and Tanzania has been seen as an example to others.

Much of this is due to the visionary leadership of President Nyerere who established the priority of nation building through the promotion of a common language (Kiswahili) and by encouraging good relationships between religions including the right to convert from one religion to another. He did not seek to limit evangelism, but to ensure it was respectful and free from coercion. This was seen as an essential element of a secular state where the religions of all are respected.

The Diocese of Kondoa was formed about 20 years ago and was previously a missionary area of the Diocese of Central Tanganyika (DCT). The tribes of the area converted to Islam in the pre-colonial era encouraged by Arab traders. Anglican evangelical missionaries focused their efforts on the areas populated by the Wagogo of Mpwapwa, Dodoma, and Manyoni to the south of Kondoa. 90% of the people are Muslim.

In 1990 Given Gaula, a young evangelist, fresh from his training as a church Army officer was among the first missionaries to the region. At the time there were only 70 Anglicans in the whole of the region. Given is an Mgogo from Dodoma and he travelled to Kondoa seeking to encourage the growth of the church working alongside missionaries from New Zealand.

He met his wife Lillian when they were both training for ordination at St Philip’s College Kongwa. Lillian was one of the first two women to be ordained in the Anglican Church of Tanzania. She is also a Mogogo but from Mpwapwa and Kondoa was a six hour drive from her home, a place that was far away.

Since ordination they have had a number of roles in DCT including teaching in the theological college. Given has also taken opportunities to study for a degree and for a PhD, the latter at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.

Given was elected the second Bishop of Kondoa in 2012 and has a small number of poorly educated, but very dedicated clergy covering a huge area where Christians are in a small minority and Anglicans and Roman Catholics the major Christian denominations. Pentecostalists have also come, but some of them focus on encouraging Christians to leave the historic churches. They can be aggressive towards Muslims.

Lillian has a very significant ministry as a pastor within the Diocese.

Love is the Only Tool of Mission

It is love that is the best tool for evangelism. The early missionaries to the Kondoa region began their work in the late 1980s. Given was among them and it was very hard. They were accompanied by a white missionary from New Zealand, but the evangelism was carried out predominantly by Tanzanians.

Kondoa region has only two towns and they are not big towns and the aim was to open churches in villages as well. The team heard of a man who was an Mgogo and a Christian who might be a starting point for the gospel in his village. When they visited him it was a frustrating day. They drove all morning to find he was not at home and they could not find any news about him. At that time there were no mobile phones and no landlines either, so the arrangement to meet was very fragile. He may have been called away, forgotten the time, or perhaps he was scared and was avoiding them.

As they returned to Dodoma they passed through a village where a group was gathered by the road. The people had been waiting all day to flag down a car and so their calls for help were desperate. Their concern was for a very sick woman who was pale with anaemia and close to unconsciousness. Her husband – a local Muslim elder and teacher – overcame his fear of white people and begged them to help. Of course they responded. They drove her and the husband to a hospital in Kondoa town.

At the hospital the medical team said they could help her, but that she needed blood and sought a donor. In those days hospitals did not have refrigeration and did not have stocks of blood, instead they relied on live donors, relatives who would donate blood there and then. However, the woman had a rare blood type and none of the accompanying friends and no other African present was a fit.

To the shock of all the New Zealand Missionary offered his arm and the test showed that his blood was compatible. He donated his blood and the woman survived. For you this may be an obvious, but for a Muslim elder who had been brought up to fear white Christians as heartless oppressors this was transformational.

The Missionary had given his blood to save an African.

More than that, his blood had been given to save an African woman.

And not only that, his blood had saved the life of a Muslim, African Woman.

The elder addressed the white missionary shaking his hand and saying ‘Truly you are a servant of Allah’

The Missionary replied: ‘No I am a servant of Jesus Christ.’

The offering of love was transformational and marked change as much in the evangelistic approach of the Christians as the story did in the community of the people the couple returned to.

Love is the only effective tool we have in mission. It is not the words that are significant but the act of love. The Muslim woman was literally saved by the Christian missionary.

Hear Bishop Given Gaula describe this radical act of love on journey here.

Going back to Kondoa

When Given Gaula returned to Kondoa last year as Bishop of the Diocese this story was still fresh in his mind. His experience has shaped his reading of Scripture and his understanding of his evangelical tradition.

For him it was not an easy choice to go to Kondoa. Christian mission brought schools and health centres to Tanzania, but Islamic Mission brought only the Quran. As a consequence in Kondoa there are few schools and many people are illiterate. There are few hospitals and health care is precarious. The Government offers double wages to civil servants who will work in the area, but few take up the offer because they know life will be hard with nowhere to educate their children and life precarious with nowhere to go when illness strikes. In addition the long term effects of manmade climate change are becoming apparent with seven years of drought leaving the people further impoverished and desperate. The area is one of the most challenging places to live and work.

Given could have gained a comfortable post in a western theological institution or in the University in Dodoma, but he and Lillian were called to follow Jesus in a hard place and they joyfully accept the call. Their theology of love shapes the way they interact in mission in Kondoa. They completely reject any form of force in evangelism.

The need for the gospel in Kondoa is apparent. Islam is happy to adopt cultural practices that are not central to its teaching, such as the act of so called female ‘circumcision,’ better described as female genital mutilation (FGM). This act is contrary to the law in Tanzania, but this can make it even more dangerous as the practice is hidden and those suffering it unable to seek medical attention. The adoption of polygamy also results in the practice of forced marriage. Lillian says: ‘I am sorry to tell you – women are oppressed by men.’

The dehumanisation of women is also the dehumanisation of the oppressor and the gospel is the story of liberation for both women and men.

Reconciliation

Tanzania is not immune to the rising tensions between Christians and Muslims around the world. Earlier this year there were a number of incidents including a bomb in a church in Arusha and the murder of a Roman Catholic priest in Zanzibar, followed by the shooting of another who is still in hospital. More than 15 churches were torched in Dar es Salaam, and a Pentecostal pastor was killed at Buseresere in Shinyanga.

The only response of the church is to practice love and seek reconciliation. The first act of reconciliation was between the churches. The developing of dialogues between the Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans, as well as among the other churches of the nation, are bearing fruit in local co-operation. Some younger Christians had called for revenge and the combined leadership has been able to challenge them.

The combined leadership are also able to challenge the politicians who were not active in finding those responsible for the crimes. The church leaders were able to encourage the government to see the bombing and killings as crimes against human beings – citizens of Tanzania – not against one religious group by another. It is the founding principles of a secular state for people to be protected and those responsible are murders, not religious fighters.

The only way of evangelism is through the establishing of relationships. Given is welcomed into the villages of the region not only by the churches, but also by the Muslim elders and such relationships break down the barriers of mistrust so fanatical voices arriving in the Madrasas can be challenged from within Islam. Radical preachers from Dar Es Salaam or elsewhere can be turned away because of the relationships the people have with their Christian neighbours.

Lillian speaks of the realities for women in the Kondoa region. The deeply cultural practices of so called ‘female circumcision’ – genital mutilation – and of polygamy are accepted within Islam without question, but neither are essential to Islam. As a result women and girls face illegal cutting and oppressive marriage without any power to resist.

Throughout Tanzania the Mothers Union has been a powerful force in opposing female genital mutilation and with leadership from Lillian the Diocesan Mothers Union has gained new energy to educate women throughout the region. It is commonly believed that women who are not mutilated will not be able to have children and will have loose morals. As a priest and a mother of healthy children Lillian is able to witness to wholeness to counter such ‘ignorance’.

The key is education on the way to the empowerment of women. Teaching women to read gives them access to information, especially as more and more is available in a form that can be accessed by a smart phone. Women have been excited by the prospect of learning to read and write and have also joined classes on sewing so they can earn money and gain some independence.

Lillian said to the PWM conference ‘Men still oppress women.’ This is evident in forced marriage. A young woman came to them crying because she had been sold by her parents to be married to an elderly man as his seventh wife. They took her in and cared for her, an adult woman sold for the bride price of a few cows to marry a seventy year old man. A younger man had proposed to her, but he did not have the ability to pay the price in a time of famine and her parents were interested in the cows not their child.

Lillian appears to be a very quiet and gentle person, but she has a core of steel and Spirit filled sense of justice. She gently and plainly says what is clearly right and enabled the parents to come to a point of repentance. The young couple were married and the old man could keep his cows.

Being an ordained woman is very important as it speaks of the value of women in the church and in the community. The dog collar she wears speaks of the breaking of the structures of oppression. In this she is part of the tradition of the East African Revival and the witness of the great evangelist of Central Tanzania Bishop Festo Kivengere.

The rejection of power in response to Islam is not a compromise with truth or a watering down of the gospel; it is to live the life of Jesus who countered violence with love.

Given embraces the principles of secularism because they offer a great context for the proclamation of the gospel. In the secular state there is the possibility for conversion to Islam and to Christianity. Diversity can be embraced within a strong nation. The merits of faiths can be weighed and people can discover the truth without coercion.

In this context women can be the ones who lead the drive against Female Genital Mutilation and forced marriage – both issues in the UK as well as in Tanzania. They can seek empowerment to be agents of change and transformation in their own society.

Reflection

The witness of Given and Lillian is one that is in accord with the reconciliation message of Archbishop Justin and with the core principles of Continuing Indaba.

  • A healthy community is one where diversity is valued and conflict is accepted
  • Uniformity of belief cannot be imposed by power or communities will break
  • Reconciliation begins within the church
  • Relationships are a priority with love the only effective tool in evangelism
  • The voices of those ignored are vital for a future of justice and in this context the significant people are the oppressed women

Bishop Given and Revd Lillian need to know they are part of an Anglican Communion that welcomes diversity and difference, is walking on a journey with Christ and offers love in a challenging world.

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