On Saturday night, I had the amazing opportunity to sit next to an Archbishop and Primate of the Anglican church, Donald Mtetemela of Tanzania, for dinner. Our church hosted him while he is on a trip to encourage the American church and our minister invited the church staff. I have to say that it was breathtaking to hear this man explain the ministries that he leads and pioneers in his country. Clint and I knew embarassingly little about the country of Tanzania, within minutes of meeting the Abp an atlas came out of our host's bookshelf for a geography lesson. He explained to us humbly what the terrain of his country was, a huge country. I felt embarassed that I had not thought to do some more homework.
I did come with a few questions for "his grace," as I later learned I'm "supposed" to call him, chiefly questions regarding the recent tumult in the Anglican church. I learned so much from the time. More than anything else I learned just by listening to and watching a man who is clearly serving God and feeding God's sheep with his whole heart. His heart lies in ministries that bring the gospel into the everyday physical and spiritual lives of his people. So he has a passion for Christian education, for making sure that students at Anglican schools have a meal everyday, that students orphaned by AIDS can pay their school fees. He himself grew up in a small villiage and had to run 5 miles each way to school, without breakfast. He later moved into town to live with his uncle, but had to work weekends and evenings to pay for his school fees. He said he now looks back on that as a rough childhood, but at the time it was what everyone did. So now, so many years later, he rebuilds the Christian schools that the socialist government took away in the 60's and 70's to build up the public school system.
He also tells a story about how one day he was reading Psalm 113, which talks about how God is "exalted over all the nations" yet he "raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap and seats them with princes." He said that after reading that he walked by people looking for food in the trash heap and wondered how God could use him to bring them up. So he found a woman who was selling bananas and talked with her about her situation. She said that every day she went to the market and the seller would give her bananas. Then at the end of the day she brought back her profits and had to share with the seller her profits. So he offered to give her $20 to use to buy the bananas so she wouldn't have to share the profits. He wanted to see if he could trust her. At first she was skeptical, he was a man she didn't know, but after a while, she took the money, and in a little more than a week she offered to pay back the $20. He told her to keep it and gave her $20 more dollars. She used it wisely to pay her children's school fees and move out of her sister's into her own place. The third time he offered the money as a loan, the principal she needed to keep buying bananas. He opened up a bank account for her to begin storing her profits, so she lives on half her income. Then he asked her to bring 5 friends who could be trustworthy to do the same thing. He has now registered this microfinance system with the government, naming it after the first woman, and it has 500 clients. He said his major concern was women with children and that the church teaches and equips these clients to use their money wisely, mostly with the principles from the gospels, the parable of the talents and so forth. But as opposed to microfinance organizations that are in it for the money, taking as much a 90% interest on loans, this one is only in it for the witness of the gospel.
I was so moved by this example. This is exactly the kind of thing that the church ought to be doing in the downcast neighborhoods of our City. Our culture is vastly different in some ways, it is chewed up with a materialism that destroys those who live in poverty, but more than anything else what struck me was this man's simple and powerful faith in the gospel to transform lives. Do you know that his church planting scheme is for every current church to plant 5 others this year!? That in the past three years his diocese planted 53 new churches!? Ask him what the gospel is and he doesn't go into theologial speculation, it is Jesus Christ.
And this doesn't even touch on the Anglican turmoil. Except to perhaps underline the fact that this man is doing something very right that ought to speak volumes to our situation.