9/26/2013 1:41:00 PM Youth ministry team formed, relationships made
by Sue Sullivan
To the Sub-Saharan region below the horn of Africa, a group of 12 embarked on July 1 for a 16-day mission trip to the United Republic of Tanzania.
They came from Waseca, Austin, Lanesboro, Stewartville, Northfield, Rochester and Cannon Falls. The purpose of the SE Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America sponsored mission was to connect more deeply with the youth and young adults with whom they had developed leadership skills.
Fifteen Tanzanian youth and young adults joined the Minnesota youth to form a team trained as camp counselors.
Though Swahili is a primary language, especially in the remote areas in which they served, most youth knew the English language. Music, they found, was the international language that had the most appeal. Much of the music played and sung there shared the same tunes as the American version. Americans taught the Tanzanians English lyrics and the Tanzanians reciprocated in Swahili.
They came with six guitars and an accordion - they left five guitars and the accordion with their new friends. About the accordion, team participant Becca Benson qualified, "Wow! It just sounded too cool with the guitars."
The team visited four communities and served together working to build leadership skills among the youth by working with children in the villages. They were housed in an out-of-session boarding school.
While many dwellings in remote areas still have dirt floors and no electricity, the majority of the youth all had cell phones. That plays into the new ability to communicate, explained participant and Spring Garden pastor Nick Fisher-Broin. "We got back and almost instantly we could communicate ideas and photos through email and Facebook."
Becca Benson, Noah Fisher, Amy Pagel, Nina Pagel and Pastor Nick from Spring Garden, along with the other American members of their team, lived as did the people they were there to serve. "That meant we didn't get a shower the whole time we were there," Nick explained. A dry geography means they have water issues and must carry five-gallon buckets long distances - nothing to waste.
Many traveled for hours to join the festivities. "Their services were longer, sometimes lasting all day because of the time it took them to get there," said Pastor Nick. Incorporated into their worship, many choirs came to sing, and the enthusiasm was replete with dancing. "Experiential activities were well received there as we joined in activities that put God's word into action," explained the pastor.
Eight years ago Pastor Nick made a trip to the same area with Nina Pagel, a nurse, Amanda Pagel, Maggie Sjoquist, Candice Price and other youth from the synod. While that trip was more about hands on work projects, this one was decidedly aimed at building cross-cultural relationships and building up young leaders.
Engaging the world in the spirit of Eric Norelius, the pioneer pastor who began numerous congregations and the Vasa Children's Home as well as Lutheran Social Service, the group willingly faced hardships and challenges to serve God's people.
While in Tanzania, the Americans who had conducted fundraisers to get there, had the opportunity to go on a safari entering Ngorongoro Crater, a large volcanic caldera within the Crater Highlands area of Tanzania. Touted as the world's largest inactive, intact, unfilled volcanic caldera, the crater formed when a large volcano exploded and collapsed on itself. It is home to a variety of animals including elephants, black rhinoceros, hippopotamus, wildebeest, gazelles, lions, and zebras.
"What was really cool was seeing a PBS show on TV when we got back and going, 'Hey, we were there - I know that place!'" exclaimed Becca.
The pace is slower in Tanzania as described by Pastor Nick. "They say 'You have watches but we have time.'" The Spring Garden and synod group discovered that with their time spent in the mission field, they were blessed by the best of Africa - beautiful and resilient people, an adventure of a lifetime and relationships they hope will endure.