Samwel is eight. Vincent is 83. Both live in Liwale, a small town on the shores of the Indian Ocean in the far south of Tanzania. Samwel and Vincent were the youngest and oldest participants in a Rooted in Jesus Junior training conference hosted by Bishop James Almasi and Jonathan Rendall in April.
Jonathan writes: “Vincent is 83 and great fun. He is a retired Anglican priest who served in Liwale and decided to stay here. He dances in worship like a recycled teenager, with a smile and joy of a young man in love – well, he is! He loves Jesus with a passion, he radiates joy; he is a delight to be with. Even though we don’t speak much of each other’s languages, we share the joy of Jesus, we engage with eyes and heart, in dancing together and singing together: language is not a real barrier! He is so excited about Junior and it has been a joy working with him. We also have the youngest participant. At 8, Samwel is the the son of a church elder; he knows his Bible. During the session entitled ‘God trusts Children’, he knew more than anyone else about some of the children in the Bible; he knows his way round it, handling the various references well.”
Here, in a town that is 99% Muslim, the relationships between Christian and Muslim are healthy and peaceful. This is very different from Kilwa, where +James and Jonathan had worked a few days previously. Coastal Islam is increasingly militant and aggressive to Christians, but the church in Liwale is relatively free and Christians are accepted within in the community. It was a great few days. The Jesus film was shown, the gospel preached, and the worship exuberant. While the rain poured down, over 20 people came to faith, 13 people were confirmed and 17 RinJ Junior leaders were trained and commissioned. The Sunday School in Liwale gained a new impetus, and by the end of the week the little church had doubled in numbers.
The visit to Liwale was just one of the things Jonathan did during a month in Tanzania, helping to encourage and train leaders to use the RinJ Junior disciple-making programme with children in schools and Sunday Schools.
He began in the Diocese of Morogoro, where he was one of the speakers at a Youth Conference organised by RinJ Junior Coordinator Godson Madibi, and attended by over 600 young people – 400 of whom gave their lives to Christ, 200 of whom went home clutching their first Bible. This was followed by a day seminar for 25 clergy and diocesan staff from both Morogoro and the neighbouring dioceses of Mpwapwa and Kiteto, focussing specifically on Rooted in Jesus Junior. Some were already using Junior in their Sunday Schools, and told stories of blessing and encouragement.
From Morogoro Jonathan travelled south to the Diocese of Masasi, where with Bishop James Almasi he set off to visit several remote villages to offer encouragement, training and support for those wanting to use RinJ Junior in their Sunday Schools. First stop was Kilwa, 99% Muslim, where Christians experience persecution and life is hard – one of the participants, Esther, had led the Pentecostal church since the martyrdom of her husband, the minister, last year. In Kilwa as in Liwale, the story of God’s grace was similar; the seminars and the Jesus film shows over five days – outside the churches, saw many come to faith; the church doubled in numbers from 30 to over 60 and 13 were commissioned as Junior leaders together with Esther and her daughter from the Pentecostal church.
From Kilwa they went to Kilwa Kivinje, an outstation which has a church membership of 18, of which 11 are children, for the Sunday eucharist. “It is dangerous to be a Christian in Kivinje” said +James; the Muslim community is militant and radical in Kivinje and persecution is very real for all Christians. They are unable to build their church so meet under a tree each Sunday morning. The hope is that Rooted in Jesus Junior training will be given to families by the trained members of the Kilwa church, so that parents can disciple their children in their homes.
From Kivinje Jonathan and +James travelled to Lindi and then Mkuti, a parish in Masasi which built a Rooted in Jesus Junior classroom a few years ago. Thirteen churches were represented amongst the 26 leaders who came. Jonathan writes: “It was a very rewarding time for us all; successes and challenges openly shared then prayed over; the self-evaluation exercise was well received and opened up some good conversations in pairs and as a whole group. They were so keen to engage and to contribute. The final prayers before leaving were terrific; two circles, hands laid on the person in front for prayer, then reversed. The Holy Spirit was moving round the group so powerfully. God is so good! We have been part of something wonderful today: blessing abundant for the Junior leaders, their children and churches in Masasi town and local parishes.”
After further training in the parishes of Lindi and Mkuti, Jonathan and +James headed back to Masasi, where they led a Junior day seminar for 25 participants from 14 churches, where over a thousand children now attend RinJ Junior groups. Leaders reported that children know the memory verses, have formed a choir, serve at Mass, clean the church and read the Bible in services, and have collected money to buy chairs for the group. Some groups have divided and the leaders are visiting children and their families at home.
Finally, Jonathan was invited to attend the third Annual Meeting of the leadership of Rooted in Jesus in Tanzania, where he was able to represent Alison Morgan, the overall director of RinJ. Held in Dodoma, attended by Diocesan Coordinators from 10 dioceses and led by Bishop Stanley Hotay, the Director of Rooted in Jesus in Tanzania, it was a time for sharing and planning. Coordinators confirmed that RinJ is now part of the syllabus in Bible Colleges, and is used as the standard preparation material for confirmation; they shared too the administrative and financial challenges that they were experiencing as they oversee the RinJ programme within their dioceses. Finally, plans were made for further training conferences this year.
For more about Rooted in Jesus see www.rootedinjesus.net.
Posted 13th May 2016 by Revd Dr Alison Morgan