Last week the Diocese of the Rift Valley in Tanzania held its first Rooted in Jesus conference. The conference took place in the small town of Manyoni, near the geographical centre of the country, at the initiative of Bishop John Lupaa, and was attended by 235 pastors, catechists, Bible college students and Mothers Union representatives.
“I love you, Lord, my strength” (Ps 18.1)
Bishop John explained that the diocese, which covers the province of Singida, has 267 churches in 51 parishes, with a membership of some 130,000 people – about ten per cent of the population of the province. Over the last year he has visited every single one of these 267 churches, confirming 3000 people and baptising as many again; there is an openness here to the gospel. “We are lucky,” he says, because we are poor. People depend on God, because they have nothing else.”
But there is much still to do, he explained; of the 1300 villages in the province, 1000 have no Anglican presence, and many of those – particularly in the more remote rural areas – have no church of any kind. This is an area of primary evangelism. The diocesan vision is to increase the number of Christians by 2,200 every year, and to do this by becoming a self-sustaining community which grows through releasing the time, talents and gifts of its members. Bishop John hopes that Rooted in Jesus will help them to fulfil this vision.
In Tanzania Rooted in Jesus is directed by Bishop Stanley Hotay of the Diocese of Mount Kilimanjaro; Stanley was one of the founders of the programme, which has now been running for nearly twenty years. In that time it has spread to 19 of the 27 dioceses in the country, and is still growing. Bishop Stanley had invited Canon Jacob Robert of the Diocese of Mara to lead the team. Jacob was joined by his colleague Canon Gaspar Kassanda, with Canon Dustan Mtoro from the Diocese of Mpwapwa, Revd Clement Manyatta from Mount Kilimanjaro, supported by Dr Alison Morgan from the UK. The conference had been organised by Canon George Mbago of the Department of Christian Education in DRV, ably supported by a team from the cathedral, where it was hosted.
The team was able to meet together the day before the conference to plan and pray, and everyone was delighted to find that each person brought a different gifting, Ephesians style, to the team – a leader, a pastor, an evangelist, a prayer minister, and a teacher. We worked hard, depended on one another, and rejoiced as we watched people learning and growing together.
A diverse pattern of learning
A Rooted in Jesus conference stretches over four days, and includes praise and worship, biblical teaching, small group practice, workshops and prayer; it also offers participants the opportunity to share their own needs and minister to one another. Each participant had paid their own bus fare to reach the conference, and many were offered hospitality by cathedral members who opened their homes to them. Each had come in the expectation that they would learn and grow during their time together, and they threw themselves wholeheartedly into every element of the programme. Bishop John was present throughout the conference to affirm and encourage, and this created a great sense of common purpose.
Rooted in Jesus is intentionally interactive and practical, and each session includes discussion, practical demonstration, times of sharing, questions, prayer and the learning of a memory verse. Encouraged to lead collaboratively rather than classroom style, participants found themselves caught up into something that was challenging but also hugely enjoyable. They adapted quickly to the new approach, and threw themselves with enthusiasm into the practical demonstrations.
Encouraging one another
This was a particularly experienced team, and participants were encouraged by the testimony of Jacob, Gaspar and Dustan, each of whom has been using Rooted in Jesus in their own diocese for over seven years now, and each of whom was able to share many stories of how people have grown in confidence and faith as they have committed themselves to learning together to be disciples of Jesus:
Dustan coordinates Rooted in Jesus in the Diocese of Mpwapwa. He reported that there are now nearly 300 groups in the diocese, some using the adult programme, some using Rooted in Jesus Junior in Sunday schools; many people have completed the course, and in every parish both church commitment and every member participation have risen dramatically as a result. Last year an ambitious fund raising campaign for a new building organised through the Rooted in Jesus groups raised the sum required within three months.
Gaspar is the Director of Evangelism in the Diocese of Mara. He told the conference how he has been steadily planting 7-10 churches a year, working with a small team and using Rooted in Jesus to disciple those who respond to the gospel. In each place the new Christians build a wooden church and thatch it with leaves, and the diocese has grown so much that they have already divided once and plan to do so again. Jacob said that there are nearly 200 adult groups and 135 Junior groups in the diocese – and that many people have already completed the course and developed their own ministry to others.
At the end of the conference Bishop John Lupaa gave a solemn charge. Each person commissioned will be expected to start a Rooted in Jesus group in their church, he said; the groups will meet weekly, perhaps on a Sunday morning before the church service. Each group leader will report regularly to a parish coordinator, and the reports will be shared with the deanery coordinator and then with the diocesan management. Progress will be evaluated at the next Diocesan Synod in April. A new department is to be created in the diocese for Rooted in Jesus, and Canon George Mbago will direct it. “We are expecting great growth,” Bishop John said; “and this growth will support our diocesan vision.”
Every Rooted in Jesus team is a lot bigger than it looks, and we are very grateful to those who prayed each day for the conference, to those who prepared magnificent meals for huge numbers of people with very basic facilities, and to those who support and encourage Rooted in Jesus financially and in other ways.
Find out more
To find out more about the Diocese of the Rift Valley visit its website.
Rooted in Jesus is published and supported in the UK by the Mathetes Trust.
For more information about the programme and how it works, visit the Rooted in Jesus website.
Posted 5th March 2019