Pure joy amidst poverty

by Briana Sutherland
Contributing writer

A team of 12 members of Central Lutheran Church in Elk River lent a helping hand to children in Tanzania who call an orphanage their home.

Kindergarten children enjoy one of the dozen soccer balls a team of missionaries for Central Lutheran Church in Elk River delivered to Tanzanian schools.

In 1998 Central Lutheran established a relationship with two parishes in the Southern Diocese of Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania. The first team from Central Lutheran visited in 2007 to develop a relationship with the two parishes.

Then a team of five from Tanzania visited Elk River in 2009 to discuss how to better their relationship and provide a more tangible expression of their care. Visitors from Tanzania brought up three areas that they were in need of:
1. Their middle generation has been struck with AIDS, leaving hundreds of children orphaned or semi-orphaned. These children need tuition for school and uniforms and basic necessities such as food.
2. Care of the elder people has developed due to their adult children either moving to the cities or suffering with AIDS.
3. Small businesses need a source of sustainability to provide economic security.

Pam Pixley meeting her sponsored girl for the first time. They were introduced by Jenesia, one of the members of the Tanzanian team who visited Elk River two years ago.

Central Lutheran decided to tackle the task of providing for the children. In the summer of 2010 Andrew Johansson spent a month with the people of Kibena and Matiganjola. Johansson interviewed and took photos of 389 orphans and semi-orphans who were in need of assistance. Approximately 310 of those orphans have sponsors who give $30–$45 each month.

During the most recent trip, the team experienced the day-to-day living conditions in the towns of Njombe, Arusha, Karatu, Iringa and Dar Salam surrounding the orphanage. The cities were noisy, dirty and packed with people. Proof of poverty was everywhere.

Homes are typically constructed of homemade bricks or mud with no electricity, doors or windows. Food is typically bananas, rice, beans, chicken and eggs. Clean water is a major issue, as people generally have to walk two to three hours to obtain clean water and bring it back home.

A group from Kibena parish welcoming the team from Elk River.

“In spite of extreme poverty they are generally joyful,” said Sonja Dixon, one of the team members for the trip.

The team members also faced some challenges of their own while visiting Tanzania, such as keeping their hands clean, drinking clean water and eating appropriate food to avoid sickness. Language barriers also played a role between the team and local people as their national language is Swahili with over 120 different dialects.

The team came home with lots of memories, with the most memorable one being the team members meeting the children they are sponsoring.

“There were lots of pictures and tears,” said Dixon.

The pastor’s leadership team from the two parishes donned Guardian Angel hats given to them by Dan Dixon.

Many team members also had other memorable experiences. Sandy Miller is a volunteer for Global Health and was able to deliver three suitcases of medical supplies to the Lutheran hospital outside of Njombe. Jan Sjostrand is a nurse for Allina and was delighted to deliver medical supplies to a missionary doctor who supervises 20 area clinics in northern Tanzania. Dan Dixon is currently in conversation regarding the care of elder residents in Kibena and Matiganjola. Bev Johnson is one of two coordinators at Central Lutheran for the child sponsorship programs and experienced the gratitude of caregivers and children.
Future plans for Central Lutheran include bringing a team from Kibena and Matiganjola to Elk River in two years with the anticipation of a couple of students who members are currently sponsoring as a part of that team. Dixon and a couple of other members are likely to return within the next year to continue to work on the elder care project, with a full team to return again in four years.

Bev Johnson and her sponsored secondary student.

Team members to share photos Tuesday
Members of Central Lutheran Church, 1103 School St. N.W., Elk River, invites the community to come and see photos firsthand and talk with team members on Tuesday, Dec. 13 from 6:30–8 p.m. in the student room.

They also welcome community members to sponsor the remaining 70 children from the orphanage. Sponsorship photos and information are available at www.clcelkriver.org.