Friendship bridges two cultures

Click here to read about an Elder House project.

by Joni Astrup

Associate Editor

For 13 years, Central Lutheran Church in Elk River has had a friendship with two Lutheran churches in Tanzania, Africa.

Five visitors from Tanzania, Africa, sang "God is Good" at the Oct. 31 meeting of the Elk River Rotary.
Five visitors from Tanzania, Africa, sang “God is Good” at the Oct. 31 meeting of the Elk River Rotary.

It began during a Mission Extravaganza event at Central Lutheran in 2000. The Rev. Isaac Jonathan Chengula, who is from Tanzania, was studying at Luther Seminary in St. Paul at the time and was invited to talk about the life of his people in the community of Njombe in southern Tanzania — in particular two Lutheran parishes, Kibena and Matiganjola.

Out of that came the donation of one dairy cow from Central Lutheran to a family in the remote village of Matiganjola. That cow produced a calf that was given to another household in the area.

“Today, there are 35 milk-producing households, and they now have a small dairy business,” said the Rev. Paul Johansson of Central Lutheran.

“From that small beginning, there have been numerous projects,” he said.

Central Lutheran and its Tanzanian partners have also worked on a forestation project, where seedlings were planted. The trees will be ready to be harvested in 10 years, Johansson said.

Another project backed by the Central Lutheran-Tanzania partnership is a program to support children with basic needs and schooling at a cost of $30 a month. Currently 384 orphans and children from the two parishes in Tanzania are being supported by people from Central and the larger Elk River community.

When Johansson and Dan Dixon visited Tanzania recently, they met a fifth-grade boy who walks 6 miles each way to attend school. He has perfect attendance, Johansson said.

The latest project of the Central Lutheran-Tanzania partnership is building an Elder House.

The partnership predates Johansson’s arrival in Elk River, but it is one he has embraced.

Johansson is the son of missionaries and grew up in Tanzania. He was entering seventh grade when his family returned to the United States.

Tanzania became a country in 1961. It is one of the poorest countries in the world but also one of the most peaceful, he said.

“It is not marked by a lot of the tribal warfare that has just ripped apart so many countries in Africa,” Johansson said.

It also is home to the largest Lutheran church in the world, he said.