The Rev. Robert Cook, rector of St. Andrew’s Little Rock, and the Rev. Nate Smith, representing St. Andrew’s Leadership Team and Missions Board, visited Bishop Sospeter Ndenza and the Diocese of Kibondo in Tanzania May 26-June 5.
“After being with Bishop Sospeter the two times he visited Little Rock, I wanted to be able to see, first hand, the work God was doing among the people in Tanzania and how we could expand the relationship between the Diocese of Kibondo and St. Andrew’s,” Robert says.
While there, the two men visited 10 parish churches. Each morning Bishop Sospeter picked them up from their small hotel compound to head to a meeting at the diocesan headquarters. From there, they would visit two or three parishes a day. Each parish greeted them with singing and dancing as they entered the village, and everyone available would gather in the local church for worship. Each church’s choir started the service with beautiful praise and worship. Then Robert and Nate were able to share who they were and why they were visiting.
“We were overwhelmed by the greeting we received everywhere we went,” Robert says. “They were some of the most welcoming people I have ever been around. I was truly amazed at the incredible joy that radiates from the people and the deep desire they have to know and love Jesus.”
Robert and Nate gave each of the local pastors beaded crosses that were made by the children of St. Andrew’s. Children’s Ministry Leader Kay Michael came up with the idea of making the crosses, not only as a gift to the pastors in Tanzania, but as a way to connect the children with the wider body of Christ and involve them in the relationship between St. Andrew’s and the Diocese of Kibondo.
“Each pastor was excited to receive the cross, and many immediately hung them on the wall in their house or at the church,” Robert says. “I think it meant a lot to the people that children in America were thinking of them.”
As they traveled from village to village, Robert observed the need for larger church buildings to allow more people to hear about Christ. Each church had outgrown its current building—one on the very first Sunday it was used. The churches then begin constructing completely new buildings with handmade bricks, and work until they run out of money. They continue building when they have raised more funds. This labor of love often takes three years or more.
“These pastors have a great desire to see the Gospel flourish in their villages, especially among the Muslim populations,” Robert says. “Pray for them and their families for God’s protection as they share His Word.”
Robert and Nate were also amazed by the people’s incredible reliance on and trust in God despite their physical circumstances. In their agrarian society, most families’ only sustenance is the food they can grow on their own farm. Many are sick, and the medical needs of the community are overwhelming. Yet they have a deep trust and faith in God’s healing power and the Holy Spirit who leads and protects. And Bishop Sospeter shepherds and supports his people with humility and a servant’s heart, which Robert says inspires deep love and trust.
As they returned to the U.S., both Robert and Nate found themselves profoundly impacted by the Tanzanians’ desire to share the love of Jesus with their fellow man and the growth of the local churches as people came to faith in Christ.
“I was encouraged to see that, despite being separated by continents and oceans, we are one in Christ,” Robert says. “We are one body, and we can each benefit from an ongoing partnership.”
View a photo essay from the trip.