Training Kenyan pastors–mostly non-denominational pastors who can’t attend seminary–has been a passion project for the Rev. Gordon Hendrickson for a decade. But now that educational opportunity may be extended to United Methodist pastors in Tanzania as well, thanks to Eastern PA Conference efforts.
Hendrickson, who is retired but serves part-time as Conference Coordinator of Congregational Development, returned in mid-February from his tenth trip to the Acts 6-Bethany-Muthura Pastors School near Meru, a rural area of central Kenya. He helped start the struggling school in 2006, raising funds through his nonprofit ministry enterprise, Acts 6, with assistance from Bethany UMC in Allentown and other supporters.
The students are mostly from about three dozen small, independent churches and non-mainline denominations. Most are poor, have only a secondary-school education, and lack the funds and credentials needed to enroll in formal colleges, which are few in the area. Some walk up to two hours to attend classes. But they are willing to go the distance to learn how to make disciples of Jesus Christ while serving and growing churches in their many towns and villages.
To attend the school’s latest graduation in February Hendrickson took with him the Rev. Truman Brooks, senior pastor of West Chester UMC, who has gone before to teach there. So have other clergy-friends who teach classes in the Eastern PA Conference’s Local Pastor Licensing School, but who pay their own way to Kenya for the joy of this teaching adventure. Hendrickson also took his boss, the Rev. Christopher Kurien, Conference Director of Connectional Ministries, who had another mission in mind.
After awarding certificates to 54 new graduates–bringing the total to about 145 over 10 years–the trio journeyed south to Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania. They visited the Rev. Mutwale Ntambo Wa Mushidi, a Global Ministries missionary there who receives support from churches in Eastern PA and other conferences. He and his wife, Kabaka Alphonsine, itinerated together in our conference in October 2014. They manage a church, pre-school and programs for women and children through the Tanzania Provisional Conference, a subsidiary of the North Katanga Annual Conference in Congo.
This wasn’t just a social visit. Mushidi and another Tanzanian pastor, the Rev. Alfred Njau, convened about 20 clergy for a mini-pastors school of their own, offering sampler courses in worship, preaching and pastoral care. The visiting team taught but also helped them explore the possibility of launching a full, annual pastors school for Tanzanian clergy, who now must travel to Zambia to receive training.
One other person joined them, someone who just might help make this dream come true. The Rev. James Mwita, an energetic Kenyan Methodist (not United Methodist) pastor on hiatus to complete a Ph.D. degree, helped Hendrickson start and now coordinates many aspects of the pastors school near Meru. He is responsible for getting the students there, providing English-Swahili language interpretation for teachers, and many other duties.
Mwita met Mushidi and began forging a friendship while sharing ideas and insights from his experiences in managing and promoting a local pastors school. He also taught and helped interpret lessons for the Tanzanian pastors. Now they want him to return for another session in April.
But Kurien has a longer vision in mind. While rooming with Mwita during the visit, he began telling the young, enthusiastic pastor/scholar about mission opportunities in The United Methodist Church that may enable him and his wife to serve and help expand the denomination’s limited presence in Kenya and perhaps in Tanzania as well. Kurien promised to connect Mwita with East Africa Bishop Daniel Wandabula, who formerly served with Kurien on the General Commission on Religion and Race.
Connect, indeed. Thanks to the global connection that is The United Methodist Church and some visionary, mission-minded leaders, Hendrickson’s once-fledgling passion project is about to grow wings and fly south. And it may one day lead to the denomination’s growth in churches and trained pastors across East Africa.
Main photo: Rev. Gordon Hendrickson, Rev. Christopher Kurien and Rev. Truman Brooks discuss their upcoming visit to East Africa