Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Lutheran Mission Trips

One of the programs of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is the Global Mission. This program fosters partnerships between American congregations and congregations in other parts of the world. African countries such as Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia, Cameroon, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone are already involved. I am priviledged to be involved in this process, in my own small way, even though I am not Lutheran. Meeting and communicating with various coordinators of these partnerships, we explore the realities and nuances of African and American culture, a key ingredient in building successful partnerships. As the program involves mutual visits between members of the partner congregations, I offer cultural orientation to Americans going to Africa, my main resource being my book, Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences, http://www.lulu.com/content/105001.

I visit various churches to speak. I have been to such Minnesota towns as Eagan, St. Paul, Faribault, Lakeville, and Minneapolis. Here is a typical story: at Hosanna Lutheran Church in Lakeville, I attended a meeting for people preparing to go to Karatu, northern Tanzania, to visit their sister congregation. I spoke about cultural issues. On another day, just before the Tanzania trip, the church held a commissioning and farewell ceremony for the travelers. Several people in the group had been to Tanzania. They even knew a few words of Swahili. I was delighted that these Americans were coming to my country, to my continent, a valuable opportunity for them to meet and know Africans and for the Africans to meet and know them.

I remember particularly well a retreat we held at Luther Point Bible Camp and Retreat Center in Grantsburg, Wisconsin. Some of the participants came from churches with on-going partnerships with African congregations. Others had not yet established such partnerships. Some did not know how to start, and were anxious. It was touching to hear all these stories, and it was a pleasure to offer encouragement. I had been invited to serve as a retreat leader, my role being to lead discussions on the cultural aspects of the companion congregation programs.

The ELCA has produced a booklet spelling out the aims and methods of the companionship program. Based on the premise that Africans and Americans have different resources and gifts, this booklet is admirable in the way it stresses reciprocity and mutual respect. Beyond the religious goals, the companionship program carries many other benefits, including mutual understanding between people. It is good for the world.

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