The Gift of Presence
For nearly two weeks, those of us in the Saint Paul Area Synod have been blessed by the presence of ou[...]
In a video greeting shared at the Saint Paul Area Synod Assembly last weekend, Pastor Msigwa (BKB-DIRA Coordinator) offered a startling piece of information. "We have so many young adults in our church," he said, "Almost 60% of Iringa Diocese members are young." At that there was an audible gasp as assembly members looked around the room and realized that our demographic reality is a bit different from that of our companions.
The statistics in the Iringa Diocese are in line with larger trends in the region. In her 2014 book, The Bright Continent, Nigerian-American journalist Dayo Olopade observed that sub-Saharan Africa is "the youngest world region - 70 percent of its populations is under thirty years old." Having huge numbers of young people in the church and country at large can be an asset (something Olopade teases out in her 'Youth Map') but it can also pose significant challenges. Full of energy and restless entrepreneurial spirits seeking to better their families and communities, like their peers in the United States many young adults in Iringa struggle with unemployment, underemployment, and the same set of formational questions about identity and vocation. "Who am I? Whose am I? And what am I to do?" are questions heard around the world.
One of the legacy projects in this companion synod relationship has centered on concern for youth and young adults - namely the Secondary Scholarship Program. Over the course of the past two decades and through the impact of extended family networks, we are looking at tens of thousands of lives that have been altered by making investments in young people. Standing side by side, congregation members in Saint Paul and Iringa have worked together to support these students physically, spiritually, and financially. Doing so has made a difference. Traveling around Iringa these days, it is not hard to find someone who received scholarship support and is now contributing to the development of the communities and country that they call home.
Our engagement with young leaders does not end there. As Kirsten Levorson recently wrote, support for Post-Secondary Students pursuing advanced education is a growing concern and new area of focus for the Iringa Committee and the BKB partnership at large. Closer to home, through innovative working relationships between BKB Affiliates and the University of Minnesota as well as the Saint Paul Area Synod and Concordia and Gustavus Adolphus colleges, students in fields as diverse as engineering and medicine have been able to accompany and learn from their counterparts in Iringa - designing water systems to meet critical needs and rounding with doctors and nurses.
The youthful energy of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania is finding its way back to Minnesota as well. One year ago, four young adults from across the Saint Paul Area Synod participated in a 'Youth Camp' with fourteen of their peers in Iringa. For our travelers, the experience was transformative. Speaking at the Synod Assembly about her time in Iringa, Tina Erickson (Trinity, Stillwater) expressed a sentiment shared by her fellow travelers - that God's church might be a more joyful and hopeful place by leaning into the wisdom and witness of young adults near and far.
We are, after all, all of us, on the way together. All thanks be to God.
The Rev. Peter Harrits
Director for Bega Kwa Bega, Assistant to the Bishop