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Supporting students in secondary school and beyond has been one of the key projects on which we collaborate with our companions in the ELCT Iringa Diocese through this Bega Kwa Bega relationship. For the past two decades much of that activity has been focused on supporting secondary students from parishes that have a partner congregation in the United States. Those efforts have been a blessing to thousands of students a year and impacted tens of thousands of lives for the better. In many ways, they are the students that we already know.
As the same time, in unpartnered parishes across the diocese, there are countless other qualified students that we have not yet met.
Like the ELCT at large, the Iringa Diocese continues to grow, adding new congregations faster than we can find companion congregations to partner with them. In 2020 alone they added 16 new parishes. While this, too, is something to celebrate, it also exposes one of the weaknesses of our congregation-to-congregation strategy – namely the inequity that is experienced by parishes that don’t have the privilege of a U.S. partner.
Mindful of that gap and seeking to be in relationship with all people of the Iringa Diocese, we began collecting donations for a ‘Scholarship Equity Fund’ in 2015 and making disbursals shortly after that. In 2017, $5000 was awarded, with unpartnered congregations eligible to allocate up to $450. Five years later, the demand for support from the equity fund exceeds $20,000 annually. This is a challenge, yes, and it is a cause to celebrate as we lean in and figure out how best to support students, like Nelson, together.
Currently in his early twenties, Nelson (name changed to protect his privacy), grew up in an unpartnered parish in rural Iringa. The third of seven children, his father was a retired evangelist and his parents worked as peasant-farmers to support him and his siblings. He was among the first students to receive support from the Equity Fund in 2017 and 2018. With that support he was able to enroll in Forms V and VI (advanced levels of secondary education). Completion of those courses, paired with high marks on his qualifying exams, enabled him to enroll in a university program. He is now in his second year of studying for a bachelor's degree in project planning and management.
When selecting Nelson to receive a scholarship through the BKB Equity Fund, leaders in his home parish considered several factors in addition to scholastic aptitude. While evangelists are key leaders in local church communities, most offer their time and energy on a voluntary basis and receive neither an income nor retirement benefits. In Nelson’s case, the bits of profit the family’s small-scale farm could generate would have been their primary source of income. That, paired with the larger size of his family with multiple school-aged siblings, meant that he faced significant economic challenges in pursuing his educational endeavors. Without the additional support though BKB, it is likely that his studies would have ended in Form IV. With the support and the opportunities that additional levels of education open up, he’ll be well-positioned to ‘pay it forward’ and share the gift of education with his immediate and extended family alike.
When we launched the 2021 Reconnecting Appeal for BKB a few weeks ago, we did so with students like Nelson in mind. While the first $20,000 raised will help us resume and enhance our presence on the ground in Iringa, the next $30,000 is all about accompanying a growing church and sharing the gift of education more widely through the Equity Fund and Post-Secondary Scholarship programs. It is with students like Nelson on our heart that we ask you to prayerfully consider an individual or congregational gift to the appeal. The challenge is real and together we can meet it.
With joy and gratitude,
The Rev. Peter Harrits, Director of Bega Kwa Bega and Assistant to the Bishop