Bega Kwa Bega is the name of our synod’s companion relationship with the Iringa Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania. Bega Kwa Bega—“shoulder to shoulder” in Swahili—describes both the model of accompaniment with the Iringa Diocese and the umbrella name under which a variety of programmatic efforts are carried out.
Officially begun in 1987 as a synod to synod program with a primary focus on educating pastors for the rapidly growing Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania, the Bega Kwa Bega companion relationship with the Iringa Diocese has evolved into a grassroots movement in which congregations in the Saint Paul Area Synod are matched with congregations in the Iringa Diocese, making possible mutual efforts and creative initiatives that flow out of the vitality of the relationships established over the years.
The companion synod relationship between the Saint Paul Area Synod and the Iringa Diocese is by far the largest such partnership anywhere in the ELCA. When the partnership began, two congregations were involved; today the partnership includes 66 congregations and a variety of affiliated ministries that address urgent needs in Tanzania. To date, we have channeled more than $10 million to Iringa, and in recent years have directed more than $1 million annually.
Thousands of visitors from the Saint Paul Area Synod have visited Iringa, with more than half of those since the congregation partnerships began in 2000. More than 60 have traveled to this synod from Iringa, including the Iringa Choir, which toured the area and performed concerts in congregations. These visits have strengthened and cemented relationships with partner parishes by enabling visitors to understand the culture, faith, and lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ living in Iringa.
In 2015, researcher and writer Ross J Benbow chronicled the history of this unlikely relationship in the book “You Have the Watches, We Have the Time.” It is available for purchase online.