“Bega Kwa Bega” is the name of our synod’s companion relationship with the Iringa Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT). It is a Swahili phrase that means “shoulder to shoulder,” describing the way in which we accompany one another in a spirit of mutuality, inclusivity and vulnerability. “Bega Kwa Bega” represents both the practice of accompaniment and the umbrella name under which a variety of programmatic efforts are carried out.
At its heart, Bega Kwa Bega is a joint ministry between communities of faith in the ELCA and ELCT, whose purpose is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to extend Christian hospitality, and to strengthen relationships with one another through the shared practices of prayer, presence and projects.
The practice of prayer, with and for one another, is the first pillar of our partnership with the Iringa Diocese. Our companions in Iringa would say it is actually the most important practice that we share. Prayer shapes the heart and soul of our relationship with our siblings in Tanzania.
Across the Iringa Diocese, most individual parishes pray for their companions on a weekly basis. Saint Paul Area Synod congregations can reciprocate by including prayer petitions for their companions in their weekly liturgy. Prayers can be for the general welfare of the parish or for specific individuals or special concerns that arise throughout the year.
Like pen pals, only more prayerful, a handful of Saint Paul Area Synod congregations have begun exchanging names and pictures of congregation members or families with their companions in Iringa and agree to pray for one another daily. Doing so has linked hundreds of people to one another in a shared spiritual practice. Read about one congregation’s experience doing this.
The practice of being present is the second pillar of our relationship with the Iringa Diocese. We grow closer to God and one another through the intentional exchange of visits, stories and shared experiences across continents and cultures. Wherever two or more are gathered in his name, we profess, there Christ is.
Traveling to Tanzania
Since BKB’s inception, thousands of people have traveled from the Saint Paul Area Synod to visit our companions in Iringa. Designed not as work projects but as opportunities for cross-cultural education and immersion, these trips expose visitors to the life of the Iringa Diocese and their companion congregations. Learn more about traveling to Iringa.
From pastors and teachers to entire choirs, hundreds of Tanzanians have been received as guests in the St. Paul area through Bega Kwa Bega. By hosting guests, congregations can introduce those who can not travel to some of their companions. Doing so also gives guests an opportunity to see, experience and better understand life in the United States with all of its advantages and disadvantages. Learn more about receiving guests from Tanzania.
While trips to and from Tanzania are the most visible examples of presence, it is the regular exchange of letters, emails, texts and video calls that stitch our communities of faith closer together. While not without challenges, making an effort to share joys, concerns and key events, both congregational and personal, allows companions to accompany one another in real time. To explore different communication strategies with your companion, contact your Cluster Leader or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Undertaken together, projects are the third pillar of our relationship with the Iringa Diocese. Working with one another to achieve shared goals is fundamental to building and strengthening relationships between individuals and communities.
From the construction of a university and secondary school student sponsorships to healthcare and economic development, Saint Paul Area Synod congregations have pursued a variety of projects with their companions, all with an eye to proclaiming God’s presence in the world:
From 24 parishes in 1988 to 130 in 2023, the Lutheran Church in Iringa is growing. Through parish building projects, theological education, and the acquisition of bicycles and motorbikes, companion congregations are working together to spread the presence of Christ’s church.
With financial assistance from Saint Paul congregations and personal support from Iringa congregations, together we support more than 1,100 students in secondary school each year, and more than 50 students attending universities.
The Bega Kwa Bega relationship traces its roots back to the formation of the University of Iringa (formerly Tumaini University – Iringa). Since then, developing the educational infrastructure of the Iringa Diocese has been a priority for both partners. From construction projects at the university and secondary schools to village libraries and teacher training events, congregations have found many ways to collaborate.
The Iringa Lutheran Center
Jointly managed and operated by the Iringa Diocese and the Saint Paul Area Synod, the Iringa Lutheran Center was originally built to give diocese guests a safe and clean place to stay in Iringa. With recent upgrades, it is now the guesthouse of choice for many visitors from St. Paul and other travelers. Profits from the center directly support the operations of the Iringa Diocese.
Companions have collaborated in a variety of ways on projects that improve life for whole communities. Clean water, agriculture, microfinance, reforestation, health care facilities, and economic development have been the focus of much effort. In many instances, this work is assisted by affiliate organizations.
Ways to Stay Informed
- Subscribe to the Companion News Update newsletter, which is emailed every other week about happenings in Tanzania, updates on travel and other items of interest. Click here and select the Tanzania email list.
- Follow our Bega Kwa Bega Facebook page.
- Attend the annual BKB Fall Festival, held in November, which features affiliate partner displays and updates, news from the partnership, breakout sessions and worship. Some years we are able to bring guests from Tanzania as featured speakers. View photos from the 2023 Festival.
Bega Kwa Bega officially began in 1987 as a synod-to-synod program with a primary focus on educating pastors for the rapidly growing Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania. It has since evolved into a grassroots movement that matches congregations in the Saint Paul Area Synod with parishes in the Iringa Diocese. This makes possible mutual efforts and creative initiatives that flow out of the vitality of the relationships established over the years.
This companion 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 here in the U.S. 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 most of those since 2000 when congregation partnerships were first formed. More than 60 Tanzanians have traveled to St. Paul from Iringa, including the Iringa Choir, which toured the area and performed concerts in congregations. Such visits help strengthen and cement relationships with partner parishes by enabling visitors to understand the culture, faith, and lives of our siblings in Christ living in Iringa.
In 2015, researcher and writer Ross J. Benbow chronicled the history of this relationship in the book You Have the Watches, We Have the Time. It is available for purchase online.
Through the work of this partnership and the leading of God’s Holy Spirit, we envision a deeper faith and fuller life, accompanying one another as participants in God’s ongoing mission in both America and Tanzania.
We invite you and your congregation to join the journey. Karibu sana! (You are warmly welcome!)