A phrase we heard over and over during our visit to Msalato Theological College in Dodoma. Where we might just report that something happened, people at the college said, “We thank God” for this thing that happened.
We thank God that we were able to complete this. We thank God that we are able to offer this program. We thank God that our students are dedicated. We thank God that our lecturers work hard. We thank God that you came to visit.
This isn’t unique to Msalato—we heard it at St. Philip’s as well. But we heard this at Msalato a lot, this refreshing and persistent reminder of God’s goodness and generosity and that reasons for gratitude abound. And when one’s presence somewhere is put in the context of thanksgiving to God, it’s humbling and instantly connects us as friends in God’s larger project of showing love in the world.
We thank God . . . Start your list. See what happens in your day. See what you notice. I heard a sermon some time and somewhere in South Africa (I’m sorry I can’t remember the circumstances just now) that included this: What if you woke up today with only the things you gave thanks for yesterday? I think the people at Msalato Theological College would never run out of blessings.
Our visit started with time with the Rev. Canon Hilda Kedmond Kabia, Principal of Msalato Theological College.
Canon Hilda is one of the first women ordained in the Anglican Church in Tanzania (in 2003). She did her early theological education at St. Philip’s Theological College (she was a classmate of Rev. Agrippa, the Principal of St. Philip’s), where she trained as a Catechist (a person who does Christian education, usually in a parish). She later got her BA in theology by doing an online course from the UK that required the submission of 55 research papers and 1 thesis (the equivalent of 5 of the other papers), while she worked full-time (talk about dedication). She finished her BA thesis while also working on an MA in Islam and Christian-Muslim relations, which she obtained from St. Paul’s United Theological College in Limuru, Kenya. In addition to serving as Principal of Msalato, Canon Hilda teaches Muslim-Christian relations.
We got to visit some classes: the end of the Old Testament class (in which they were working on wisdom literature; next week they will study the Song of Songs), the Biblical Interpretation class, and the Research Methodology class. The subject and purpose of the Biblical Interpretation class is learning how to use the Bible to interpret the Bible. The Rev. Elkana Gonda, the lecturer for the course, explained that at the college, you have access to many books, but in the parish, you may have just the Bible. “How do we use the Bible if it is the only book we have in the parish?” He wants students to be confident in the Bible and to know that “We are not lacking anything if we have our Bible and use it.”
Students were practicing how to discover the context of a passage (first step in the method)—what kind of literature is it, who wrote it, to whom, where, when; and then moved on to the content and purpose. The example passage is one of our favorites, Philippians 4:4-9:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
A student asked about the difficulty in encouraging people who are suffering to rejoice and the class discussed the difference between happiness (fleeting) and joy (which can be experienced in all circumstances) and that the key to Paul’s message is rejoicing in the Lord.
The Research Methodology class is taught by the Rev. Dr. George Lawi Otieno. Dr. Otieno holds a Ph.D. in Theology from the University of Leeds in the UK. His speciality is eco-theology. He received is Diploma in Theology from St. Philip’s Theological College in Kongwa.
Students at Msalato must write a research paper during their third year (7,000 words for diploma students and 12,000 words for degree students). The class helps them learn how to undertake research and write the paper. The subject of this class was how to write a statement of the problem your paper addressing.
Classes at the college are conducted in English. Worship services alternate between English and Kiswahili. They have over 70 students in their diploma and degree programs, their one year bridge program to the diploma and degree (for students who need more preparation in order to enter those programs), and the Church and Community Mobilization Program (CCMP). The CCMP is a program to help train church leaders in community development through recognizing resources in their communities and putting them to use. Students come for a block of weeks at a time to the college, then return to their communities to put their learning to practical use. Students come from all over Tanzania. They are male and female, married and single.
The CCMP is a newer program at Msalato. As at St. Philip’s, students are now growing their own vegetables and fruits, with training from the CCMP.
Students also have designated time when they clean campus buildings and grounds and work on the maintenance of the college. Part of their program includes participation in a mission trip, going to communities within Tanzania, and field placement (for those not ordained, in parishes assisting in lay ministries and observing clergy; for those already ordained, in different settings, like hospitals and other chaplaincies).
One brand new initiative at Msalato is the Creative Youth Initiative for Transformation (CYIT) program, which works with young people to learn more about care for the environment. The staff for this program said they are teaching people about things like beekeeping by putting bee boxes in trees (like at St. Philip’s), because when you put a bee box in a tree, people don’t cut down the tree. They see the tree as a long term source of income. Keeping bees saves trees.
Another new initiative at the college is teaching students Tanzanian sign language. Three staff members came from the diocesan center (Mackay House) to introduce sign language. They said it is used in several parishes. Students will study it over the next few weeks.
As at St. Philip’s Theological College, there are many opportunities for volunteer service, both long-term and short-term. Faculty members are stretched very far in their teaching loads and all have additional administrative duties. In addition to opportunities for teaching, assistance is wanted in other areas as well, such as updating information on the website and other IT assistance.
When Joe asked what faculty members what brings them joy about Msalato and the work they do, one person responded, “No matter how weak we are, we feel like Goliath because Msalato graduates go everywhere. There is a piece of Msalato everywhere. . . We get tired but the work goes everywhere.” We thank God for that.