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Making connections a world away

Lutheran pastor visits Tanzania to help bring congregations together

Lutheran pastor visits Tanzania to help bring congregations together

November 11, 2003|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

FUNKSTOWN - There's a saying in Tanzania that Americans have watches but no time. And while Tanzanians may have no watches, what they do have is time.

The Rev. Darrell Layman said he learned to appreciate that during his recent odyssey to one of Africa's poorest countries as a representative of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Life in that nation situated along central Africa's east coast moves at an entirely different pace than it does in the United States, a fact that sometimes slowed efforts by the Lutheran religious leaders from the two countries to meet during the 10-day consultation.

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"But soon it became apparent that building relationships was much more significant than just getting something done," said Layman, pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Funkstown.

No stranger to ELCA consultation trips, Layman and his wife, Mary, visited Finland and Estonia in 2000.

"Mary wasn't able to accompany me to Tanzania, and after 30 years of doing most things together, it was hard being apart from her," Layman said.

The Tanzania trip, including travel, was from Oct. 9 to 17.

"The opportunity came to me in my role as chairman of global missions for the Delaware/Maryland Synod," Layman said. "Our goal is to connect congregations here and across the globe."

Every so often, the ELCA tries to have a consultation, Layman said. The synod was invited to send a representative to Tanzania, but there was no money in his committee and the idea was put on a back burner.

Then this summer, Layman was guest of honor at a celebration of his 25th year of ordination. A family member suggested that he use the cash gift he received for the trip.

A total of 38 Americans went on the trip, first spending three days in Arusha, Tanzania, getting to know each other before mingling with representatives of the 20 Lutheran dioceses in that country.

The conference center in Moshi was the setting for the consultation. Located at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro, the center was surrounded by some of the most spectacular sights on the continent, Layman said.

"Travel is so difficult there that the local representatives flew in for the consultation," Layman said. Swahili is the native language, but English is taught as a second language there, so communication wasn't difficult.

One of the key goals was to strengthen the companion synod concept through which churches in different countries keep in touch with and care for each other, and help meet their needs.

"It could be in the form of money, but the relationship itself is key," Layman said.

In 2005, a group from Tanzania is expected to visit the United States. In the meantime, there is e-mail correspondence already in place on a regular basis between the participants in the latest consultation.

Smiling, Layman said he is getting used to some delays in responses to his e-mails to Tanzania.

"You see, Tanzanians prefer to communicate orally, so sometimes there is a bit of a time lag," he said.

While the entire trip was memorable for Layman, he is quick to recall one moment when several black Lutheran representatives met native Africans on African soil for the first time.

"It was very moving," Layman said.

Eager to share his experiences with anyone who will listen, Layman points out that he won't just be talking facts, figures, area and population when he speaks.

"I do best when I am talking about the people I met in Tanzania," Layman said.

One of the poorest nations in the world, Tanzania has a 40 percent unemployment rate and few citizens who finish secondary school. Drought, rugged country and the spread of HIV only add to the misery.

"Still, in the midst of hopelessness, the churches are a beacon of hope and are growing every year," Layman said.

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