Tanzania is not highly urbanised, and university students often come from a traditional village context. At university, they find themselves in what is a more plural environment than perhaps anywhere else in the country.
Many Christian students will seek out fellowship while they’re away from home, and there’s one ‘tribe’ which is especially transportable: your church denomination. Most denominations are represented in some form of campus fellowship, so it’s probably not hard for students to find a group they have affinity with. This is what the fellowships seem to provide in abundance: a familiar church setting for students away from home.
The student fellowships are run by students for students, and they sprang up organically at St John’s as soon as it was founded in 2007. You can get a bit of a feel for them in our latest video for friends in Australia:[vimeo https://vimeo.com/78366338]
We’re a few weeks into the new academic year, and there are four groups I’ve been visiting at St John’s main campus: CASFETA (multidenominational Pentecostal), TAFES (IFES),
TYCS TMCS (Roman Catholic) and USCF (mainline Protestant denominations).
These groups meet throughout the week, often every day, and often morning and night. The main meetings are Friday 12pm, which St John’s has timetabled for fellowships, and these are the biggest of the gatherings — a couple of groups draw over 300 students. The Friday gatherings usually take the form of a shortened church service: songs and prayers, maybe some simple liturgy, and a teaching time.
For example, I’ve heard a fair bit of teaching on money. One session was on principles of stewardship: God is the source of all things; how can we be faithful with what we are given? Wise people are able to save their money (Prov 21:2); how are you handling your allowance from the student loans board? (I still have a hard time understanding much of what’s being said — it’s all in Swahili.)
The overall picture is of a variety of groups reflecting the denominational backgrounds that students bring with them, all offering a similar sort of thing: general encouragement and instruction in the faith.
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.