A couple of weeks ago, the national office interviewed six prospective staff for Tanzania Fellowship of Evangelical Students (Ushirika wa Wanafunzi wa Injili wa Tanzania). It’s a wonderful chance to hear stories of God’s work and get a taste of the impact of TAFES nationwide.
The candidates come having had a positive experience of TAFES, having already been shaped by the ministry, usually as leaders in their student fellowships. One was the first chair of the newly launched TAFES fellowship at her college, as well as being the president of the student government.
All are ‘born again’, a phrase used in Tanzania to mean something like ‘making the faith my own’. A couple of them were born again just in the last couple of years; most of them are the only one who’s born again in their family, even if others in the family are Christian. (‘Nominalism’ as Australians understand it does not exist in Tanzania, in that those who identify as Christians still typically practice their faith as part of Christian communities, even if they do not identify as born again.)
Each has applied in order to ‘serve God’, meaning a set period of time in which to work in gospel ministry. In their minds, this is one or two years at this juncture.
Two of them are strong readers, reading books by respected itinerant Bible teachers such as Christopher Mwakasege. Reading is something TAFES tries to foster. There are now many Tanzanians publishing their own writings, although this is not keeping pace with the glut of books from America (often freely distributed in PDF form).
Several have changed denominations in the course of their lives. This ability to work across denominations and appreciate different traditions is a hallmark of TAFES ministry, although it is poorly understood and frowned on by some bishops and pastors. A number of students have joined Pentecostal churches because that is where they have found good teaching and outward momentum, but TAFES continues to have a mix of denominations represented across student fellowships and staff.
Several of the candidates asked excellent questions of the ministry. ‘What plan does your organisation have for the next 5-10 years?’ one wanted to know. Another asked, ‘Why are you active in only eight of Tanzania’s regions?’
There are several key things we try to communicate as part of the interview process. We want to emphasise that TAFES is a learning environment. Discussing our strengths and weaknesses, and openly giving feedback and evaluating one another, are hallmarks of the ministry. We talk about training, asking candidates how they will invest in student leaders. We also assure the candidates that we will invest in them, with three staff retreats every year plus the ISDT course provided by IFES-EPSA in Jos, Nigeria – which confers a Diploma of Theology – and we hope this will be an incentive for staff to continue for at least three years. We are also trying to prepare incoming staff to speak about the nature of their ministry with others, especially pastors and other Christian leaders. TAFES people value interdenominational fellowship, but they will need to articulate the purpose and legitimacy of this if they are to be adept at creating ministry partnerships.
A challenge we are wrestling with is the need for both campus staff and support staff. TAFES is currently trying to staff a large national office, while our recruiting process only draws in campus staff. Next year we will probably introduce a separate recruitment process for support-focused roles.
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.