St. John’s sheds ‘Western savior complex’

Partnership with African church changes

A Lakeville church is taking a new approach to help a sister congregation in East Africa.

“We decided we needed to back off of our ‘doing’ mentality,” said Ruthie Mhanga, youth director at St. John’s Lutheran Church, who helps lead the church’s mission partnership with the Muhanga Lutheran Church in Tanzania, Africa.

Mhanga said they have worked with the African congregation for over a decade, providing scholarships and helping construct church buildings, but when a small contingent of members visited the village in 2014, they discovered some of their efforts had not met the church’s needs.

The bicycles they provided proved no match against the village’s hilly, mountain-top terrain, and pigs St. John’s provided the church in hopes of creating a sustainable source of meat and income required huge amounts of food the village church could not provide and the village’s remote location offered few opportunities for trade.

St. John’s members discovered the village also lacked a medical dispensary for the medicines they had brought with them on the trip, so they were left at the nearest dispensary, a three to four hour walk from the village.

During a church service, one of the women in the congregation stood during announcements, and using animated movements, shared their plight regarding a lack of access to medical care.

“This was the new project,” Mhanga said. “That we were able to finally understand and realize this was the need for these people, this medical facility.”

The two churches held a partnership meeting, working with interpreters, to identify what the needs were and ways to take action.

Mhanga said the African congregation is finding land to locate a dispensary and both congregations are both raising funds to build the facility.

She said the experience changed St. John’s relationship with the congregation.

Lakeville church members stopped determining on their own what to provide, which Mhanga described as “Western savior complex,” and instead began working as partners.

“We are learning to accompany each other on life’s journey, getting to know each other as people, rather than as one big group from the U.S. and one big group from Tanzania,” Mhanga said.

She said they also discovered they could learn a lot from the sister congregation.

Mhanga said the African church may have fewer dollars and resources, but it is vibrant, growing and meeting needs of the people in their village.

“That was something we kind of stood in awe of,” Mhanga said. “Knowing that our church back home in Lakeville, and churches nationwide in the U.S., we aren’t growing at alarming rates.”

They have learned to listen and be with people to discover their needs.

“We had been partners with them for over 10 years, but we hadn’t spent time with them to really understand where they’re coming from,” Mhanga said.

She said they hope now to bring individual stories of people in St. John’s there, to share their own joys and struggles and learn the same about their members.

“That’s what we’re trying to do as a partnership, is listen more and accompany each other on this life journey our people are on,” Mhanga said.

St. John’s is holding a May 21 pancake breakfast fundraiser at the church, 20165 Heath Avenue in Lakeville, from 9 a.m. to noon to raise money for a mission trip to Muhanga Village to help with the dispensary project.

St. John’s Church member and Schneiderman’s Furniture owner Larry Schneiderman will also be selling autographed copies of his highly rated book, “Call of the Couch,” at the event, with all the proceeds going toward the mission trip.

The breakfast will include pancakes, sausage, eggs, fruit and beverages. Tickets are $8 per person or $20 for families.

For more information, call 952-469-4916.