St Stephen’s Tonbridge, England, has recently joined Connected Church and chose to start a Tailored Relationship with Mpwapwa in Tanzania. Rev Mark Barker, vicar of St Stephen's, explains how they chose their community and looks forward to seeing the transformation take place over the next few years...
We are really keen to develop a close relationship with a poor community through Tearfund
Rev Mark Barker
St Stephen’s has supported Tearfund for many years – so I'd heard about Connected Church. Some of our missionaries recently stepped back or retired from the mission field. As a church, we felt it was time to do something different – to get involved with a couple of communities, and see real transformation. We wanted something that would also be transforming for us as a church. So, We are really keen to develop a close partnership and relationship with a poor community through Tearfund..
We asked Tearfund for options and they suggested Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. A representative from Tearfund’s Connected Church team came to talk to the church about the communities. Out of that meeting, we had a strong feeling about Tanzania. We’d historically supported individual missionaries in Tanzania and our diocese in Rochester partner with diocese in Tanzania. Mpwapwa, who we are partnering with, is one of those – so this relationship feels very right and good. It ticks all the boxes for the church and in the diocese here as well.
Next, a friend and I went to Tanzania to visit our community. The Tearfund team first took us to see a village called Mgosie, which has been part of a church and community mobilisation process for ten years. We saw that this had dramatically transformed the village and things were still improving. It was exciting to see the local church at the centre of that, and we came away feeling very encouraged and positive. The visit also answered lots of our questions about how the process works.
Then we went to, Mpwapwa, the community we had planned to partner with through Tearfund. The difference was very clear. They had not started the process and the needs and poverty levels were great. But we hope that what we can do will transform the community, and help the surrounding villages too.
It was great to visit Tanzania and meet with local bishops and clergy – particularly the Rt Rev Jacob Chimeledya, the Arch Bishop of Tanzania from the Diocese we are partnering with. We spent a day and a half in the community, so when we left we had formed strong connections with the local church and leaders.
St Stevens is now beginning to get excited, the mission group in particular. People are discussing and thinking about how we can launch some new groups to connect people with the community in Tanzania.
Rev Mark Barker
I really hope we will develop a good relationship with the community and see that community transformed but I also want us to learn, benefit and grow through that as a church. It will be great to give people a wider perspective of the life and needs of the church throughout the world – seeing God moving in different cultures. I also hope that, as this relationship grows, we can involve the wider community in Tonbridge in the partnership as well. Maybe we could connect the local primary school with the school in the village.
We chose to do this through Tearfund, because they have the experience of working in these communities, and have people on the ground in the country. Working with Tearfund means we are confident that the money we give will help that community – our gifts will be watched over and accounted for.
Similarly, when we send groups from our church to the community we will have Tearfund’s support and backing. Connected Church makes us feel more comfortable and at peace that if things don't happen as we'd like, or if things go wrong Tearfund has the knowledge and background to help us and make sure the relationship continues positively.