Tanzania: The journey of a woman pastor with her indigenous community
Voices from the Communion: Rev. Rebecca Maduley Kurubai, the first Maasai woman pastor
(LWI) - “My testimony has been drawing many people to Christ,” says Rev. Rebecca Maduley Kurubai, the first ordained Maasai woman pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT) Southern Diocese. The Maasai mostly inhabit northern Tanzania and neighboring Kenya, and many of those residing in rural areas live a traditional, semi-nomadic lifestyle in a fast-changing society.
Following her ordination, Kurubai went to work in the city of Iringa in central Tanzania. She is now based at Kidugala Lutheran Seminary in the southern region of Njombe, where she is doing doctoral research. Throughout her ministry, she has continued to dedicate herself to sharing the gospel among her indigenous community, where, she says, people “are hungry for the Word of God.”
Tell us about the early years of your ministry?
I finished my studies in 1999 and after my ordination the same year, I was sent to a very new parish in Iringa. I had nothing to begin with, no office, nowhere to work and just a few dozen people to help me start up a new congregation. We began by building a new church and many people came to watch, to ask questions about how I, a Maasai woman, was allowed to become a pastor because they know that Maasai people live a different life.
Many people came to watch and listen to the gospel and in that first year the congregation grew from less than 40 people to around 1,000 members. We began working with them, organizing not just the practical things but also responding to the spiritual needs. We organized prayers with the elders and went house to house, visiting those who had been Christians, maybe for a long time, but they didn’t come to church any more. Just as Jesus sent out the 70 disciples, so we went, two by two, knocking on doors to share the gospel with people.
What are the main challenges you encountered?
Among the Maasai, families in the rural areas live in simple huts (manyattas) just as in Old Testament times, herding cattle, sheep and goats. Men take care of their flocks, and traditionally they needed several wives and many children to help them. But this way of life cannot be sustained as the number of cattle are decreasing and such families are unable to educate or support their children who are then confined to poverty.
The church is trying to reach out and talk to people, to teach the gospel and help them understand the need for change. I was invited to one meeting last year with around 200 men, to explain and to answer their questions. Normally women are not allowed to attend such gatherings, but they respect the opinions of those who are in leadership and so I am able to influence them. I have seen how my testimony itself has been drawing many people to Christ.
Today people are more able to understand our message and they are more ready to accept me and my fellow women pastors.
When God first called me to this ministry, it was very difficult. But the Bible tells us to have confidence and to be strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit. Today people are more able to understand our message and they are more ready to accept me and my fellow women pastors. It takes a lot of time to sit with people, to eat with them, to listen to them.
How can Lutherans in other parts of the world support this ministry?
People in these communities are hungry for the Word of God. Other people pray very hard for this work and we are very grateful for that too.
A lot of the Maasai women now have their own prayer groups and are able to meet more freely. They used to be intimidated as people did not understand them and feared they were coming to change our culture and identity.
Previously, I was also president of a pastors’ forum bringing together Methodists, Pentecostals and leaders of other denominations to pray for change, for reconciliation. In Arusha, where the Maasais are predominant, there is visible unity among them. They gather together to listen to the word of God. I hope, and I wonder, can I bring this change to my community too?
The Lutheran World Federation is a global body that shares the work and love of Christ in the world. In this series, we profile church leaders and staff as they discuss topical issues and set out ideas for building peace and justice in the world, ensuring the churches and communion grow in witness and strength.