Summer 2016

Why Not Train Schoolteachers to be Church Planters?

Getting creative in Tanzania

by Carol Lyons

The young grade-school teacher’s voice on the phone was still that of the gentle, unassuming Michael we’d come to know. But we also heard a new confidence: “We have a church here now. There are about 10 of us who meet in the school building every Sunday.”

We were astounded. Michael had started a church? Could it be the same young man who had sat so quietly in our English classes and discipleship meetings? The same one who, when the government first sent him to teach in a remote Tanzanian village, was afraid to speak to us in a voice above a whisper, lest he be overheard?

My husband and I had come to Tanzania 20 years earlier as EFCA ReachGlobal missionaries, hoping to serve as a catalyst for church planting among several unreached tribes. We prayed, made contacts and shared the gospel. And God began calling people to Himself. Eventually, a Tanzanian-led church was planted, and our prayer was that it would send lay missionaries to those unreached tribes.

But that never happened. Cultural and financial issues blocked our disciplemaking vision, not to mention that it had been our vision and not theirs. So we asked the Lord to enable us to think outside our box.

We began looking at local professions that would allow a bivocational, church-planting lifestyle, and teaching seemed the best fit. Teachers are respected in Tanzania. And after graduation, these individuals are hired by the government and assigned to schools all around the country—many of which serve the unreached tribes that were our original focus.

Can you see where this is going?

So we contacted one of the teacher training colleges and volunteered to teach English with hopes of getting to know the students. The college happily accepted our proposal and even asked us to teach a class in religion to the student body.

These ordinary grade-school teachers are taking Jesus’ Great Commission into Tanzanian villages.

Now, our team teaches conversational English to these future grade-school teachers, and once a week we also teach the biblical story of redemption to well over 250 students (those from other religions being excused). From that class, we invite those who want to go deeper into God’s Word to meet with us outside of school hours. We have the joy of seeing them grapple with Scripture and watching the Holy Spirit change them. By the time they finish college, they know how to feed themselves spiritually, share God’s Word narratively (a key in this culture) and gather new believers into house churches.

In our last five years, we’ve seen three teams of about a dozen graduates each assigned to villages around Tanzania, few of which have any gospel witness. Two more teams are waiting for placement. These are all ordinary grade-school teachers who have come to take Jesus’ Great Commission seriously.

God is at work, sometimes surprisingly. Going back to our gentle teacher friend Michael, assigned to the isolated village of Tapika (whose name literally means “vomit”)—there, in that forsaken place, among that unreached tribe, Michael started faithfully teaching the village children. He began to gain respect, developing friendships with some of the village men. He also shared the gospel. Soon one man professed faith in Jesus, then another. The growing Christian witness then gave some secret believers the boldness to openly identify with them, and …

Thus, a church was born.

Carol Lyons and her husband, Steve, have served with ReachGlobal for 36 years, initially in Congo DRC and then stateside with Hispanics. They have been in Tanzania for 21 years.