"As young adults we are the face of an ever-changing church and together we can grow as change makers in our world." This is one of the lessons that Craig Dokken, a member of Christ on Capitol Hill
, learned while traveling to Iringa in August 2015.
Originally selected to be the Saint Paul Area Synod's representative to the ELCT's National Youth Gathering in Dodoma, Dokken's plans took an unexpected turn when two weeks prior to departure he learned that the gathering was canceled indefinitely due to financial problems for the event organizers. This left Craig with a tough decision to either carry on with the trip and spend his time in Iringa, or postpone the trip in hopes that the Gathering would be re-scheduled. He decided to go to Iringa and the result, he says, "was an interesting trip to Tanzania to say the least."
Young adult programs in the Iringa Diocese
Dokken spent two weeks travelling around the Iringa Diocese with Pastor Tadei Kihwaga, a Diocese Youth Secretary. This gave Dokken the opportunity to visit a variety of parishes, learning more about the lives of young people in Tanzania and also programs in place aimed to help them. (In Tanzania, as in many parts of the world, the term 'youth' stretches into what we tend to call the young adult years of 20's and early 30's).
"Programs in most of the parishes are usually focused on helping young adults achieve financial stability," Dokken observed. As is the case in many of our communities in Minnesota, unemployment and under-employment are significant challenges for young adults in Iringa. As is happening here, congregations there are responding. For example, Dokken learned about a Youth Skills Center in Kihesa where young people are taught entrepeneurial skills like sewing and batik making. Elsewhere, he notes, "most parishes have a plot of trees to help fund more youth programs - an activity that goes alongside the Diocese's million trees campaign
." Craig also learned that, "the high unemployment of youth has brought about plans to open up a technical college in the Diocese. There are many skills that are not learned in secondary school or traditional colleges in the area and these technical skills are in high demand throughout the country."
Beyond economic development, there are also efforts for connecting young adults with communities of faith. This is an increasing concern as newly educated young adults leave their agricultural hometowns and seek greater opportunities in urban areas like Iringa and megacities like Dar es Salaam. One initiative Craig encountered, Fahari Yetu, is focused on music. The group, he writes, "goes from district to district teaching choir leaders a couple of songs to bring back to their home parish... The thought is that by having a skilled and strong youth choir you will bring more youth to the church." Just as impressive, Dokken shares, "(the group taught him) how to sing four-part harmony for the first time ever!"
Was it worth it? The answer for Craig is a solid yes. "From a last-minute change of plans to a checked bag that didn't keep up with me to a whirlwind tour of the Iringa Diocese and its youth programs, I had an amazing time. I hope that more young adults would be interested to learn and see the journey our Tanzanian counterparts go through.
Young adult programs in the Saint Paul Area Synod
Amazing things happen whenever two or more gather. Inspired by what was seen and heard through Craig's travels, and as part of the Saint Paul Area Synod's new Young Adults Initiative
, we are committed to creating more opportunities for young adults to connect across continents and cultures. To that effect, we are pleased to announce our inaugural Young Adult Immersion Trip to Tanzania this coming May. With an emphasis on exploring the role young adults play as leaders of change in a changing world, it promises to be a powerful new development in our life together. Do you know a young adult who could do a world of good? Please help us spread the word by sharing the information found on our website
With profound gratitude for all who 'wing it' and step out in faith,
The Rev. Peter Harrits
Director of Bega Kwa Bega and Assistant to the Bishop