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Woodbury Lutherans connect with Tanzania Lutherans

Some of the African friends made by members of King of Kings Lutheran Church, Woodbury, Minnesota.

Some of the African friends made by members of King of Kings Lutheran Church, Woodbury, Minnesota.

Suburban St. Paul congregation nurtures mission partnership in East Africa

When he first agreed to visit Tanzania in January of 2000, the Rev. Ralph Olsen, Jr., senior pastor of King of Kings Lutheran Church in Woodbury, Minnesota, was given two pieces of advice:
* Don’t whine. (Remember: Tanzania is not the United States.)
* Don’t come if you don’t want your life changed.
Thus began a growing relationship of Pastor Olsen and his congregation with Lulanzi Parish in Tanzania, East Africa. King of Kings was one of the first of 20 congregations in the Saint Paul Synod of the ELCA to be partnered with a parish in the Iringa Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania. That relationship has fostered much interaction between the two parishes. King of Kings has helped purchase metal roofs for several churches as well as providing growing financial support for the related St. Margaret’s Academy in Arusha, Tanzania.
King of Kings Sunday school children raised funds to help build a chapel at a hospital in Arusha.
When Margaret (Mama) Tesha came from Tanzania to visit Pastor Olsen in his office, she was conducting a school for Tanzanian children using rented facilities. Today, there’s a permanent classroom building along with housing and facilities for feeding over 190 students. Of these 50 have been displaced due to parents dying of AIDS or conflict in their home countries.
Just 7% of the children in Tanzania have the opportunity to attend secondary school. A much smaller percentage actually graduate because of difficult course work taught exclusively in English. The goal of St. Margaret’s Academy is to give all students a quality education in English as a foundation for success in furthering their education.
Among recent metro area fund-raising activities was the second annual St. Margaret’s Academy Golf Benefit held at a Hastings golf course in August. A golf marathon a year earlier raised $l6,000 to help put a metal roof on the academy building. The Tanzanians had made mud bricks themselves for the academy building but lacked the money to finance the metal roofing used in that part of the world. The need is real; if the hand-made bricks are not protected, they crumble due to the heavy rains.
Committed to helping educate African children as a means of lifting them out of poverty, King of Kings congregation members are sponsoring 45 student scholarships per year at St. Margaret’s Academy. A year’s scholarship costs $280; to put that in perspective, that is the equivalent of an average family’s annual income in Tanzania, Pastor Olsen said.
King of Kings also provided a scholarship for a young man from the Lulanzi Parish, God-love Kalinga, to attend Tumiani University in Africa. This young man was expected to arrive August 30 to visit King of Kings; his visit is scheduled to last through September 10.
Despite the fact that, early on, Pastor Olsen’s wife admonished him to go to Tanzania and “get it out of your system,” his interest is now more ingrained than ever. In January of this year he led a group of 10 persons on another in a series of trips to Tanzania. Seven travelers were members of King of Kings. Rounding out the group were a member of a Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod congregation, an Episcopalian and a Roman Catholic.
King of Kings members making the trip were: Rebekah Peterson, Tom Walker, Galen and Kathy Britz, Chris and Heidi Perman and Kathy Hollenbeck, along with Pastor Olsen. Other members of the group were: Joanne Oyen, Penny Merritt and Nancy Burns.
Enthusiasm for the Tanzanian partnership just overflows as one visits with Pastor Olsen, who was the developer and founding pastor of King of Kings. When he arrived 22 years ago, there were no building or members. Today the congregation numbers nearly 4,000 baptized members. It’s housed in a rambling, blue clapboard structure sitting on a hill along Radio Drive, overlooking the bustling city of Woodbury. Pastor Olsen’s philosophy is that “God has a plan, and it’s bigger than any of us realize.” That carries over to the Tanzanian partnership. His aim is to get more pastors to take the trip to Tanzania.
Those interested in scheduling a presentation on the Tanzanian partnerships may contact Rev. Ralph Olsen at King of Kings Lutheran Church. Call 651-738-3110, or e-mail to rolsen@kingofkingswdby.org.