calendar September 8, 2010 in Bishop, Bishop messages, Global Vision

One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, One People

I knew ahead of time that I would be preaching to hundreds of new Christians at the annual three-day Maasai gathering in the Plains District of the North Eastern Diocese of Tanzania.  What scripture, which words, could I choose to speak to this ancient people?  A nomadic people of cattle shepherds, many were illiterate; only the younger generations had any formal education.  Four and even five generations would be listening, and dozens would be prepared by the Tanzanian pastors and lay evangelists for baptism in these three days.

My sermon would be translated twice, from English to Swahili, and then from Swahili to Maasai.  At the outdoor opening service I greeted the crowd of over 400 men, women and children with blessings from the people and ministries, agencies and institutions of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod.  Joanne Carlson and I were as much of an exotic attraction to them as they were to us, so I shared my pondering with them.

I pointed out the obvious — that we come from two very different worlds.  “You are Maasai and I am American; you are Black, and I am White.  You are people of the land and I am a woman from the city. You are tall, and I am short.  But today we are again reminded that God has made us one tribe through the life, death and resurrection of His son, Jesus Christ.”

"MaasaiThen I read the text for the sermon: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  (John 3:16)

For those to be baptized, this scripture is the very core of the Christian faith.  For those of us who are already baptized it is a reminder of the extraordinary love God has for the world and for every one of its peoples for all time.

The opportunity to bring the Word of God and to baptize in the name of the Triune God in a place far away, to a people foreign to my culture, in a language not my own, was one of the highlights of my call as a pastor and a bishop. This was truly a time when distance narrowed, offering a glimpse into God’s amazing grace! 

The body and blood of Christ binds the people of God in love to one another and in service to the whole world. 

The North Eastern Diocese, our companion synod in Tanzania, is a great partner in mission.  Under the visionary and faithful leadership of Bishop Stephen Munga, the Diocesan staff, pastors, evangelists, agency directors, and other lay leaders, they are carrying out the Great Commission of Christ, with limited material resources, but with enormous faith, energy, creativity and ingenuity. I was once again reminded of the core practices and assets of the Christian Church: the Word of God, preached and proclaimed in witness and service, the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, prayer, apostolic creed, song, sacrificial offering and service.  One especially significant spiritual gift of the Tanzanian Christians is their contagious hospitality.  Greeting the visitor with brass bands, choirs, food, signing of guest books and prayer was a natural extension of Christ’s welcome to all of us.  


All these elements of Christian community need little more than faith, hope and love of God and neighbor. The NED commitment to serving the marginalized in their country, especially their dedication to improving services for children with special needs, and to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, is a great witness and blessing to our agencies, institutions and congregations as we seek to be Christ’s face, hands and voice here in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Presently in SEPA we have 12 active partner congregations with parishes in the NED.  We have much to gain from and give to each other.  Particularly, we Americans can learn from our Tanzanian sisters and brothers sacrificial giving, hospitality, faith active in love and service with few resources, a commitment to raising people out of poverty and into hope through education, medical care and worship of Jesus Christ. Please contact Joanne Carlson if your congregation is interested in being joined to a parish in Tanzania.

By the end of our safari, I had preached five times, baptized 37 people (children, teens and adults), laid a cornerstone for one Church, blessed the erected building of another, visited ten NED institutions, five parishes, one sub parish, and one evangelistic gathering!  More important than all the places were the faith, witness, hospitality and love of the people extended to us and through us to the people of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, and the whole ELCA.

As I reflect on my journey (safari) in the day-to-day account posted on this site, I hope you will sense the great privilege it is to be joined by Christ to this diocese, and that you will see in the lives and witness of the people, the great love of God in Christ that continues to be lavished on the world.  

In Christ,

+Bishop Claire Burkat


I want to thank Joanne Carlson for making all the arrangements, and for her patience, humor and accompaniment. And thanks to Bob Fisher for designing a report on the trip that includes photos and web links.

Photos: Bishop Burkat baptizing at the Maasai Gathering; Bishops Munga, Burkat and Mameo in Maasai garb.