The Tanzanian student ministry TAFES is gospel-focused and equipped with capable leaders. So, what need could there possibly be for a couple of Aussie missionaries? Arthur and Tamie Davis explain the role they play in helping to foster the vision and work of TAFES.
“If these TAFES people are so great, why are we sending you to Tanzania?”
A keen supporter of CMS asked me this question when we were back in Australia for Home Assignment. She was genuinely curious. During a presentation to supporters, we had been speaking about the high quality of staff we work with, the reputation of TAFES graduates as people of integrity, and the integration of Bible and life that prepares students to be witnesses to Christ in university and beyond in their professions.
We had also noted that TAFES (the Tanzanian Fellowship of Evangelical Students) is so well established that it is now training others in university student ministry. These include Christian leaders from Zambia who are involved in IFES (International Fellowship of Evangelical Students). As well as training others, TAFES leaders are also receiving help from IFES groups in Nigeria, especially in theological education for staff. So, it was a reasonable question: why send Aussie missionaries? What needs could there possibly be?
Painting a clear picture
Over the past three years working in Tanzania, we have developed a clearer picture of what needs remain. We began serving at St John’s University of Tanzania, where for two years we were part of the chaplaincy team, and helped with chapel, running teaching seminars, and mentoring students. Since 2015, Arthur has worked with TAFES in their head office. This role involves training and mentoring staff workers, teaching at staff retreats and student camps, developing resources and running discipleship training schools.
While many missionaries in Tanzania are involved in theological education, that has not been our main focus. (It turns out that TAFES’ historic commitment to Scripture engagement means that staff and associates generally hold very sound theology!) We have discovered that a greater struggle for TAFES has been communicating its distinctive Bible focus to others. Denominations often view TAFES with suspicion, and prefer students to go to denominational campus groups, although these often lack a focus on Scripture engagement, evangelism, or mentoring students. Under this pressure, TAFES groups have shrunk, and have become more like other local university ministries in order to gain more members. This has prompted leaders within TAFES to call for a return to the core distinctives of Scripture engagement, evangelism and leadership development. It is at this level that we are able to help TAFES to be more true to itself.
An Aussie approach
Perhaps surprisingly, it’s been our Australian-ness that has been so valuable. We Aussies tend to think of ourselves as laid-back. But compared to Tanzanians, we have a laser focus when it comes to strategy. It’s been encouraging to hear our Tanzanian colleagues give a hearty ‘yes’ when we identify issues or propose a way forward. Our educational background – with its emphasis on using creativity and fun to learn, rather than learning by rote – has also enabled us to offer considerable resources for training others, and helped to feed a culture of continual skill development at TAFES. In God's wisdom, these cultural attributes have allowed us to help TAFES articulate its identity; to cement these distinctives among the students and staff involved; and to communicate this vision to outsiders and potential ministry partners.
We don’t see our mission here as primarily to introduce Tanzanian university students to Jesus. Local TAFES students and staff are well equipped to focus on that. But TAFES faces a number of challenges that we are uniquely positioned to help with. So, with your support, we are privileged to work alongside TAFES to play our part in God’s mission.
There are opportunities to serve in various ways in African university and other ministries. See cms.org.au/opportunity/africa for some of the current needs.