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On Sunday. June 10, 1934 the missionaries and their four helpers from Mwanza sat together in front of the bandas where they were camping for service. The next Sunday five locals joined them. Missionaries had been inviting workmen and everyone who stopped to greet them. The Sukuma helpers introduce several Swahili hymns. Elam Stauffer (Missionary) taught the English chorus, “Come to Jesus” and his wife, Elizabeth, presented each person with a small picture card.

Don Jacobs and Family

One day a workman complained of sickness, and another had hurt himself on the job. Ruth Mosemann treated both of them promptly, drawing on her training in the treatment of simple illness and her supply of medicines. Soon sick people were coming each day. This small ministry from the kitchen door, a “good Samaritan” response to need, gave birth to the large ministries to follow. It helped build good relations in the community.

The school began on October 1, 1934, four months after the opening of the station. Pastor Mosemann was in charge, and Zedekia Kisare and Koja Migire were teachers. Each morning from seven to ten o’clock they taught children and workmen in reading, writing, arithmetic, and Bible. Each afternoon Mosemann and Miss Ford instructed the teachers in teaching methods and Bible knowledge. The teaching goal was to enable people to read the Bible. During the time, there was only New testament available in Luo, and Old testament in Swahili.

On the September 15, 1935, fifteen people were baptized and six were received from other denominations. The second baptism service was on May 3, 1936. Eleven believers were baptized and eight were received on confession of faith.

Clinton and Maybell Ferster and Elam Stauffer (Western Missionaries) moved from Shirati on December 4, 1935 to Bukiroba to plant the Church. They opened a leadership training school whereby classes for men were based on the Bible, leadership methods, and church history while for women (wives) classes were on Bible, sewing, health, and care of children. 

In August 1935 Stauffer and Ferster had chosen to plant a church at Mugango but their application wasn’t accepted. During the time, there was another church planted with Africa Inland Mission (AIM). Later, AIM turned over the congregation to the Mennonites so AIM could concentrate on the Sukuma tribe. There were eight congregations with a of total of 41 members.

In May 1937 Clinton and Maybell Ferster and Clyde and Shenk went to plant a church at Bumangi. The first baptism was in 1940. The last station for missionaries in Tanganyika (Tanzania) was Kisaka, established in 1954 with missionaries Clyde and Alta Shenk and nurse Velma Eshleman stationed there. 

The church grew, but there were significant culture differences that influenced the way Tanzanians interacted with the church. The creation of churches, schools, hospitals, and community development characterized the early years of mission.


The emergence of the East African Revival movement in 1942 had a profound influence on Tanzanians and missionaries alike, calling all to repentance and the breaking down of barriers. By 1950, four Tanzanian pastors were ordained and in 1967 Zedekia Kisare was chosen as the first Tanzanian Mennonite Bishop. The Mennonite Theological College of Eastern Africa, jointly run with Kenyan Mennonites, began in 1962 and continues today.

From 1950 to 1954 the church experienced local expansion. Workers were placed in Ikoma-Mugumu, and stations were established at Kisaka, Tarime, and Musoma. Only in 1963 were workers were placed in Dar es Salaam. Thus, for 30 years Mennonite efforts focused on a two-county area, in part because applications to the colonial government and respect for comity with other missions were obstacles to expansion.

Since 1970 the church has planted congregations in Mwanza, Biharamulo, Arusha, Tabora, Dodoma, and Sumbawanga. The church had 200 members in 1944, 1,000 in 1954, 4,000 in 1964, 10,000 in 1974, 13,000 in 1984, 23,000 in 280 congregations by 1988, and 50,000 members in 280 congregations in 2003. The accelerated rate of growth after 1964 resulted from ongoing revival, programs of special training for leaders, and the transfer of leadership to national leadership (first Tanzanian bishop in 1967).

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