“Cord of Three Strands” Encircles the Sandawe
“I’ve studied the spiritual receptivity of tribes in Tanzania since the turn of the century,” says Don Brown of the U.S. Center’s Institute of Tribal Studies. “Receptivity goes in cycles, and it’s currently at a high point. It’s God’s time in Tanzania,” claims Brown, who served with his wife Barbara under Africa Inland Mission (AIM) for 20 years in that east African nation.
Brown notes that social restructuring, begun at Tanzanian independence in 1961, prompted an unprecedented ripeness for the gospel among many tribes, and many people have come to faith in Christ. Yet at least 19 tribes remain unreached.
Enter Cedar Crest Bible Fellowship Church of Allentown, Pennsylvania. In August 1987 the mission committee of this church of 400 began to pray about “adopting” an unreached people group. Work in Tanzania surfaced as a possibility, largely because committee member and Christian education pastor Cliff Boone and his wife Becky served there with AIM in the summer of 1984.
The committee began informal correspondence with the Africa Inland Church of Tanzania (AICT, the indigenous church planted by AIM) about partnering in outreach to an unreached tribe. The AICT replied that it favored such a partnership. Composed primarily of 1100 congregations of the Sukuma tribe, the AICT has been heavily involved in outreach to unbelieving Sukumas, but not in cross-cultural evangelism.
While visiting the U.S. in February, 1988, the AICT’s Bishop, Matt Nyagwaswa, added a visit to the church to his itinerary. During his visit, Nyagwaswa and Cedar Crest officials decided to sponsor a joint survey trip that summer to investigate unreached peoples among whom the partners might establish an outreach.
Cedar Crest Church raised $10,000 for the trip and sent Boone, elder Glenn Miller, and deacon John LoRusso to Tanzania in July 1988. During the month-long trip, one tribe arrested their attention.
The animistic Sandawe of north-central Tanzania appeared ready to hear the gospel. And, with five known believers among a population of 40,000 and no indigenous church, the Sandawe seemed ideal for missionary outreach. The Cedar Crest team returned to Pennsylvania and reported its findings. The mission committee encouraged the elders to lead the church in officially adopting the Sandawe; the resolution passed in November 1988.
Currently, Cedar Crest Church is still communicating with the AICT to complete details of the partnership. “The cord of three strands mentioned in Ecclesiastes 4:12 is often used in reference to marriage, but we feel it’s an accurate analogy for missions,” notes Miller. The church plans to send its missionaries through AIM, and these Americans will then work side-by-side with AICT missionaries.
Cementing the partnership by mail between Allentown and Tanzania has been an exercise in patience and painstaking communication. “We’re working out details about permits, temporary housing, and finances,” says Boone. “It appears we will establish a medical dispensary for the Sandawe, staffed by AIM and AICT missionaries.” Cedar Crest hopes to send career medical staff, evangelists, and church- planters to work with the dispensary, and to channel its short-termers to Tanzania.
Although the church’s adoption of the Sandawe has so far been behind-the-scenes, the impact on the church has been significant. Boone says: “This project came up through our church. We sent our own people, so there’s a sense of ownership that’s different.”
Miller agrees, noting “some are indifferent and unaware, but they’re not the majority. This project helps us pray more specifically and effectively. The elders’ mission vision is miles from where it was two years ago.”
Helping accelerate church-wide interest is the leaders’ intention to join the Tanzania team. The Boones plan to serve as church-planters among the Sandawe, and Miller and his family as disciplers. Miller is preparing to leave a successful career, taking his family to Bible school, then on to Tanzania.
“We’re experiencing some growing pains,” he says, “and learning about dying to ourselves and the ‘American dream.’” The Millers considered missions before their marriage, but “the vision laid dormant. The survey trip lit the fire again.”
To anyone considering adopting a people group, Boone offers simple advice: “Pray. Expect God to do things. Don’t be intimidated by the seeming impossibility of it all. The Adopt-a-People concept can be applied in many ways. You don’t have to do just as other churches have done.”
Boone points to how God paved the way for adopting the Sandawe, such as through Bishop Nyagwaswa’s visit to the U.S. “Things happened we never dreamed of,” he says. “We did this because we believed it’s Biblical, and then just decided to do it.”
For further information, contact: Cliff Boone, Cedar Crest Bible Fellowship Church, 1151 S. Cedar Crest Blvd., Allentown, PA 18103.