It’s 1:30 a.m. Three Iowans are stepping off of a plane in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania — about five hours later than scheduled. Once they’ve cleared customs and gathered their luggage, they’re on their own.
Mike Kroona, pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church; his wife, Shelby; and fellow Webster City resident Becca Gerdes traveled to Tanzania for 22 days this summer as part of a larger youth trip from the Western Iowa Synod. The group visited western Iowa’s companion synod, the Southern Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania, based in Njombe.
But before the Becca and the Kroonas could join the group, they had to figure out what to do once they’d collected their bags. Thankfully, there was a surprise waiting for them outside the airport. The pastor who was supposed to meet them at 8:30 a.m. had waited all night for them to arrive and immediately took them to a retreat center to rest.
“It was a huge relief,” Mike says. “It really encapsulated the whole idea of hospitality. To say I had a tear in my eye wouldn’t be an overstatement.”
And that idea of hospitality persisted throughout the trip. Everywhere they went, Mike, Shelby and Becca were graciously welcomed.
“For me, the most rewarding part was getting to meet the people, to see how they live and how they understand the Christian faith,” Mike says. “I was able to preach with them and have devotions with them. They were genuinely thrilled to have us in their midst.”
Meanwhile, Becca and the other western Iowan youth were able to connect with Tanzanian youth, learning about each other and what it is to be a young person in a radically different part of the world.
The group was based in Njombe, and they made short trips to other locations throughout the 22 days. They spent time at a girls’ school, where young women prepared for university; a seminary supported by Trinity Lutheran; the Center for Agricultural Development (CAD), which has connections to Tanzania’s Southern Diocese, the Western Iowa Synod and Iowa State University’s extension program; and, at the end of the trip, they were able to spend a few days on a nature reserve and take a safari.
Despite the challenges, Mike, Shelby and Becca all loved their time in Tanzania.
“I’d like to go back,” Mike says. “If the opportunity arises, I’ll jump at it.”