In 2021, we celebrate 45 years of the Maryknoll Lay Missioners serving in Tanzania. More than 100 Lay Missioners have worked in Tanzania over the years. Their ministries include healthcare, pastoral care, education, personal and community development, and justice and peace work.

This month, we look back on the experiences of three Lay Missioners who worked in Tanzania. Liz Mach was in the first group to go to Tanzania and spent 28 years of her mission life there – 1976-1982 and 1998-2020! Dianne Mistelske and her husband John went to Tanzania in 1980 and returned in 1983. Fr. William Vos, a diocesan priest from St. Cloud MN, went to Tanzania in 1979 as a Lay Missioner Priest Associate and returned in 1998.

In total, these Lay Missioners gave 50 years of service in Tanzania. By reading about their experiences, we see how much their work made an impact on themselves and on the communities they served. Happy 45th anniversary to the Lay Missioners in Tanzania!

Lay Missioner Liz Mach with local women at an outdoor health clinic in Tanzania
Lay Missioner Liz Mach with young patients at the Bungundo Medical Center in Tanzania

After I’ve spent the day visiting others in the village [of Muhoji], I return to Symon and Christina’s home and we share a simple evening meal… Symon and Christina choose to raise their family in Muhoji. They know about life on the ‘outside’; their choice is not naïve nor do they feel trapped in their conditions. They stay and hoe their fields, share their lives with their neighbors, work to keep the village school going and raise their children because they are people of the land, people of faith. I hesitate to say what I know is true, that I have gained a lot more in Muhoji than I’ve given. I am fearful of sounding like the ‘do-gooder’ from the right side of the tracks who goes ‘slumming’ once a month so that he can tell of the wonderful experiences he has had with ‘poor folks’. But I don’t think Symon and Christina would see it that way. When they kill a chicken because I’ll be with them for supper, I believe they are saying that one of their greatest blessings is to have a guest in their home.

Returned Lay Missioner and Priest Associate Fr. William Vos

Fr. William Vos with a member of the parish
Fr. William Vos visits the newest addition to the congregation
Lay Missioner Dianne Mistelske entertains young members of the parish while their parents have Bible study
Lay Missioners John and Dianne Mistelske visit with neighbors

Our greatest joy and our most meaningful experiences there were the people. They were and continue to be our greatest inspiration and source of encouragement. One family in Tanzania especially touched our lives in a most special way – our next-door neighbors, Masengwa and Felisita and their three precious children… The first year we were there, Felisita’s mother came to visit for Thanksgiving…[one] night Felisita’s mother became ill…and the next morning she was dead – just like that – cholera. Masengwa came over to tell us and we went over to the house to mourn with them. I’ll never forget seeing Felisita as I entered the house. She crossed the room to me with tears running down her face, a simple cloth loosely wrapped around her pregnant body. She embraced me and we wept and prayed together I remember thinking that even in her grief and sorrow she welcomed me and embraced me as a part of her life… Eight weeks later, little baby Lucas was born. What a wonderful day that was, and how we rejoiced and celebrated! Here was another example of the many, many times I saw death and life come hand in hand – we shared together the pain of death and the joy of a new life. The acceptance of this for these people on a day to day basis has much to teach me about life and love.

Returned Lay Missioner Dianne Mistelske