Zebedayo, Yohana Makaranga
1923 to 2011
Africa Inland Church
Yohana Makaranga Zebedayo was born March 16, 1923 in the village of Ibaya, Ngudu, in the Kwimba district of Manza, northwestern Tanzania. He was born a Sukuma and lived in Sukumaland all his life. He was called Makaranga (a Sukuma clan name, meaning "groundnuts") or Ngw'ana Mwoneki (Sukuma for "a good or beautiful child" and a type of game) until he eventually took the name Yohana at his baptism.
His father, Zebedayo Ngaraba Ndonho, or Ngw'ana Sengule, was a farmer and an Africa Inland Church Tanzania (AICT) evangelist in several places until his retirement in Nyashimba in Magu district of Mwanza, in 1956. He is remembered by some for being very strict about his church members tithing their harvests, but also as being one of the generous givers to the church. His wife was a kind and polite woman. Zebedayo's firstborn, Jacobo, became an AICT pastor and established a church in the village of Badugu, not far from Nyashimba. Yohana was the second born, his brother Seke, and sister Keferine followed him. The Zebedayo family moved to the village of Bulima and then Chumve when Yohana was very young and later settled in Nyamshimba.
Marriage and Schooling
In 1946, Yohana married Elizabeti Nkindikwa Mpanga. Elizabeti's family lived near Zebedayo's family in Nyashimba and they knew each other well. The marriage was sanctioned in the traditional Sukuma way of paying bride price, agreed upon and witnessed by family elders. There were no church weddings at that time. Yohana and Elizabeth had six daughters, Teleza, Helena, Raheli, Agness, Debora, and Sara, and two sons, Zebedayo and Lameck. At the time of Yohana's death, he and Elizabeti had forty-nine grandchildren, and fifty-five great-grandchildren.
Yohana was a student at the Africa Inland Mission (AIM) school in Bulima in the early 1950s. His teachers were Tanzanian and originally taught in the Sukuma language. One of his teachers was a man named Ngw'ana Shimba. Part way through his studies the language of instruction changed mainly to Swahili. He was also taught a little English. He walked about ten km from his home village of Nyashimba to school every day. After his primary schooling, Yohana returned home to farm and keep livestock.
Conversion and Baptism
Yohana was raised in a Christian family and it is not known when he began to believe in Jesus as Lord. At some point in his youth, he followed a very different path than that of his father by smoking, drinking, and becoming a traditional Sukuma dancer. However, he returned to the Lord in 1946, soon after marrying Elizabeti. The moral and spiritual implications of such an occupation would no doubt have had put him at odds with the church community, and to some degree, with his wife and family too. Since Elizabeti went to church, along with both sets of parents, many felt "�it was not understandable why he would leave his wife to go to church alone." Sukuma tradition dictates that a wife must not leave her husband at home alone, so it was shameful for Yohana's wife to go to church each Sunday without him. Both father and father-in-law could potentially overrule any decision by Yohana to prevent his wife attending church. Furthermore, Yohana would have been perceived as a weak person for letting her go to church without him. Therefore, social pressure from family and friends played a large role in his conversion to Christ. Yohana and Elizabeti were attending his father's AICT church in Nyashimba at the time. When Yohana converted, he changed completely, became a good Christian, went to church, and his household settled well.
Before Yohana was baptized, he had to attend a full year of catechism. Yohana's father taught catechism classes every Wednesday evening after the church prayer service. Catechumens memorized and recited the fundamentals of Christian doctrine and learned how to pray in the Sukuma language. They were also taught hymns from a Sukuma hymnbook purchased from a missionary bookshop in Bulima and Sukuma songs composed from the Bible. Three years after his conversion and upon completion of catechism, he was baptized by pastor Jeremiah Mahalu Kisula.
Early Church Ministry and Training
Yohana became an elder in his father's church in his early thirties, along with his friends and age-mates Silas Shipula and James Ludoke. In order to become a church elder, one needed to be identified as a suitable candidate by the church elders and the pastor. The pastor would then present the candidate's names before the congregation and announce their candidacy, as well as the day voting would take place. Three weeks later, the baptized members of the congregation voted to elect new elders. Yohana, Silas, and James received their training in church eldership from Amuri, Hezron Nyanda, Zakayo Rugeye, and Jushua Duhu, who served as elders in their church.
After some years, according to Silas Shipula, who was then the church representative of the synod at that time, Yohana "appeared to have decided to serve the Lord." Showing promise, Yohana was nominated by the pastor, Bartholomew Ihema, with the support of the church elders, as worthy of serving as an evangelist. Those in higher levels of church leadership approved and in 1973 Yohana went to Busiya, Shinyanga to attend Kolandoto Bible Training School. He completed the three-month training course for AICT church evangelists and then returned to Nyashimba to follow in his father's footsteps as an evangelist.
Ministry as Evangelist
Yohana's responsibilities as an evangelist required a high level of devotion and sacrifice. In the early days of the AICT Shigala church, that church was one of at least nine churches in the Bulima pastorate. The pastor, Bartholomew Ihema, travelled by bicycle to a different church each week. The one in Dutwa was over fifty kilometers away from his home. His visits to the Shigala church, though relatively close to his home village of Bulima, normally occurred every two months when he came to administer Holy Communion. This meant that Yohana preached at every Sunday service and every Wednesday prayer meeting, in addition to teaching catechism classes. With a few exceptions, this was his official ministry schedule for nearly thirty years. He had little time to plant or minister in other churches.
His position was not financially remunerated. According to the AICT system of dividing the weekly offering, Yohana was to be given a share, but he did not receive any money. He did receive some material assistance from time to time, and occasionally was given cash in his retirement. However, he mainly supported himself and his family with farming activities.
Fresh from his evangelist training, Yohana was among the decision makers that moved the AICT congregation of approximately twenty people from Nyashimba to the primary school in Shigala. Recognizing that the school was not an ideal place for church meetings, a search was begun for a site to build a church. Silas, who was also a local political leader, proposed the current AICT church site. This was not Yohana's first choice but eventually he agreed to the proposal.
In addition to being a leading promoter of the church building, Yohana was probably also the largest donor. He donated most of the metal roofing sheets for the mud-brick building, which was a considerable gift, likely close to half the expense of the construction project. This act of generosity so impressed a wealthy, non-Christian, cattle-owner in the village (Kalunde Masunga), that he also donated metal roofing sheets for the church.
One of the more significant ministry activities that Yohana and his team of church leaders carried out was the regular visitation of people in their congregation. This ministry was directed particularly towards children. During the rainy season, when farming activities peak, these leaders would make a special effort to visit the families of Christian children. They checked to see if the children had changed, if they were listening to their parents, doing their household chores, and not sitting idle. The approved reputation of "the church of [Yohana] Zebedayo and [Silas] Shipula" spread as a result, and the church swelled with the influx of new members. By the time the church congregation had shifted from the primary school to the new church building there were approximately eighty people in regular attendance. At Yohana's retirement there were approximately 120 adult church members and many children.
Characteristics and Impact
Aspects of Yohana's character for which he is remembered would include the firmness of his faith in Jesus Christ and his faithfulness to the work of the church. In a cultural context where consultation with witchdoctors or traditional healers for diagnosis and treatment of illness is common, Yohana refused to seek them out for this purpose. Perhaps this was most dramatically demonstrated in the last eleven years of his life, when he was almost always ill with various ailments, including prostate cancer. He gained some relief from medical interventions in 2003 and 2007, but overall, his health continued to decline. When Ambukile Mwasapile, the healer at Loliondo, northern Tanzania was gaining international attention, Yohana's son Lameck advised and sent money from Dar es Salaam for his father to go there for treatment. Yohana stubbornly refused, saying, "going there [Loliondo] is going to lose my living relationship with God." He also disallowed his family members from seeking treatment there.
Yohana's faith left an indelible mark on John Silas when he was a boy. He vividly recalls that during a particularly bad drought, Yohana made an announcement in church: "Those [0f you] with faith, return to church tomorrow. We will pray to God without returning home until it rains." The next morning, John and his brother Japhet went to church with their father, Silas, for the prayers. Suddenly, a strong wind came up from the south and those praying began to cheer that God had heard their prayers. By three o'clock in the afternoon there was a huge rain. That event continues to inspire John to help children grow in their Christian faith, and it was a motivating factor in his decision to help start and run a Christian school in Shigala.
A second characteristic of his was honesty and integrity. He was the steward of the church's cereal offerings, and whenever seed was needed for planting and a church member did not have any, Yohana would give it to them. Honesty and good stewardship continue to be highly valued in AICT Shigala today, following Yohana's example. Once, Yohana stood up in the Sunday church service, tears streaming down his face, to beg permission to resign his position as evangelist. One of his daughters had gotten pregnant out of wedlock, and he believed that the sin in his household undermined his leadership and credibility. Through the insistence of the church elders and their encouragement from the scriptures, Yohana was persuaded to continue in this work.
A third characteristic of his was that he was kind and generous to people. The quality of kindness appears to have come more from the influence of his mother, although generosity was a feature of his father's family. James Ludoke recalls with gratitude Yohana coming regularly to visit, ministering in prayer, and bringing others as well to pray for his sick wife in the days leading up to her death. Anyone who went to him with a need would be helped. Silas related another significant example of Yohana's generosity thus: one day, a young lad named Pharles Masanja showed up at Silas' house. Pharles had walked from his parents place in Bunda, a distance of approximately eighty kilometers. His parents, even though they were young and able, refused to pay for his secondary school education. He was academically qualified but his parents saw no good reason for him to continue. Silas took Pharles to see Yohana the next day and strongly encouraged him to sponsor the boy for his schooling. Yohana agreed to take on this large responsibility. He sold at least one cow to do it and made sure that Pharles finished his secondary schooling. Similarly, Masalu, the son of one of Yohana's in-laws, also walked from Bunda to Yohana's house and was sponsored for secondary schooling. Yohana paid for the secondary schooling of others like Yohana Madundo as well.
Fourth, Yohana appreciated the importance of solid Biblical preaching and teaching. His consistent, uncomplicated preaching of the Word made the AICT Shigala church theologically strong in comparison to other churches in the area. His understanding of the scriptures was limited by comparison to contemporary AICT preachers, as he had little Bible training, so he stuck mainly to Christ-centered gospel messages. What he knew from the scriptures he held and applied with great conviction, just as his father had.
Yohana retired as an evangelist in 2002. His retirement appears to have been hastened by his diagnosis with prostate cancer in 2001. He remained an unofficial counselor in the church, his advice being sought when the church leadership needed help. Even when he was sick in bed, he continued to ask visitors how things were at his church.
Yohana Zebedayo went to be with the Lord on March 31, 2011. He is remembered in Shigala as a good church leader and worthy of imitation for his godly example. He was a faithful servant of Christ to the end. He knew and loved people, and was well loved in return.
1. Silas Shipula and James Ludoke, interview by author, Shigala, Magu, Tanzania, April 17, 2012. Also, "funeral document" (Memorial Service Program), produced by Yohana Zebedayo's family, dated April 4, 2011. Silas Shipula and James Ludoke stated that he was born in Bulima, Nassa. These two men were age-mates, friends since childhood, and co-workers with Yohana Zebedayo in the AICT Nyashimba and Shigala churches.
2. Shipula and Ludoke interview.
3. Shipula and Ludoke interview.
4. John Silas, interview by author, Shigala, Magu, Tanzania, April 17, 2012. (John Silas is the son of Silas Shipula and knew Yohana Zebedayo as his evangelist from childhood until Yohana's death. He worked alongside him in the AICT Shigala church as a church elder and treasurer in Yohana's latter years).
5. Biographical account in funeral and memorial program of April 4, 2011.
6. Shipula and Ludoke interview.
7. Memorial Service Program.
8. Memorial Service Program states that he attended from 1950 to 1953. Silas and James stated that Yohana was about eighteen when he finished primary schooling and that he married later (Shipula and Ludoke interview).
9. Shipula and Ludoke interview. Shipula and Ludoke state that this change took place in 1952.
10. Shipula and Ludoke interview.
11. Shipula and Ludoke interview.
12. Raheli Yohana, Helena Yohana, Susana Amri, Joyce Luka, Zebedayo Luka, Elizabeti Mpanga. Editorial comments on draft of this biography, Shigala, Magu, Tanzania, August 14, 2012. All are family members of Yohana Zebedayo.
13. Silas Shipula [author's translation].
14. Silas John, interview by author, Bulima, Magu, Tanzania, August 6, 2012. (Silas is a Sukuma Christian from the Shigala AICT church and knew Yohana as well).
15. Silas John interview.
16. Silas John interview.
17. Memorial Service biography states that his baptism was on August 26, 1949; however, baptisms for AIC churches are typically at Easter, which makes this date a bit suspicious. Furthermore, Silas and James say that Yohana was baptized with them at Easter.
18. Raheli Yohana, Helena Yohana, Susana Amri, Joyce Luka, Zebedayo Luka, Elizabeti Mpanga. Silas Shipula and James Ludoke used the name Zakayo Kageyo rather than Zakayo Rugeye.
19. Silas Shipula, [author's translation], Shipula and Ludoke interview.
20. The other churches in the pastorate were: Bulima, Kabita, Mwamaniri, Chumve, Kalemera, Mkula, Dutwa and Nyangiri.
21. John Silas interview.
22. Shipula and Ludoke interview.
23. Shipula and Ludoke interview.
24. Shipula and Ludoke interview. Raheli Yohana, Helena Yohana, Susana Amri, Joyce Luka, Zebedayo Luka, Elizabeti Mpanga. Silas Shipula and James Ludoke say the roofing sheets were used for Yohana's house.
25. Shipula and Ludoke interview.
26. John Silas, telephone conversation with the author, June 25, 2012.
27. Memorial Service program.
28. Cf. Tom Mosoba, "Tanzania: Untold Story of Loliondo Mystery" in The Citizen (Dar es Salaam) March 13, 2011 http://allafrica.com/stories/201103130007.html (accessed June 26, 2012). Raheli Yohana, Helena Yohana, Susana Amri, Joyce Luka, Zebedayo Luka, Elizabeti Mpanga.
29. Silas Shipula quoting Yohana Zebedayo [author's translation]. Shipula and Ludoke interview.
30. Raheli Yohana, Helena Yohana, Susana Amri, Joyce Luka, Zebedayo Luka, Elizabeti Mpanga.
31. John Silas quoting Yohana Zebedayo [author's translation]. John Silas interview.
32. John Silas interview.
33. John Silas interview.
34. John Silas interview.
35. James Ludoke, Shipula and Ludoke interview.
36. Shipula and Ludoke interview.
37. Shipula and Ludoke interview.
38. Raheli Yohana, Helena Yohana, Susana Amri, Joyce Luka, Zebedayo Luka, Elizabeti Mpanga.
39. Memorial Service program.
40. Shipula and Ludoke interview.
41. Shipula and Ludoke interview.
John Silas, interview by author, Shigala, Magu, Tanzania, April 17, 2012.
John Silas, telephone conversation with the author, June 25, 2012.
Raheli Yohana, Helena Yohana, Susana Amri, Joyce Luka, Zebedayo Luka, Elizabeti Mpanga (members of Yohana's family), editorial comments on draft of this biography, Shigala, Magu, Tanzania, August 10, 2012.
John Silas, conversation with author, Bulima, Magu, Tanzania, August 6, 2012.
Silas Shipula and James Ludoke, interview by author, Shigala, Magu, Tanzania, April 17, 2012.
Tom Mosoba, "Tanzania: Untold Story of Loliondo Mystery" in The Citizen (Dar es Salaam) March 13, 2011 http://allafrica.com/stories/201103130007.html (accessed June 26, 2012).
Yohana Zebedayo's family, "funeral document" (Memorial and burial Service program) dated April 4, 2011.
This biography, received in 2012, was researched and written by Abram Kidd, PhD candidate at Africa International University (AIU), Nairobi, Kenya.