Kisanji, Teofilo Hiobo
Teofilo Hiobo Kisanji was born on December 26, 1915 at Chadodwa village, Kitunda/Sikonge district in Tanzania into the Nyamwezi tribe. He studied at a bush school or primary school administered by his father, an evangelist in the Moravian Church. Later he went to Sikonge Teacher’s College, both in Sikonge and when it later moved to Usoke. Then he taught school from 1933 to 1938. He married Perpetua.
From 1938 to 1949 he taught at the Teacher’s Training School when it was located in Usoke and when it eventually moved to Rungwe and Kina Mpanda. In 1946 he received the second grade teachers’ certificate. In 1949, Kisanji got a call to serve the church as a pastor and was ordained in 1950. Then he went to Europe to study theology at London Bible College in Manchester, England. He also studied at Fairfield Moravian Theological Seminary in Zeist, Netherlands. After his studies, he returned to Tabora, Tanzania and worked as a parish pastor.
In 1962 the synod elected Kisanji superintendent of the Moravian Church in Western Tanzania–the first African to hold that position. In 1965 he was the first African to be elected bishop of the Moravian Church in Tanzania. He was consecrated bishop on November 27, 1966 at Tabora by Bishop Foy Ibsen of the Danish Moravian Church assisted by Bishop John Madinda of the Anglican Church, Diocese of Central Tanganyika, and Bishop Josiah Kibira of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania, Northwestern Tanzania (then Tanganyika).
As bishop of the Unitas Fratrum (Unity of the Brethren–another name for the Moravian Church) Kisanji had a responsibility to work beyond the geographical confines of his province of Western Tanzania. Therefore he also served the Moravian Church in Southern Tanzania and in Southwest Tanzania until Anosisye Jongo became bishop of Southern Tanzania in 1979 and Yohana Wavenza became bishop of Southwest Tanzania in 1982.
Kisanji was very wise in confronting his personal problems as well as church conflicts and controversies. He solved them calmly, very cautiously, and courageously. Nevertheless some said that he was complicated, that is, it was not easy to influence him to go against something he thought was right. On the other hand, he was very influential, very popular, and very friendly towards pastors, Christians, and non-Christians.
In addition to being strict, he was a good administrator and many of those who worked with him said he sought to establish order. He followed the church constitution scrupulously and made sure that pastors, congregations, and laymen did the same. Many pastors feared him on the one hand but liked him on the other.
As Kisanji was a revivalist and a good ecumenist, he won many friends even beyond the confines of the Moravian Church. He was active in Christian Council of Tanzania (CCT) meetings and contributed much to the wellbeing of the CCT. He was one of three individuals who led the CCT in the late 1960s and the 1970s. The other two were Bishop Stephano Moshi of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania, Northern Diocese, and Bishop John Sepeku of the Anglican Church of Tanzania, Eastern and Coastal Diocese.
In remembrance of their good work, the CCT decided to name their Women’s Training Centre at Morogoro after Bishop Teofilo Kisanji, their Development Training Centre at Dodoma after Bishop Stephano Moshi, and the CCT headquarters building at Dodoma after Bishop John Sepeku.
As the Moravian Church in Western Tanzania was a member of the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC), Kisanji participated in several meetings of the AACC.
From the 1940s to the 1960s, most Moravian church pastors in Tanzania were trained at St. Philip’s Theological College which belonged to the Anglican Church and a few were trained at Makumira Lutheran Theological College, Tanzania. In 1968, Teofilo Kisanji and Anosisye Jongo, as leaders of the two provinces of the Moravian Church in Tanzania, decided to start an institution named the Moravian Church Theological College at Chunya and asked for funds from Europe for the undertaking. When the mission boards rejected their request, both Kisanji and Jongo decided to open the college anyway. They resolved that students would be taught a simpler lifestyle, for example eating food from their areas like viazi vitamu (sweet potatoes), ndizi (bananas), ugali (maize stiff porridge), and maharage (beans)–food that could be contributed by congregations. So they opened the Moravian Theological College at Chunya in 1969 which initially offered a General Certificate in theology.
Although the European mission boards at first showed no interest in supporting the college, later they decided that the Moravian Church in Tanzania should administer the institution and support it financially. The college was moved to Mbeya City in 1978 and offered a bachelor of divinity degree starting in 1996. When the college became a university in 2005, it was initially called Bishop Kisanji University to honor him for his role in founding the college with Jongo and for his remarkable contribution to the Moravian Church in Tanzania, in particular, to the province of Western Tanzania. Later that same year the name was changed to Teofilo Kisanji University so that it could be open to the wider public, regardless of religion. At this time (2007), the university has a faculty of theology and a faculty of education, which currently offers courses in Swahili, English, and French.
Teofilo Kisanji and his wife Perpetua had fifteen children, twelve of whom survived beyond infancy. When asked how he came to have so many children, he answered that to use birth control in marital relations was sin.
When he was about to depart from this world, he visited many congregations in the Moravian Church in Western Tanzania. He also led gospel rallies at Tabora and other places. He was a good preacher and enjoyed preaching.
On several occasion he visited the Moravian Church in Southwest Tanzania in order to seek a reconciliation between Southwest Province and the Mbeya Town Congregation and Hitson Mwamlima who had seceded from the Moravian church with his parish after being dismissed from his position as pastor for insubordination. With the help of other Moravian church leaders in Tanzania and beyond, Kisanji tried to reconcile the two parties but in vain. Kisanji was humble and patient in these matters but he did not succeed in bringing about a reconciliation.
He left Mbeya in October 1981 and went back to Tabora. Three months later his health started to deteriorate and he was hospitalized at Sikonge Moravian Church Hospital. While there, he liked to sing songs from Tenzi za Rohoni (Spiritual Songs Hymn book), in particular no. 23 “Nionapo amani kama shwari” (“When I feel peace and tranquility”). He also told those who came to see him not to be bothered with worldly things but instead to work hard in their faith. He also said, “Mimi naenda Mbinguni. Sina hofu na mwili huu ila kwenda mbinguni” (“I am going to heaven. I am not worried about this body but only about going to heaven”). Sometimes he said, “Nalionea huruma kanisa” (“I feel sympathy for the church”).
Before he left for KCMC (Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre) Referral Hospital, Tanzania, he took Holy Communion. From Tabora he was flown to KCMC where he died on April 15, 1982. His body was flown to Tabora where he was buried on April 19, 1982.
Kisanji worked tirelessly until his health weakened. He was generous, kind, transparent in expression and practice. One could say he was both a conservative and a liberal in his views. He wrote two books in Swahili which were both printed at Kipalapala T.M.P. Printing Press, Tabora, Tanzania. These are: Historia ya Kanisa la Moravian Magharibi ya Tanzania (History of the Moravian Church in Western Tanzania) and Mila na Desturi za Kanisa la Moravian (Customs and Beliefs of the Moravian Church).
Angolwisye Isakwisa Malambugi
Author’s Note: I first met Kisanji in 1972 when he visited Makumira Theological College (now Tumaini University) where I was a student. He ordained me as a pastor on November 27, 1976, at Chunya congregation. In 1978 he sometimes visited and preached at Mbeya congregation where I was pastor. In 1981 he visited Utengule Bible College, where I was principal, to speak at the pastors’ seminar.
Christian T. Kisanji, his son, 65 years old, interviewed by Edith Kisanji (his daughter) on February 8, 2007.
Isaack Nicodem, bishop of the Moravian Church in Tanzania, Western Province, interviewed by the author on November 19, 2006 at Teofilo Kisanji University, Tanzania.
Jackson Kasalama, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Administration and Finance at Teofilo Kisanji University, 58 years old, interviewed by the author on November 15, 2006 at Teofilo Kisanji University.
Edith Kisanji, his granddaughter, 38 years old, interviewed by the author, on October 19, 2006 at Azania Front Lutheran Church, Dar es Salaam.
Mrs. M. Asalile, 59 years old, interviewed by the author on December 14, 2006 at Teofilo Kisanji University.
J. Taylor Hamilton and Kenneth G. Hamilton, *History of the Moravian Church, The Renewed Unitas Fratrum, 1722-1957 *(Bethlehem, PA., USA: Interprovincial Board of Christian Education, Moravian Church in America, 1967).
Angetile Y. Musomba, Historia ya Kanisa la Moravian Kusini Tanzania 1891-1976 (Dar es Salaam: Dar es Salaam University Press, 1990).
This article, received in 2007, was researched and written by Rev. Angolowisye Isakwisa Malambugi, former chairman of the Moravian Church in Tanzania, Southwest Province, lecturer at Teofilo Kisanji University (formerly Moravian Theological College) in Mbeya from July 1995 to December 2006, and part-time lecturer at Open University of Tanzania from 1999 to the present. He was also Project Luke fellow in Spring 2007.