Simeon Dea Otieno, a Luo, was born in 1915 at Moku in the Tarime District, Tanzania. He was a major leader of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Tanzania in the period during and after independence.
Otieno was baptized in 1932 and attended Ikizu Teacher Training School from 1932 to 1936. He taught and worked as an evangelist at Kibumaye Mission until 1937 and then served as a teacher at Ikizu Central School until 1947. From 1948 to 1949, Otieno attended the denominational evangelists’ course at Bugema College, Uganda and was one of the first two Tanzanians to be trained in the first course offered there–a course to train pastors but with a strong focus on personal and public evangelism. The following year he returned to Ikizu, this time as a pastor, and from 1951 to 1956 he worked as a pastor in Utegi District, an area where the Luo live.
When Otieno was appointed director of the Majita Mission in 1957–the first African to serve in such a capacity in the Tanzanian Seventh-day Adventist Church. He continued in this position until 1962 when he became the president of the Majita-Ukerewe Field, an organization with a larger degree of autonomous administration established in 1960. In 1963 he participated in a leadership course organized by his denomination at Solusi College, Zimbabwe, and from 1964-1968 he served as the president of the East Nyanza Field which included North Mara, his home area. After this he was called to be the first African administrative secretary of Tanzania Union, a position which included, most importantly, the responsibility of maintaining good relations with the government at a time when whites were still denominational leaders in Tanzania even though the government favored nationals. Otieno retired in 1975 in his native Shirati area near Lake Victoria and continued to serve the local church there.
Otieno, often called “Pastor Dea,” was a typical figure in the transition from the Christianity brought by Adventist missionaries to an indigenous Tanzanian kind of Adventism in several respects. First of all, as the first African in a leading Union office, he embodied the change of Tanzanian Adventist church leadership that took place in the two post-independence decades. Secondly, in his function as the Union administrative secretary, he skillfully steered a course between the European missionaries, the Tanzanian church, and a nationalist government. Thirdly, this did not mean, however, that Otieno was ready to sacrifice principles through diplomacy. In fact, with a few other Tanzanian pastors, he had been one of the foremost proponents of complete abstinence from political matters for members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church even before independence. In spite of being threatened by uhuru (“freedom”) enthusiasts, he took a firm stand especially against participation in political rallies on Saturdays, the Sabbath which Adventists celebrate. Finally, Otieno was in no way dependent on European judgment. As the first African mission director at Majita, he had initially been informed that he could not live in the house that the former South African director had used. When he decided to ask for a transfer to another area, he was finally allowed to move in.
Simeon Dea Otieno thus represents a fully loyal Tanzanian church employee who still insisted on the equality of African and European workers. He belongs to the first generation of Tanzanian Adventist leaders who served on a national level and, at the same time, never lost close contact with the common church folks.
Elineema, K. B. Historia ya Kanisa la Waadventista Wasabato Tanzania, 1903-1993. Dar es Salaam: By the Author, 1993.
Höschele, Stefan. “Christian Remnant - African Folk Church: The History of Seventh-day Adventism in Tanzania, 1903-1980.” Ph.D. diss., University of Malawi, 2005, sections 3.3.2
Otieno, Simon Dea. Interview by Joseph Sorrongai, Shirati, December 13, 2000.
——– “Preaching Truth in Roman Catholic Church Building” in Afro-Mideast Division Impact, Vol. 5/9 (September 1975), p. 6.
Seventh-Day Adventist Church 1909-1979, Mara Field. Kendu Bay: Africa Herald, 1979.
This story, sent to us in 2005 by Dr. Hudson E. Kibuuka, DACB liaison coordinator for the SDA East Africa Division, was written by Dr. Stefan Höschele, of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, a lecturer in Systematic Theology at Friedensau University, Friedensau, Germany (email: [email protected]; Web: www.stefan-hoeschele.de or www.thh-friedensau.de).