11 February 2013

Tanzania: The Tombstone for Bishop Thomas Laize

Arusha — IT was raining heavily in Arusha as hundreds of people gathered outside the Engarenarok Lutheran Parish to witness the consecration of the new Bishop.

The President of the United Republic of Tanzania was also present, but safely inside the church alongside the hallowed new Church leader.

The head of state by then was Alhaj Ally Hassan Mwinyi of the secondphase government. That was back in 1987, to be precise, Sunday the 4th of January when Bishop Thomas O. Laizer was officially anointed to take lead of what would soon become the 'Dayosisi Mkoani Arusha,' (DMA) which essentially means the Lutheran 'Diocese in Arusha Region.'

In those days, Arusha extended to as far as Simanjiro, Kiteto, Mbulu, Hanang' and Babati because the current Manyara region had not yet been formed. Laizer then goes down the history books as the founder of the Lutheran Diocese in Arusha region, which previously used to be just a Synod within the much larger Northern Diocese.

Bishop Laizer's consecration was a very big event; people braved the rain and ended up being drenched to the skin just to make sure that they savour every moment of it to the last detail. Even though they had to rely on the tiny cone speakers to learn what was taking place inside the church.

As usual police officers were busy trying to prevent people from entering the church under claims that 'Raisi yuko ndani!' (The president is inside). But in 1987 Tanzania had no Television Stations, there was just a single, state-controlled Radio station, a government clutched newspaper, a party owned tabloid and all of these covered the event and people here had nothing else to do on Sunday afternoon except to listen to a Bishop being 'blessed!'

Never mind, but that was 25 years ago and within these two and a half decades a lot has taken place. And when the Bishop died at about 18.00 hours of last Thursday, February 6, 2013, people needed not to gather on the church grounds to be informed about the sad news.

Nowadays people have cellular phones and the news were communicated throughout the country and beyond within just a few minutes, the country also has several Television and Radio Stations, in addition to more newspapers, magazines and online blogs.

More developments have seen the Arusha Lutheran Synod grow into a full-fledged diocese in Arusha Region and later evolving into the Northern and Central Diocese both of which were under the sovereignty of the late Bishop Laizer.

The head of the church himself was a larger-than-life figure, commanding great respect countrywide and beyond borders; a fearless outspoken man and who managed to turn around the Lutheran Diocese here from a small cluster of churches into a giant institution complete with more and better churches, schools, colleges, hospitals, hotels and various community development projects.

The 25 years of Bishop Laizer's tenure were however not without some trials and tribulations; many still recall the scramble for separate 'Meru Diocese,' which resulted to life costing conflicts between 1992 and 1993.

And as the bishop was laying ill on his hospital bed, series of upraising events kept being experienced in a number of Lutheran parishes within Arusha City, hand-in-hand with the controversies surrounding the church-owned, 'Corridor Springs Hotel' and the Peace- House Secondary School which the ELCT had established in a joint-venture with an American firm.

Bishop Thomas Laizer was born on the 10th of March 1945 at Kitumbeine Village of Longido when the latter was still part of Monduli District. He attended Longido Primary School and did his final Class Seven exams in 1965.

He was an alumnus of Arusha Secondary School as well as the Makumira Theological College where he graduated in 1972 before undertaking further religious studies at Warburg Theological College in the United States until 1984.

Under his leadership, the Makumira College developed to become a fullfledged University, while the Ngaramtoni-based, Seliani Lutheran Hospital established to help the Maasai community was handed over to the Arumeru District Council.

Selian later opened a branch in the city centre, formerly known as the Selian Town Clinic which was later developed to become a giant hospital now known as the Arusha Lutheran Medical Centre and it is where Bishop Laizer spent the final days of his life.

Though he was sanctified at the Ngarenaro parish, in 1987, Bishop Laizer will however be buried at the Arusha Lutheran Town Centre's Cathedral 'Mjini Kati,' on Friday, February 15. The 'Mjini-Kati' parish is where the seat of the bishop is currently located, it is also the second oldest church building in the city.

The second phase president, Ali Hassan Mwinyi, saw the sanctification of Bishop Laizer 25 years ago and now the fourth President of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete is expected to bid the Lutheran church leader farewell on Friday. RIP Thomas Laizer.

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