News Articles

Southern Baptist missionaries to Tanzania seek to evangelize unreached Luguru people

MOROGORO, Tanzania (BP)–When Charles and Carolyn Dixon look out their kitchen window, they don’t simply see the beautiful, rugged Uluguru Mountains; they see their mission field — literally.

The city of Morogoro, located about 120 miles west of Dar es Salaam, is tucked into the foothills of Tanzania’s Uluguru mountain range. Dozens of villages dot the nearby mountains.

The Dixons, who spent most of their lives in Western Kentucky, were appointed as Southern Baptist career missionaries in 1993. They began their work in Morogoro the following year, helping start several churches and preaching points during their first few years of ministry in the city of half a million people.

In recent months, however, they have turned much of their attention toward the Luguru people who populate the mountain villages.

“God began to give us a sense of the people up and down this mountain,” Dixon explained. “You can drive 20 kilometers and there’s not a church, not a mosque, not a secondary school — there’s nothing.

“We have really prayed and tried to know what God would have us do,” he added. “The work is far bigger than we are.”

Mrs. Dixon said villagers on one side of the mountain primarily are Catholic and those on the other side predominantly are Muslim.

She said many of the Luguru people “have continued in their old ways — there’s lots of witchcraft. Sometimes people use money they need for food to buy charms for their kids to protect them from evil or heal them.”

Seeking to respond to the region’s tremendous spiritual needs, Mrs. Dixon said she and her husband “have been through about 30 villages. There are others you can get to only on foot.”

Despite the obvious challenges of the work, it isn’t hard for the Dixons to find ample motivation for their efforts. Among the places they have visited so far, “two villages did not have a Bible,” Mrs. Dixon noted. “There are people who have never heard the name of Jesus; they don’t know who He is.

“If we can start teaching the Bible and get a few strong believers in a few places,” she added, “they can go out” and help multiply the couple’s ministry impact.

Prior to seeking to reach Morogoro with the gospel, the Dixons were a typical rural Western Kentucky family. He worked as an electrician and she ran a busy household filled with the couple’s six children. Both of them became Christians as adults and Dixon soon sensed God calling him into ministry.

“I knew God called me to preach,” he said. “For several years, I was dealing with that part of it.” As for international missions, “there always was that desire there,” he noted.

Dixon eventually got involved in partnership missions in Kenya; earned a bachelor of ministry degree from Clear Creek Baptist Bible College in Pineville; and became pastor of Riverside Baptist Church in Beverly.

As Dixon wrestled with a sense of call to missions, he said, “I kept telling God, ‘I can’t do it; I’m too old.'” But the call “was so real and important to me that I struggled with it until I got to the point of saying to God, ‘I’m willing to go.’ The load was lifted off of me.”

But Dixon’s wife wasn’t ready to pack her bags and head overseas. “I didn’t want to go to Africa,” she recalled. “I thought he was crazy.

“I told people, ‘I’m not going to Africa unless God shows me beyond a shadow of a doubt that He wants me to go to Africa.’ My whole life was my family and we were a close family. I didn’t want to leave them.”

During their final year at Clear Creek, however, “I realized I was called to missions,” Mrs. Dixon said. “Suddenly, inside of me I had a peace about it. There was a feeling of oughtness, of rightness about it.”

When they were appointed by the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, Dixon was 53 years old. “When we got here, I don’t think either one of us knew what to do,” he acknowledged. But they quickly got involved in church planting, theological education by extension and other vital ministry projects.

“We feel like one of the biggest problems here is lack of education,” Dixon said. “We’ve tried to help our pastors get better education to teach their people.”

An outgrowth of that need is Dixon’s dream of starting a Baptist primary school to provide area youngsters with a quality education in a Christian environment.

“I see it as a very, very strong foundational tool,” he said, adding that he hopes it eventually will expand into a secondary school “a few years down for the road.”

For now, he has acquired property for the school and workers almost have completed the exterior walls of the four-room block building. The next major project is adding a roof.

Noting that he is seeking to build the facility with the help of volunteers and special gifts, Dixon declared, “I believe it is God’s will for us to have a school.

“People are going to recognize us as people who care about their personal needs and families. I see it opening doors,” he explained. “When these young people come out of this school, they’re going to take with them the training we have given them. They’re going to have a soft spot for Baptists.”

The Dixons already have requested the IMB to appoint a school administrator and a kindergarten teacher/trainer, with the goal of opening the school by 2002. They also have requested a student worker to serve area high school and college students and an International Service Corps couple to staff a Baptist reading center and teach English as a second language.

Once the school is operational and more missionaries are on the field, Dixon looks forward to focusing the bulk of his energy on church planting among the Luguru and other people groups. In the meantime, he said, “I’m trying to wait on God and see which way He is going to lead.”

After serving six years in Tanzania, Dixon noted, “My biggest blessing is just seeing the hunger the people have for understanding and knowing about God. It just thrills my heart.

“I’ve never doubted that God called me but I ask why,” he added. “I feel like I’m still inadequate. The job is so huge.”

Amid the challenges of life and ministry in Morogoro, Dixon affirmed, “This is where God has called us to work. This is where we want to be working.

“If we don’t ever reach the thousands; if we reach the ones and twos God sent us to reach, I’m thankful. … It’s the pure joy of serving Him.”
Editor’s Note: The Kentucky Baptist Convention currently is involved in a three-year missions partnership with Tanzanian Baptists. The preceding article by Western Recorder editor Trennis Henderson highlights the work Southern Baptist international missionaries serving throughout Tanzania. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.sbcbaptistpress.org. Photo title: PROGRESS UPDATE.

    About the Author

  • Trennis Henderson

    Trennis Henderson is the national correspondent for WMU (Woman’s Missionary Union). A Baptist journalist for more than 35 years, Henderson is a former editor of the Western Recorder of the Kentucky Baptist Convention and the Arkansas Baptist News state convention newsjournal.

    Read All by Trennis Henderson ›