Rev. Sheila Holmes said that attending the Theological Education in Africa (TEA) Conference 2017 reminded her once again of her connection, as an African American woman, to her “African brothers and sisters of heritage and blood.”
Sponsored by Resonate Global Mission in conjunction with various partners, this year’s conference drew more than 550 participants from 17 countries, including the United States, where Holmes is pastor of Northside Community Church in Paterson, N.J.
The TEA conference has run almost annually since 2008. The theme for this year’s gathering, which took place Aug. 14-18 in Arusha, Tanzania, was “Church, Worship, Community Development, and Theological Education in Africa.” It included workshop leaders from across the globe on topics such as city transformation movements, prayer life, and revival.
“This was a very successful conference attended by participants from more than 50 denominations, more than 150 churches, and more than 30 theological institutions,” said Rev. Mwaya Wa Kitavi, event chair of the event who also serves as director of Africa Ministries in Eastern and Southern Africa for Resonate Global Mission.
“One the highlights of the conference was the presence of four African American brothers and sisters who were some of the facilitators, and for some of whom this was their first trip to Africa,” said Kitavi.
“Indeed some cried, saying, ‘finally I am back home.’ Some even brought soil from Africa back to the United States home with them. It was an emotional homecoming for the them, and they contributed immensely to the TEA Conference.”
This was true for Holmes, who was attending the TEA conference for the second time and led a workshop on trauma and how God works in the midst of traumatic experiences.
“I feel so connected with the people in Africa, and that it is very hard to explain,” said Holmes. “It is like we have commonality that goes deep culturally as well as spiritually.”
Particularly impressive and moving, she said, was being able to worship with “brothers and sisters of African descent who truly know how to worship God in ways that goes deeper than just singing a song.”
“The emotions and grateful expression of God's goodness and grace exceed how well a person can sing to how well a person has a close relationship with God,” said Holmes..
Michelle Loyd Paige, dean of diversity and inclusion at Calvin College and associate pastor at Angel Community Church in Muskegon, Mich., agreed. Loyd Paige has been to Africa before, but this was her first time in East Africa.
During the conference, she led participants with praise and liturgical dance three times a day for five days. Since she helps lead liturgical dance at her church, dancing at the conference was not a scary proposition.
“In fact, I felt grateful for an opportunity to share my gifts with so many people,” she said.
She found the daily devotions to be inspiring and the African music and dance woven throughout the conference to be energizing.
Also, she said, “the faith of the attendees was infectious. The physical location led me to wonder if this was what Eden looked and felt like – the lush foliage and monkeys playing in the trees outside my door fueled these thoughts.”
Then, said Loyd Paige, there was one moment that was unexpected and deeply moving — when Kitavi called her and the three other African Americans to the stage.
He invited them up there, she said, to “welcome us home” — and when he did that, she said, the people cheered, and tears filled her eyes.
“Many, many years ago my ancestors were stolen from the continent of Africa, not knowing if they would ever return,” said Loyd Paige. “They were enslaved in the U.S., and they wondered if they would be able to survive. Standing on the stage, I was able to bring them back home.”
Rev. Stafford Miller, senior pastor with a United Methodist Church in Berlin, N.J., attended the TEA conference and led a workshop on “Prayer Life, a Praying Church, and a Praying Community.”
“I wish to say that in our local churches, when we gather on Sunday and we are sent forth to be witnesses of the kingdom, I always ask the church a question, ‘Is God pleased with the worship service?’”
So he asked similar questions about his experience in Africa: Was God pleased with the TEA conference? Was God pleased with the worship? Was God pleased with the teaching? Was God pleased with the fellowship? Was God pleased with those who were sent forth to be transforming agents of the kingdom?
And he concluded: “A wholehearted Amen — and praise God!”
In the end, he said, “I would state that it was fruitful; it was a blessing; it was transformative and prophetic. But, above all, it reached the spirits and minds of those who attended.”
Rev. Jeff Hough, senior pastor of Angel Community Church, a CRC/RCA church plant in Muskegon, also attended the conference. He was a TEA revival speaker, and after the conference he spent four days in Kenya leading an evangelistic revival meeting.