Local woman makes Tanzania her mission

May 7, 2008

By Jim Feehan

Tanzania may be a world away, but it is close to Diane Lewis’ heart.

The former newspaper reporter and 35-year resident of Newcastle has visited the African nation three times since 2005 and hopes to return to Tanzania in the next couple of years.
“Africa has changed the way I look at the world. It makes me ponder what is really important,” she said. “The Tanzanians – and especially the Maasai, with whom I have visited – value visitors as friends and family. I visit Tanzania and will continue to do so, because I want to make a difference in the lives of people I have come to love.”
Africa is a land of exotic birds, animals, breathtaking sunsets and many different people (121 tribes in Tanzania alone).
Lewis’ last visit was in November, a church mission trip representing Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Renton and Trinity Lutheran College in Issaquah. The retired manager of the college’s bookstore made the trip with Linda Graber, a former nurse at the college.
While at Trinity, Lewis befriended Jacob Mameo, a student from Tanzania. Last fall, she attended the consecration of Mameo as bishop of the Morogoro diocese of the Lutheran Church of Tanzania.
“Mameo calls us his mamas, a sign of respect among his people, the Maasai, and among his fellow Africans,” Lewis said. “When he was a student at Trinity, we became family, and he spent holidays and weekends at our homes.”
Mameo was elected to an eight-year term. The Lutheran Church in Tanzania is divided into 20 dioceses; the Morogoro diocese is one of the newest and largest. About 3,000 people attended the consecration, including then-Prime Minister Edward Lowassa.

Lewis said Mameo has a National Geographic look about him.

“He is a strikingly tall Maasai elder with elongated ear lobes, missing a lower tooth to signify he had killed a lion as a teenager while guarding his father’s herd,” she said.

Mameo and other African students at Trinity visited Lewis’ church several times in the three years he was in the United States. Lord of Life Church established a partnership with Mameo’s home village of Kambala, building a kindergarten and parsonage there, as well as buying textbooks for the secondary schools and needed medical supplies. The church also paid for a well in a nearby Maasai community, Lewis said.

“All people throughout our world deserve clean water, education and health care,” she said. “Our mission teams worked side by side with the Tanzanians in these three fields.

“We also share our Christian faith with them, and them with us. We work side by side and in teams with our African brothers and sisters, and we equip them to change their own lives by using the skills we teach.”
During the remainder of her visit, Lewis spent four days in the bush with a Lutheran missionary who has spent 42 years working mostly with Maasai groups. Lewis said she was greeted with love and curiosity.

“Because I’m from Seattle, they think I know Bill Gates,” she said. “The most respected man in Tanzania is Bill Gates.”

She also learned about Belgian researchers who use African giant pouched rats, trained to detect landmines and tuberculosis. They detect the disease by sniffing people’s saliva in lab settings.

“What’s amazing is that I hate rats,” Lewis said. “But in this case, I can see them as good guys.”

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