Church renders aid to sister synod in Africa

Also: New pastor seeks to reconnect the faithful at home

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published February 16, 2011

 Members of Prince of Glory’s sister church in Mbulu, Tanzania, gather before their place of worship.

Members of Prince of Glory’s sister church in Mbulu, Tanzania, gather before their place of worship.

Photo provided by Helen Soehren


MADISON HEIGHTS — Far away in East Africa, on the shores of the Indian Ocean, is the nation of Tanzania, wherein lies the district of Mbulu.

Here the landscape is harsh, the hardships many. Located just south of the equator, Tanzania alternates between a dry season with periodic droughts and food shortages, and a rainy season in which deforestation causes flooding.

The land is infertile, clean water is scarce and malaria runs rampant — once someone catches the disease, flare-ups are recurrent and disabling. Elements aside, Muslims and Christians clash in areas such as the capital city of Dar Es Salaam, yet Mbulu itself remains peaceful.

It’s in this tranquil but tough corner of Africa that there are a number of evangelical Lutheran churches, one of which is paired with Prince of Glory Lutheran Church half a world away in America.

Prince of Glory, located at the corner of Madison Heights, Royal Oak, Clawson and Troy, has helped its sister synod for years, fundraising on their behalf. Recent examples include a chili cook-off, a baked goods auction and a coffeehouse concert.

They’ve backed such projects as digging wells and building two kindergarten buildings and a new church. Last year, Pastor Lazaro Rohho, head of the Mbulu church, bought a motorbike with donated funds, so he no longer has to walk hours to help remote areas.

And in 2003, Prince of Glory filled two shipment containers, each the size of a semi-truck trailer, with school supplies, sewing machines, a computer, even guitars and amplifiers powered by car batteries.

Through it all, the two churches have corresponded by e-mail, bridging the distance with the click of a mouse.

“The people of Mbulu are an inspiration to us because of their hard work, positive attitude and deep faith despite facing many challenges,” said parishioner Theresa Erickson, 54, of Royal Oak. “As we learn more about them and their lives, we gain a new perspective on what is really important in life. So much of what we complain about is minor by comparison.”

Prince of Glory’s 2011 goal is to provide scholarships to allow Mbulu parents to learn vocational skills and to send their children to secondary school. A single student’s tuition costs only $400. Tanzania is one of the world’s poorest countries, so the hope is education can make a difference.

But Prince of Glory doesn’t just want to make a difference abroad. Their new pastor, Robert Keith Hegdal of Redford — known to his congregation as “Bicycle Bob” — skipped unpacking his office his first day, MLK Day, and instead got members of his church involved in the Kids Against Hunger drive at Groves High School.

“I thought this would be a great way to start my ministry with the people of Prince of Glory,” Hegdal said. “I can unpack my office anytime.”

The 42-year-old pastor has a colorful background, having been a funeral director in Jacksonville, Fla., from 1994-97, and stunning crowds as a two-time Georgia state champion weightlifter before that, placing third in the U.S. super heavyweight novice division in 1994. His peak bench press was a whopping 540 pounds.

“In the funeral business, I learned to walk with people in their darkest hours,” Hegdal said, “and weightlifting enabled me to get into conversations with people in a new and different way, when they realize the large, bald, goateed man with tattoos is not only a person of faith, but a pastor who is ready to journey with anyone on a pathway of understanding how God is active and alive in the world.”

Looking to connect with people in new ways, Hegdal promotes such programs as Solomon’s Porch and Theology on Tap, which invite smaller groups to take topics in the news and discern how God is calling people to act. Issues include whether everyone deserves forgiveness, with NFL quarterback Michael Vick and his animal abuses a starting point for discussion. The church also screens films, such as “Super Size Me,” “Sicko” and “An Inconvenient Truth,” with talks to follow.

But even as the church broadens its offerings at home, it continues to try and help those overseas.

“The goal of the companion synod partnership is to promote greater appreciation of other cultures, and of their understanding of God and faith,” said parishioner Helen Soehren, 57, of Troy. “They may be in Africa and we may be in North America, but we have the same God and are called to figure out and accomplish what God wants us to do in life. We each can offer prayers, support and encouragement, which help both Tanzanians and Americans as we face different challenges in our day-to-day lives.”

Anyone wishing to help support the education of Mbulu families can send checks made out to Prince of Glory Lutheran Church, 1357 W. 14 Mile Road, Madison Heights, MI 48071, or donate at upcoming services and activities. For more information, call the church office at (248) 588-4652.