Coming back as changed people, Shelby and Mike Kroona returned to Webster City on Aug. 13 after traveling to Tanzania on what Mike Kroona called a "mission of accompaniment" on July 22.
The Kroonas, along with two other adult chaperones, went overseas with nine teenage students and two younger students as part of a trip organized over the span of a year by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Going to several areas of the country, the group was mostly based in the Njombe region of Tanzania.
The group attended orientation classes prior to the trip and were taught about the culture they would soon encounter. For instance, Shelby Kroona said the local custom in the country is for women to wear skirts.
From left, Becca Gerdas stands with Pastor Mike Kroona and Shelby Kroona underneath the covenant tree in Tanzania where the Western Iowa Synod and ELCT signed the covenant to walk with each other in Christian commitment.
In Tanzania, the group worked on drilling wells, worked with The Center for Agricultural Development, supported and worked with a regional hospital and orphanage, worked with a girl's school and held a companion congregation service. Mike Kroona, pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Webster City, said the trip allowed him to view his religion in a unique and different light.
"It was an opportunity to experience Christianity in a very different culture and a very different place," Mike Kroona said.
Shelby Kroona, Administrator at Hamilton County Public Health, was also interested in the trip from the angle of her career. However, the culture was a big draw as well.
"It really was a cultural immersion kind of a trip," Shelby Kroona said. "It was a mission trip, but it was also very important for us to learn how the Tanzanians view things and how they want to tackle a problem."
Shelby Kroona continued, saying the people she met didn't want them to fix their problems for them. Rather, they asked how the group could work with them to come to a solution.
The experience was very eye opening for the group. Shelby Kroona said students in primary school in Tanzania may have to walk hours to attend school. Still, Kroona said about 80 percent of those kids won't make it to secondary school.
"Yet, the students were joyful and dedicated," Shelby Kroona said.
The group encountered many new experiences in the country. Mike Kroona said that meals often consisted of the same kinds of food. Rice, curried vegetables, sauteed kale salad and possibly chicken and another meat offering were served. However, that regular meal was not what the average Tanzanian would cook for themselves each day.
"They were feeding us as guests the best. They don't eat meat at every meal," Shelby Kroona said. "In some cases, this was chicken they would use to feed their family."
As guests, the group was treated to the cultural hospitality that Tanzanians offer.
The group worked to help plant trees, including avocado trees, with the Center for Agricultural Development. CAD partners with Iowa State Extension, and will grow and harvest the fruit and vegetables, which also include kohlrabi and cabbage. The hope with expanding access to those vegetables is to expand the dietary options for Tanzanians. Shelby Kroona said even those families with jobs grow their own food in small plots near their homes. The Center is also bringing 4-H to Tanzania, and Shelby Kroona said it has been well received with one school having more than 400 members due to the focus on agriculture and crafts.
Having spent about three weeks in Tanzania, the Kroonas found comfort in returning home to their familiar beds, food and roads. However, they returned with a new perspective of the global community and how important each person is to another.
"From a theological perspective, the whole notion of being the body of Christ and being brothers and sisters with us in the faith and having service with them even though we speak different languages was very special," Mike Kroona said. "It was a humbling experience to have them be so hospitable. They weren't just like that to us, but to everyone."