Lanesboro youth Matthew Kiehne served a mission in eastern Tanzania from July 1 to July 16. He went with mission leaders and other youth in conjunction with the Southeastern Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Good Earth Village Bible Camp and the Minnesota Youth Servant Leader Institute. He is shown here with Tanzanian youth at a Sunday worship service.   SUBMITTED PHOTO
Lanesboro youth Matthew Kiehne served a mission in eastern Tanzania from July 1 to July 16. He went with mission leaders and other youth in conjunction with the Southeastern Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Good Earth Village Bible Camp and the Minnesota Youth Servant Leader Institute. He is shown here with Tanzanian youth at a Sunday worship service. SUBMITTED PHOTO
"I wanted to go right away," Matthew Kiehne explained, sharing how he felt called to serve a mission in eastern Tanzania for two weeks, July 1 through July 16.

Matthew, 17, lives with his parents and older sister in Lanesboro, where he also attends Bethlehem Lutheran Church. It was at church that he found out about an opportunity which would end up, in his own words, changing his life.

Matthew's mom, Julie, had conducted collegiate research on educational systems in Tanzania in 1987. Her familiarity with the people and culture of the area was an immediate resource for Matthew once he noticed a posting in his church in December of 2012.

"She said, 'This will probably change your life'," Matthew remarked. Having never served a mission abroad, Matthew was familiar with helping people out and spreading messages about Jesus Christ; he had served in cities throughout Minnesota and the nation. This time, it was about helping people he wasn't familiar with.

"I wanted to go see how people from different countries interacted," he explained.

Preparing to serve began in February after he signed up, "at the last moment." The mission was organized through the Minnesota Youth Servant Leader Institute in cooperation with the Southeastern Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

Ministry trainings were held at the Good Earth Village Bible Camp near Spring Valley throughout the following months. Matthew brought many years of experience in outdoor ministry to the group, as he had visited the camp every year since he was five.

There were seven other group members and four adults who would be making the trip. They developed ministry activities, which included learning songs, Bible story skits, games, and crafts. They were also taught some basic Swahili which went along with the activities. Fundraising ideas were shared to help those who needed to get enough money together. Overall, the group grew closer together.

Matthew said he realized he didn't know everyone that well when the departure day came. "I was a little nervous to meet new people," he said. Soon, however, that worry was alleviated.

There was rarely a question in Matthew's mind as to whether he would follow through and go to Tanzania. "I started second guessing when I realized how many shots I had to take," he joked.

The physical preparation was complete after receiving six shots and Matthew said he spent more time praying every night in order to spiritually prepare.

It helped their group, he said, to know a similar group of leaders were preparing to receive them in Tanzania.

Financially, Matthew was helped out by many people from his church. "The people who supported me are amazing," he said, sharing that he ended up raising the exact amount he needed. Matthew said he feels like money shouldn't get in the way of wanting to serve a mission. "Go for it. If you don't have enough money, you'll find a way."

Following a send off by Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Matthew headed to the airport, nervous, but also excited. He knew he wouldn't be able to contact his family for two weeks. He knew he might get sick. He knew he would always need water and have to sleep under bug nets. But there was a lot he didn't know and that's why he wanted to go.

"I was awestruck," he recalled from the moment their plane touched down in Tanzania. In the distance was Mount Kilimanjaro and all around were shrubs, cacti and flat land.

Upon arriving, the group spent the first night and following day recovering from the severe jet lag. "It hit me like a tank," explained Matthew. The group visited the Tarangire National Park for a safari expedition on their recovery day. Then they got to work.

After meeting with the Tanzanian group leaders and playing a name game, both groups started a seven-day camp where they combined everything they had prepared into a ministry they could then take to other people. Communication improved during the camp and was helped by the Tanzanian's knowing, according to Matthew, fluent English.

"We had a timeline and we weren't lazy, but we also weren't pressured into a timetable," Matthew said, noting a difference between Tanzanian and American cultures. "Here in America, you are always doing something," he added.

It was during that camp when Matthew got sick, the worst he had ever been in his life, he said. For three full days, he was in bed, rarely fully waking.

"I don't remember the second day at all," he said.

He wasn't the only one. Around half of their group got sick, but none as bad as Matthew. He lost 18 pounds. They do not know what caused so many people to get sick, but suspected there was something wrong with the food they ate. "You have to accept that you might get sick," explained Matthew on one of the risks people take when they serve in remote locations.

After he recovered, Matthew rejoined the ministerial preparations, which the group then took on the road to different villages every day. The pattern for the next week was travel in the evenings and mornings and ministering to people in the afternoon.

Usually, they would hold activities following school. First, the group would hold a greeting worship service with songs and dancing. Then, they would break off into groups all the children and young adults. Each group would go through a different activity, whether that was learning a song, a game, a skit from the Bible, or other activity.

Matthew helped his groups go on miniature nature walks, where each person would get a magnifying glass and only get a small area to explore. The point was, Matthew explained, was to find joy in God's creation right where you are. Each activity had a spiritual message.

Many of the activities provided opportunity to teach people how to improve their lives. Matthew explained how to be more environmentally friendly by picking up litter through his mini-nature walk lesson. At the end, everyone would gather again for a closing worship service.

Most of the people Matt taught were Christian; however, the way they lived their religion was different. "Their church services are very different from ours. They stay at church all day," he remarked. "Christianity is strong there and an important part of their lives."

He noted that some people would walk 10 miles on Sunday to get to church. Many of those people need to work every day in order to survive, yet as Matthew was amazed, they chose to dedicate Sunday to God.

"They could have gotten more done, but they chose to go to church," he said.

For those who weren't Christian, Matthew said their group activities shared with those people how believing in Christ had changed their lives.

Matthew felt like his faith was strengthened just by witnessing faith growing among the Tanzanians. "You could tell on their faces that they looked at things differently. I had a guy come up to me and thank me," he said.

Communicating with the Tanzanians was difficult at times, since the Americans only knew a little Swahili and the Tanzanian's English dialect was hard to understand. Translators helped, but many understood what was going on by the actions of the missionaries.

Matthew said their group gave away their matching T-shirts at the end of the week to people who were very grateful for the gift. That gratitude for what little they had made an impression on Matthew and was something he said he has carried with him since returning.

"Everybody asked how it went. I finally started answering everyone the same, 'You have to go there to experience it yourself,'" he stated.

After two weeks of traveling, ministering and adapting to the African environment, Matthew was home before he knew it. He said he was sort of relieved and happy, but also sad that he wasn't among the Tanzanians any more.

"You get to know them so well, so when you have to leave, you want to bring them with you."

Of course, the finer things in life are nice. "The chocolate milkshake I had when I got back was the best one I ever had," he laughed.

Ever since he returned, Matthew has become more conscientious of what he normally takes for granted. Drinking a glass of water with ease in America causes him to think about how difficult it was to acquire clean water in Tanzania.

"You had to get a bucket full, put it through a filter, and then boil it," he explained.

Matthew, a junior at Lanesboro High School, is also looking forward to heading back to school. "We are incredibly lucky. They don't have enough teachers there," he said.

School tuition was eliminated in 2002, which caused many young adults to go back to primary school to receive the education they never had.

Matthew has also found greater appreciation for transportation, books and food. As an employee at Preston Foods, he said he is constantly reminded of the abundance in America and the shortage in Tanzania.

Matthew is hoping to remember his trip to east Africa long into the future. Even though he got sick, was dehydrated, ate rice and noodles for every meal, and didn't shower for two weeks, it was, he said, the "best two weeks of my life."

Matthew will be sharing more of his experiences on Sunday, Aug. 11, at the Bethlehem Lutheran Church's 9 a.m. service.