When the Rev. Steve Klemz was a pastor in St. Paul, Minn., his congregation learned about building classrooms in Africa through a church event called "Mud Sunday."
A local charity, Operation Bootstrap Africa, would come into the church and help the congregation understand what was involved by getting kids stomping through mud, putting clay and cement into molds."That's what it would be like to build a classroom in Tanzania," they were told.
And every year, Operation Bootstrap Africa asked the Rev. Klemz if he wanted to take a walk in their behalf. But he had too many other obligations and always said that "someday" he would.
Someday will arrive July 24 when Klemz, now pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Salt Lake, flies from Minneapolis to Africa to visit churches, villages and classrooms. And July 30, he and four other people, including a woman from Utah, Kari Shilling, will begin a 211 mile walk across the Rift Valley to raise money to build more classrooms in Tanzania, Af-ri-ca.
The money comes in the form of pledges for each mile Klemz walks.
The walk across the Rift Valley, slated to take eight days, has special meaning for Klemz. He went to Africa in 1991. In Tanzania, he visited some of the classrooms, built by funds from other walkers. He saw a very special hospital, built in similar fashion, in Arusha. And he learned a little Swahili.
He calls the things he saw then "a marvelous posture toward doing missionary work."
The medical missionary there, Mark Jacobsen, would talk about going into a village to ask women whether they wanted their children to stop having the diarrhea that was killing them. He would tell them that they needed to bathe their children every other day and give them more water to drink.
It didn't take the missionary long to see that was the wrong approach, Klemz said. "That's imposing more on the women who do everything and the men who let them. They would have to walk another mile or two to carry more water back for their children, and Mark realized that wasn't working. He had to change their way of thinking about it by asking why they didn't have their own water. It was a challenge. Then he showed them how to build wells."
Klemz hopes to raise money for construction of three classrooms.
But while he's looking forward to the trip, he admits he's a little nervous.
"I believe one of the walkers will be a guide who has a sidearm. I didn't realize we would actually be walking through game. By the descriptions, (previous) hikers have seen hyenas outside their tents at night. One time, I think 1988, there were lions on both sides of the walkers. And, of course, I will see zebra, Thompson gazelles and giraffes."
According to the brochure outlining the walk, he'll also see tsetse flies and less adorable creatures. Some of the names, translated into English, paint a picture of the journey: "Poison." "Nothing but Dust." "One Tree."
While his purpose is to build classrooms, Klemz looks forward to a "time of spiritual renewal, as well. My experiences in Africa, walking in the Rift Valley over land much the same as was there since creation, will be an awesome and humbling experience. As a walker in Tanzania, you become very vulnerable and have to understand the meaning of hospitality. You become a toddler, if you will.
"To communicate, you talk slowly, like an infant. Water is an ever-present concern because it's scarce. So I will need to be open to hospitality and need to depend upon it. That puts you in a posture where it opens you up for spiritual renewal."