The Rev. Geoffrey Monjesa had been so close to retiring.
After nearly 30 years working as development officer for the diocese of Masasi in southern Tanzania, Monjesa was winding down a five-year nutrition and food security project in partnership with the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF), and contemplating stepping back from his position to spend more time with his family.
But when PWRDF received word that the Canadian government had agreed to help fund All Mothers and Children Count (AMCC)—a five-year $17.69 million project to improve maternal, newborn and child health across East Africa—and that $5 million had been committed to Tanzania, he put his plans on hold. (PWRDF is the relief and development agency of the Anglican Church of Canada.)
“The Anglican church, diocese of Masasi, has played a big role in community education, particularly in identifying various problems which they are facing…in terms of health, but also…in terms of income generation,” he said. The opportunity to continue educating his fellow Tanzanians was too important to pass up, he added.
Monjesa was born and raised in southern Tanzania. He attended school in Masasi and then in nearby Ruvuma, before heading to the capital, Dodoma, for university.
He started doing development work in Masasi in 1986, and took some time off in 2001 to study international development at the Coady International Institute at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S.
Monjesa spent most of his career employed by the diocese of Masasi as a layperson. But in 2012, he was ordained a deacon at Montreal’s Christ Church Cathedral, and priested in Masasi the following year.
“The bishops and the priests in our diocese thought that if I did not become a priest, it would be easier for me to quit the job and go to work for other places,” he joked. “So they decided to hold onto me!”
In part, it is because Monjesa has built up a deep knowledge of the development situation, and an extensive web of contacts and relationships.
The extent to which he is recognized across the region was in plain view when he traveled with a PWRDF delegation May 13-20.
Whether visiting a clinic in rural Masasi, or walking through the airport in the city of Mtwara, it was common to see him pulled into conversations by passersby who recognized him, and even more common for those conversations to end with Monjesa eliciting laughter with his quick-fire Swahili and wry humour.
But while Monjesa enjoys his work as a priest and as a development officer, it is not without its challenges.
“Sometimes when you are so exhausted—especially for me, coming from my office, going back home, eventually you are told there is a sick person there who needs service. You have to go! You cannot say, ‘No, no, no, I am tired,’ ” he said.
It will be four more years until the AMCC program wraps up, and Monjesa can get some rest.
In the meantime, he is working to ensure a new generation of development workers will be ready to shoulder the task. He is currently training a young priest named Linus Buriani, a project manager for AMCC, to be his replacement.
Still, he knows that being a priest is a calling, not a job; even when he steps back, he anticipates more work ahead.
“As a priest…it won’t be possible for me to say that I have decided to retire, and I cannot continue working,” he acknowledges with a chuckle.
“As clergy, it means that if people say that ‘No, we still need your service,’ you have to continue helping them.”