Teaching chemistry in Tanzania

Wed, 13/07/2016 - 21:36 -- Claire

From L-R: Ian, Malcolm, Rita, Clara, Oliver, Elmari


By Claire, Simeon Network Missions Link


I first heard about Malcolm Buchanan, a Scottish-born academic in Natural Product Chemistry, when he was interviewed via Skype at the inaugural Cite conference in 2009. At that time, he had just finished a year at Bible college and was preparing to go to St Andrews Hall for CMS training before going to Tanzania to serve as a CMS-Australia missionary at St John’s University Tanzania (SJUT). SJUT, which opened in 2007 in the capital Dodoma, is run by the Anglican Church of Tanzania.


Three years after that Skype interview, in December 2012, my husband Erik and I visited Malcolm and his family in Dodoma. We observed how the family had worked hard to learn Swahili and were able to share their lives with the local people they came into contact with, including their house workers and gardener. In July this year, Malcolm and his family are finishing their period of service in Tanzania and returning to Australia, so I interviewed him to get his ‘rear view mirror’ perspective on his experience.


For those in the Simeon Network who haven’t met you before, tell us a bit about your background. Where do you come from and who’s in your family?

My country of birth is Scotland, but now I am a dual citizen of UK and Australia. My wife is Elmari (born in South Africa and now a dual citizen of South Africa and Australia) and we have 4 Australian-born children: Clara, Ian, Oliver, and Rita. This year they are 14, 12, 10, and 8 years old respectively.


What’s your academic expertise and experience?

My primary discipline is chemistry and I obtained a PhD in Chemistry in 1994 from the University of Glasgow. My main area of expertise is Natural Product Chemistry and my research has largely involved applying this to drug discovery. I have held research fellowships in Japan (Tokushima Bunri University, Tokushima), Australia (University of Melbourne) and Germany (Ludwig Maximillians University, Munich), and worked at Griffith University in The Eskitis Institute for Drug Discovery before going to Tanzania.


How did you end up at SJUT in Dodoma?

The Lord guided us to SJUT through a career interruption for me. I had been working on drug discovery research at Griffith University since 1999, and at the end of 2007, after many years of support, the pharmaceutical company ended its financial support of our research. Although I was kept on, I could see it was not going to last and believed it was time to move on. In 2009 I then went to do a one-year GradDipDiv at Queensland Theological College. During the year at Bible College, we believed that God was calling us to Dodoma.


What is the spiritual landscape like in Tanzania?

Almost everyone would describe themselves as religious, with the majority being a roughly equal proportion of Christians and Muslims. The Christian gospel has been in Tanzania for a long time, but there is a great need for discipleship.


What does your work there involve?

I have been serving as the Dean of the Faculty of Natural and Applied Sciences at SJUT. The Faculty has a little over 1,000 students, 32 full-time staff and averaging 5 part-time staff. My work involves management, administration, teaching, and some educational research and Christian scholarship. My wife, Elmari, has been supporting the ministry of the school our children attend, Canon Andrea Mwaka School (CAMS), in various ways, including more recently teaching Religious Studies.


What ministry or gospel opportunities have you had?

With God's enabling, I have been trying to demonstrate what it means to be a Christian academic: pursuing academic excellence, showing integrity, seeking justice, and having a transparent walk with the Lord. I have also developed a course called 'Science, Faith and Culture', which endeavours to equip scientists with information that supports the coherence between faith in God and science, and also presents opportunities to share the gospel message. It is also a joy to have lunch with our gardener most Tuesdays and read the Bible and pray together.


What is one story you could share from the past year that encourages you?

The Science Faculty has undergone considerable change over the past year or so: a new Dean, significant increase in student numbers, and some staff having their employment terminated over discipline issues. I have been encouraged by how some staff have risen to meet the challenge.


How do you think your time in Tanzania has impacted your academic career?

I believe this time in Tanzania has enabled me to gain significant academic experience, but at the same time, due to the lack of resources, I have not been able to do research in my primary field.


What does the next 12 months hold for you?

In July we are leaving Tanzania (not to return in the immediate future), arriving back in Brisbane on 6th July. From this time we will be on Final Home Assignment with CMS-Australia until mid-January. From mid-January we need to try and re-enter the Australian workforce.


How can we pray for you?

Please pray for our transition back into Australia, the final home assignment, the children’s schooling, and the daunting task of finding work in January 2017, after completing our Final Home Assignment. Pray for us all managing the emotional strain from significant change.


Action points

  • Pray for Malcolm and his family as they return to Australia this month.
  • Go to our 5-year plan survey and answer 7 quick questions. We’re trying to (a) get a sense of what Simeon Network academics are thinking of for the next 5 years, and (b) work out how we can better support people in their plans to be effective for the Gospel wherever they are.