Mike and Joann Noel: Reflections on nine years in Tanzania
Nine years and many accomplishments later, the couple has regretfully seen the doors close for future ministry for them. They visited the CMF office in Indianapolis recently to share some reflections from their time in East Africa.
How did you begin serving in cross-cultural ministry?
Joann: We met at Johnson University in 1980, and after we got married, we went to work with C.Y. Kim in South Korea for several years. Then we returned to the U.S. and started a life in Pittsburgh.
Mike: I began working in the electrical trade union in Pittsburgh and got a B.S. in community ministry at Geneva College.
Joann: I never thought we’d live overseas again. I just lost the desire to do it. We had our home, cars, good jobs. Life was good, but it wasn’t satisfying. And in about 2010, we were ready for a change.
Mike: I was interested in a “blue-jeans ministry;” no suit and tie for me. I contacted CMF and asked about working somewhere in a discipleship ministry. They told me that the team in Tanzania was looking for a discipleship minister. I said, “Where is Tanzania and why should I go there?”
Joann: So, we took a vision trip there in 2010.
Mike: I took one step off the plane onto the platform and felt like I was home!
Joann: Meanwhile, I wasn’t on board. We went into town the next day; it was jammed with people, vehicles and animals. My thought was, “I could never live here!” And I started mentally checking off the 10 days we were scheduled to be there. But a chance encounter with a grandmotherly woman desperately selling fruit changed my mind. I heard God’s call: “Life here is hard, but I’m here. Will you let me use you here?” So, I said, “OK, God; sure.”
What were some of the highlights of your ministry in Tanzania?
Joann: I focused on the literacy ministry. In Korea, I had taught an English class based on the gospel of John to Korean businesswomen. There was already a literacy ministry established in Tanzania, so I updated and reprinted the materials and built on that with the couples who attended our pastors’ training center in Arusha. Most have a seventh-grade or lower educational level, and many are very poor readers. I found a reading primer that had been written by Tanzanians in 1990 and I adapted that and had it printed. It was developed to teach adults how to read and write Swahili and introduces the ministry of Christ.
Mike: One of my highlights was my relationship with my translator, Peter, whom I worked with for nine years. It was only in the last two years that what I was teaching in the disciple making movement training became real to him and got in his heart. Now, he’s doing outreach in some remote areas. He recently led the six-week discipleship training class and the church planter training on his own.
Mike: When I told Peter I was leaving, he said, “Write your teachings down!” So, I did, and we made a booklet of my teachings.
Why are you leaving Tanzania?
Mike: Three years ago, the Tanzania government started moving all foreigners out of the country. In January 2020, I tried to renew my work permit and it was denied. I appealed, and it was denied.
Joann: I got a one-year permit, but it was marked “final.”
Mike: It was clear to us that God has closed the door. We are sad and disappointed, but at peace.
What’s next for the Noels?
Mike: We will finish with CMF in June and plan to live in Pittsburgh for now. We will spend the next year looking for ways to interact in immigrant communities there.
Joann: And if we don’t find where God is calling us there, we will keep looking!