Same calling, different avenue

Posted: January 04, 2002

For the Rev. Elijah Mwitanti, the road to Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Marlton has been a series of twists and turns, with a bit of serendipity along the path.

In December 1993, Mr. Mwitanti left his native Zambia, where he had been a Baptist minister, to further his theological education.

Eight years after his arrival at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, he is again in the pulpit, but this time as a Lutheran minister: Last month he was called to be associate pastor at Prince of Peace.

"I left Zambia because I had exhausted all theological resources there, but upon my arrival in the United States, I wondered what I had gotten myself into. I was listening to the radio in a taxi on the way into Manhattan and heard that a black man had killed a lot of people on a train in Long Island," Mr. Mwitanti, 34, said. He was referring to the shootings that killed six people and wounded 19 others on a Long Island Rail Road train.

Undeterred, he completed his theological studies in Mississippi, served as a minister of a Baptist church in Texas, and started working three years ago for the nondenominational Liebenzell Mission in North Jersey, which helps prepare ministers and others for short-term mission work.

After working for the mission, he and his wife, Kerris, wanted to join a church. The parents of a friend of Mr. Mwitanti's son, Semba, suggested they attend their church, which was Lutheran.

"Soon I started thinking about getting back into the pastorate, but decided to do it as a Lutheran minister, not a Baptist one," said Mr. Mwitanti, who became a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America in June.

Before arriving in Marlton, Mr. Mwitanti served in Lutheran pastorates in Hoboken and Jersey City. "We were only a mile from ground zero of the World Trade Center," he said. "After Sept. 11, there were so many spiritual questions of such intensity."

Story time. The Katz Jewish Community Center's Sanders Memorial Library continues its free bedtime story and snack time for children ages 3 to 7 from 7 to 7:30 p.m. the first Wednesday of each month. The sessions are open to the community. The center is at 1301 Springdale Rd., Cherry Hill. For more information, call 856-424-4444.

Hopeworks of Camden. The Roman Catholic ministry, which trains Camden youths and young adults how to design Web sites and other computer programs, has received a $45,000 state grant for its Hope Through the Schools Program.

Arts at Grace Church. The first concert for 2002 of the performance-arts series at Grace Church, 19 Kings Highway East, Haddonfield, is scheduled for 4 p.m. Feb. 3. Mary Berk and James Thoma will perform with flute and percussion. A donation of $10 per person is suggested. For more information, call 856-429-8881.

The Inquirer would like to know about special events and topics of religious interest. Submission of items and pictures is welcome. Information must include a name and phone number. Items should be mailed to Louise Harbach,

53 Haddonfield Rd., Cherry Hill, N.J. 08002. Items may be e-mailed to lharbach@phillynews.com or faxed to 856-779-3221.

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