While we were in Tanzania this past year, my wife and I had an opportunity to visit a family that lived along the shores of Lake Victoria many kilometers north-west of Mwanza. Baraka, our close friend and neighbor, had been on several evangelistic trips with Pastor Julius and offered to escort us to his home to meet him. It was, as my wife said later, “Perhaps the most interesting journey I've ever been on in my life.” Not in terms of difficulty, but in the varied elements of the rural environment and villages we passed through. (Although, riding several hours with sixteen people in a Land Rover designed to seat eight, did add an extra element of interest to the trip!)
After changing vehicles several times, including a ferry ride across part of the lake, we arrived at a small village about two kilometers from the Pastor’s home. As I was exiting the vehicle into an impromptu crowd that had gathered around, a smiling, pleasant mannered man offered to help with my overnight bag. “Oh, no thank you! I have it just fine!” I exclaimed, brushing off his attempts to take my bag. Since we were in a new place, I wasn’t about to trust any stranger that was a little too “helpful” with our stuff, and could imagine my bag disappearing at top speed. But, of course, in my protectiveness of my belongings, I managed to commit a social blunder (as usual!). To my embarrassment, the helpful man turned out to be Pastor Julius who was trying to show proper respect for me by carrying my bag for me. I am glad that Tanzanians are gracious people who often overlook the “ill manners” of their foreign guests!
We walked about 15 minutes to have a short visit with a family that his church had been assisting, and then continued on to see the progress of his church building. Like many churches, once the walls are built and the roof is on, the congregation begins using the facilities; slowly completing the project over a period of several years as they get the money. We had a pleasant time walking along the dirt roads through the village, meeting people, chatting, asking and answering questions. The air was clean and fresh and the weather was perfect.
As we walked out into the countryside, going from one footpath to another, we admired the tropical scenery. The whole region was moderated by the lake climate, making it an extremely pleasant place to live. I took notice of the fields of newly planted crops, the banana and coconut trees, the extra greenness of the vegetation, and songbirds enjoying the sunshine. Our approach to the home of Pastor Julius was along a narrow path that led to a clearing surrounded by forests. Several happy, giggling children ran out to greet us from his family and his brother’s family who lived nearby. A tree in front of their home was covered with yellow birds singing their hearts out. It was an entirely peaceful place, hidden from the rest of the world and all its many problems. There was the lake nearby, rich black dirt, tropical fruit trees, the forests, fields of cassava root, cattle, sunshine, flowers, and of course, the songbirds.
“Am I in paradise?” I thought to myself, “Surely life here on earth can’t get any better than this!”
The feast that was spread for my wife and I did everything it could to reinforce this idea of paradise. It was honestly one of the finest meals I've ever had, topped off with new dish for me – a variety of fried banana that tasted like sweet cooked apples. Oh My! After dinner, several of us went out for a stroll around the property to admire the gardens and to walk to the top of the rise behind the houses to look over Lake Victoria. We could see a small island laying out in the glimmering blue of the lake waters, floating beneath a pale blue sky. We wondered at the grace of God to allow us to experience a place of such beauty and peace in our troubled world. I was still thinking about this place in terms of “paradise”.
As we looped back around past a corn field near his home, we stopped to talk about his future plans. Glancing down at my pant legs, Julius noticed some tiny insects and suggested that I brush them off. “No big deal,” I thought, “I’m a farm boy from Kentucky. Insects don’t bother me.” Well, the more I brushed them, the more they seemed to multiply. Oh, now I see they are all over my shoes and socks too. No! They are crawling up my legs now! Off with the shoes, up with the pant legs, brushing furiously to no avail! What are they anyways? Baby fleas! Really? Okay, now I’ve GOT to do something serious about this situation!
“I’m going out back behind the house,” I announced to Baraka, “and don’t let anyone follow me!” Back behind the mud brick building, I stood at the edge of the forest and stripped off my clothing. Baby fleas were crawling up my legs by the hundreds, maybe by the thousands! Wow, were they ever quick! As soon as I would brush off maybe a hundred of them, fifty of them would jump back on me. I’d shake my clothes and half of the fleas would land on me. Then the ones crawling on the ground would start traveling up my legs again. I stood there for about 20 – 30 minutes, flailing around trying to reduce the flea population on my body.
I began to rethink my ideas about wanting to live in this “paradise on earth”!
I’m sure there’s material here for a good sermon. One should be able to make some nice theological statements about the futility of looking for Paradise in this life, in the here and now. For we are not citizens of this world; but we are looking for a City whose Builder and Maker is God.
Are there fleas in paradise? Well, all the ones on earth sure have them!
Oh yeah, I did get all the baby fleas off – eventually. I was still finding them on me that night, the next night, a couple days later…. And I found myself humming that old hymn, “This world is not my home, I’m just a’passing through.”
May the peace of Christ be with you,
Heading into a little rainstorm on the ferry ride.
Baraka giving me a lesson on using dried cassava root.
We admired their church building project.
Pastor Julius visits this little handicapped boy regularly.
Walking out of town into the lovely countryside.
The path led past fields and forest.
Pastor Julius and his family gave us a warm welcome.
The families of Pastor Julius and his brother.
We admired the rich dirt and hard work of our new friends.
Ah! The peaceful blues of Lake Victorian water and sky.
A garden of young corn, banana, cassava, and ... fleas!
The inner courtyard of our tiny motel.
Sunrise on Main St. as we wait for a ride homeward.