Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Traveling with African Luggage

The sitting room was rather simple with a couple of couches, a coffee table, and few chairs. A large cabinet along one wall held a few books, dishes, and cooking supplies; while the stereo system beside it was mostly for show:  there is no electricity available here.  Two bedrooms and a couple of small storage rooms made up the rest of the house.  Most of the cooking is done outside on a charcoal or wood fire.  It was rather amusing the previous evening to watch a mother duck with her train of little ducklings repeatedly sneaking a few nibbles from the pans during dinner preparations.  Mama Keri didn't get too over excited about them; she just kept gently shooing them away.  She has a lovely smile (which is hard to capture on camera) that lights up her face like a ray of joyful sunshine.

We were relaxing in Patrick’s house, waiting for a few church members to come by for traveling prayers and goodbyes.  When one of the elders began his gracious farewell speech, I had a sense there would be a gift at the end of it.  Sure enough, I was handed a small cardboard box, tied up with string and some holes poked in the sides.  “Since you have become accustomed to African living, we thought it good that you travel back home with some ‘African Luggage’.  It is a gift for your daughter, Susanna, who was not able to come with you to visit us.”

We had come to the village of Chibingo with two of our children to visit the family of Keri, the Tanzanian girl who has been living with us.  Her father Patrick (whom I taught in 2011) has been ordained a priest, and is now serving as pastor of three rural congregations.  Our families have become good friends, and he insisted that we must see their new living quarters before we return back to America. It was good for us to see them again and to see what life is like in one of the countless small villages scattered throughout the dusty landscape of Tanzania.  Susanna had been ill, so she stayed with friends back in Nyakato.

We are over half-way through the dry season.  Water is hard to obtain here as it is almost everywhere.  A few muddy streams and a few small springs supply a couple hundred homes with just enough water to survive.  Patrick’s family is blessed by a kind-hearted lady from their church who volunteers to deliver several large jugs of water to their home each morning by bicycle.  By mid-morning, a hot wind is blowing and sunshine on the metal roof is heating up the small concrete house where they live.  There are major life struggles here, but the people don’t seem to be any more or less content than they are anywhere else.  There are those who grumble and complain, and there are those who are cheerful and generous. It's not about how much or little you have, but  what's in your heart that matters.

There is a lot of social interaction that takes place: waving a cheerful good morning to the neighbors, people asking about the family as they pass by, children tumbling around, and various church members dropping in to meet us.  Time is taken to sit under the shade tree, discussing politics, farming techniques, social customs, life issues, and spiritual questions.  I am grateful for the thoughtful questions and respectful reactions to my answers.  One subject that often comes up wherever I go is the issue of homosexuality.  Most of the African people are trying to understand how and why the major shift in Western culture has taken place to accept homosexuality as a “normal” part of society.  This is something they cannot comprehend; and even harder for them to comprehend is how any Christian can accept this a normal option for human sexuality.  They are very grateful for the Western missionaries who brought them Christianity over the past 150 years.  And now it is very confusing for them to see the secularization of the Western churches and culture.  “We were the pagans who needed Christ and you brought Him to us; and now you are the ones who are becoming pagan while we are the ones who are defending the Faith! This has become a very strange world,” is what they tell me.

Earlier that morning, we gathered at the largest of the three churches for an impromptu service.  Starting time was delayed for a couple hours, as it took time for the word to get out and for the people to walk to church.  Eventually about 40 people were present, along with a couple dozen curious children who were walking home for tea from a nearby primary school.  It was a group of good-hearted folks: simple farming people living close to the earth.  Most of the adults are illiterate, for their parents could not afford to send them to school when they were younger, and children are much needed to work in the family garden plots for survival.

I was asked to “bring a word” to the people; and chose to preach the same sermon that I gave at St. Nicholas Cathedral that past Sunday:  “Do not lay up treasure here on earth, but in heaven where it will not spoil”.  I spoke about three ways in which we can lay up our treasure for eternity.  One:  by knowing and loving Jesus Christ, improving our relationship to Him, for He is our greatest treasure.  Two:  By seeking to become more like Jesus, improving our character, for Godly Virtues are treasures to be acquired.  Three:  By doing good deeds, loving and serving our families and neighbors, for when we get to heaven – the People that we have assisted along the way will be our treasure there also.  “And in case you think you are too poor to do much for others -- if you even have a plate of Ugali to share with your neighbor, then you are laying up treasure in heaven!”  I am grateful that the message was well received.

We left Chibingo by flagging down a passing bus and headed for Geita with our “African luggage” in hand.  There we were warmly greeted by Rev. Damson and his wife Theresa, who had been our next door neighbors in Nyakato when we lived there in 2013.  Damson has translated for me many times, and we work well together as a team.  They also have become members of our family (or, we have become members of their family).  They were transferred to Christ the King Anglican Church in Geita nearly two years ago, where Damson is the senior pastor and is also archdeacon of that region.  This means that he has nearly ninety churches under his care and guidance.  A large responsibility which he cares for with diligence and determination.

We spent several relaxing days with them:  walking, chatting, resting, eating good food, and discussing many issues and topics.  They live next to the church, so of course there were many people coming and going all day.  I had taught a two week seminar at this church in 2012, so many people were remembering me well.  It was good to greet several of my former students and to catch up on personal news.  On Sunday I preached at three services, two Swahili and one English (Damson translated as usual for the Swahili services).  We were busy from 7 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. – my longest “church service” yet!  I preached the same sermon as in Chibingo three more times.  Here also the message was well received and I trust that the people were strengthened in their walk with the Lord.

Oh, we decided not to take our African luggage all the way home with us after all.  We gave it to our host family and enjoyed the resulting dinner.  Not quite like KFC in a box – but, actually, much tastier and better for us!  We figured that we could get a replacement for Susanna when we got back to Nyakato.

May the peace of Christ be with you,
Brother Nathan

Discussing church issues with Patrick.

Preparing breakfast tea and chapati with Mama Keri.

Twin boys, Peter and Prince, waiting for chapati.

Keri greeting the sunshine of a new day.

Waiting for the church members to arrive.

Visiting after the church service in Chibingo.

Rev. Damson, Teresa, and youngest son Michael -- in Geita.

Gathering at Christ the King Anglican Church.

Three services on Sunday makes for a busy morning.

Sightseeing around Geita - we should have started earlier -

Because it really was quite hot -- time for a break!

Admiring our "African Luggage".

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