Sunday, November 1, 2015

Hospitality in Sengerama and Serengeti

            “Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another.  As each has received a gift,
              employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”  1 Peter 4:9-10

“When our family is called to walk into the reception hall, I want you and Mama Anna to walk in together with us, for you are part of our family too.” Capt. Nestor instructed us as we were waiting to be formally introduced at the marriage reception of his son.

Africans have many traditional protocols that must be followed, especially important for social occasions such as this wedding.  The dance music would be ringing out as the MC would announce the arrival of the Muheta family.  At the head would be Capt. Nestor, followed by his wife, with their children filing in behind them.  To be asked to walk in together with his family would send a clear message to all the people present:  these “Mzungu” are not just family friends, but have been received into his family as one of them.

We had traveled to Sengerama the day before with the Muheta relatives who live near us.  A ferry ride across the lake, an hour and a half bumpy ride along the “best” road going through the region, to a small, semi-rural town located in a large, shallow valley.  A pleasant enough place to live during the rainy season, but quite challenging during the dry season when most of the wells and springs dry up.  We had come to celebrate the wedding of Capt. Nestor’s son, Msafiri, along with several hundred friends and family members.

The afternoon and evening were spent at Capt. Nestor’s home, visiting, eating, resting, dancing, and listening to a local choir.  As you could imagine, the preparations had been going on for many weeks ahead of time.  Everything must be in place:  all the proper expectations must be met, all the provisions be obtained, all the living arrangements made – yes, exciting, while exhausting and stressful too.  For many of those present, the dancing and celebrating would go on all night long.  We elected to check in at our hotel at a more reasonable hour!

One of the delightful aspects of an African wedding service is in how they introduce the bride.  The music is pulsating, vibrant, and loud.  Excitement is in the air.  A team of skillful young men come dancing down the aisle at the head of the procession.  The bridesmaids come next, dancing in beside their escorts.  Then the groom comes forward surrounded by his groomsmen, tapping his feet and swaying to the music; joy and excitement spilling forth into a huge smile:  The groom has come to claim his bride!

After a several hour service, there is a time of rest in the afternoon in anticipation of a long evening of celebrating at the wedding reception.  The rented hall is well decorated.  There is much music, formal introductions, speeches, presentations, gift giving, and laughter.  Another interesting custom is in how they present gifts.  It doesn’t do to just place them in a pile in one corner.  No, the music must be going full-blast, while the gifts are carried forward in a long line of dancing, smiling people presenting their gifts joyfully and dramatically to the newly married couple.  Ah! Of course!  Gift giving should be done joyfully!  Isn’t there something in the Scriptures about how “God loves a cheerful giver”?

Meanwhile, the catered dinner, waiting for us in the back of the hall keeping hot in huge, insulated pots, entertains us with its wonderful smells.  And by the time it was served up around 10 p.m., we were more than ready to partake of this feast of Hospitality.

A few weeks later found our family traveling to the world-famous Serengeti Park with Baraka and Neema and their family.  We were blessed to see many “zoo animals” in their natural habitat:  wildebeests, zebras, giraffes, antelopes, elephants, even an ostrich; but no lions – it was too hot for them to be out.  Lunch time came after many hours of jolting along the  dirt roads winding their way through the harsh environment.  But where should we sit to eat?  What about a bathroom?  We stopped along the road under a shade tree.  Looking out over the undulating plains dotted with trees, we could see nothing inviting us to stay.  The animals are exciting to see, but sitting under a thorn tree in the “middle of nowhere” baking under a fierce sun wasn’t our idea of a nice picnic.

“Hey!  What’s that?” Baraka exclaimed, “I see something shining at a distance. I think it must be the roof of a building.  Let’s go see what it is.”

Down the road we went, several kilometers further, and what did we see?  The last thing in the world we ever expected to see.  A sign:  “Catholic Diocese of Musoma, Serengeti Parish”.  What?   A Catholic Church way out here in this wilderness?!  “We must turn in this lane and see if the priest is around,” Baraka said, “Maybe he can give us some advice and directions.”

Sure enough, there was a church, a couple of out-buildings, and a couple workers.  A man with a pleasant expression and a gracious smile came bounding down the steps with his hands stretched forth.  “Welcome! Welcome! I’m Padre Medard; please make yourself at home!  Come up and sit on the porch with me and visit for a while!”

Our Heavenly Father, who is gracious and welcoming Himself, had provided for all our needs through this humble servant of hospitality.  A porch to sit on with a cooling breeze, regular tea and coffee, a thermos of fresh milk tea, (Milk tea?  I didn’t see any cows around here!), running water, flush toilets, (yes, flush toilets in the primitive wilderness!), and pleasant conversation.

“Let me get some chairs for you.  Help me carry this table out to the porch for your food.  Now, what do the children need?  Do you need any dinnerware?  What else do you need?” Padre Medard continued to serve us while describing his responsibilities. “This parish church was started 15 years ago to meet the spiritual needs of the park employees who live in a camp near here.  I actually have six stations scattered throughout the Seregeti where I serve the people in a regular rotation.  We have daily Mass here at this church for anyone who wants to join us.”

We conversed for quite some time, fascinated with his stories of living full-time in the Seregeti.  “Just yesterday, a large herd of elephants went through my yard, stripping bark and leaves from some of the trees." Padre said,  "We sat here on the porch and enjoyed watching them.”  He gave us many interesting facts about the habits of different types of animals.  He also spoke of his desire to develop the ministry of the Church, including the building of a guest house for people traveling through  the area that may need a place to stay.

By the time we had to leave, we were “old friends” and exchanged contact information.  “Be sure to stop by and visit me the next time you come through the area. And please, be sure to phone me ahead of time so I can be better prepared, and perhaps even arrange to show you around the area.  We will try to find some animals for you to see.”

At the end of our long, enjoyable, exhausting, 18 hours, day of travel (along with the adventure of getting our four wheel drive vehicle stuck in a 50 yard long mud hole, late at night, on some small, back road “short-cut” – and being finally pushed out by 10 men walking by who cheerfully jumped into the mud hole to help us out for a few shillings) we all agreed on the highlight of our Serengeti trip:  Padre Medard’s kind-hearted hospitality!

  “Let brotherly love continue.  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,
    for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”  Hebrews 13:1-2

Hospitality can take on many forms.  It can be the inclusion of a “Mzungu” into your family; or it can be serving up tea on your porch to some travelers in need of a place to relax.  Or it can be …. you fill in the rest of the examples.  God will show you how to practice hospitality wherever you live.  For us, the image and inspiration of hospitality will ever be the sight of an African priest striding forward with a big smile and hands stretched forth:  “Welcome!”

May the peace of Christ be with you,
Brother Nathan

Youngsters having fun at the hotel before the wedding

Young men dancing in to announce the Bride's arrival

The newly married couple departing the church

And rejoicing their way into the reception

Presentations are made by family members on both sides

Including Mama and Baba Muheta, parents of the groom

Appreciating the humorous artwork painted by the groom's brother

God's marvelous creation of life in a dry land

A sign of God's presence in the wilderness

The dirt track leading up to the church

Church (right side), office, and living quarters for Padre

Myself, Padre, and Baraka getting acquainted

Padre informing us about the area and wildlife

God's people are family wherever they go!


Francis Wardega said...

What a wonderful report. Delightful!

fr francis wardega

Francis Wardega said...

What a wonderful report. Delightful!

fr francis wardega