Sunday, 5/25/14

Sunday. We start off at 100 miles an hour. Church is at 8, which on Africa time means a little bit after 8. At 8:03 we leave the house to walk over to the concrete building at the far corner of the compound. Several of the children join us as we pass their dormitories, grabbing our hands and falling into step. We can hear recorded music as we approach the building, which has just a handful of people in it when we arrive. I see a deacon that I remember from last year and walk over to greet him; he’ll be moderating the service this morning.

The building itself is plain, with a peaked roof and wooden benches with backs. There are a couple of wires crossing the room, on which are hung some plastic flowers and colorful placemats, and a red-and-white plastic inflatable ball emblazoned with the Coke logo. We sit scattered across the auditorium, the men on the right, the women on the left, with children claiming the seats nearest us. Within a few minutes the place is full, and we begin with congregational singing.

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There are few things more moving to me than African tribal singing. The voices are loud, impassioned, and the harmonies exquisite. I’m not enough of a musician to describe technically what’s different about it, but I’ve never heard anything like it anywhere else in the world. We sing in Swahili for half an hour or so, referring to the small paperback hymnbooks for the words. Some of the tunes we recognize, and some we don’t. Then come several testimonies from the congregation, with lots of “Amen”s. Then the choir, which uses canned music and choreography, the quintessential shuffling, turning, and clapping that we see in the cultural memories of choirs in African-American churches, though the music itself lacks, of course, the American elements of the latter. Then the sermon, from Samson, the pastor. The boy sitting next to me helps me find the passages, since I can’t understand the Swahili references. He starts in Gen. 24, where Abraham tells his servant not to get a wife for Isaac from pagans, and then proceeds to 2 Cor. 6, “What communion hath the temple of God with idols?” and then to Deuteronomy’s legal proscription of intermarriage between Israelites and Canaanites. I figure he’s preaching about marriage in the faith. His pulpit technique is spot on, though I don’t understand what he’s saying.

After the sermon is the offering. Everyone, men first, then ladies, walks to the front, where the offering box sits on the small table in front of the pulpit, and places a bill (I have 500 shillings, or about 35 cents) into the slot in the box, being careful to use only his right hand. (Due to the influence of Muslim culture, the left hand is considered dirty, and it’s highly offensive to give or receive anything with that hand.) I know the amount sounds small, but this is an indigenized church, and it is not in their best interest to expect large donations from American visitors; further, since this church is the one in its fellowship that gets the most visitors, we want to avoid creating too much financial disparity there. If you’d like to read more about the problems that Americans can cause by throwing money at poverty, you might enjoy reading either When Helping Hurts or Toxic Charity (the usual disclaimers).

Last year the services ended with a handshake line out in the yard, an opportunity for everyone to greet everyone else; but this morning there’s going to be a members’ meeting, so the moderator dismisses all the non-members, and the team and the children walk back across the compound to the kibanda, or gazebo, right in front of the guest house for chai, or morning tea time. Despite the name, there’s not always tea; this morning the beverage is uji, a thin gruel made from millet, rice, soybeans, and beans. It reminds me of Ralston, a dark cereal they used to serve in the BJU dining common back when I was a student, except thin enough to drink. We each get a cup, served with a hard-boiled egg, and we sit around the kibanda and fellowship with the children.

For lunch at noon we have our first exposure to ugali, an African staple. (Ugali is the Swahili word; the team in the Bemba area of Zambia called the same menu item “nshima,” and last summer in the Waala area of Ghana we ate a similar staple, slightly fermented, called “banku.”) It’s essentially polenta, or very thick grits, a corn-meal mush firm enough to take in your hand and roll up into a small ball, with which you pick up any vegetable, meat, or sauce that accompanies it. It sounds messy, and it is; but it’s quite tasty, since it picks up the flavor of whatever you pick up with it.

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The church has no evening service, so we devote the afternoon to orientation. We have 2 sessions with Matt Gass, the first addressing missions philosophy, and the second about the history of Tumaini and its related ministries, with a walking tour of the compound between them.

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This ministry was begun under the direction of Rob Howell, who was a BJU Africa Team member (in Kenya) back in the 1990s, when Carl and Linda Abrams were the leaders. He returned to Tanzania shortly thereafter as a church planter under the sponsorship of Grace Baptist Mission, out of Inter-City Baptist Church in Allen Park, MI. As the church plant proceeded, he found that the government required an organization to be undertaking charitable work in order to purchase property—and “charitable work” did not include evangelism or church planting. They could be running an orphanage, a medical clinic, or a school. Rob and his coworkers saw the orphanage as the best fit with the Great Commission, so Tumaini was begun. With that, the church plants could purchase property; and to feed the pastorates of the church plants, a small Bible college was begun as well.

So here on the compound in the village of Shadi is the second church plant, now fully indigenized; the Bible college; and the children’s home. At the link in Google Maps you can see the “big house” (the dining common and, at the west end, the guest house, where most of the girls are staying) just south of the circular kibanda; west of it, beyond the trees, the college dorm, which houses students in the Bible college when it’s in session, but is empty right now and thus available for the boys; and north of the big house, the four identical children’s residences (dorms), in 1 of which 2 of the girls have a small room. The Bible college quadrangle is just northeast of the northernmost children’s residence, the church building is just east of the college, and the parsonage is just north of the church. To the west of the children’s residences are the missionary houses, one each for the Gasses, Dan & Jana, and Beth. South of those, next to the college dorm, is the residence of Ferdinand, the Tanzanian overseer of the orphanage, and his family, and south of the dorm is the nurse’s residence.

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There’s a lot of natural beauty to see here. The most obvious thing is the view of the lake, or rather the inlet of Lake Victoria, that our property fronts. There’s a marsh between the campus and the lakefront, so we can’t get down there easily, if at all, but the view is remarkable. And since the lake is to our west, we have beautiful sunsets over it.

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There’s also some enjoyment in the flora and fauna. Flowering bushes are everywhere, and the lizards are colorful enough to look like flowers themselves. There are also swarms of dragonflies that tend to do most of their work about a foot off the ground and are really interested in people, so they swarm around your calves pretty much whenever you walk around the compound. They remind me of those quadrotor drones you see in the Youtube videos.

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As to security—I suspect you parents would like to know about that—the entire compound is fenced and gated, with a security guard walking the grounds overnight. The buildings have locked and barred doors and barred windows. And I have a Swiss army knife, a brown belt in judo, and lapsed certification as an EMT. 🙂 Your kids are safe.

After the orientation sessions we have dinner, again on Dan & Jana’s porch, and after cleanup we head up to Command Central (that’s the guest house, remember?) to get organized. We need to set up several support schedules. First, we have lunch during the week and supper on the weekends with the children, eating typical African food such as rice, ugali, chapati, daga, and so on. (I’ll be describing those foods as they show up on the menu.) But supper during the week and lunch on the weekends is just the team and the missionaries, and we work together to do the prep and cleanup. The missionaries will do most of the food prep, but we’ll provide a fruit or vegetable dish, table setup, and cleanup for every meal, so we need to put those three crews together, and we need to decide what the dish will be each day this week. We’ll also being giving devotions in the children’s houses every night (3 sessions simultaneously), so we need to schedule speakers and support staff—crowd control—for those. And we’ve hired a lady to do our laundry—they appreciate the opportunity to earn some money—and we need to decide whose laundry shows up on which days so we keep her workload even and predictable. Caitlin, Kaleigh, and Sarah S jump right on that, and in minutes we have schedules laid out, agreed to, and posted on the refrigerator door.

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Then we’re ready for our first team devotional session of the trip. I’ve asked each team member for his 3 favorite songs and collected them all in a little songbook, so we sing several numbers from that before sharing testimonies of things learned so far on the trip. The kids have much to say; they’re thoughtful, they’re observant, they’re noticing and learning the right things, and they’re demonstrating good priorities. This is a good group.

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We have a little unscheduled time after devotions before we all head to bed around 10. I think being active is helping with the time-zone adjustment; we’re not there yet, but we’re generally awake during the day and asleep for most of the night, so that’s progress in the right direction.

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Dan Olinger

Chair, Division of Bible in the BJU School of Religion.

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