Sunday, 6/1/14

This is going to be a long post.

June starts fast and early. Up in time to be ready to go at 6. Any guys who want to take showers have to do so in the dark, so it takes longer. The 3 cars are here in time—it’s the same outfit that will be taking us to the Serengeti in 2 weeks—and we load everybody up. We’re including the team, the missionaries—though Matt Gass is driving his family in their vehicle—a couple of Tumaini staff members, and the 4 Tumaini children who sing in the choir here at the Shadi church; the choir will be presenting a number at the service. The rest of the choir comes in a hired dala-dala.

It’s an hour south and then a turn east to the town of Kigongo and the ferry across the inlet. There are no bridges, and the ferry saves us a lot of time; driving all the way around the southern end of the inlet would take forever. The countryside is quintessential Africa; grass, shrubs, trees, with villages every few kilometers. There the buildings are mud brick or concrete block, the smaller ones with thatched roofs and the larger ones with metal (and some with no roofs at all). There are goats and cows and chickens and dogs running free (well, the cows aren’t running), and the smell of wood smoke for cooking fires hangs over everything. And in every village, snuggled up against the road, are a few dukas, little booths, with proprietors selling everything from fruit to chewing gum to beer to charcoal. Out on the road between villages there are always people walking, no matter how far apart the villages are. Often someone is walking a bicycle draped with yellow plastic jugs full of water.

The vehicle I’m riding in is driven by Vincent, who was the lead driver for the Serengeti tour for last year’s team, and whom we’ve requested for this year. He’s an excellent driver, an excellent game guide, fluent in English, and just an all-around good guy. He and I pass the time talking about life, politics, ministry, Tanzania, and anything else that comes to mind.

Soon we’re at the ferry. Vincent jumps out and asks me to drive the vehicle through the check-in process while he takes care of the paperwork. Me? Cool. Toyota Land Cruiser customized for safari work, 5 speeds forward, 4-wheel drive, steering wheel on the right, big ol’ cowcatcher grill on the front, painted desert tan. I haven’t driven on this side of a vehicle since last year in Cape Town. Shift with the left hand, roll the window down with the right. (The pedals, fortunately, are still in the same order.) All the passengers get out and pay their fares at the window, while the 4 vehicles weave through the pylons and into the proper lane for loading. Once we’re in position, it’s gonna be half an hour or more until the ferry loads, so I get out and hang around with Matt on the driver side of the fence. On the other side there’s a roofed sitting area that can hold maybe 500 people, with toilets and snack bars available. Where we are, there’s, um, a curb to sit on, and a lot of cars, busses, and trucks lined up. Matt’s 2-year-old son, Ian, talks to us through the fence, then notices that the gate down at the end of the room is open, so he runs down and around to join his Dad. He entertains himself by opening and closing the gate, a simple bar that swings to allow traffic through. There’s no guard around, so Ian enjoys himself as much as he wants.

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Before long we hear the blast of the ferry whistle, and the MV. MISUNGWI pulls up to the loading ramp. It’s one of two ferries that spends the day crossing the inlet every half hour (or so—this is Africa). Large, diesel-powered, it can hold maybe a dozen semis at a time, or more smaller vehicles, and it has seating areas on two decks, with part of one deck enclosed with a snack bar. I count everybody aboard—I count to 13 a lot on this trip—and we all get comfortable in the upper bow seating area, outdoors, where the wind will be in our faces and the view will be the best. It’s a 30-minute crossing, then off the ramp, back into the vehicles, and another 1-hour ride to the church in Sengerema.

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I believe I’ve mentioned that the first church planted in this group was in Sweya, where the pavement starts, where we catch the dala-dalas into town. The second was in Shadi, where Tumaini is. After that a church was started on the other side of the inlet, north of Sengerema, and the Sengerema church was planted out of that one. They have called a pastor, a graduate of the Bible college here, and he’s being installed today. It’s a big celebration; as I mentioned, the choir has come from Shadi, and Elias, the pastor of the mother church to the north, will preach the installation message. We’ve been told it will be a long service, all in Swahili (with perhaps a bit of the local tribal language thrown in).

As we drive up, there’s a crowd out front of the church. We all begin the lengthy process of greeting, which is taken very seriously. If someone is older than you, you are expected to initiate the greeting with “Shikamoo” (“I place myself beneath your feet”); and if you’re female, a little curtsy doesn’t hurt. The elder will reply, “Malahaba” (“delightful!). (As I understand it, it’s actually “Marahaba” in standard Swahili, but this tribe tends to substitute “l”s for “r”s.) Either person may extend the next greeting. My standard is “Hu jambo?” (“How are things?”), to which the standard response is “Si jambo.” Then a lot of things can happen; we’ve been instructed to reply “Salamah” (“peaceful”) or “Nezuri” (“good”) to anything with a “Habari” (“news”) in it, and “Asante” (“thank you”) to anything with a “Karibu” (“welcome”) in it. All of that takes quite a while, as we all work through the crowd, exchanging 2 or 3 lines of Swahili apiece. Looking on, you’d almost think we knew what we were doing.

Soon we’re called inside for the service. It begins like last week’s service in Shadi, with congregational singing. The first number is “Pass Me Not.” There are a few hymnbooks, so some of us are able to read along and sing the Swahili words. Since Swahili is phonetic, like Spanish, we can do pretty well if we can see the words. As I’ve mentioned before, the intensity of feeling with which the Africans sing is deeply moving.

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Samson, our pastor at Shadi, is the emcee of the service. He calls for introductions of all who have come from anywhere else, including the team. Then testimonies. We can’t understand them, of course, but Matt tells us later that some of the older folks from the older churches recount the history of the church and of the conversion and spiritual growth of the new pastor.

The testimonies are followed by several numbers from both the Shadi choir and the Sengerema choir. The last choir number is a prayer for understanding, in which the congregation participates. Then Samson introduces Elias, the preacher of the morning, who speaks from 1 Peter 5, on the relationship between the elder and the church. He goes for about an hour, in Swahili, and the audience engages well with him.

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After the sermon is the formal installation, with a laying on of hands and prayer for the new pastor. Then there are 2 offerings, 1 for the church and 1 for the new pastor. We’ve been prepared for both. For the first, a woman brings a wicker offering plate around. It’s covered with a decorative cloth; you lift the cloth with your left hand and place the offering in the basket with your right, so no one can see how much you gave. For the second offering, the new pastor and his wife, and a deacon and his wife, sit at a table at the front, on which a bowl and a covering cloth have been placed. Everyone goes forward and places his offering in the bowl, then shakes hands with all 4 people at the table. That takes quite a while, as you can imagine. We’ve been instructed that this should be a more generous offering; we’re free to give as much as 5,000 shillings (about $3.33).

It’s been about 4 hours since we started. As the service is dismissed, the teen boy sitting next to me hands me his smartphone—really—and says something in Swahili. I understand none of it, and after several back-and-forths, his friend says in English, “He wants you to hold his phone while he goes to the toilet.” Wow. I guess he thinks I’m trustworthy. As he leaves, his friend says, “Now you are his friend.” So I hold his phone, and in a few minutes he returns to reclaim it. I learn later that wazungu [white people] are inherently trusted, and I suppose the white beard helps as well.

After a hand-washing, we’re served lunch, which is a generous mound of rice pilau with a couple of small pieces of beef and just a touch of that boiled cabbage and red sauce we often get for dinner at Tumaini. We eat with our hands; you make a sort of fork, or maybe spork, with the first 3 fingers of your right hand (always your right hand, even if you’re left-handed; Josalyn has to work on that) and shovel up some rice, perhaps packing it a little bit for cohesiveness; then you use your thumb to slide the rice into your mouth. We all get plenty—Matt tells me it’s OK not to eat it all, and that’s good, because I can’t.

It’s officially over at this point, but we mingle outside for another half-hour or more. One of the ladies pulls me over to a group of older folks sitting in the shade, and we do a round of greetings. One lady asks me my name (“Jina lako nani?”); I answer and ask for hers, which, she tells me, is “Flora.” We happen to be standing next to a short tree with bright yellow blossoms, so I pull a blossom over and say, “Like this!” and they seem to enjoy the joke—though I wonder if they know the Latin root of the name.

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The team hangs around with the children and youth. My friend with the phone, Amos, and two of his buddies take a particular liking to Sarah B, talking with her at some length. She handles it with grace and calm. They ask for her number; she doesn’t give it to them. 🙂

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About 4 pm we load up the vehicles and drive away, waving out the windows as they sing us off. This has been a good experience for us; we have seen African worship at its most natural, and they have treated us kindly as welcome guests. We have worshiped together as one body and eaten together and have found unity in Christ as expressed through those functions, despite an almost complete lack of ability to understand one another’s language. It’s an important lesson.

The drive back to the ferry takes an hour, I suppose; I sleep through much of it. The ferry is just about to pull away; looks like we won’t get on it. But we get through the payment line and walk down the ramp to the boat, and there it still is. Then we see our vehicles still on land and realize they’re not going to fit, so we decide to wait for the next one. As the ferry horn blows, Vincent runs up to me and says his car’s on the boat, and we need to get on. Rachelle, Neema (one of the Tumaini girls), Vincent, and I both jump into the moving ramp; Shangazi and Karen, a couple of steps behind us, opt not to leap the widening gap.

Well. Some of us will have to wait on the other side for the great majority, including everyone in the other 2 vehicles. OK.

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The wait turns out to be about an hour, because the two ferries are out of sync; the one they’ll need to ride is pulling away from the far shore just as we are pulling up. So we sit around until it returns with our friends.

The extra hour means that after our drivers drop us off at Tumaini, they’ll be driving in the dark back to Mwanza. Not ideal, and not preferred, but it all ends well.

We’re tired. We have supper at Dan & Jana’s house—samosas prepared earlier and reheated, very tasty with sweet & sour sauce—and briefly discuss the day’s experiences. Beth and I decide to cancel Monday morning’s tutoring sessions and get everybody to bed early. The guys tell the girls that we won’t be by their house until chai at 10 am, and we all hit the sack.

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Dan Olinger

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

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