Sunday, June 05, 2016

Church is early here—8:00 am. Of course, it starts a few minutes late, in the time-honored African tradition. They start playing music over the PA system a little before 8, music we can hear easily at the other corner of the compound, where we live.

We gather at HQ and walk over to the church building. Girls sit on the left, guys on the right. I’ve encouraged the team members to scatter themselves around, which they do. And they’re immediately adopted by groups of little kids. People greet us, and we find our 3 Swahili words serve us very well; hardly anyone says anything to us that they don’t cover.

I see Pastor Samson and the song leader and walk up to greet them. Then there’s Maiwe, who gives us Swahili lessons every year during our orientation period.

Soon the service starts with some singing (everything’s in Swahili)—none of the songs are ones we know yet, though we will by the time we leave. The mission philosophy here is to allow Christianity to develop within this culture, so they have imported relatively few Western hymns. After the singing there are announcements, including the introduction of visitors. Beth introduces us, and we stand and are recognized—though it was already pretty obvious that we weren’t from around here. Then testimonies, with lots of “Amina”s punctuating them. Then a couple of choir numbers; they’re distinctive in that they include choreography, which is respectful and even worshipful. (You can dismiss the mental images of modern American dance.) Then more songs, with the final one being a quiet prayer for understanding during the sermon. This is always my favorite part of the service; the PA system is often off, and it’s just the people’s voices, quietly petitioning God as their Father (Baba). There is no more beautiful sound in all the world.

There’s a guest preacher today, William, the co-pastor of a new church plant in Usagara that Matt Gass, one of the missionaries here, is helping with. The sermon’s in Swahili too, and despite recognizing a word or two here and there, I’m not able to get the gist of it. From looking at the Bible of the boy next to me, I see it’s from Colossians 2 or 3.

After the sermon are two baby dedications—I get the name of the first one, Abigail, but not the second. I feel better later when I learn that Beth didn’t catch that name either.

Then comes the offering. There’s box with a hole in the top on the table at the front, and everybody sings while people go forward and place something in the hole, using the right hand only. (The left hand is considered dirty; receiving or giving anything with that hand is considered disrespectful.) Adults are all expected to give, and if you don’t, they’ll notice. I’ve distributed a small bill—500 or 1000 shillings—to each of the team members to give. Giving 25 or 50 cents may sound cheap, but there’s a reason for it. There’s a network of churches here, and typically we attend only the one at Shadi. On a typical Sunday, the total offering will usually be about 20,000 shillings ($10). If we come in and hit them with $300, and none of that money goes to the other churches, all kinds of problems could result. Once again, money is almost never the real need, and raising the money supply is almost never the answer to anything.

They take a second offering for the church plant at Usagara. It’s unusually large—about $65. When the amount is announced, everyone cheers, and William, invited to the pulpit to say something, is unable to speak. After taking some time to regain his composure, he thanks his brothers and sisters in a quiet voice. And so the tradition of Acts and 1 Corinthians 16 and 2 Corinthians 9 continues.

I look at my watch. It’s almost noon. We’ve been here for 4 hours; not a word of English has been spoken the whole time; and yet we leave refreshed, able to say that we have worshiped with our Tanzanian brothers and sisters.

Typically we have chai right after church. It’s effectively lunch time now, but we have chai anyway and postpone lunch. Chai this time is uji, a sort of runny hot cereal, like cream of wheat but with the bran included. It very much resembles a cereal called Ralston that the BJU Dining Common used to serve and that I’ve never seen anywhere else. Since today is Sunday, there’s also a hard-boiled egg. Since I almost never eat breakfast, I find this to be more than satisfying, and of course we’re aware that we’ll eat lunch in an hour or so.

Which we do, with the children, as we will all weekend lunches and all weekday suppers. Today it’s rice and beans and chunks of pineapple for dessert. We gather in the kibanda (the gazebo in front of the Big House—it’s the round structure on the compound in Google Maps.) Mealtimes are fellowship times, and the Crew is already making friends with multiple children, who gather around them and pepper them with questions.

At 3 pm we gather on Beth’s porch to plan our teaching, which will start Wednesday. They have it set up with tutoring sessions at 9 and 11, in 6 groups, one for each team member. The Kids choose slots based on their preferences and self-perceived strengths. Jojo and Rachael will be teaching the youngest children; Sarah and Bethany the ones in the middle; and Jonathan and Lora the older ones (Standard 6). Two grades are out of the system; they’re facing national standardized tests this year, and Tumaini has hired tutors to give them concentrated instruction. Full schedule is linked here.

This year is Tumaini’s 10th anniversary, and they’re planning a big party in August. So we’re having a time in the afternoon to work with groups of kids on preparing things for the celebration (sherehe). Sarah’s going to work with a group on handcrafts; Bethany on sewing; Rachael on sewing for kids with no bloomin’ experience whatsoever; John and Lora on drawing; and Jojo’s volunteered to work with the kids who aren’t doing anything special but need to be kept busy during that time.

Beyond that, John and Lora are going to work with a choir to get some numbers ready for the celebration.

We have seen God do some very specific things here in bringing to the team skills that will fit well with the needs. I didn’t plan any of that, and I never do. We take those who want to go and can raise their support. God consistently brings to the team precisely those who are needed. And it has happened again.

The planning takes us most of the way toward supper, which we’re eating here at Beth’s, since it’s the weekend. You’re not gonna believe what’s on the menu. Enchiladas! The missionaries here go to quite a bit of trouble to prepare things that will remind us of home. We get a fair amount of salad here, which is unusual for Africa because all the vegetables have to be carefully washed, since they’re not cooked. And the enchiladas have this yellow substance on them that Beth says is called “cheese”; we have a distant memory of it from a previous life, but none of us have seen any for a very long time. And there’s guacamole, and ranch dressing. It’s a trifecta of stuff we never see.

After supper we have house devotions. There are four houses, for older girls, younger girls, younger boys, and older boys. We meet in the older boys’ and older girls’ houses, our 4 girls with the Tumaini girls and our 3 guys with the Tumaini boys. We sing, have a quick devotional, and take prayer requests and pray; the whole thing lasts 15 minutes or a little more. Last year we prayed for Gabriel and Janet in Wa, who had just lost their baby; this year I’m able to tell them about the couple’s new baby, and we rejoice over that.

We leave the house as the boys are preparing to wash up and get to bed. It’s a 5-minute walk across the compound, north to south, to the Big House and our HQ. The stars here are always a joy; since we’re slightly below the equator, Polaris is below the northern horizon, but we can see the Big Dipper emptying itself toward it, and on the southern horizon is the Southern Cross, with Proxima Centauri just to its left, right over the guys’ rooms.

Back at HQ most of the girls have decided to take out the braids. Sarah took hers out before leaving Wa, but Rachael’s go tonight, and they make considerable progress on Bethany’s. Lora’s going to keep ‘em for now.

You’ll notice I don’t say much about the guys’ hair. We seem to be considerably less emotionally invested in ours. Especially me.

During devotions I ask them if they’ve seen anything new today. Boy howdy. Lots to talk about, especially since yesterday we were essentially comatose, and we didn’t really see anything we saw. If you know what I mean.

One more good night’s sleep and I think we’ll be back to 100% on the energy meter.

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Dan Olinger

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

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