Sundays in Tanzania can be quite long these days. Many churches have two services now; an early English service and the second service is done in Swahili or a combination of Swahili/English. Throw in an hour of Sunday School and a few other events/activities and you can have a really long day.
This past Sunday was an example of one of those EXTRA long days. We left the house at 6:30 am for the 30 minute drive to the TAG church in Nyegezi Corner. The first service was at 7:00 and usually finished around 10:00. Sunday school is normally from 10:00-11:00 but this Sunday they used this hour to raise funds for their building project.
This process in and of itself can be quite lengthy. The name of every member was read and they were told how much they were to give. Yes, that’s right, they were TOLD how much they would give. Then each person was given the opportunity to publicly ask for their designated amount to be decreased or increased.
The second service started at 11:00 and we made a quick trip to the pastor’s office for some chai and chapatis (hot tea and tortillas). The second service went until 12:45 (mercifully, Tim shortened his message a little) and then another fund raising hour for the second service followed.
In addition to the services and fund raisers, there were 7 offerings taken. One of the Associate Pastor’s five year old son was rushed to the hospital in the night and died shortly after arriving there so they were announcing visitation that evening at the home of the bereaved as well as taking up an offering for the family.
We always go prepared for 3-4 offerings, but seven offerings had us scrambling a bit since it is expected of us to give in the offerings. Thankfully, Tim had extra cash with him.
After the final offering and “amen” we were served a nice lunch of rice, meat in gravy and cooked greens. We were given a tour of the new buildings going up on the property. We were thrilled to see how this church has grown, we first attended a service with them years ago when they just had a small tarp covered building with walls of reeds and grasses.
We finally reached home shortly after 3:30 pm. It was a long day but a good day in many ways. I think after two years of being stateside I have to become accustomed again to the long Tanzanian Sundays.
Recently, Peter Ash, founder of “Under the Same Sun” visited one of our TAG (Tanzania Assemblies of God) churches near our home. “Under the Same Sun” is an organization that works on behalf of people with Albinism (PWA) living in Tanzania.
PWA in Tanzania are hunted and killed for their body parts which are used in potions to bring success and wealth. There are over 200,000 PWA in Tanzania; they are shunned by their society and often by their families and live in constant fear for their lives.
Peter Ash spoke about the importance of churches becoming involved in the plight of the PWA in Tanzania; providing them with the love and care that they need and being “safe places” for them to go to for fellowship and spiritual guidance. To date, churches have ignored the plight of the PWA in their country and their communities.
Our prayer is that all of our TAG churches will accept the challenges of ministering to people with Albinism. We hope they will reach out with the love that God has for all people and become sanctuaries of peace and security.
Just this past week, a woman with Albinism in the Simiyu region outside of Mwanza was hacked to death with machetes. The attackers cut off her leg and some of her fingers and she did not survive the attack; her two children are now without a mother.
She was the 67th PWA to die since 2000 due to injuries from attackers. Many more people with Albinism live today without fingers, toes, arms or legs from attacks that did not result in their deaths.
It is time for these horrendous crimes to be stopped and those who are guilty to be punished to the full extent of the law. It is time for the Christians of Tanzania to open their eyes to the plight of these people and become involved in helping them.
Our good friend, Seni, lost his father on Tuesday of this week. Tim was at the hospital with Seni when his father passed away. He was a precious man who lived to be over 95 years old, almost unheard of in Tanzania. Seni’s parents and his wife’s parents all live with him; there is no government assistance for the elderly and no nursing homes. A good Tanzanian would never shirk their responsibility to their parents or relatives by taking advantage of those options even if they were available.
Isaak Seni was ready to go to heaven. When his family visited him the day before he died, he told them all “Goodbye” and that he was going to see Jesus. When they brought his wife to the hospital to visit him the morning he died he thanked her for many wonderful years of married life and then bid her “Goodbye” as well. He told her, “I am going to see Jesus, I won’t see you again here”. He died a few hours later from complications from surgery.
They had an outdoor service for him early Friday afternoon at Seni’s home. There was a large crowd of people there to celebrate the life of this man. Few tears and much rejoicing that their loved one was in heaven with Jesus. After the service here in Mwanza the body was to be transported over 140 kilometers away (about a three hour drive on mostly dirt roads).
Our STL vehicle was transformed into a hearse to carry the casket and body to it’s final resting place in a small village on the family farm. Tim spent the night there last night and slept in the STL car which became his hotel room once the casket was removed. They were to have a funeral service there today for those in the village who knew and loved Isaak Seni, he had a large family and many live in that village.
Tim will return today sometime after the funeral service there in the village.
Isaak Seni was a poor Tanzania farmer who, with his wife, raised nine children. He had only a few years of formal schooling and never did anything that could be considered extraordinary in his life. He had never been further than a few hours drive from his home and village. He was a simple, humble man who loved his family and loved God. The amount of people who came to the funeral and who visited the family to pay their respects gave testimony that he was well loved and respected by all who were blessed to know him.
One of the many challenges that a missionary faces is “distance”. It comes in all forms but is always a challenge.
One distance is the distance between where you are currently ministering and the place where all your family and friends live. For us in Tanzania, home is half way around the world in the U.S. We have family spread over the states of Washington, North Carolina, Missouri, Michigan, Alabama, and other states. So, even when we live in the states distance between our families is still a challenge.
Another distance that challenges us is the vast size of the region that we cover – it is about the size of the state of Indiana. Our furthest point from here in Mwanza that we visit is about 10-12 hours away on the western side of Tanzania. If we have a Mission meeting in Dar Es Salaam on the eastern coast of Tanzania it takes about 14-16 hours of driving which means we break it up into two days. The roads are mostly paved these days but some of our region is still remote enough that we can spend hours driving on bumpy dirt roads.
When we need to seek medical attention, we will travel to Nairobi Kenya. Kenya is the country right above us and it’s about a 10-12 hour trip depending on road conditions and how long it takes us to cross the border. We will be going to Nairobi, Kenya at least three times a year. Joyce has to have pretty extensive lab work done since her bout with cancer last year which cannot be done here in Mwanza. Nairobi, Kenya is our closest laboratory facilities that can do the necessary lab work.
Our nearest Assemblies of God missionary is in Dodoma, Tanzania which is a 9 hour drive from Mwanza. Fortunately, the road is completely paved now between here and there or it would take us hours longer.
Many of the churches we will visit on Sundays will be a 1 hour drive from our house and sometimes further.
We rarely can tell you how many miles (kilometers) a place is from our house but we can tell you how many hours it takes to get there. The distance between places to eat and/or take a bathroom break are hours apart usually. We travel with food and have learned that sometimes you just have to find a secluded place along the side of the road for a bathroom break.
Distance plays a major factor in the life of the missionary. In Tanzania, we are thankful for our trusty STL Toyota Land Cruiser. It is a blessing!
Saturday evening we were invited to join our good friends, Seni and Mama Seni, for supper at their home. We have known these wonderful people for about 17 years and have spent a lot of time in their home. They usually try to have every team and visitor we have to their home one night for supper while they are here with us.
Seni and Tim have been close friends for all these years and have spent lots of time traveling and working together. Our daughters, Jenn and Sarah, love Seni and his family.
Saturday evening we arrived around 6:00pm and we ate supper about 7:30; we were waiting for other guests to arrive. The General Supt. of Zambia along with the Mission’s Board from the church finally arrived. Seni’s parents and Mama Seni’s parents live with them; there are no nursing homes in Tanzania and it is the custom for the elderly to live with their children. They are loved and treated with great respect. Seni’s father is 99 years old! Amazing, especially here in Tanzania.
We had a wonderful and abundant Tanzanian meal of fish, chicken, rice, potatoes, cabbage, greens, brown beans and gravy. At the end of the meal they were preparing to take Seni’s father to get ready for bed. He is very sharp mentally although he can no longer see. Before he left the table, he took each of us around the table by the hand one at a time and prayed a very specific blessing over each of us. As he prayed for me, he first gave thanks for God’s healing touch on my body and for bringing me safely back to them and then he prayed for God to bless me with good health in the years to come.
It was a precious example of the custom we see throughout the Bible of a father placing his hands upon his children and blessing each of them with a specific and individual blessing.
After almost two years, we have finally been able to return to Tanzania. Joyce’s health reached the point that we were given medical clearance to return after her bout with cancer.
We are busy trying to clean our house that has been sitting empty for almost a year. It is not only very dirty but in need of lots of repair including new paint inside and out. This is normal in the life of a missionary; going on furlough then returning and getting resettled before ministry can begin in earnest. Our vehicle has to be licensed, insured, new tires, inspections and cleaning.
I am thankful for my house worker, Jakrine, who is working with me each day as we go room by room cleaning.
Yesterday we attended our first Tanzanian A/G church service since our return; we decided to attend the church at the Mwanza Bible College. The people were so happy to see us and gave us a wonderful Tanzanian welcome with clapping and shouting. They have been praying for us since our departure and especially during Joyce’s cancer treatment.
The service was long and the music was great – just like we remember. The sermon was on “Obedience to God” – obedience brings God’s blessing. A timely reminder for all of us.
It is the first day of 2014 and 2013 is a closed book in which no changes can be made. In thinking about this past year the idea of mountains and valleys comes to mind.
We saw wonderful things happen and we had some great trials to our faith as well. It started out well; we finished our itineration much earlier than we had thought possible and were amazed at how God brought in our cash budget and our monthly support. It was, in fact, the easiest itineration we have had thus far in relation to raising funds.
We began to slide down the mountain at an alarming rate of speed in May just three days before we were to board the plane to return to Tanzania. Joyce had scheduled a last minute mammogram since it had been right at a year since her last one. What should have been a simple routine procedure quickly escalated to a rapid series of tests that ended in a call from the Doctor’s office telling us that Joyce had breast cancer.
We landed soundly in the valley wondering what had happened and with our heads spinning from the fast descent from the top of the mountain. Life seems to happen that way. Getting to the top of the mountain can be a slow tedious affair and the slide to the valley can catch you totally unawares and happen very quickly.
The rest of 2013 revolved around Doctor’s visits, surgeries, chemotherapy treatments, sickness and spiritual battles. Joyce had a double mastectomy in June and began chemotherapy in July. She finished her chemo in November and is getting her strength back and working through the final stages of shedding the various effects of the chemo treatments. At this point, she is cancer free so does not need any further treatments or medicines. She will need to have lab work done every three months for the next two years and every six months until her fifth year.
Spiritually, our family has worked through fear and doubt at various times although our faith has stayed strong for the most part. We have continuously felt God’s presence with us and have felt His peace. We have grown closer as a family and worked as a team. Tim, Jenn and Sarah proved to be excellent caregivers as Joyce went through chemotherapy and dealt with it’s effect on her body. We are stronger individually and as a family unit.
We have had challenges and victories in our extended families. We have been able to spend time with many of them and strengthened our bond with them. Sadly, we have lost one to death and others through broken relationships. Some are ill and we are concerned about them as we leave for our next four year term towards the end of this month.
We have visited many churches around the country and were able to get re-acquainted with old friends and make new friends who will partner with us in our work in Tanzania.
We have taken advantage of the many conveniences that are afforded to us here in America and have enjoyed them.
2013 has come and gone and we cannot make any changes. We have made mistakes and we have, we hope, been a blessing to some people. The one constant through the year has been our belief in the fact that God has never left us or forsaken us and that he loves us unconditionally. He has remained faithful to us.
This gives us hope and courage for the year 2014. We know that whether we are on the mountain, in the valley or somewhere in between, God will always be with us and he will never fail us.
Have a blessed New Year.