Wednesday, 28 January 2015

What’s new?

I’m back in Mbeya, the town where I lived for nearly five years but thought I might never see again. It’s a strange feeling, as if I’m in a dream that I might wake up from only to find myself back in my bed at Redcliffe. But the longer I am here, the more reality sinks in. It’s been over a week now. As soon as I stepped off the plane in Dar es Salaam my nostrils were assaulted with the warm, humid atmosphere of the coastal city, and I felt strangely like I had come home. So much was the same, but not everything!

In the short time I had in Dar I was struck by how technology has moved on, everyone I saw in the airport seemed to be using a smart phone! After a couple of days in Dar I flew to Mbeya – no longer does one have to sit on a bus for 13 hours, as a plane ticket to the new ‘international’ airport can be almost as cheap as the bus. I was lucky to arrive on a dry morning, seeing Mbeya at its best – lush and green from the recent rains, with the mountains rising up all around. One thing that hasn’t changed is the beauty of this place, in fact it’s even more beautiful than I remembered it!

Loleza Peak, rising above Mbeya town
I have enjoyed pacing round the streets of Mbeya and reorienting myself – surprisingly little has changed but a few things stand out. Even more shops are painted with mobile phone network logos and advertising the fact that you can use M-Pesa or equivalent there – M-Pesa almost acts as a little bank account on your phone, from which you can send money to people or pay for things; it’s very useful, particularly in a place where shops don’t take Visa and internet banking isn’t used. A number of new shops have cropped up, but they all seem to be selling the same old things – I’ve just spotted one or two changes, like a new brand of margarine (so now there are two options instead of just one!) or that Ribena is now in glass bottles and has gone up in price. I was excited to discover I could buy rice flour, and by mixing this with maize flour have made my first wheat-free cake here. 

The change that most surprised me was the roads. The first day that I walked to the office I thought I was lost when I reached a tarmac road that I expected to be dirt, only to discover that I was exactly where I thought I was and this road, along with one or two others, has been surfaced with impressive ditches and footpaths to go with it.

Arriving at the office, it was lovely to see many familiar faces, but there were also many new faces, particularly among the missionaries. I am enjoying being reunited with old friends, though very much missing close friends from England and that ease of companionship that comes from knowing one another well. Psalm 18 is a comfort at this time, for God is that rock that never changes, the One who is always there.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Just do it

Going back to Tanzania is not as exciting for me as you might think. Although the people and place are close to my heart, I know that returning won’t be easy. When I stop to really contemplate what it will be like, I find myself wondering how I will do what I feel burdened to do, how the living situation will work out, whether I will be able to cope. I feel so inadequate, so weak, so unsure. At the same time, I know that I can’t know everything before I go, and maybe I need to just get on with it and see what happens.

A couple of weeks ago I popped home to spend the weekend with family, my head full of such thoughts. At church that Sunday morning the pastor preached from Ecclesiastes 11:1-6, a passage that includes these words:

“Whoever watches the wind will not plant… As you do not know the path of the wind…So you cannot understand the work of God the Maker of all things.”

The pastor pointed out that in God’s work we cannot be certain of the outcome and so we shouldn’t wait for certainty but rather just get out there and do something and trust the Lord of the harvest to work. This seemed to be a direct challenge, and encouragement, to me.

And as God so often does, He reinforced the point the following week. As I continued through Romans in my quiet times, I reached Romans 15, where Paul tells the Romans of his intent to go to Spain and visit them on the way. However, Tom Wright comments:

“Did Paul ever get to Spain? There is no evidence whatever that he did. But his desire to do so, and the fact that he wrote Romans as part of the preparation for such a trip, point out an extremely important lesson for us all. Perhaps God sometimes allows us to dream dreams of what he wants us to do, not necessarily so that we can fulfil all of them…but so that we will take the first steps towards fulfilling them. And perhaps those first steps (as they appear to us) are in fact the key things that God actually wants us to do.”

It struck me that the passion I have to see my brothers and sisters in Tanzania growing in knowledge of God through His Word and maturing in the faith should drive me forward. Whether my dreams about this work will be realised may not matter, for who knows what God may do along the way?

Drawing all of this together, I need to stop looking at the ‘wind’ (the challenges out there and my weaknesses), and head to ‘Spain’ and trust God to do what He will along the way. I need to just do it! This doesn’t mean that I am now full of confidence and raring to go, but I believe God is gently encouraging me to give it a go. Please pray for courage!

(Quotation taken from Tom Wright’s commentary, Paul for Everyone - Romans Part 2, p.125)

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

I love you

Three words. So easy to say. So full of meaning.

I am currently visiting my parents. On Sunday, my brother and his family joined us for the day, as we all attend the same church. At some point in the afternoon my three-year-old nephew, Ewan, put his arms around me and the conversation went something like this:

Ewan: “I love you”
Me: “I love you too”
Ewan: “Why?” [When do kids grow out of the ‘why’ stage?!]
Me: “Because you are you”
Ewan: “I love you”
Me: “I love you too”
Ewan: “Why?”
Me: “Why do you think?”
Ewan: “Because it’s me”

As I was lying in bed that night, reflecting on my day, this conversation came back to me, and it struck me that right there, in that conversation, are some wonderful truths about our relationship with God…

It was so sweet to hear those words from my nephew’s lips, so warming, and I just wanted to hold him tight and never let him go. Children can be fickle – at another point in the day he had hit me, and sulked in the naughty-corner for some time until he was willing to say sorry to me, after which spontaneously came, “I love you”. The words were just as sweet to me then, even though he had been naughty and unrepentant, as they were when he was full of smiles and fun. I also wonder how much my nephew really understands what he is saying, he doesn’t really know yet what it means to love someone through all the ups and downs of life, but that doesn’t make his words any less sweet or any less genuine at that moment in time. Maybe God feels the same – maybe it is just as sweet in his ears to hear us say, “I love you”, even though we are fickle, even though we do not truly grasp the fullness of meaning in those words, even though we often demonstrate a very unloving attitude and our affections can easily be drawn elsewhere, yet his father-heart for us is much greater than my aunty-heart for my nephew, and so hearing us turn to him and say, “I love you” is a truly sweet sound in his ears.

And then there was my response, which was not a theologically thought through answer, but just the first one that came to me, and the truth – I love Ewan just because he is Ewan, because he is my own dear nephew, even though he can drive me crazy at times. Does this not also, in a very small way, reflect something of how God loves us? It’s not because of anything I have done (Rom. 5:8), He just loves me because I am me, because I am part of his family. If only I were as quick to grasp this as my nephew was to grasp why I loved him!

May we, as Paul wrote to the church in Ephesians,
“…have power…to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:18-19