Sunday, 14 August 2016

A village workshop

Last week I was helping to teach a workshop in a village in the Safwa language area. The workshop was aimed at leaders in churches (pastors or leaders of groups) to enable them to read their Safwa language and to lead a simple Bible study using the Safwa Scriptures. We had been asked some time ago to do a workshop in the area and we hoped we would have a number of local churches represented.

Although the village was less than ten miles from Mbeya city, nearly eight of those were on very rough dirt roads, so that it took nearly an hour to make the journey. I felt sorry for the people we (my Safwa colleague and I) passed as the car left behind clouds of dust on the dry roads.

When we arrived we went to the pastors’ home and sat in his house for some time. It seemed that this workshop was going to start even later than usual! I soon discovered that everyone spoke Safwa, as I hardly heard a word of Swahili (the national language of Tanzania) and the children were also using Safwa. This actually surprised me, as in many of the places we go to we find that Swahili is used by younger people and children and it has led me to question the value of Bible translation, but here was a situation where the Safwa Scriptures could genuinely benefit the local church.

We finally started a few hours late, spending most of the first day focusing on learning to read the Safwa language. We had about a dozen people that day, most of whom were leaders in some capacity, though only a couple were actually pastors and only a couple of churches were represented, which was discouraging.

The second day we only started about an hour late, which is more typical. The aim of the second day was to learn how to lead a simple Bible study in Swahili or Safwa. However, the participants had changed – many had returned, though not all, and some new ladies had joined us who did not have any leadership position and several of whom were illiterate. We struggled through the day – I had to take out chunks of my teaching and simplify things considerably and left feeling exhausted from being surrounded by a language I couldn’t speak and from trying to figure out how to adapt the materials I’d prepared.

The final day I knew what to expect so things went better. For example, this time when we did a Bible study we did the whole thing in two languages, Swahili and Safwa, so that everyone could understand, including me! Also, when we split people into pairs to practise teaching each other to read Safwa, I took the ladies who couldn’t read outside and we listened to the book of Ruth in Safwa and talked about it. By the end, it seemed that people were excited to use their language more and many had bought Mark’s gospel and one or two other books in Safwa. We also left an audio device with the pastor so that people could borrow it to listen to the Safwa Scriptures.

This workshop both excited and frustrated me. I was excited by the evident need for Safwa Scriptures, but frustrated because there are so many barriers to making these Scriptures accessible to them (from literacy levels to geographical location). Please pray for these people and our work in these areas.

Coming back to the city was almost a shock. Although so close by, the village had felt like a totally different world.

Break time - getting some much needed sunshine! Still keenly reading their Safwa books.

What’s it like there? A few observations to paint the picture:


  • We passed a school on the way, the children were all outside hoeing the ground and we passed others on their way to school with hoe over their shoulder. I wonder how much time they actually spend in the classroom and how many pupils there are in each class. It is not uncommon to have over a 100 pupils to a teacher.
  • I heard that it is only recently that a primary school has been built in the area. This explains why so many of the ladies couldn’t read.
  • At another school we passed, one classroom was half-knocked down – the blackboard was on the outside wall – obviously the students would just have to sit outside to learn.
  • There is no electricity, though a few people have solar panels.
  • When I asked how many people had had breakfast (at least a cup of tea) that morning (as part of an illustration I was making), only two people raised their hands. No wonder they could eat such a mountain of food at lunchtime, as they had probably been working on their farms before coming to the workshop and not had anything to eat. I usually ate less than a quarter of what they ate! (I tried not to think about the several litres of oil they used to cook our rice, beans and greens!)
  • Everywhere bricks were out drying – it is the dry season so it is time to build.
  • There were sacks of potatoes outside – it’s a cold, windy place at this time of year, a good climate for growing potatoes. Their other main crop is maize. There are no shops anywhere near and they don’t farm a wide variety of foods, so their diet is very basic.
  • We gave a lift to a couple of ladies and their heavy bags of maize, taking them to the nearest mill to grind their maize into flour to make ugali (the most common dish here). It felt like we must have travelled three or four kilometres to get there, and they would have had to carry it back on their heads after grinding it, not arriving home until after dark.
Food mountains! Lunchtime at the pastor's house. Men inside, ladies outside.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Is it love?

I have just started reading a book I received for Christmas from my lovely uncle and aunt, called, “Love Story” by Nichole Nordeman. I have only read the first chapter (on Creation), but she expressed so well some of the questions that I often ask myself, that I am looking forward to reading more, and understanding more of the depth and breadth of God’s love for us. Shortly after reading this chapter, I listened to a Christmas sermon that focused on the death of Christ. As I held together in my head Creation and Crucifixion, I wondered, “Why?” Why would God create a world that He knew would lead to the cross? Where is love in such an act?

But then it was as if I could overhear a conversation that took place in heaven before the beginning of time, as God and His Son talked together about their plan to make the world. As they got excited about making a beautiful Earth, filling it with life, making people in their image that they would be able to interact with and enjoy being with, delighting in loving them and receiving their love, God said, “But you know what this will involve, don’t you?” And Jesus said, “Yes, I know.” It didn’t need to be put into words. They knew that if they made people in their image, with the potential to love in great measure and with the ability to make choices, that some would choose not to love. That some would not choose God and His Son, but would instead look for their own ways to love and enjoy life. And those choices only lead to death. And ultimately those choices would lead to the death of God’s Son. Because His love wouldn’t stop when human love did. His love would mean that He would die Himself, rather than give up on us. He created us with potential, He created us in His image, and His love means that He will not abandon that potential, but rather die Himself to bring about new life, eternal life, greater potential. Renewed hope.

And so God said, “You know what this will involve, don’t you?” And Jesus said, “Yes, I know.” He did not back out when He acknowledged the cost. The cross. Instead He said, “Let there be…” And there was. And we came into existence. And when the time came to pay the price of love, He became like one of us, like those He created. Yet perfect. He fulfilled His potential and loved unselfishly. He loved us to the point of dying for us, in that most terrible event and yet that most wonderful display of love, at the cross. So yes, it is love, that God should make this world, while knowing that we would destroy it. It is love, that God would make us to know Him, while knowing that we would choose not to. It is love that God would pour out His love, while knowing that He would be unloved. It is love that God would create life and beauty, while knowing that He himself would have to die an ugly death. It is love. And we can choose to love Him back and enjoy Him and delight in and thank Him for all the potential He gave us to be like Him and be loved by Him. Or we can choose not to. But oh what a sad choice that would be, to choose not to love our Maker and be loved eternally by His unselfish love.

It is love
When you consider freedom together with fighting,
When you consider life together with loss,
When you consider joy together with judgement,
When you consider creation together with the cross,

I wonder, “Why?”

I wonder why our God made the universe,
I wonder why he put life on the earth,
I wonder why he created humanity,
I wonder why he made us of worth.

I question love.

Is it love that makes what will be destroyed?
Is it love that forms relationships that will break?
Is it love that breathes life to what will die?
Is it love that gives, only to take?

It is love.

It is love, that led God to agree
With His son, before time began,
That though love would not be returned,
They’d still go ahead with their plan.

It is love.

It is love that made man in God’s image,
It is love that said, “Come and love me”,
It is love that allowed us to choose,
It is love that took God to the tree.

It is love.

It is love that though we made choices
That destroyed the potential God gave
He never stopped loving and giving
When giving led Him to the grave.

It is love.


Friday, 11 December 2015

A trip to train Sunday school teachers

Location: Magamba, Chunya District (1.5 hour drive from Mshewe, my village home). Most people there speak the Nyiha language and some speak the Safwa language or other languages such as Sukuma. Nearly everyone is also able to speak Swahili.

I picked up Amani (my Safwa colleague who lives in Mshewe) at 8am, or at least, I arrived at his house at 8am and he wasn’t quite ready, and our Nyiha colleague, who was supposed to be coming with us, hadn’t arrived either and wasn’t responding to phonecalls or text messages. We decided to leave without him. I played with Amani’s little girl while I waited for him to get ready and we set off quarter of an hour later. The road is a graded dirt road, and for the most part is rough but in reasonable condition, but some bits were very bumpy and made worse by recent rain.

As we drove, Amani told me he’d had a phonecall from the pastor who was arranging things for us in Magamba, to say that there was a funeral. This may not sound so significant to you, but I know what that means. It means that many people who I would have expected to see at the seminar will instead be at the funeral, which typically lasts three days. At some point on the journey we picked up three people to give them a lift to Magamba, as they were going to attend the funeral. When we arrived, we found out the person who died was a fairly close relative of the pastor who was hosting us, and so any hope of starting the workshop that day was lost. No-one would have turned up anyhow. Instead, we went to the funeral. There were crowds of people, women sitting in one area and preparing food and men sitting in another area. It was very much an open-air event, though thankfully we got ushered into a house away from the loud speakers and out of the hot sun. You wouldn’t have known that it was a funeral from the music being played, it just sounded like a typical gospel event.

We were joined by a group of pastors (as usual, though being a lady I wasn’t expected to be with the ladies) for chai and mandazi. For us the funeral involved a lot of sitting or standing around and waiting. I got a chance to chat with some people and show them local language Scriptures and later we got a chance to chat with the pastors who had come (it seems that pastors from all the local churches will come to a funeral to pay their respects and to preach) about our work. Can you imagine using a funeral in England as a platform for advertising what you do?! But here it was fine, and indeed a good opportunity, because at no expense to us, we were able to meet with pastors from various places that we might otherwise never meet.

The funeral in general seemed to start with lots of church choirs and music, followed by some preaching and then the burial, which took place in the back yard of the person’s home. Before covering the body, people were able to pass by and say their final goodbye. After covering, as we do in England, people could throw dirt in the grave and finally place flowers etc on it. I just observed all of this from a distance – I couldn’t really see anything, but asked Amani for explanations. After the burial, people gave their condolences in the form of money and they added it all up and announced the total sum. This may seem very mercenary to us, but I think we have to remember that a funeral is an expensive event – the family have to feed everyone that comes, and that could literally be hundreds of people (I don’t know how many people were at this one, but it looked like well over a hundred), so people’s condolences help cover the costs. (We got fed there too, even though we didn’t know the deceased. I got a plate of rice with a bit of cow that I tried not to look at or smell but just eat, it was offal of some kind – it tasted okay but the texture was far from pleasant).

We returned to the pastor’s house after food and sat and chatted about the Bible with some people that were visiting him, before returning to the funeral for a while to see the pastor. Now they were preaching. And when we visited the funeral again the next day, there was someone else preaching, so I get the impression that after the main event, the rest of the three days is taken with preaching and music and just being there with the bereaved people.

That night it poured with rain, a real thunderstorm. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep particularly well! Despite the rain it was still pretty hot, though by morning the rain had cooled things off. I was worried it might affect the roads, but thankfully it didn’t. So on day two we were able to hold the workshop, although the pastor was still at the funeral, and I think a number of others must have been too. Instead of the twenty plus participants we had at the first one, we had just six, and they were late. I tried not to be discouraged, and actually taught the children for a bit while I waited for the teachers to turn up – there were a lot more children there than teachers! They came and sat through most of the workshop, just for something to do. Sometimes I was able to involve them in games and songs, but mostly they just sat and watched.

The workshop went okay, but I had to squeeze 1.5 days of teaching into one day because of the funeral, so I had to do some rethinking! It felt a bit like they hadn’t learned anything, as the way that they did the exercises didn’t seem to show any improvement form the first workshop, and two of the teachers hadn’t done any teaching since the first workshop. But I just hope and pray that it has had some small impact. I was encouraged by one of the pastors at the funeral who said that he had noticed a difference since their Sunday school teacher had attended the first workshop. The six participants I had were an enthusiastic bunch and we had some lively conversation over lunch, so the day passed quickly and I enjoyed it despite having a headache and despite the heat (it got pretty sticky in the afternoon). And we had two little visitors – hedgehogs! First there was one, which I took outside, but it came back. So I took it out again, further away, and it came back. In the end we gave up, and it found a dark, dry corner of the church to hide in, behind the electric guitars, and later it was joined by its friend.

Before leaving we called by the funeral again to say goodbye to our host-pastor. The preaching was still going on. He took us to the market as he wanted to buy as a gift of fish, which are plentiful there as it is about an hour away from Lake Rukwa. I really enjoy the fish, despite the bones. They fry them so that they will keep for a while, without refrigeration. We gave three people a lift back to Mshewe, arriving back in the village around 7pm, and the evening sky was just stunning. As I drove the last little bit back to my house alone, I just stopped the car in the middle of the field I was driving through (on a dirt track) and watched the glorious sky that no photo could do justice to. Breathtaking.