“The pastor will meet us in Mbalizi at 8.30am.” I picked up my two Tanzanian colleagues en route and arrived in Mbalizi at precisely 8.30am. The pastor was, indeed, already there, but he hadn’t expected us to be on time! He still had some shopping to do and the shop he needed to go to was still shut. While we waited, he invited us all to a little café to get breakfast. I declined to eat what the others chose – chicken, stock (with flat globules floating attractively on top) and chapattis (greasy but yummy). I couldn’t quite stomach that for breakfast and was glad I’d already had my porridge!
We had been invited to teach at a seminar in a village church in the Malila language area. The pastor was a former student of mine, someone I had taught at Southern Bible College (Tanzania Assemblies of God), and who was keen for me to visit his church and teach. He had got in touch with me through one of his fellow students, Oscar, who now works with us as a Bible translator. So Oscar came along too, together with Heri, a Malila colleague who would be able to teach people how to read their language.
We finally left Mbalizi at the time I thought the seminar was supposed to start! The village proved to be further from the main road than we had anticipated (a good 40 minute drive), and the road was quite rough and included a somewhat rickety bridge! However, we travelled safely, even if my car did get covered in dust (inside and out).
We had been told that we would have a morning and evening session on Saturday, an opportunity to preach in the Sunday morning service and another session on Sunday evening. We prepared to teach a number of topics: The importance of reading the Bible so that we can grow spiritually; how to read the Bible carefully and meditate on it; Bible overview; the need to love and value our children and teach them God’s Word; how to read the Malila language. We did indeed have all three sessions, however, over half of each session turned out to be choirs singing, so I had a lot less time than anticipated to teach! The choirs sang and danced with gusto and the sound system was loud – I found stuffing toilet paper in my ears helped make the volume bearable. My favourite songs were the ones sung without the sound system, where I was actually able to understand the words rather than them being drowned out by the music. By the end of two days I felt like I had spent a disproportionate amount of time sitting around compared to teaching. Each day we spent a good hour getting there and another hour getting home (after an unnerving drive in the dark). Each day I was in the village for about eight hours, but was only teaching for a couple of those. It felt like a very inefficient use of my time. But was it?
There were up to a hundred people there, from more than one church, who seemed to engage well. We were warmly welcomed by all, food was provided for everyone and all our expenses were covered. They even gave us a gift towards the project as well as a large sack of peanuts and another of maize. The pastor said more than once that he wants me to go back and teach for a whole week next year, though I find it hard to know whether the enthusiasm is to do with my white skin (which is very rarely seen there and so sadly people often see us as something of an attraction and even as superior) or a genuine desire for the things I teach, so I might be declining that invitation! However, usually we are the ones arranging workshops, encouraging churches to get on board, struggling to get people to contribute to the costs and therefore covering most of the costs ourselves. While this has the advantage of us being able to do things as we want (from setting the schedule to inviting participants from multiple denominations) and being necessary in new situations where we’re not known, it was refreshing this time to be invited and provided for.
So was it a waste of time? I don’t think so. But I do have to frequently remind myself that God’s economy is different to humans’, and trust that He can and will multiply the work of our hands.