Monday, 24 August 2015

Waiting

I feel like I spend a lot of my life in Tanzania waiting.

Teaching pastors to read their Safwa language,
while we wait for others to arrive for a meeting.
On Saturday I was invited to a meeting of local church leaders in order to share about our work. I turned up on time with my colleague, Nsolelo, at 10am. There was no sign of anyone at the Moravian church where the meeting was to be held so we went to the pastor’s house where one other person was waiting. We were given something to eat (dry bread and cooking bananas) and drink (black tea) and we continued to wait and chat. Others then began to arrive, so we migrated to the meeting room and over an hour after we were supposed to start the meeting finally kicked off. After I had spoken I sat through the rest of the meeting, which proved to be totally irrelevant, until it ended well after my usual lunch time. On this occasion, as on many others, I just had to hope and pray that it wasn’t a waste of time and that God could somehow use the small contribution I made for His purposes. I had to remind myself that relationships are important and you never know what may come of a meeting like that.

Let me take you to a another event – this time a Sunday school teacher training workshop. I knew we wouldn’t start on time the first day, so I wasn’t too worried that even I, as the teacher, turned up a little late. The invitation letter stated that the workshop would begin at 9am, but it was around 10.30am by the time we got going, and still not everyone had arrived. I hoped that on the second day the participants might not be so late, but the pattern repeated itself until the end of the workshop and I just tried to keep the one or two who were on time (meaning only half-an-hour late) entertained with crafts and games until we could start properly! (All good training for teaching children, who are also usually late for Sunday school).

Or there is the seminar we were teaching at on Friday, which of course started late, but that was to be expected. The real waiting began after the meeting was over, when we were asked to stay for food (which takes a long time to cook when you are using wood as your fuel) and then, just as I hoped we could leave, I found out we had to wait for the host-pastor to come (who hadn’t attended the morning’s meeting) so that we could greet him before we left.

And right now I am waiting – waiting for plans to fall into place that depend on other people meeting and making plans, which they are in no hurry to do, as for them it is just something to get round to when they have time, while for me my very work depends on it.

I feel like I have learned more about living life day by day and being patient through these experiences, but at times it is just incredibly frustrating and l feel like I am wasting my time. Also there is something strangely tiring about waiting – I am much more tired after a day of sitting in pastors’ houses or in meetings, not doing or saying much, than I am after a day of energetic teaching. So, if you need a break from the hustle and bustle of life in the ‘West’, come and visit me and we can sit and wait together :-)

“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31 (KJV)

This is the kind of waiting I would rather experience in my life, of eternal benefit. May God help me to wait upon Him, and to learn to wait patiently here!

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Why Tanzania?

Matema, Lake Nyasa (aka Lake Malawi) on a recent break
To a passing observer it may look like an exciting adventure to work in ‘exotic’ Africa, but while Tanzania is indeed a beautiful place, with delicious tropical fruits, exotic birds and lots of sunshine, the reality of living and working here is often challenging. Leaving behind family and friends that I love and living in a culture that is so different from my own can be very hard. So why do I do it?

Though the sun is shining and the birds are singing as I write, I know that out there the world is a mess. Just over the wall are people living in poverty, sometimes wondering where their next meal will come from or how they will pay their children’s school fees. Read the news and there are people living in fear of their lives, thousands trying to escape their homes and others suffering from natural disasters. And in my own family loved ones are suffering, I myself often have health issues and I know that happiness is fragile.

I can’t make sense of all this. Sometimes I find the hopelessness of life overwhelming, except that I believe that there is hope. This world has a lot of beauty, ingenuity and love in it, enough to point me to the fact that there must be a master designer behind it – I cannot conceive that it just came to be. But if all that there is to life now is what I see around me and on the news, then I am not sure what the point of living is. My own life might be pretty comfortable and nice, but what about all those others who are suffering? Is it fair?

When I wonder about all this (which I do frequently), again and again I am pointed towards the only thing, or One, that I believe makes sense of it. This world is messed up, mostly by humanity’s own actions, but there is hope. God made this world to be a beautiful place where we can live in love and harmony with Him and one another. But people have chosen to ignore God and follow their own ideas and the world we now live in is the result of that. But the reason I have hope to carry on and the reason I live in Tanzania, is because I believe God hasn’t abandoned us. I believe that if we choose to acknowledge God to be God and to love and follow Him, we can look forward to a day when this world will be totally restored, the mess done away with, and we will live in peace with man and God. This hope for the future gives me the strength to live for today. It gives me the motivation to live in Tanzania, to work with the church here to help people to know God better, through the Bible, that they might share in that hope that I have. I have been privileged with good education and Bible teaching, unlike so many of my Christian family in Tanzania, so this is why I have come to teach in Bible colleges and churches here that they also might understand the Bible and know God better and the hope He offers. It is why I am part of an organisation trying to make the Bible available in every language of the world that needs one.
Students at a Bible college that I teach at occasionally

If you have questions about anything I have written, if you disagree or want to know more, please write and tell me!


"The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living." The Bible (Hebrews 11:1, The Message translation)

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

The same God?

On Sunday I visited a church in the village of Iziwa, a beautiful spot on the slopes of Mbeya Peak. I was there with my colleagues from the Safwa language area to share about the work of Bible translation, to discuss the possibility of returning to teach people to read and write their language and to talk about Scripture Engagement training we can provide.

It turned out to be a very big church as it is the headquarters of the Pentecostal Holiness Mission (PHM) for this area. Due to having guests (us), several of the nearby PHM churches had come for a joint service, so there were about 500 people. We joined the service at about 10.30am (things had already begun while we were in the pastor’s office), and proceeded to sit through nine choirs presenting their songs. As guests, we were seated on the stage in plush arm chairs, looking through the glass pulpit to the choirs dancing in front. To my right two humongous speakers perched on the edge of the stage and my armchair vibrated to the beat. After an hour and half of listening to loud songs that were hard to understand and watching the choirs throwing themselves into elaborate dance moves, we moved into the offering time, after which we were introduced and my colleague preached (using a mixture of Swahili and Safwa). After a long (but pretty good) sermon on Job, there was a time of prayer in which everyone prayed out loud at the same time. And when I say out ‘loud’, I mean LOUD!! The service lasted over four hours, though thankfully we were invited to leave the service to ‘rest’ before it was over.

So, there I was, in a church with brothers and sisters in Christ, but everything about the service felt so far removed from what I am used to in England that I was almost led to wonder if we worship the same God. Does my God accept carefully rehearsed dancing as worship, does He like it when people shout their prayers and does an exceedingly long, loud service please Him? These things might not be pleasing to me, but that doesn’t mean we are worshipping a different God. Rather, we are different people worshipping the same God. When I stop and think about it, it’s incredible just how much diversity God created and loves. The fact that He can find pleasure in Iziwa villagers worshipping Him one way and Lapworth villagers worshipping Him in a totally different way speaks to the very bigness of our God. He isn’t confined to one culture or one way of doing things, His heart is so much bigger than my blinkered, judgmental one!

I hope that the longer I live here the more God will help me to see this culture through His eyes and the more I will glimpse the bigness of our God.

“As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways and thoughts above yours.” Isaiah 55:9 (Today’s English Version)