Saturday, 5 May 2012

How to plough the shamba

I’ve just returned from a week away in the highlands – not the bonny hills of Scotland but the equally breath-taking hills of the southern highlands of Tanzania, which includes the Kinga and Vwanji language areas where we were staying. The journey to the Kinga language area took us through some beautiful scenery, including Kitulo National Park – a plateau over 2600m above sea level, home to great numbers of wild flowers. If only we could have seen it all! A good part of the journey was in thick fog. This, coupled with a pretty rough dirt road and not knowing exactly where we going meant that it took us five hours to reach the Lutheran Centre where we were to stay, arriving in the dark. The next morning revealed that we were located in a beautiful place surrounded by mountains and with woodland that could easily be mistaken for the forests of the UK’s own highlands.

We were there to hold a seminar on how to lead and prepare Bible studies. This method of studying God’s Word is a new concept in the majority of churches here, but as the participants came to understand how it works, they saw its benefits and what a useful tool it could be. However, they found it very challenging to write suitable questions and to identify the main teaching point of a passage. There is a huge need for church leaders to receive more teaching in the Bible, as their own Bible knowledge is often poor due to a lack of theological education and availability of Bible resources. It has been said that Tanzania is over-evangelised and under-taught, and this is a reality that I have seen over and over again.

After two days in Tandala (the village where we were staying) we moved onto the Vwanji language area, still in the hills, to hold two more seminars – one for Sunday school teachers and another one on Bible studies. As we waited for all the participants to arrive (there is no such thing as starting on time) we got into conversation about the shambas all around us. Almost every family has a shamba – a plot of land for growing food (somewhat bigger than an allotment but much smaller than farms in England). The Vwanji language area has fertile soil and plentiful rainfall and as the climate is cool they are able to grow similar crops to what we grow in the UK – right now seems to be cabbage season, and there were also numerous potato patches to be seen, maize crops and sunflowers. They were amazed that we usually just use a spade and fork in digging our allotments, while they work the earth with a hoe. (They were equally surprised to hear that I have never held a hoe in my life and wouldn’t know what to do with it.)

After getting back from this trip (which was challenging, fun, interesting and saddening, but I’ll spare you all the details), I have been reflecting on the work that we are doing and how we can develop it. I feel like we are trying to plough a very large shamba. The shamba are the churches here and the ploughing is the call we have in Scripture Use to help people engage with God’s Word, to handle it correctly and in so doing to grow in a knowledge of God and see lives being changed. So far, I feel like we have only ploughed a tiny corner of the shamba; we need to reach further and dig deeper. The question is, how? Should we use the hoe or the spade – what tool is most appropriate for the soil here? One thing is clear, teaching is desperately needed at all levels. I’ve been reading through Hebrews and this section (6:1-3) struck me as being as relevant here in Tanzania as it was to the Hebrews: “Therefore, let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God….And God permitting, we will do so.”

May God show us the way to plough the shamba here, and give us the tools to do so.