Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Not alone

You have heard a lot about what I do here in Tanzania, so now it’s time I introduced you to some of my colleagues and helped you get a feel for the scope of Scripture Engagement work in Mbeya.

Jo records some Safwa singers
Jo (a British lady) specialises in making audio and audio-visual Scripture products available to people in their language, as many people prefer this way of engaging with Scripture, and some people can’t read. This week she is going to the Bungu language area to record local people reading Ruth and Jonah in their language. Once she has finished editing the recordings, we hope to distribute them via phones, CDs, radio and solar-powered audio devices.

Konga & Heri are kept busy supervising the literacy and Scripture Engagement (SE) workers who live in their language areas. They themselves were once literacy & SE workers in their own language areas – they did such a good job that we invited them to come and work in our main office in Mbeya to support their colleagues. They are frequently travelling to visit their colleagues, to encourage and advise them and help them teach workshops. We primarily conduct two kinds of workshops – one is to train Sunday school teachers in interactive ways to teach children the Bible (this often includes teaching them to read their language so that they can use local language Bible resources with the children) and the other is to train leaders in churches to read their language and prepare and lead Bible studies.

Frank (Tanzanian), Karin (German), Alison (American), Gift (Tanzanian) and Baraka (Tanzanian) focus primarily on literature production and literacy training, but their work often overlaps with Scripture Engagement, as books and literacy (as well as Jo’s audio and visual resources) are all essential to helping people engage with Scripture.

Literacy & SE colleagues (photo taken 2016, a couple more people have joined the team since then)
Prisca, Mwangunga, Mwangosi, Sambwe, Ngwatta, Nsolelo, Amani, Nzowa, Pitrosi, Majaliwa and Nyambo live further afield – they are the Literacy / Scripture Engagement workers who live and work in their language areas. They are involved in advocacy, teaching people to read their language, leading Bible studies and groups for listening to audio Scriptures and training others to do the same. They have a challenging task! Some have taken bold initiatives. Nsolelo & Amani recently started up two ladies’ football teams in Amani’s village, Mshewe. Before practising, the young ladies meet to learn to read their Safwa language and study the Bible together! A couple of other neighbouring villages have also started teams, led by Safwa literacy teachers.

Young ladies playing football in Mshewe
These are just the people directly involved in Scripture Engagement here in the Mbeya Cluster Project. There are so many more who are essential to the overall goal of seeing people engaging with God’s Word in their language and being transformed by it. I haven’t even mentioned the translators, linguists, IT specialists, administrators and others involved!

So, I’m not alone in this work! I have my own specific role to play, but I am very much a part of a broader team, and it is my privilege to work alongside these people. Please pray that God would direct our steps and that we would work together well, with God as our ultimate leader and teacher.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Laugh or cry?

Coming back to Tanzania after four months in England meant that certain aspects of living here became freshly frustrating – sometimes it can be hard to know whether to laugh or cry. But then there’s other things that I see that give me a good giggle, where a local person wouldn’t notice anything strange. So here’s a few things that I’ve smiled about during my time here:
  • How do you tie back the curtains in church? Pringle tubes cut up to make loops!
  • How do you transport your pig? On the back of a motorbike! In fact, I would love to have my camera ready in time to snap pics of the many things I have seen on the backs of push bikes and motorbikes, from armchairs to trays of eggs piled high to baskets of live chickens.
  • While many younger people here follow the fashions we may follow in England (especially university students), there are some who have a uniquely Tanzanian dress sense. There’s the bright printed fabric trouser suits, the shiny lilac suit a colleague of mine wears (replete with shiny pointed shoes) or the man I saw walking to church today wearing a bright pink t-shirt, shiny pink trousers and pink shoes. I think they find our way of dressing often rather too casual – I certainly get the most complements from Tanzanians when I am wearing one of my locally made outfits.
  • Who should be in class first – the student or the teacher? At a workshop I was teaching on for colleagues, a student ran ahead of me to reach our room first, as it’s not good for the teacher to be the first to turn up! (I wish this happened in our village workshops though, where everyone is happy to be an hour or more late!)
  • I went to a local shop (situated on the grounds of the prison) to pick up a few items and suppressed a laugh when my shopping was packed into…wait for it…ASDA bags!!! Where did they come from?!
  • Have you ever seen a rain frog? Little things that puff up and give off quite a croak. They’re hilarious.

And here’s some times when I don’t know whether to laugh or cry:
  • Getting back from a couple of weeks away to find that all my rice flour has gone mouldy. As I try to avoid wheat, and therefore have to arrange for rice flour to be ground rather than just going to a shop to buy some, this could have made me cry. But then I have to smile too – I’d never have had to spread my flour out on a sheet to dry out before using it in England! And the neighbours’ kids happened to be visiting when I discovered the problem, so one of them emptied out the flour, another cleaned out the tub and then we played Uno! It’s impossible to be upset surrounded by excited children.
  • Discovering some lush chocolates a friend sent have strangely melted and become infested with bugs. This has only ever happened once here, but why did it happen to this particular form of chocolate?! Bugs, bugs, bugs – we are often chasing cockroaches, swatting flies or sifting weevils out of flour. However, I recently spent some time in a town near Lake Victoria, and I suddenly realised how fortunate I was to live in Mbeya. Our cockroaches are slim, smallish, brown things, while theirs were big and black. We only get ants round our waste food bin, they have them running in a constant stream across work surfaces, however clean they might be.
  • Back in Mbeya I pulled on my sandals for my first day’s walk to work. As my feet quickly became dirty from the combination of wet grass and dirt footpaths, I remembered that I had been choosing to wear walking shoes rather than sandals to go to work. I feel like I never have clean feet here, but I do rather like wandering around bare foot!
  • Water pressure – another frustration. Often the pressure isn’t high enough for my electric shower to turn on, so I have a cold dribble of water to bathe in. The strange (and good) thing is that my housemate’s shower doesn’t seem to have this problem, so when I just can’t face the cold dribble, I use her shower. I really need to get someone out to look at it, but finding good plumbers who turn up on time is as much of a challenge here as in England!
And so I am settling back into life in Mbeya, with plenty to laugh over if only I have eyes to see it, so much human and divine creativity to make me smile. And in those times when it all just feels too much, I know that God knows what it’s like to suffer and He sees my struggles, and tomorrow is a new day.

Amazing rock formations (Musoma, near Lake Victoria, north Tanzania)
Enjoying colouring truths about God

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.