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)

Monday, 30 March 2015


A typical day for an Mshewe villager in March is likely to involve getting up with the sun, heading out to the shamba (a plot of farmland) to work hard all morning cultivating the soil and planting beans. The afternoon heat (and hopefully rain) is a time to return home, eat, go to the market, visit friends and do other work. Early evening may involve a second period of labour on the farm, before returning to household chores. The curses of Genesis 3:17-19 became very real to me one morning when I went with someone to learn how to plant beans and yield a small hoe: “Cursed is the ground because of you, through painful toil you will eat of it”. Life is hard – during a year there are very few periods of rest from toiling on the farm if you want to have enough to feed your family, and children start learning at a young age how to help on the farm and in the house. I still have blisters on my hand as a reminder of the work that goes into producing the food I eat so unthinkingly. While I already had some idea of village life before going to spend two weeks in Mshewe, actually being there and interacting with it brought the reality home to me with more clarity and greater detail.

For me, however, there was no such thing as a ‘typical day’ in Mshewe! Some of the experiences I had included visiting a couple of local schools (simple buildings with as many as 60 children in a class), attending a village meeting (a fascinating insight into local issues), watching a choir sing traditional Safwa songs (and later discovering they normally sing them in the bars, well-laced with locally brewed beer), visiting homes, learning some Safwa greetings, teaching in a local church and chatting with the pastor about training for Sunday school teachers.

My aim at present is just to watch and learn (as I shadow our two Safwa Literacy & Scripture Use workers) and see where the needs are and where and how I might be able to use my own gifts and training to serve the local church and help people engage with God’s Word. I currently feel a bit like a plane circling around and not knowing where to land! I don’t want to try and land too soon, because I think the watching and learning process is vital, but at the same time there is much to be done. I am desperately praying that God will show me when and how He wants me to be at work in the Safwa area.

As well as the interesting and varied experiences I had, some of the things I really enjoyed about living in Mshewe were the lovely views and walks, the butterflies, some of the people I got to meet and their kind hospitality and help. On the downside, there were the nasty gnats that ate me alive (I am still itching), the very poor internet, limited electricity and a lack of English social interaction! However, on balance, it was a good two weeks and I have left with a desire to return soon and find out what God has in store, though each time I go it will be hard to leave behind the friendships and comforts of Mbeya. As we step out into Holy Week, though, I am reminded of how the Son of God left behind so much more than that, in order to identify with us and serve us – may this thought strengthen our resolve to also step out of our comfort zones to serve Him.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Where is home?

I’m sitting in my ‘home’ in Mbeya – a colleague’s house that I am using for several months while she is back in her ‘home’ country. In many ways it already feels like home, with some of my pictures on the walls, my piano by the window and the lovely view of the mountains. But I know it’s only temporary.

I’ve been twice to the house in Mshewe, where I hope to live when focusing more on working with people in the Safwa language area. I’ve taken photos and tried to think through what I might need to take, but right now I have no idea how long I will spend there and how it will work out and whether it will ever feel like ‘home’. I hope to have my first stay there from mid-March, perhaps for an initial period of two to three weeks, but we’ll see – things have a habit of changing here from week to week! Mshewe is in a beautiful area, though it could feel rather lonely living alone in a big house. If you’d like to come for a virtual visit, click here to see a few pictures and hear some traditional Safwa music.

Mbeya does feel like ‘home’ again in many ways, but at the same time I feel like I am in a permanent state of transition, between one house and another and between England (which is also very much ‘home’ to me, both Lapworth and Gloucester) and Tanzania. I find I don’t buy books or too many ‘things’ because I never know when I will pack up and move again, and the more stuff you have the harder that becomes. It’s always a challenge making a place feel like home in such a way that it is also easy to up and go!
All these changes keep life interesting but also make it a bit unsettling. Maybe this is one of the reasons I look forward to the future. I recently read again these verses from John 14, where Jesus said:

“In my Father’s house are many rooms…I am going there to prepare a place for you. And…I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”