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)

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.