Friday, 17 December 2010


Once again I have had to go through some painful goodbyes. On Monday I left the Wycliffe Centre (the Head Quarters of Wycliffe Bible Translators UK), after having lived there for three months making new friends and valuing every moment with old friends. As I drove home, I felt an incredible sense of loss at the thought of never seeing some of those people again or never being able to spend the same kind of time with them that I have enjoyed until now.

This has caused me to think about the meaning of ‘sacrifice’. People often say that missionary life is one of sacrifice, but I wonder what they understand by that. Do they think of how we’ve given up the chance to have a well paid job? Do they think of how we’ve said goodbye to certain privileges such as good healthcare or reliable electricity? Do they think of not being able to enjoy the luxuries of life such as going to the cinema or nice restaurants?

It might be surprising to hear that I don’t consider any of these a sacrifice. Why? Because inherent in the word ‘sacrifice’ is pain, and missing out on the above things doesn’t really bother me that much. Yes, they make life difficult and uncertain at times, but I would rather be in Tanzania than have any of those things.

However, what does bring pain, is goodbyes. For me, the biggest sacrifice of being a missionary is the loss of stability in relationships. We are always moving around ourselves or saying goodbye to others who are moving. Saying goodbye to friends often feels so final. Even though I am thankful for Skype and email, they can never take the place of face to face contact, of living with or close to someone or of working with someone. And that is painful.

God never said that life serving Him would be easy, in fact Jesus said “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23). However, I find comfort in the fact that I don’t do that alone, Jesus walks beside me, He is my good shepherd who leads and guides me through both the good times and the dark times (Psalm 23). This doesn’t take the pain out of the sacrifice, but it does bring comfort, and also provides hope for the future, when one day I will live in my permanent home that Jesus is getting ready for me right now, and I’ll never have to say goodbye again!

Valuing every moment with friends

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Here, there and everywhere

So much going on, and so little time to write about it! I've visited a white horse, a model village and Oxford, all giving me opportunities to spend quality time with friends. I've been traipsing the English countryside once again the last few days as I spent a long weekend visiting Kent with a friend from Bible college days, a beautiful and interesting county with its comical oast houses and old castles. Then friends from church came to visit me here at the Wycliffe Centre and we enjoyed a walk through the woods round about (a very muddy one, but the autumn colours more than made up for that). Now it's back at the desk with work to be done, though soon it will be time to join with all my Wycliffe colleagues for the Wycliffe International Day of Prayer. At this time we will be remembering the work of Wycliffe worldwide, as will people all over the world.

As I think about this, I am reminded of my friends and colleagues in Tanzania and how differently their days pass by compared to mine here. I often pause to reflect on what they might be doing, and can't quite get my head round the things they are facing day by day (as the rains begin in a hot Mbeya), while I sit and plan my lessons (in a central heated library in a cold Horsleys Green)!

My friends, Matt & Liz Wisbey, have just written an interesting reflection on some of the different ways we spend our time compared to our Tanzanian friends, which you will find an interesting read, as well as a report on an event coming up here at The Wycliffe Centre that you might be interested in attending. So do take a look at their blog.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Teaching and learning

I’m back at the head quarters of Wycliffe Bible Translators UK. Last time I was here for any length of time I was a student, learning all about ‘Scripture Use’ to prepare me to go and serve in Tanzania. Now, four years later, I am here as the teacher! I didn’t feel that just two and a half years of working in Mbeya qualified me for this role, but I was assured that my recent experiences were valuable and so I agreed to teach as an assistant to a more experienced lady.
So, here I am, and I feel that I am learning as much as I am teaching! As I plan and prepare lessons, I remember the things I once learned and find myself trying to apply them to my situation in Tanzania and wondering how they should look in practice. That’s not to say that when I went to Tanzania I completely disregarded all I had learnt! However, when I did my training I didn’t have concrete situations in my mind to apply my learning to and once I was in Tanzania it was hard to think of how all those things I’d learn in the abstract now applied in reality. Now, revisiting those studies, with Mbeya in mind and with some distance between myself and the work (which allows for a little more objectivity!) I am wondering where I need to relearn and be re-envisioned for the work of Scripture Use in Mbeya. I still have so much to learn and am more and more aware of how all our endeavours will come to nothing unless God is at work.
We are teaching a really interesting mix of students (two Finns, one Russian and one Hungarian) who will all be going to very different places, so it’s a challenge to make the teaching relevant to them all. I love to teach and I’m enjoying being able to do that in my mother tongue rather than Swahili, but as none of the students speak English as their first language, I still have to be careful that what I say is understandable!
Between teaching and pondering on what I am learning, I seem to be constantly on the move. I have been here for four weeks and every weekend has seen me attending a different church and often being in a different place. I’ve been back to All Nations (where I was at Bible College) and Oxford (where I was at university) and have had the privilege of exploring a new part of the country by taking a weekend trip to Sheffield with friends. It’s a fun, busy and tiring schedule to keep up, so please pray that I can sleep properly at nights in order to make the most of what each day has to bring.

Chatsworth House, nr Sheffield & loving an English autumn!

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Choose life

I’ve been reflecting a lot recently on how we choose our attitudes – as I read in a novel recently: “…the thought struck him that what a man allowed into his heart was a matter of choice” (The Smoke Jumper, by Nicholas Evans). For example, instead of bitterness and unforgiveness, will we choose to forgive and choose ‘non-remembrance’ of how we’ve been wronged? Instead of becoming self-centred and depressed when life seems hard, will we choose life? For the Christian, this isn’t just a matter of positive thinking. It’s a conscious decision to trust in God’s love and grace rather than listening to the devil’s accusations and lies. It’s hard. It would be so much easier to just wallow in self-pity, something I do all too easily, even though I know my suffering is nothing compared to others’ and even though I know that these troubles are ‘light and momentary’ compared to the wonders awaiting us in heaven.
The thing is, to choose life we have to know why life is worth choosing! And that’s where I get a bit stuck. I know heaven is ahead and it’s going to be wonderful. So why do we have to suffer this life first? I’m lucky – there’s lots of things in my life to enjoy, but why carry on with the partial enjoyments of this life when heaven is going to be so much better? What is our purpose in living? If it’s to glorify God, won’t we do that so much better in heaven? I just don’t quite get it. I can carry on with this life, enjoy it, learn from it, change and grow…but then when I get to heaven I’ll be made perfect anyhow, so what was the point? I know we are called to be witnesses, which I can see would give purpose to life, but then how about those of us in jobs working mostly with Christians that involve hardly any opportunity for sharing one’s faith? What’s the point in enjoying a good book or even enjoying a walk in God’s amazing creation, if our only purpose in life is to bring others to faith?
So why choose life? God didn’t make the world to be a place of suffering, He grieves over it. I know that He is waiting that more might be saved before bringing an end to this world – but the longer he waits, the more babies will be born and so the list of those who won’t be saved grows ever bigger, alongside of those who will. So, why? Why do we have to live this life of suffering first, before going to heaven? It hurts here on earth.
I’m not sure I have an answer to this, but I am starting to think that I have got the question wrong. The point is, we have been put in this world and we have no choice but to be here. Suicide isn’t an option. Instead of asking why should I live this life, I should be asking how will I live this life?
I challenge us all to choose life (Deut. 30:19-20). Even though it’s hard, let’s be intentional in our thinking and actions and make continual conscious decisions to live life to the full in Christ, trusting God to help us, knowing that He will be enough for us each day.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Culture shock in a coffee shop

Culture shock sometimes hits you in the most unexpected places. On the way to the Lake District to meet up with family friends, we stopped off at a coffee shop, and…boom! There it was…I wanted to run outside and take some deep breaths. What was it? It’s not easy to put into words, but here’s a few thoughts from that journey…
…as we drove along smooth, wide A-roads, I noticed just how clean and pristine everything looked, even the weeds seemed to know their place! Rain obviously comes regularly and gently enough to wash everything clean and green, no tropical storms to flatten delicate grass and flowers down. The houses all looked perfectly proportioned, they looked like they’d stood for years and will stand for many more yet. No crumbling mud walls, rusty tin roofs or dusty yards, just neatly laid Cumbrian slate, tiled roofs and tidy green lawns.
And then there was the tea shop! It was just too perfect – where was the flaking paint on the walls or the occasional errant cockroach? Instead, its perfect pictures were perfectly straight, there were perfect smiles on polite waitresses’ faces, perfect cakes and chip-less crockery and equipment that would turn the chef of even the best restaurant in Mbeya green with envy. Three drinks and two cakes cost the same as three full meals at my favourite eating places in Mbeya.
And finally we arrived by the lakes themselves… crowds of people just out for pleasure, despite the rain. The geese and swans obviously weren’t quite so concerned about keeping England clean and pristine, as they soiled the pathways and grassland everywhere. But despite the rain and the crowds (and the culture shock), as my dad said, “There’s something magical about the Lakes.”
(And I had a delicious strawberry, banana and peach smoothie at the teashop!!)

Sunday, 18 July 2010

A walk in the woods

As I went for a walk through the woods this weekend with my mum, I thought about how the same phrase conjures up such different images for me…
‘a walk in the woods’ in England conjures up fresh green deciduous trees such as beech, oak and horse chestnut, standing closely together with the sunlight dappling through, damp earthy ground underfoot, brambles and nettles vying for position and the occasional treat of seeing a rabbit or even a muntjac.

‘a walk in the woods’ in Tanzania, by my home in Mbeya, conjures up tall eucalyptus trees spaced out, their distinct scent filling the air, dry hard earth to walk on and dead leaves crackling under my feet, unusual bird calls breaking the silence and butterflies fluttering across the path.

There are so many things which are the same and yet different about my two ‘homes’ – things that exist in both places and yet feel so different, even the air I breathe seems to have a different, more mellow quality, here in England! They feel like two parallel worlds.
Here, in this English world, I am enjoying the luxury of hot water straight from the tap and powerful hot showers, big bags of dried apricots and prunes, pork pies and special cheeses, my favourite jumbo sausage and chips, a washing machine, constant electricity and internet connection, public toilets, good roads and drivers that obey the rules of the road (most of the time). On the other side, I am struggling with the opulent lifestyles of people living round about, clothes shopping and too much choice in shops. I miss shopping at the market in Mbeya, seeing the mountains, eating chapattis and beans and having friends around my own age. It’s a relief to meet with people who have been in both worlds and who understand this strange feeling of being a part of both but not really belonging to either. However, I hope that through sharing about our experiences we can all understand something of both worlds and be both challenged and enriched as we learn from the different cultures they have.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Waratibu wapya!

Here’s a little Swahili lesson for you:
“Waratibu” means “Coordinators” (the ‘wa’ indicates plurality, ‘mratibu’ would be just one) and “wapya” means “new” (note that ‘wa’ is at the beginning of this word too – that’s because adjectives have to agree with the noun that they are referring to, so one new coordinator would be ‘mratibu mpya’).
Last week we held a workshop to train three new people to be the coordinators of Literacy and Scripture Use work in their respective language areas (Sangu, Safwa and Bena). We praise God that there were three people, as we had struggled to find a suitable candidate for the Sangu language until the last minute. It was a busy week, with lots of things for them to take in, but we have been pleased with how keen they were and with how many questions they asked! The workshop isn’t over yet though. This week we will also be training the six coordinators that are already in place, addressing issues that they need more help in and providing opportunities for them to share with each other how things are going.

I find teaching both exhilarating and tiring, so please pray that we would all have the energy we need to keep going! It’s only 2 weeks before I get on a bus to Dar as I start my journey home to England, so I have lots of other things to get sorted too. As I write, it is a beautiful, blue skied Sunday morning, and I am going to make sure it is a good ‘day of rest’ so that I am ready for the busy week ahead! (It’s just a shame that someone is working with a very noisy chainsaw nearby, destroying the silence and making it hard to hear the birds singing).

Sunday, 30 May 2010


I have been reflecting, in those deep meditative moments, on how simple things can have a significant impact. Take cake for example. How long does it take to whip up a cake? It’s simple and it can be a fun way to relax. But more importantly cake can…
…bring a smile to a person who has been working hard all day. I like to give cake to the groundsman on our compound and I love to see his face light up.
…make a person feel valued and loved. I have a friend for whom the gift of a cake speaks volumes.
…build relationships. Last week I taught my landlady’s niece how to make ginger cake – it was fun to do this together and to chat as we worked.
…help a day at the office seem a little brighter. On occasional Fridays, a lady in our office loves to treat a few of us by bringing in some big chunks of delicious banana bread or chocolate brownies!
…be a great way to celebrate. That’s an obvious one…who doesn’t like a to have a cake for their birthday?!
…be a nice way to say goodbye. On Friday, we will sadly be saying goodbye to some colleagues, who are moving onto a new assignment. So, we’ll be bringing in cakes for tea break, to make it a more special time.
…be a simple way to spend time with friends. I’ve often invited friends round for coffee and cake on a Saturday afternoon – a lovely way to catch up with people, without having to go to the effort of cooking a complete meal!

Maybe I (we all?) need to remember this, and to make the most of the simple things in life. Little things can mean a lot. Karibuni kwangu – I made some chocolate cake on Saturday!

Lunch at a friend's home on Sunday (cake is there, it's just hidden!!)

Monday, 19 April 2010

Still teaching Sunday School

Some time ago I shared my experiences of teaching Sunday School in the church I attend here in Mbeya. I have just started to teach again (having had a long break from it) and thought you might like an update. Thanks to all of you who sent suggestions for how I could handle the various challenges I encounter!
Last week things got off to a disappointing start, with only a handful of children attending and most of them arriving in the last fifteen minutes of the one hour lesson! However, this week eight children were already there and waiting when I arrived and many more turned up as the lesson went by. Maybe my encouragement of “If you come on time you get a chance to do fun things like colouring!” actually worked!
I’ve learned that the best way to deal with the steady trickle of children’s arrival, is to start with a long activity that can be done as they arrive – the easiest thing to do is colouring – giving them pictures of the story or the memory verse. Once a critical mass of kids are there, I can get going on the teaching, starting with a few preliminaries that still allow for late children coming without missing out on the main teaching. My biggest challenge is getting as many of the children involved as possible in answering questions – it’s usually the same few, though this week was different. I finish with the memory verse, so that those who arrive right at the end still get a chance to hide God’s Word in their heart. If we are actually able to start the whole lesson in reasonable time, the kids may get lucky and have a game at the end.
So, I guess I’m learning! And in learning these things I am better equipped to teach Sunday School teachers here, as I am more aware of the challenges they face (though I am also aware that I am able to supply resources for my class that they may be unable to afford). Recently I had two very different workshop experiences when training Sunday School Teachers. Both workshops were intended to be follow-ups for teachers who had attended two previous workshops.
At the first, in one of the coldest places we work, I had the smallest turnout I have ever had, at the second, in one of the hottest places we work, the biggest!! With over seventy teachers attending, of whom only a handful had attended the previous workshops I’d conducted there, it was quite an experience! It was so exciting to see all those people gathered together from different denominations – our Literacy/Scripture Use Coordinator there had done an excellent job of advertising the event. Please join me in praying for these teachers, who only received very basic training, that they would yet be able to use it to really help them in their ministry.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Listening to your language

Can you imagine what it would be like to hear a recording of your language for the first time? It is impossible to imagine such an experience for most of us, surrounded constantly as we are by media of all kinds in the language we have spoken since infancy.
However, for many people here in Tanzania, the language that they grew up speaking may not even exist in written format, and even if it does, they may never have seen it and are even less likely to have heard it as some kind of recording.
One aspect of our work here, in making Scripture accessible to all in the language that they understand best, is to make it available in audio format. In a culture where orality is valued over and above the written text, this is a vital ministry.
Towards the end of last year, the whole gospel of Mark was recorded in the Vwanji language, and has since been available for sale in both tape and CD format. I recently received the following report from our Literacy / Scripture Use Coordinator for the area (translated from Swahili):
“People are using the tapes and CDs in their home, but also I have passed by some places in the market and heard it playing! Many listen to it just for the sake of listening and enjoying hearing how their language has been used and seeing that it is good Vwanji! A few people will sit and listen and then spend time thinking about the meaning of what they heard. Now I am educating people who buy the tapes as to how they are able to listen to the tapes together with others. People are very happy with the tapes, and when they listen for the first time they are amazed at what was done to make them.”
Next time you hear your language wafting over the airwaves, coming through the television or pouring out of your iPod, remember how privileged you are and please remember and pray for the work we are involved in here.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Touched by the words of a stranger

Sunday evening. After a week in Dodoma, a place too hot to walk fast and too unfamiliar to walk far, followed by a fourteen hour bus journey to get back to Mbeya, it was time for a walk. I headed off up the hill to do my favourite circuit through the woods, over streams and up and down the mountainside. As I climbed the slippery path I met a Tanzanian lady, who had been collecting firewood. We greeted each other and, pointing up the hill, she asked me where I was going to spend the night. I told her I would go back home, and pointed roughly in the direction of my house. She cautioned me not to go far as it would be dark soon.
I was touched by these words of a stranger – a lady near the end of a hard day’s labour, yet concerned about the wanderings of a foreigner. Her words echoed those of my good friends here, who I had seen just before setting off, and who always want to know when I am back safely from a walk alone. What a blessing to be so cared for, by strangers and friends alike. If humans, in their selfishness, can show such love and care – think of how great God’s perfect love and care is for us, his children! And I believe He shows us that love and care through those around us, strangers and friends alike.

Waiting for a blown tyre to be changed on the long bus trip!

Monday, 8 February 2010

Teaching Sunday School

This Sunday I taught Sunday School for the second time at the church I attend here in Mbeya. I left it feeling very tired and somewhat dejected. Let me share the experience with you…
…I arrived a few minutes early. Six children were waiting for me – five girls aged 8-10 and one toddler. I couldn’t really do the game I had planned with that number of children, so I started with Simon Says, hoping that more would turn up. None did. So then I did a little relay race to get the names of the first five books of the Bible – the problem was that only one of the children had been there the previous week so they hadn’t got a clue how to put them in order. Finally I started the teaching, and a few more children arrived. I persevered in teaching them about Jeremiah – an example of someone who gave up his time to tell people the words of God (as we are doing a series about the Bible, using some Swahili Sunday School materials). Gradually the number of children increased, but it was always the same two or three girls who put up their hands to answer questions. By the end there were probably 30 children packed into the little room, some of them arriving just 10 minutes before the end of the hour-long class!
So, if anyone has any suggestions on how to teach children who arrive at different times, are of a wide variety of ages, who don’t own Bibles and may not even have access to one at home and who don’t even seem to know the story of Moses in the bulrushes, please share them with me!! And pray for my ability to communicate with them clearly in Swahili – I’m sure my inaptitude in this area is part of the problem! Jesus said, “Let the little children come unto me… for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” I hope that these little children will come to Him and come to love His Word.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

One of those days

Friday was just one of those days when everything seems to go wrong! First was the shock of some difficult changes that might have to take place at work in the year ahead – it’s always difficult in our work with a constant flow of people coming and going and change is inevitable. Then there was a sad farewell lunch as we said goodbye to a friend and colleague who will be sorely missed (we were also celebrating being settled in our new offices)! Then I broke my tooth – or at least, broke the cap off my tooth that I originally broke when I was a child. Then there was the milk – I left it just for a few seconds and it boiled over (as all our milk is fresh and has to be boiled before use). Well, as they say, "There’s no point in crying over spilt milk" – but by this point it was getting hard to keep control of the emotions. Then the icing on the cake, which was really a very small thing but after everything else it just tipped me over the edge, was finding out I didn’t have enough eggs to both make the pancakes I’d planned for tea and do an eggy filling for them that my friends like.

And now it’s Saturday…the good news is that I was able to get my tooth fixed**… however, otherwise it seems to be another ‘one of those days’! I got less than 5 hours sleep (just couldn’t get to sleep – maybe it was the coffee), I have an upset tummy and the milk seems to have a vendetta against me as the little milk jug I had put a the last of the old milk in fell over in the fridge and got milk all over the vegetables.

**Things can go wonderfully smoothly when you know the right people here! Getting my tooth fixed… My landlady just happens to be a dentist. Yesterday she phoned a colleague in the hospital 5 minutes up the road and today I was able to go and get it fixed! Looks like he’s done a really good job, and he had good English so I didn’t have to cope with medical vocabulary in Swahili!

A typical rainy day - looking out the back of my house