Monday, 7 November 2011

Impressions from a trip to the Ndali language area

Banana trees, mountains, red soil, rice and beans, ‘Mwagona’, rough roads, sacrifice and hardship. These were the impressions left on my mind by a trip to Isoko last week, a village in the Ndali language area (a five hour drive from Mbeya). Although it is just a village, it is a hive of activity as the district hospital is located there, powered by hydro electricity. The purpose of my visit was to train Sunday School teachers (assisted by two colleagues from Mbeya). Twenty attended the workshop, some having travelled some distance from neighbouring villages, who then stayed overnight in Isoko for the duration of the workshop. Our Literacy / Scripture Use Coordinator for the Ndali language area, has a bike ride of 11km over rough roads to get to Isoko, which he does every day that he needs to be in the language office. This is just one example of the hardships to be faced living in a such a remote area. As I talked to him further I learned more of his life and how he came to be a pastor – it was amazing to see how God has led him since his childhood, and I found it personally very challenging to hear of the sacrifices he made in the process. His parents couldn’t afford to put him through secondary school so, encouraged by the church where he was already taking leadership responsibilities while still in his early teens, he headed to Bible college. Although he got some help with the funds he needed for this, he also wove baskets well into the night in order to sell them to help pay his fees. This makes me think, how much do we value the education that we have received? How much would I be willing to sacrifice to gain further education to help me in my job?

The workshop itself went well, with the participants actively engaging in what we taught, but as usual they really struggled to find the main teaching point of a Bible passage and to think how to teach that to children. Once again, I found myself asking God, “What can we do? How can we help people to grow in a knowledge of God’s Word? How can these teachers teach children the Bible effectively, if they themselves do not know your Word and don’t receive good teaching in the church?” Some of the teachers didn’t even have a Bible, yet alone any other resources! (We took books to sell, including Bibles, as they have no other way of accessing these resources other than to take the bus-converted-from-a-lorry public transport to nearby towns over four hours away). Despite this, I hope and pray that they will all have learned a few new skills that will help them in their role as Sunday school teachers, and if nothing more, they will have been encouraged that what they are doing is important and will have gained a new vision for their work.

Isoko itself is a beautiful place, and our Coordinator there took us for walks to show us more of the area – hence my impressions of mountains, red soil and banana trees! I loved the community village feel – the Coordinator seemed to know everyone and had a word to say to just about everyone we met! (‘Mwagona’ is the first greeting you make in the Ndali language).

And finally you might be wondering what the ‘rice and beans’ is about. For six out of the seven meals that we ate on the trip, we had rice and beans! I confess to taking my own little supply of food for breakfast – snack bars, bananas and Ribena! While I would choose beans over greasy meat stew any day, by the sixth time I had definitely lost my appetite for them!