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.