The ‘Black Box’

Pray for missionary children. It’s not always easy being a missionary kid: so much movement between places; so many different churches; different villages; and different expectations. We use the idea of the ‘black box’ with our kids. They don’t ask when we’re leaving, when food will be or whether we’ll be having food before we go. They know the answer is ‘it’s in the black box’ of not knowing. Eventually we’ll know, but right now we’re at the mercy of whoever is hosting us.

Last Sunday we were visiting a church we haven’t visited in a good while. I could see the children mentally prepare themselves for long hours with no food and being touched and stared at by unfamiliar little faces. Some people find new experiences easier than other people do, no matter how often they have to face them.

When we arrived at the church we were greeted by the familiar face of our pastor friend, who immediately took us for lovely warm soft chapatis and sweet spiced tea. I could see joy spread across the children’s faces. Church provided Reuben with an opportunity for a much needed long nap and after some time I took Tabitha out thinking the service was just finishing up. We ended up staying out in the ‘hoteli’ (food shack) talking with another Tabitha for at least an hour while the service continued. I figured that at least this was a good opportunity for me to practice my swahili, which still needs all the practice it can get.

During our time in the holeli a number of the congregation joined us. Although we had arrived at church at 10.30am, many had been there from the first service, around 8am, through the intensive teaching between the services, known as Sunday school, and onto the second service. By now it was probably about 3pm and others in the holeli were enjoying a plate of beans and rice. Tabitha and I considered ‘the black box’. ‘There may be a lunch coming for us later’. ‘But the pastor’s house is far away and he usually doesn’t leave until the evening’. ‘If there is food for us it will probably be here anyway since we had chapati here’. ‘Will he be upset if we eat?’ ‘He’ll probably just be happy we’ve eaten’. We considered the matter for a while before going ahead and deciding to share a plate of beans and rice. And then another. By the time Simon came to find us to tell us there was a meal for us, we were pretty stuffed.

Tabitha happily receiving any food coming her way:

We were taken to a room round the back of church, where there seemed to be the most enormous spread of food. I was beginning to feel a little disappointed with the fullness of my belly; remembering how delicious other feasts at this church had been. I was also a little perplexed at the size of the spread. Surely they hadn’t put this on for us? A number of church leaders and a few others joined us and Tabitha and I managed to stuff in a bit more food and I was grateful I wasn’t going to have to produce any more food for the family that day. Simon and Reuben also appeared to enjoy themselves.

During the meal various people stood up to talk. I was tired by then, I’d had my swahili practice for the day and since church was over I figured I could rest my brain and ignore what was going on. After a number of people had spoken, I was asked to speak. I had no idea why we were eating and speaking together and absolutely no idea what they wanted me to talk about. I thought perhaps people had been giving testimonies, so I said a few words about things I was grateful to God for. The Master of Ceremonies tried to guide me on to a somewhat different topic but after I’d finished Simon leant over to tell me that we were at a graduation meal for a recently qualified doctor and we were all supposed to be giving her a few words of encouragement or advice. Oh well. How was I supposed to guess that was in today’s ‘black box’?!

All the coming and going and different experiences in life will I’m sure develop great characters in our children. Sometimes though, when life has so many different components it can be difficult to know where you fit. Last academic year swim club became the thing that needed to give.

This September we made a rule that both children needed to join the swim club because no one was getting enough exercise and we needed to fulfill the PE component of the curriculum somehow. It was one of those poker face moments when you’re not sure how hard you’re willing to push, but you don’t want anyone to pick up on your lack of commitment to follow it through. I’m not going to pretend this has been a tearless experience, but what I can say is that there have been a lot of fears faced and a lot of overwhelming situations managed. I’m sure it will all add to that character that’s being developed over the long term.

It was the Mwanza mini-meet (11s and under) gala yesterday. All four clubs from the lake zone region were represented. There was a buzz of activity with kids spilling in from the other clubs and 42 races with up to six heats for each. It was incredibly well organised and executed and a great day was had by all. But if you’re that way inclined, it’s easy to see the confused children, not sure whether they are in the right place and the animated teachers and coaches telling them that they most definitely are not.

Fears were faced and overwhelming situations were managed. And after all of that, awards were won. Tabitha took part in five races and won 3rd place in the 7-8 age category for 25m freestyle and 2nd place for 7-8s 25m butterfly. We couldn’t be any prouder.

Tabitha is the one in the near lane. I’m the scary Mummy yelling ‘kick Tabitha kick’!

 


Pray for your missionaries’ kids, it’s not always easy for them to know their place in the world. But it’s great when they can win some awards along the way!

Harambee

A few weeks ago I (Simon) received a call from the Bishop asking me to attend the inauguration of a new church building in the district of Buchosa, close to where we work on Kome. These types of events are important for the local churches to mark the completion of their building project and plan for the future use of the church in the community. I was then told I would be the “Mgeni Rasmi”, which is the “official guest”. From our experience foreign missionaries generally get a high status at church events, and seeing the guest list of “wageni maalum” (“special guests”, not quite as important as the “official guest!”) I knew my place was to be higher than the school headmaster, local chairperson and even the district commissioner! I asked our house lady to help me choose a shirt for such an occasion; she obliged in choosing a smart, low key African shirt – I was glad she didn’t choose the garish bright yellow one!

Choice of shirts

The ceremony was also going to contain a Harambee, which is basically a fundraiser. In our last blog post we shared our observations on local economics and at this event the church was going to throw everything at getting more funds for their development projects. The Harambee is a blatant call for donations from all the congregation, special guests and official guest (in increasing expectation). We have our opinions about the way the local church raises money, but after talking with another missionary friend, I decided to view this Harambee as more of a “church fete” than an offering. I’d happily pay a few pounds to throw tomatoes at our church pastor in the UK, or attempt the coconut shy, so why not throw money at a dancing choir?

The church location was near the second ferry on the way to Kome Island, so I left in good time to arrive at 10am. Of course no-one else was there and things didn’t really get going until 12pm. In the process of waiting for everyone to arrive I got pretty sunburnt and was supporting a lovely red glow by the time the bishop arrived to cut the ribbon allowing us to go into the church and seek some refuge from the harsh African sun! My poor Scandinavian skin was designed more for travelling toward the arctic circle on a viking longboat than standing without shade in semi-arid areas of sub-Saharan Africa.

The Inauguration service was a great encouragement – everyone committed themselves to using this new building for growing God’s work and sharing the love of Jesus in the community. It was good to see some of the Kome pastors who also attend as all the pastors from the district were invited.

The Bishop addressing the congregation

I addressed the congregation with some verses from Habakkuk about not building idols and challenging them that the church is actually those people inside the building. After a lot of singing and dancing we got going with the Harambee.

[As you read this you have to envisage the “normal” events going on in the background of nearly every service that goes on here in Tanzania: the power goes out; someone runs off to find a generator; the power comes back on; the mixing desk blows up; a few minutes later someone arrives on a motorbike with another desk; everyone who speaks in a microphone has to switch it on and off a few times before it work;, a goat runs through the building; a baby pulls the tablecloth off the altar table. And in true African style, no one even blinks through all of this]

Here are my observations:

The Church secretary reads out the requirements for the fund raising event: 800,000 shillings to extend the plot, 1 million to build a toilet, 3 million to buy some music equipment etc… in total more than 5 million shillings (about £1500) was the target.

First the master of ceremonies makes a general call for donations, with the offering basket being waved under the noses of everyone sitting on the left side of the church. Less than 5,000 shillings is raised (under £2). The right hand side is then challenged to beat this amount. Less than 3,000 shillings is gathered. The wise and well versed in these proceedings are hanging back because they know they will be called up by name to give later on. The official guest list is unfurled like a scroll at the front. Church elders are called and shuffle to the front and drop some money in. 10,000 raised. Next the visiting pastors, 20,000 added. Next the headteacher is called. “Bado hajafika” (He has not yet arrived). The local chairman. Bado hajafika. District commissioner. Bado hajafika. Next the special guests including the various department leaders from the church diocese. 50,000 added. I’m sitting next to the bishop and we’re next so we put our offerings in the basket. The MC gathers all the donations and quickly counts it up. We’re not at the total he was looking for. So he starts again, and calls a choir up to get people moving, they hop and shake and lipsync convincingly: more money is raised. After the song the MC comes and kneels before me and the bishop and BEGS dramatically for more money: we give some more. He asks for more, this time he’s more persistent, telling us to round it up to the nearest 150,000! But we’ve both run dry and the bishop dismisses him. Now I can breathe. It’s not the most comfortable thing to be publicly requested for more and more money but it’s one of those cultural things we just have to live with!

So after the meeting was over I headed back home, thinking a lot about how we help the churches we have an ongoing partnership with. I believe there is a place for the harambee, just like we would hold charity quizzes or auctions in the UK. But the idea of wealth creation within churches has been on our minds recently as we plan where to take our projects. Raising funds from donors for specific projects is fine, but when the churches become dependent on those funds, or when their visions become greater than the means available to them (like building a massive church in a small farming village), something is out of balance and we don’t want to be the ones causing the dependency.

I am reaching the end of the ‘Perspectives’ course, which is a course on mission theory, and it has given me an excellent to insight into global mission and how the church has prospered, grown organically but also suffered from dependency issues at the hands of foreign missionaries. We know there is potential for our church partners to get their funds for building projects by the work of their own hands, and we’d love to put our energy into setting up sustainable businesses within the churches so they have a funding source for the years to come. And there’s no harm in having the occasional Harambee!

One of the groups on Kome: Breastfeeding peer-supporters who have a community bank to raise funds for their own businesses.

African economics

When we were back in the UK last year we met with various groups to explain a bit about life on Kome. I used an example of one of our neighbours. This dear gentleman is extremely old and is barely able to walk with a stick, almost doubled over. We always make an effort to visit him when we’re on the island. Inevitably he is perched on a tiny simple wooden stool outside his simple house, where he can see many of his children, who are involved in the local fish trade – fixing fishing nets or racking the endless layer of white bait, drying across the beach shore. Many of his grandchildren run around on the beach or around the communal lounge, kitchen and dining area, which is the entire village. While he no doubt has a peaceful life, him and his wife often complain about their failing health and I’d look at him on his tiny wooden stool and remember my grandma siting in her fully automated reclining and raising chair and think about his (lack of) comfort. Like many rural Africans of his generation, one or two of his children have made it successfully through the education system and now have reasonably well paying jobs in the city. This month we’ve been surprised to see that one of this children has paid for a new house for him. Now in the spot where he sat on his small wooden stool outside his simple traditional house he now sits on a plastic chair, on a veranda of a well built, large house. In place of the traditional drop pit toilet he now has a modern tank toilet with walls, roof and door. Somehow, while sitting outside of his house the world moved on, he has suddenly skipped several generations of development and now finds himself living in one of the best houses in the village. Just like that.

It seems to be the way that development happens around here – suddenly. You just wake up and something has changed – everywhere. One day a couple of months ago we woke up and every road in the town had a street sign. Instantly. The impact on the quality of my life in almost indescribable. Where once giving directions would entail describing the location of various mango trees, dirt roads and maasai hang-outs, now I can simply use road names. We conducted interviews this month and all of the candidates turned up in the correct location, without calling me and without me needing to send someone to go out and track down which mango tree my candidate was standing under! I love that the community leaders had to sit down and think of names for all the roads in such a short period of time, and that as a result the road around the corner from our house is named after a friend of ours’ dog. Why not?!

This month all the fishing businesses in our village on Kome upgraded to solar lamps. The lamps are put on small rafts and strung across the lake. The lights attract the small fish the makes the staple of almost everybody’s diet here, and they are captured into nets. Up until now all of the lamps have all run on paraffin but just like that, this has all changed, seemingly overnight.

I remain fascinated by African development and African economics. There are so many books written on these topics but I don’t think it’s something that can ever be fully grasped. Money just works differently in Africa than in does in the UK at least. We have been paying some millions of shillings for the house that we rent on Kome. It’s easy to wonder where all the money goes if there is so much being moved around for things like rent. This month we took on a new team member and went on the hunt for a house for her to live in, when we enquired about rent for a properly we found, it was TSH20,000 (£6) a month for the two roomed property. This would go no way towards the building and maintenance of a property. It’s impossible to understand how one landlord can charge so much more than another, and how the one with the lower rent could be making any money back on his property. The first landlord understands that he is renting to wazungu (foreigners), the second to a Tanzanian, and the rent reflects this difference. It seems that the price you get for everything depends on who you are; your location; and what you’re perceived to be able to afford or be willing to pay.

There is plenty of development in Tanzania. Here in Mwanza there are many people with cars, smart phones and computers. We have restaurants and a mall with a cinema. I’d hate anyone to believe that there’s been no development in Tanzania. But there is something different about the way money works here. There is a much greater expectation that those with more give to those with less. An individual with a job in the city may be expected to pay for houses for family in the village. Those with food may be expected to provide for the hungry in a way that often causes real personal sacrifice. I have no doubt that whilst the rent received by the person renting to the wazungu may be great, there are many people who have a stake in receiving from that pot of money.

I recently read a book written by a South African whose Mum uses the phrase ‘Black tax’. He describes this as being a situation in which a black African who obtains money for whatever reason, loses that money by being put in a situation where they are obliged or expected to share the money with friends and family in order to make up for the losses and hardships those others have suffered. This has the overall effect of bringing everyone up to zero. For example at one point in the story he fears he is going to end up with such a large bill for a family member’s healthcare, that it will impact on the entire rest of his life.

I believe that we in the UK have a lot to learn from the way economics and community work here. We find it easy to ignore the needs of others, to think about providing for ourselves and taking care of our immediate family. We can be guilty of clinging to things more than people. In Tanzania failing to greet your neighbour, not sharing with those in need and not providing for your extended family members is unthinkable. I’m challenged daily to think about how those in the early church shared with all their fellow believers. It’s almost impossible to go outside here as a mzungu without a request for something from somebody and it would be easy to give until you had nothing left, without really benefiting anyone. It’s often hard to have the discernment to know when and how to help. What we’ve seen is that when something is desirable, whether it’s solar lamps, metal roofs or street signs, where there’s a will, there’s a way. As we move the sanitation project forward, we want to create a desire for and therefore the will, for clean and safe toilets in the communities on Kome.

We run women’s health education groups on the island. As part of the groups we give the women an opportunity to save money every week in a community savings bank and we give them entrepreneurial training to help them make the best use of the money they have. By locking money up in a community box and by raising capital that can be invested in business, we assist these women in avoiding some of the daily demands on their money that may prevent them from being able to meet their and their families longer-term needs.

Grass roofs and toilet truths

Its so great to be part of the growth of the churches on Kome. When I say growth I do mean it in both physical and spiritual ways. The area was given a new Bishop last year, Bishop Masala. Kome is tucked away in the corner of Mwanza region whereas the previous leadership was based in the city and I couldn’t begin to imagine the demands of a city Bishop to spend all their time on city matters since, physically speaking, the congregation numbers are greater and the church projects more demanding. Dividing the region into 3 has been a good move from the perspective of the rural churches in Sengerema and Buchosa districts, where Kome is. Kome now has a Bishop based an hour away, instead of six hours! This now means the rural churches can now get more help with spiritual leadership matters. The number of churches is also growing. One of the smaller islands off Kome, Ikuru, now has a new church plant, which we hope to visit soon to help them with their vision for the population of around one thousand people, mostly fishermen. Also there is word of another church plant on the main Island, which will bring the total falling under the Kome leadership to six. Pastor Daudi at Nyamkolechiwa is finishing the walls this month and is waiting for funds for the metal roofing sheets.

Pastor Margaret at Buhama has her new plot of land and will soon start making bricks for the new building.

Pastor Charles at Mchangani now has the go-ahead to replace the tarpaulin roof with metal sheets. This is good news because the local government prohibits permanent structures at Mchangani because it is technically a forest reserve, but they have seen the valuable asset a church building can be in the informal community at Mchangani and have allowed the development. The electricity grid is being pushed out into the rural areas with poles and wires sprawling through the villages. ‘Development’ is moving quickly!

On a recent visit to Kome I was notified that the church at Buhama had been burned. Despite having the new plot Margaret was still meeting in the original grass church and it was this that had been burned. We were obviously all shocked and I visited with Gertrude to give some encouragement to Margaret and to get more of the story. It was so encouraging on our arrival to see that Bishop Masala was there along with the other pastors on the island. This community of church leaders is such an encouraging team to be working alongside. Together we surveyed the damage, apparently at two separate times in the night different parts of the church building had been targetted, and each time the elder who lives close by was woken up and put it out. It was obvious the fires were deliberate, but luckily they were not too extensive. There was no clue as to who was responsible.

Obviously Margaret was very upset, so after eating a meal together the Bishop shared an encouraging passage from Acts 7 v 60 , where the apostle Stephen, who is being stoned, prayed to God for the forgiveness of his attackers’ sins. To be reminded, in the midst of the confusion and discouragement of an attack against church property, to forgive those who were responsible, was the perfect advice! After praying the bishop got on his motorcycle to get the ferry back to the mainland. Having this local leadership available is such a great development for our church partners.

Two weeks later, to officially kick off the Clean Latrine project on the Island I called a meeting of all the church pastors and elders to start thinking about a shared vision for the project. I was super encouraged when all attended! To me this demonstrates they have a commitment to improving the physical health of their communities through sanitation. Our home church Hockliffe Street Baptist in Leighton Buzzard, raised over £3000 to equip each of the Island churches with toilets that meets international standards.

The tough question is how to spend the money in a way that is appropriate in the context. Bearing in mind none of the churches have running water, any kind of flush toilet would simply not work. There are, however, a number of good methods to use in low water areas. So at the meeting I tried to give the pastors and elders a number of things to think about, rather than prescribe any particular design. Obviously toilets should be clean (and cleanable!), odour-free, well lit, safe and private. I also challenged them to think about the needs of parents with small children and also the needs of girls and women concerning menstrual hygiene. I showed a few videos to help them to visualise different styles of toilets around the world. They’ve now had 3 weeks to think about what they want and the next job is to plan the construction.

Frustrations, permits and parcels

We haven’t been able to say too much about it, but since the beginning of December we have been in the process of renewing our work and residence permits. For various reasons it has been a slow and frustrating process and has seriously limited how much we’ve been able to do here. We’ve managed to do a fair bit of planning for the upcoming ‘Clean Latrine’ project and Simon has done various bits and pieces to support other EI projects closer to home, especially in terms of providing technical support to some of the agricultural projects. Victoria has been taking Swahili lessons again to review some of the things that she didn’t quite get the first time around. We’ve also been working towards catching up on some of the school work we missed during out trip to the UK at the beginning of the academic year. But we haven’t been able to travel to our project sites.

My ever patient Swahili teacher, Mai, below…

We still have an outstanding issue with the residence permits because, due to the mixture of changes in the process and the fact we’re working through a third party, our kids did not get included on the application and therefore remain without permits.

This is made slightly more complicated by the fact that they are home-educated and that there is no provision in the law for home-education here in Tanzania. Children’s student permits require admission letters from the institution alongside various other documents. We have written letters to support their applications and are praying that an understanding individual will review the documents in Dar es Salaam.

The kids have been aware of some of the frustrations, and as a family we have been generally feeling we needed a bit of a break during the Easter holiday. We had hoped to go camping as a family but with travel being off the cards we decided to book into a local hotel for a night. We visited this hotel last year for our tenth wedding anniversary. In many ways it feels a million miles away from home, even though it’s only ten minutes away. The kids very much enjoyed the buffet lunch and breakfast; swimming pool; oversized bath; large shower; and Disney Kids channel on TV while lying on a big bed! We were of course willing to suffer these luxuries for the benefit of the kids! Thankfully with all the heat and excitement our kids are totally incapable of staying up late, so we also got some time to relax too! It really did feel like the break that we needed!

The kids enjoying some hotel time!

From time to time we receive parcels from the UK. These are always times of excitement and no one can wait to see what lies inside! In the past two weeks we’ve received four parcels, which considering that it hasn’t been one of the kids’ birthdays is pretty amazing! One had a load of cards and things sent out from the kids’ Sunday school back in the UK. While looking through all the things they had received Tabitha remarked ‘They love us and they miss us and now I KNOW they miss us, because they’ve sent us all these cards’! It really means a lot to the kids to have received all those letters and they spent a long time going through everything!

Parcels!

We also received a parcel from someone close to us. As we looked through and tried to guess who had sent it we had both worked it is was someone who knew us really well because it had our favourite things inside! Then, if that wasn’t enough, we received two huge parcels today. We’ve called these parcels the answer to Reuben’s prayer.

The other night, while lying on the bedroom floor too tired to move himself to bed, Reuben asked whether someone would please pray for his chocolate. When I asked what he meant he explained that he really missed his chocolate. He had received chocolate for his birthday and now it was finished and he really missed having his chocolate. Reuben is a great prayer. Sometimes I’m not sure whether he loves praying so much because he loves talking to God, or whether it’s because it’s the one time that everyone is forced to be quiet and listen to him and he’s determined to make full use of the opportunity! Sometimes I worry the food will be totally cold by the time he’s finished saying grace! But he thinks a lot about what he prays about and shows gratitude for a lot of things!

The two parcels that arrived today were from the same family and consisted of the most enormous supply of chocolate. The parcels of someone who had just decided that they were going to send a massive amount of treats at whatever the cost of posting would be! I cried as I unpacked the parcels. Meanwhile Reuben started running up and down the house yelling ‘It worked! God sent us chocolate!’ I’m not going to pretend we go without any treats here. We do a good bit of baking and enjoy cake and cookies as much as the next person, but there’s something about the smell of those goodies from your home country. A very happy smell!

Surf & turf farming

(from Simon) Here’s a short update to share what has happened over February.

Gertrude has been faithfully working on Kome to keep the Island health project going while we have been taking care of admin in Mwanza. We’re excited to share the “Clean Latrine” project on Kome will kick off with a fundraiser at our home church in Leighton Buzzard this week, and I’m working hard to get some latrine improvement products ready to share with the communities on the island.

Since our work is church-centered and relationship driven we believe strongly that the best way to bring development change to an obvious need (like sanitation) is by demonstrating appropriate technologies that can be replicated locally. This way we can encourage households to want to make a change (through our relationships and training seminars) and then give then options of how to change (though the demonstration of the technologies).

Building a Sanplat toilet slab

Now for something completely different!

Two weeks ago six of us from the Mwanza EI team and 2 from Iringa travelled to Arusha to attend the biennial ECHO Agricultural conference. ECHO is a Christian based organization that works to develop appropriate farming methods. Most of the presentations were about Conservation agriculture, or CA (If you know about Farming Gods way this is one approach), CA is a method of farming which is going to be crucial in restoring the poor soils across the world damaged by intensive or poor farming practices. Also attending were hundreds from across East Africa all excited about sharing experiences and technologies. There were some excellent presentation covering everything from Farm Radio, dairy cows, bees (presented by our colleage Rachel) and a new curriculum to facilitate leading discovery bible studies with farmers. I think everybody learned something.

A modified local plough

Learning how to propagate by taking cuttings

My long-lost ancestors

I attended a tour to a residential house where Chris, the owner, (an experimental german engineer) has built a biogas system under his house to turn all of his garden waste, sewage and waste water into cooking gas and nutrient rich water. He had some very honest opinions about biogas in Tanzania, on one hand it is entirely appropriate to turn all your waste into cooking gas, and believes every city house should have one instead of a septic tank. On the other hand making the technology accessible to rural areas is very unreliable and requires great investment. Plastic tanks or sheeting have a very short life span in the African sun, and are easily punctured. Chris was also proud of his compost heap, where he collects urine uses it to infuse charcoal to make ‘biochar’, a slow release nitrogen fertiliser. Again, an appropriate use of a waste product but probably not immedialty attractive to the average Tanzanian farmer! We all had a good week and got back safely to Mwanza with one puncture, timing itself nicely with a torrential downpour!

Digested effluent is completely safe to handle apparently…!)

Here’s where all the waste goes (yes it stinks!)

A week later Elisha and I travelled to a part of Mwanza region to take part in some fish farming training. Another missionary, Brett, living in Geita, about 2 hours away, has some well established demonstration farms. He has invested a lot of time building relationships with farmers, farming alongside them and showing them, through his plot, different styles of CA, and then letting them experiment by themselves. One area he has explored is fish farming and so 3 farmers have already built a pond and this training was to build on their knowledge and introduce others (like us) to the idea.

It was 3 days of intensive practical training instructed by Chrispin, an expert. We learnt how to dig a pond, lay the foundations, stock it with Tilapia (apparently the most suitable for farming) and how to deal with all manners of threats including birds, monitor lizards and turtles! We even attempted harvesting one of the ponds. There was something very special about watching a group of farmers attempting to fish! i’m still trying to find the biblical application for a future sermon!

Digging the pond

Chrispin teaching about fish-farming

Teaching farmers to fish!

Digging the pond by the church

Digging our own pond in Mwanza

Whether a fish farm could work in any of our project villages is another question, but Tim and Rachel, our colleagues have a large garden which has space to experiment. So that is this week’s work, putting into practice our training and seeing if we can keep some fish alive long enough to be worth it! Its quite a boggy patch so digging sand while up to your knees in mud is quite a work out!

Meanwhile in Mwanza, Tabitha and Reuben were inspired by a fantastic swimming gala this weekend where many of their friends entered and beat their own personal records. The youngest entry was 3 years old and the oldest was 47. We hope to get Tabitha in the mini gala in November, and she’s more than ready! I, however, have no plans to enter the “dad’s race”, an 800 meter front crawl!

Bishops and Blue Cheese

“I have a second wife on Kome island”. These were the words I (Simon) used to introduce myself to the congregation of 200 bishops and officers at the annual TAG leadership meeting. It was received with raucous laughter, and my stand-by translator turned to me and clarified the hilarity. What I said was “nyumba ndogo” which literally means “little house”, but casually refers to having another marital home.  Standing in front of a crowd of people is pretty daunting at the best of times but this really broke the ice.

Three of us, Joel, Laura and myself all travelled to Arusha last week, which is 12 hours drive from Mwanza. As missionaries for TAG we are required to attend these group meetings which can happen anywhere in the country. The road, as you can imagine is pretty treacherous. Its tarmac all the way, which is already an upgrade on the drive to Kome, but that in turn means the road is fast, and some people take it really fast! To combat this the roads agency have put vicious speed bumps through every village and regular radar traps.  So we planned to leave early to make up time in the dark,  with  quiet roads and no police. We made it in good time with no complaints from our other passengers, the assistant bishop and secretary from Mwanza south diocese.  The route from Mwanza to Arusha bypasses the Serengeti and then cuts through Lake Manyara and Tarangire National Park, so there’s some potential to see some game and we did see some zebra and wildebeest. There’s also some impressive scenery with mountains, coffee fields and forests.

We had timed our arrival to coincide with the opening ceremony on the Tuesday evening. The bishops had been there since Saturday but all the supporting officers were now arriving. The Archbishop was obviously encouraged to see our faces and very early on we were invited up the front to introduce ourselves to the congregation. Laura went first and did a fantastic job of introducing herself in Swahili after only a few weeks of lessons. I went next and dropped my clanger, and then Joel followed. We weren’t required to contribute anything more much to our relief! At one point the Archbishop invited anyone with a building project to move to the front for a blessing. Needless to say everyone went- buildings really are a high priority for churches here!

Bishops with building projects receiving a blessing

The following few days were a marathon of meetings – 8am to 8pm all in Swahili all on diocese related issues. The format was predictable, each diocese had prepared a report and then had 10 minutes to deliver it to the council. There was then a few minutes of questions and observations from the audience. There are more than 50 dioceses and about 10 departments (covering children’s ministry, students, development projects etc) and each one was prepared to give a presentation sometime over the four days. You could see from the reaction of the congregation when one report was particularly good (or shameful) and the council pulled no punches in the questions. Sometimes it was uncomfortable viewing! One diocese planted 74 new churches last year which obviously received much praise! Although we didn’t need to formally report at the meeting, all of our work in EI Mwanza is through the TAG churches and therefore impacts the reports of our respective dioceses. It was great to be there to support the new bishop of Mwanza West, Simeon, whose diocese covers Kome Island. He is a well respected pastor but the diocese is very new, less than a year old, but is already well formed and has good plans for the new year- watch this space to see how we will be involved.

We committed to staying for two full days of reporting, which was very hard work. I zoned out several times since the 10 minute timer made the speeches very rushed and understanding them impossible. On the Friday we had the morning to explore Arusha before heading back to Mwanza. Despite being a smaller city it is definitely a tourist hub, every other car is a safari car filled with tourists heading to the Serengeti, so we fitted in nicely. Arusha also sits under the shadow of the imposing Mount Meru. We took advantage of the shopping malls to stock up on things Mwanza falls short on- blue cheese, sprouts and raspberries.

All in all it was a good trip, we returned safely. We’ll probably be invited back next year and I’ll have to find something else to say to entertain the masses!