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!
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.
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!