A packed few months…

January marked the end of the second year of our Island project, so a lot of thought has gone in to what’s next. We organised a seminar for two of the women’s groups to invite their friends and neighbours to demonstrate what they’d learnt over the last two years. The women practiced role plays to perform in front of the groups to stimulate discussions. Unfortunately no one from outside the groups attended but Victoria held a long question and answer session on the topic of the plays. These women are really hungry for knowledge so we really feel supporting these groups over the last few years has been worth the effort. It was also a really great time of fellowship. I played taxi and bought one (very rural) group to (the slightly more townie) Buhama. There aren’t many occasions outside of funerals that these two groups would meet so it was a privilege to see their warmness towards each other. During the seminar I drove the length and breadth of the island trying to find enough Fanta to reward the groups for their hard work, 3 from one shop, 5 from another, eventually getting two crates worth!

Women’s seminar on Kome

Driving around the island is becoming much more difficult. The rains have been super heavy, cutting through the sandy roads making them impassable even for motorbikes. Although not really flooding here in Mwanza the water table is really high, meaning many of the pit latrines we are working to improve are simply full to the brim! (I’ll let you guess why we are focussing on the sanitation project  next!)

I spent a couple of days with Pastor Daudi training him how to make toilet slabs that work with the brilliant invention, the SaTo toilet pan. This plastic moulding is cheap , hygienic and has a self closing mechanism which means when you throw a bucket of water down after doing your business a little door opens and closes again (think: aeroplane toilet) and any smell or flies are trapped. We’re working hard to set up small businesses to distribute and install these SaTo pans at a slightly subsidised price. I’ve written up a project proposal for this work for the next two years and we’re sending it around some donors, but If you know anyone who’d like to fund this or contribute to this work please let us know!

In the last week of January my parents came to visit which was such a blessing. The kids obviously loved having their grandparents around! We wore them out hiking up to Jiwe Kuu, a massive rock on the hillside not far from our house. The kids managed the hike well, and the view from the top was worth the sweat and bruised bottoms! Reuben did most of it in bare feet, of course.

Mwanza is an interesting place to visit for about a week, and then you’ve “done” the restaurants and sites. Two years ago my parents came and we “did” the Serengeti and Kome Island (although you can’t really compare the two!) This time we decided to give them a lift to the airport, 800km away in Kilimanjaro! This gave us the chance to see Tanzania on a two-day road trip through the different agricultural regions of northern Tanzania, ending up in the mountainous region of Arusha. We stayed a few days in the foothills of Mount Meru and explored Arusha National Park. We did an amazing self-drive safari around the park and saw flamingos, giraffe, zebra and loads of other things. We then drove most of the way up Mt Meru to a beautiful waterfall and the freak-of-nature Fig Arch.

Fig arch

Meru Waterfall

We stayed one night at a lodge which had a very colonial feel about it, with a beautiful lake (which we went punting on in the rain), outdoor pool, rabbit enclosure, horses and hydroelectric turbine! (guess what I was most excited about!). We then drove to within a few miles of Kilimanjaro and stayed at another hotel with camels, a tortoise and heated outdoor pool. The place was full of pre-hike Kilimanjaro climbers. We joked with them that it was obvious they were pre-hike (clean shaven, laughing, unbruised!)

The week after my parents left we had a team retreat for all EI Tanzania staff. We had a really nice couple of days exploring the reality of what it means to be the body of Christ, through our work and team relationships. We were all challenged to change how we work in the team and to use our skills and talents more effectively. We took all the national team into the Serengeti for a half day safari and saw most things (no big cats unfortunately). The rivers were flowing really fast so some of the river fords appeared unpassable. This made for an exciting few moments when at one ford we asked some rangers to cross in front of us. If they succeeded we would follow. They did succeed but the water was really very high up the side of their car, and neither Joel or I felt the consequence of driving into a river filled with crocodiles and hippos would go down well. We opted for the rather long detour.

As for everyday life, school for the kids is going on well and we are counting down the weeks until the summer break in July. Tabitha is training hard for a national swim gala on Friday, and Reuben is mostly climbing trees and swinging from ropes in the garden (although his swimming is also excellent now, easily managing 25 metres). We’re hoping to finish school work in good time for our planned two months in the UK in July and August. Let us know where you’ll be during those months!

The expat population of Mwanza is changing pretty quickly, with many long-termers returning home. Everyone is having visa issues which will no doubt affect us when we reapply next year. It seems to be affecting everyone we know, but we’re praying that we’ll get the visas we need to stay for at least the next two years to see the sanitation project through. We’re also seeing transitions in our EI team with the VanWoerdens in Iringa (who left in January) and the Mongers in Mwanza (who will leave this summer). These changes mean the remaining EI missionaries pick up new roles, and for now I’ll be overseeing the finances for our office.

Times of transition are always especially difficult for the children, who see their friendship groups getting turned upside down! Pray that they’d know the constant presence of Christ in their lives throughout ongoing change.

But for now,  this week we’re looking forward to Victoria’s dad coming to do some Bible teaching, so more treats for the kids are in store!

 

Christmas 2019 update

It’s amazing that another year in Tanzania has flown by and this will be our third Christmas spent here. We inherited a number of children’s Christmas picture books from the previous residents of the house we live in and Reuben keeps asking how it can be Christmas if there is no snow! Tabitha laughs and adds ‘do they know it’s Christmas time at all?’!

When we left for Tanzania we had a rough idea that it would take about three years for everyone to feel settled here and five years for us to feel like we’d really achieved something. Our previous experience of living in Africa gave us a sort of guide. Now we’re getting close to the three year mark I think it’s fair to say that everyone is pretty settled and life has found its new normal. Tanzania is definitely more normal for the children than the UK is and I’m sure, like last year, on our visit to the UK this coming year there will be lots of surprises and learning for the kids as they experience what life is like in the UK.

This year we have established ourselves more as home-educators. I don’t think we did much serious work in Tabitha’s first year of home-education and the steps to year one and two were quite gradual. This year she’s in year three and we’ve pushed ourselves to take the work a bit more seriously. This year, with Reuben starting Reception class, we decided to add a new, fun curriculum designed for his age. This serves as a sort of mid-morning break for Tabitha and both children have been really enjoying the rhymes, poems, singing and general creativity that the new curriculum has added. That said, I think she’s very happy to have a couple of weeks break over Christmas, and I think has earned it!

Some pictures of home school bliss, so that you can imagine it’s always like this…!

Examining dot artwork with magnifying glasses. Complete with face paint:

During this year our neighbours, who had spent many years in Tanzania, decided it was time for them to move on. This was a sad shift for us because we had become secure in the knowledge that people with so much local experience were no longer going to be right next door, they had also home educated their seven children! They had baled us out a number of times, like on one occasion when a truck had driven into our garden wall, knocking a big chunk of it down while we were on Kome. Our neighbours made sure our dogs were secure and that the wall was patched. They then liaised with the right people and the wall had been re-built by the time we arrived back in Mwanza! They also ran a weekly Bible study for young girls, which was the highlight of the week for Tabitha. And were generally awesome in every way.

It is well known in missionary circles, that while your friends leaving is often tragic, it also brings with it one blessing – you have the opportunity to buy their stuff from them! This is usually especially exciting if your friends are from North America – in general they have more and better stuff for you to buy than you can get anywhere else! It’s that awkward moment where they announce that they’re leaving and you cry and then through your tears claim whatever item of theirs you most covet! These particular friends owned a very nice, if very expensive piano.
For Christmas last year the children received a mini keyboard, which Tabitha showed an interest in playing and had began making a bit of progress on. We were blessed by receiving some money this year, especially from one family, specifically to enable us to buy the piano. This has been such a blessing over the past few months and the piano has been well used by a number of members of the family, who have begun making a bit of progress, from zero talent, to slightly above zero talent! This Christmas we hosted a Christmas ‘sing and play’ at our house for the missionary community in the general Mwanza region to come and share their musical talents and to sing some Christmas carols together. About 50 people came and it was such a blessing and nice to see the piano getting a work out!

This year our projects on Kome Island have begun taking different shapes. Our Community Health Educator, Gertrude, was working with us on Kome until the end of August. Gertrude really helped us during the early stages of our project mm in Dar es Salaam, and the time felt right for her to move to be with her sister there. We were visited by the Emmanuel International Canada and the International Directors at the end of August, this was also when Gertrude finished working with us. It was so lovely to see the way the community sent her off. She was given buckets of gifts of their farming produce and the women gathered round her to pray with her and send her off. Gertrude may, for many of the women, have been the first person who was able to talk openly with them about issues that were very personal to them and to help them make decisions that will enable to live healthier lives.

The majority of the funding for the Health Project, up until now has come from Team Hope, an Irish charity. The main part of this project is expected to finish in January 2020. With Gertrude leaving we were able to take on a couple of new members of staff to help get the project finished up. We have been so blessed to be joined by Emmanuel (who has the right name to be working with EI!) and Vicky. Each of them has been focusing on different parts of the project and each has complemented the other. Team Hope have made a strategic decision to not continue funding projects in Tanzania, this is because they want to focus their work in areas where they deliver Christmas Shoe Boxes and this is not currently planned for Tanzania. We have been spending quite a bit of time recently planning the next stage of the project and seeking funding in order to be able to continue the work on Kome Island.

Picture taken outside Mchangani Church showing a couple of the Kome TAG pastors; some of the elders; members of one of our women’s groups; one of our international directors, Paul Jones, centre; and our new EI staff – Emmanuel, who is with Reuben and Vicky wearing the red wrap around her skirt:

This year we also received funding from Hockliffe Street Baptist Church, for a toilet improvement project. We were able to use this money to build a sanitary, safe latrine block for each of the four TAG churches on the island. We are currently using the remaining money from this donation to support community members to improve their home toilets. We have seen that sanitation is a major issue on Kome Island, so we are excited to take the project forward in this direction in the coming year.

As this year draws to an end we want to take the opportunity to thank those of you who have supported us this year. We appreciate the comments, likes, messages and parcels that we’ve received! We know many of you pray for us regularly and we appreciate that so much. We are also so thankful for those of you that have given financially either as one-offs or regularly. We do not receive a regular salary for working here in Tanzania and couldn’t do it without the donations given for our personal support. Many of you will know that we initially signed up to live here for three years and many of you agreed to support us for that amount of time. That first three year stint will be completed early in 2020 and we would like to continue working here for another two years and in order to do that we’re asking those of you that already support us financially to continue and for those of you that don’t yet give to consider doing so. We are currently falling a little short of the amount of money needed to keep us here, so if you are interested in giving please consider doing so. Please visit our giving page for details of how to give.

Merry Christmas from the Ewing family!

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!