Greetings from COLUMBUS OHIO, where we have been since mid-March! We are grateful to have been in touch with so many of you all—through preaching, presentations, and conversations online.
Now, we are entering a new phase of this season of evacuation from the field. Tanzania reopened all universities on June 1. We begin teaching online this week. We will be the first lecturers to have ever taught online at Tumaini University Makumira in the institution’s history! We have A LOT to try to master, and we are working rather feverishly to climb a steep learning curve. We have many friends and family members who had to figure all of this out in a span of two weeks or less in March, so we know it is doable. We look forward to seeing, hearing, and teaching our students!
MEANWHILE, IN THE US…
We write you from one of the hundreds of cities across the nation whose life has featured protests for more than a week. Racism and racial violence, and the names George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and many others are raised in calls for the development of a society where an increase of justice, safety, and democratic principles is evident and visible and tangible for all citizens. On top of the coronavirus pandemic, which has also hit the Columbus area hard, the days can feel very heavy.
On a bright and cool morning this week, I walked into a local store during the early senior hours. It felt completely normal. I felt completely normal. I was lost in thought about the news broadcast I had just heard in the car. I was moving through the world, thinking about what was happening—and not thinking about what I was doing.
I entered the store, grabbed a cart, and started wheeling through the aisles—and stopped.
People around me were wearing masks (of course), and I, lost in thought, had left mine in the car.
I wheeled around, walked quickly out of the store, and got my mask.
After returning to the store, with my mask on, I remembered something I have often realized in this new season. Wearing a mask makes it harder to breathe.
My shopping that morning afforded me an opportunity for reflection on these times in which we are living and moving and having our being. As it is harder to breathe, I was more aware of how fast I wanted to finish my shopping. As some people in Columbus see the wearing of masks as a political statement, I was aware that some others fixed an angry stare on my mask-covered face. As I worked to observe the directional arrows on the floor in each aisle and stay at least 6 feet from other shoppers, I was aware of how I was moving through the space—and how others were—in ways that I am often not. Some people were not wearing masks—which signified potential danger. Some shoppers weren’t working to avoid others—also potentially perilous. Although the store was to be open only to seniors and others with medical conditions, the presence of a group of noisy teens moving through the aisles reminded me that the store’s posted policies were probably not being enforced. That is, the rules set in place to protect me could not be relied upon to do so.
Back in the safety of the car, it occurred to me that all of these factors are forcing me to be more self-aware, to think, to stop, to question—to ask whether a trip is necessary, whether a space is safe, who is around me, and whether the rules in place will offer me shelter.
In February, before the growth of a global pandemic turned the world upside down for so many of us and so many in the world, we wrote in this space about Being White in Africa. Since then, on top of the spread of the coronavirus with so many people getting sick, so many lives lost (over 112,000 in the US alone at this writing) and so much grief, protesters have thronged the street in cities in all 50 states and in many countries across the world, demanding increased access to justice for Black, indigenous, and other people of color.
Wearing masks has heightened our awareness of where we are and how we are perceived as we walk through the world. It has given us a chance to reflect on what it means to always have to be aware of where one is and how one is perceived—as some of those we love have had to do throughout their lives (for more information on this, check out a few stories of our loved ones’ daily realities in a recent post on Facebook). It has reminded us of how hard it is to breathe when being in public leads rational people to be anxious. And—unlike the color of one’s skin, for our friends and family and colleagues who are not white—the masks are something we can take off. We who follow Jesus are called to reflect on the realities different people made in the image of God face and in which different ones of us are forced to live. Reflection could—and must—lead to confession—repentance—and change.
OUR GARDEN GROWS
This unexpectedly long season away from Tanzania has had us missing our yard and our garden there. One way we have accommodated is to put some plants on the back patio of our sons’ townhouse. We are grateful to see the flowers and tomatoes growing outside our door!
Last month, one of our teaching colleagues who taught Old Testament and Hebrew to generations of Makumira students and was beloved by many across the church, the Rev. Habukuki Lwendo, died after a short illness. We are very sad to lose a great colleague and a wonderful teacher, and we thank God for his ministry, witness, and service. Thanks for joining us in prayer for his family. We ask you also to pray for the people of Tanzania, the church there, and our colleagues and students. The virus continues, and while we teach from here, we are keenly aware of the difficulty of social distancing in Tumaini’s dorms, classroom buildings, and offices.
Be in touch if we can preach, teach, or present at your congregation online! Thanks for your prayers and your support, which make all that we do possible.
In Christ, Cynthia Holder Rich and Mark Rich