One of the best discoveries of the last two weeks (and it was a mere two weeks ago today that we landed here!!), is that the Swahili language is quite beautiful in its logic and clarity. Its speakers move with ease through some pretty clearly-observed grammatical rules with some irregularities, but not that many.
Its noun classes group together many varieties of things in the world. It’s not so strict a classification system as the scientific system of binomial nomenclature, but it clearly provides a kind of rough taxonomy of life. That is, Kiswahili’s noun classes are not merely a matter of operating language correctly but also of seeing the world in a Swahili way.
(This way of speaking and seeing was worked out without any input, thank you, from the wazungu – white people).
Cynthia and I look forward to seeing the ways in which the Tanzanians likewise work out their relationships to God. Genuine relationships with God can be influenced, but never forced. Just like with human relationships, they have their own life and power. They are facing many of the same questions and issues that Americans like us face, but always in their own way, their own context, their own language. And of course they are also facing issues and problems that are very different from ours.
Those differences of culture and life help to show us even more facets and dimensions of God’s love for humanity, God’s good news for us wayward humans. We struggle both toward and against the light of God, and if we have sense, we share notes with each other along the way.
Thank you to all who read this, and please share your notes with us along your way! The grace of God is big enough for us all to share, but it is never enough for any of us if we fight over it.
And if you are so moved, please help us through our support webpage. Thank you!
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. Proverbs 3:5
We made it. We shared the news with family and friends – after a long trip that went exactly as planned, we made it. All the way. To Tanzania, our new home.
Before we got on the plane, we engaged in a season of bittersweet, rushed anxiety – finishing last tasks, getting together with friends, saying hard goodbyes to loved ones, asking each other millions of questions about the preparation process. The boarding door closed, ending that time and plunging us into a time called “transition”.
We now live in this space. The house we’ve been assigned – a four bedroom, two bath home that once served as a consulate – turns out to be as advertised. We are glad we packed some things, and we wonder what we were thinking when we packed others. Good folks who lived here before left us some needed supplies. We are on the hunt for those that we lack. Some things are working well – others, not at all. The house is a complete mess as we begin to figure out a sensible fashion (that is, a way that makes sense to us) of where everything should go.
Meanwhile, we find ourselves in a place where assumptions about life, work and ministry that work well in Ohio, or Boston, or Chicago have little interface with reality here. When problems arise, responses we might make elsewhere often won’t move us toward resolution, and well might make things worse. We are less competent here at “adulting” than we might be elsewhere. What do we do when the washer floods the bathroom? How do we find and use a water filter? Where is the best place to buy bread/hardware/blankets? How do you say hello, or thank you, or I need you to come at 4 pm? How will we ever learn to be competent in this space?
Transitional moments can inspire a number of reactions in people. As the realization hits that we don’t know what we need to know, some panic; others engage in escape strategies; others withdraw; and still others find ways to fight and deny the truth of their incompetence in the context. We’ve both had our moments in each of these responses, while working to keep our sense of humor intact.
Transition offers the faith community opportunities to stand in the place of Jesus for those unsure how to move forward. We offer our testimony: the faith community here has done just that. Tanzanian and American disciples have stood ready to answer questions, serve us meals, get us where we need to go, and guide our steps in this transitional space. It’s amazing how small things – like the gift of salad, washed and safe to eat – can make a huge difference in one’s day, and remind us that God, who loves us, sends us companions for this journey. Daily discoveries – like the awesome bread at the Tanz-Hands Bakery, part of an integrated project assisting people with disabilities, or the Arusha Lutheran Medical Centre, a wonderful institution serving people from all walks of life, supported by many disciples around the world – these offer moments of joy and awe. And the encouragement of many to take it easy, go slow, and engage in self-care – we are working to take this advice seriously and see it for what it is – no more nor less than the actual grace of Christ manifested in this place, offered to us as free gift.
As we continue to move through transition, begin language study next week, and prepare to begin teaching, we are grateful for this gift of time and the opportunity to share it with you. And we want to know – what transitions are you moving through? What are you learning? How are you responding? And where is the Spirit of God showing up on the road?
In many ways this is not so much an altogether new thing as a return to something familiar. Many will know that almost two decades ago, we left the US with our three small children for life and work in Fianarantsoa, Madagascar. We all grew and learned so much on the island. The scenery, the animals, and most of all the beautiful people of Madagascar remain in our hearts. We have made many visits back, and we cherish many lasting friendships from our time there. Among our learnings was so much about the US and American culture and the church, faith and ministry in the US. The church in Madagascar has a unique, vibrant and dynamic witness in the world. We will always be grateful for our first chapter in mission service, and we said when that came to an end (and many times since) that we really wanted to serve in that way again.
In God’s providence, that which we have thought about and dreamed of is coming true.
We will be serving, again, with a church that is growing, vital and active, in a country where poverty is a daily reality for many too many people. Once again, we will serve with a great community of mission and national colleagues, many of whom have already reached out to us with support, prayer, and valuable advice. We will teach, as before, at a graduate seminary, preparing leaders for the church. These parallels have helped us think about and prepare for this move.
Beginning Something New
And, there are many ways that this opportunity differs. We will serve on the African continent, rather than on an island where the people do not identify as African. We will teach in English, the language of instruction throughout Tanzania. We are older and, we hope and pray, wiser.
And our three small children – well, in the last 20 years they have gone and grown up, becoming three great young adults. Moving without them along for the ride feels truly weird. We are inordinately proud of and grateful for the people our kids have become. We’re both sad to be moving away from them, and so appreciative of the support and encouragement they have given and continue to give us.
We look forward to learning a lot (including Kiswahili – while we won’t teach in it, worship and much of life is lived in the language of the people). We have been reading, listening, and watching everything we can about Tanzania. We’ve had great conversations, in person, via email, Skype and Facebook, with so many great people who have offered such good and helpful information. And we are just about ready to take this leap into God’s good future.
Walking With Us
Both the ELCA (Mark’s church) and the Presbyterian Church (USA) (Cynthia’s church) approach mission from a stance of accompanying and walking with those with whom we serve. (To learn more about this approach, see an ELCA statement here and a PCUSA statement here.) Entering mission service means stepping into and claiming the legacy of wonderful moments of a great history of witness, healing, proclamation, prophecy and work for justice – and stepping into and acknowledging painful moments when colonial and dominating impulses led to injury and dealt pain and even death. We are bound by the call of Jesus to walk with and learn from people of different cultures and languages. We are called to walk with Jesus and learn from him, even as the two disciples did on the Emmaus road (Luke 24:13-35). We have been honored and humbled to walk with and learn from the faithful people of Madagascar, where many walked with and accompanied us on the journey. Indeed, the support of those who walked with us made our walk possible. We look forward to learning how to walk with and accompany the faithful people of Tanzania, and we will need others to walk with and accompany us. There are a number of ways you can walk with us on this journey.
First and foremost, you can PRAY FOR AND WITH US. God’s grace and providence in Christ is the solid rock on which we stand. We depend on the prayer support of people in many places and spaces to help us do what we do not understand, things we cannot at present do – which we will be called on to do.
Second, you can FOLLOW US on this blog – just click “Follow” in the bottom right hand corner. Please also follow us on Facebook at the link at the bottom right of this page. Your responses to what we write – your comments, thoughts and likes – will be a powerful source of accompaniment.
Third, you can SUPPORT US. We are grateful to be able to go where God has called us, and excited at the chance to take up this amazing opportunity. We hope to walk with congregations, organizations and individuals on this journey whom God has gifted with the capacity for financial support of mission. Congregations and individuals can sign covenants of ongoing support – the covenant form can be downloaded here; support us with one-time gifts; or you can jump in on something really exciting – we’ve been chosen to take part in a pilot of crowdfunding for mission personnel. Check out our page here and let us know what you think!
Fourth, we can VISIT YOU. We will be developing ways to visit with you and your congregation from Tanzania, using Skype or other technologies. Sponsoring congregations and groups can invite us to join in worship, education, and other ministries when we are in the US. We both look forward to seeing what God is doing in your space, and sharing with you in the journey to which God has called us.
Finally – eventually – you can VISIT US. We’d love to show you, once we begin to learn, what God is doing in Tanzania. And while you’re there, Mt. Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti, and so much more awaits your appreciation and wonder. If you, your group or your congregation would be interested in a visit sometime in 2019 or beyond, please be in touch.
We are thankful to God for this opportunity. We are thankful to the wonderful staff of ELCA Global Mission for sending us. We are thankful to our family and friends for their love and support. And we are thankful to you for walking with us thus far. We look forward to walking with you and the people and church in Tanzania in all the ways God makes possible.