Misty mornings and hints of rain evolved into bright beams of sunlight as the earth beneath our tired feet turned from gravel to dust. We walked away from bustling storefronts and ramshackled buildings toward lofty trees with poster-sized leaves and vibrant flowers towering above us. Scenes of Mount Meru appeared intermittently in the distance as the fog weaved its way through the towns.
Dust trailing from the occassional piki-piki infiltrated our lungs as the occassional chant of “Muzungu! Muzungu!” was heard in the distance from children inquiring about these foreign strangers. We chatted with our translator about the cultural differences between our homelands, but only shortly, as we walked between the hosts of Bible studies so numerous that we barely could reach them all.
“What’s it like?”
It’s a question I’ve been asked countless times and never fully know how to answer.
It’s tiring. Sometimes, it’s emotionally exhausting. As you enter house after house, learning of more death and more illness. And people with a lurking sense of sadness in their eyes grab your hand and ask fervently for you to pray for them as they are preparing a loved one for burial. And these strangers who have only known you for thirty minutes treat you like family, with hugs and kind words, bidding for God to bless you. And through their grief, they still have a desire to know God, asking you to return for Bible studies after the burials of their loved ones are completed. And your heart aches for them, as they are grasping for the hope and peace that only a loving God can give.
It’s also wonderful. It’s a community open to strangers as well as to each other. Children follow you through the towns, being welcomed into each home as much as you are. Many of the barriers that we encounter in the United States cease to exist. There is no faux mask of picture-perfect houses and a desire for spotless floors and counters as a pre-requisite for inviting someone into your home. Neighbors don’t hide reclusively in their houses, avoiding contact with other neighbors. That’s not even possible, as hard-working people are tending their cows, washing their clothes, feeding chickens or hosts of other chores necessary for living. I have never been a fan of the closed-off mentality that we have in the United States. Where we would rather sit around watching TV, ignoring our doorbell when it rings and being suspicious of knocks on the door. Nor am I a fan of the false sense of, and desire for, perfection..be it on social media or otherwise. Where we only show what we believe is the best part of ourselves and our possessions. Where we only post happy things or neglect to open our homes because we believe the smudges on our counter tops warrant being inhospitable. Sitting on a dusty, torn couch in a one room brick house with chickens running through the bed sheet hanging in lieu of a door, I oddly felt at peace.
It is humbling. And sometimes it makes you feel ashamed. Ashamed for the things you complain about and for the things you take for granted. I complain about having to wait in traffic when I should be thankful that I have a car. I complain about slow wi-fi, as I sit in a nice house with a new phone in my hands. I complain about the never-ending pile of laundry that comes from having more clothes than I need. And while sitting on a bucket in a house in Africa, I never felt more ashamed for every time I complained about a first world problem. I have never purchased used sandals from a dirty wheelbarrow on the side of the road. I have never filled buckets of unfiltered, potentially dangerous water to drink. I have never had the government tear down half my house because they wanted the land on which it was sitting. And while I sometimes joke about having to live off of Ramen noodles, I know that I am not going to starve. May God forgive me for my frivolous complaints.
“What’s it like?”
It’s long and tiresome yet short and wonderful all simultaneously.
The trip to Tanzania takes about 30 hours. It requires two bus rides and two very long plane rides. Personally, I love to fly so I don’t mind the trip too much, except for the jet lag. But I admire those who are scared of flying and still make the choice to go in spite of their fear. Even loving flying, the trip is pretty difficult. I couldn’t imagine going while being truly afraid. But that’s what love does. Love conquors fear (1 John 4:18).
Stepping off the plane in Kilamanjaro is instantly mass chaos, as the airport is not large enough to adequately accommodate everyone. And sometimes the workers decide to make up rules on their own, such as last year when he had to pay an imaginary tax to bring our supplies into the country, or this year when they decided they were only going to provide the correct visas to half of our group. But in the end, that’s not what matters. The frustrations are soon greatly outweighed by the realization of what you have come there to do. And you take a deep breath, say a prayer, grab your bags, and step out into a country that will forever change you.
The first three days are light days that involve preparing for the campaign while recovering from the jet lag. We also lead services and teach classes at any given congregation that Sunday. One day is a safari day, which is amazing but also the most tiring day. I literally fell asleep while being thrown around in the safari vehicle this year, which is indicative of why we have these rest days; we are utterly exhausted from travel and jet lag and need to wait until our minds are clear and alert before we can begin teaching.
The day before the campaign has been deemed “encouragement day.” This is where we are able to deliver food and supplies to members of the local churches and give them lessons on encouragement. I personally love this day. Last year, after the lesson, we asked the lady with whom we had been studying if we could pray for her, and she cried and poured her heart out for probably twenty minutes. Then we gave her a bag full of supplies, and the one item that she pulled out was the Bible; and she pulled it to her chest and hugged it tightly with a gleam of joy in her eyes. I will never forget that study. And after the studies, we have food cooked for church members and a lot of children in the community.
We then spend five days campaigning, where we walk through the streets and offer studies to anyone who would like to learn. And honestly, this is the part that will change you. This is where you encounter those people who are the epitome of Matthew 5:6, hungering and thirsting for the word of God. This is where complete strangers welcome you into their homes with a joyous “karibunisana” and, sitting on a bucket with a Bible in your lap, you realize all the things you’ve truly been missing. No, not the material things. The spiritual things, the hospitality, the loving your neighbor and, frankly, the gratitude and thankfulness that are often forgotten in the midst of our overly packed schedules and semi-truthful facebook posts. Suddenly you become reminded of them. And although you began this journey with a desire to teach and help others, often it is you who are taught more than you dared to even imagine. And for me, I know that I will never sing the words “shall we gather at the river” in the same way.
At Hoover, we talk a lot about “senders” and “goers.” Well, I am a goer who is eternally grateful for all of the generous senders who help to make this trip a reality. I could never afford this on my own. But I absolutely love it, and I feel like I left a part of myself 8,000 miles away on a dirt path in the depths of Africa. So to all of the senders, I offer a very huge “thank you.” Thank you for loving others enough that you sent us to teach them. Thank you for loving others enough that you provided food and clothing for them. Thank you for entrusting us, myself especially, to be the messengers of the greatest news that has ever been told to people who are truly thirsting.
Mungu ni mwema.