12 December 2014

Waterholes and weddings!

2014 is fast drawing to a close and this time next week (18th) we'll be on a plane UK-bound for 2 weeks of holiday and catching up with family!  It’s been a year of adjusting and learning; a year of grappling with Tanzanian culture and a year of new experiences – most of them good ones!  

Meeting in the pump house at Sanga Sanga

Since our last newsletter we have attended two pastors’ conferences – one at Sanga Sanga and the other in Lindi, a 12 hour drive away in the south of the country.  The conference at Sanga Sanga was well attended with over 70 pastors and their wives coming from all over the diocese.  We all crammed into the very first building put up on the Sanga site, which is essentially the pump house!  We look forward to the day when our conference hall is built and we can welcome even bigger groups of pastors for Bible training, fellowship and respite – no pressure Matt Dixon!  More details about that next month.

The Lindi conference was the last of 8 this year.  As well as Tanzanian pastors and evangelists, it was good to meet up with some of our AIM colleagues who are based in various locations near Lindi, some on TIMO and post-TIMO teams.  Lindi is right on the coast and was picture-postcard pretty in some ways but boy, was it hot and sticky!  In future Steve will be following the example of the Tanzanians and taking a ‘preacher’s flannel’ with him to mop his dripping brow!  He taught three sessions in Swahili and was encouraged to receive good feedback on his pronunciation.  That seminar brought to a close his preaching this year on the subject of 'Miraculous Movements' and in the first few months of next year he’ll be preparing talks for the 2015 calendar of seminars.

The newlyweds shimmy down the aisle

In the last few weeks we’ve had a couple of interesting and very different cultural experiences; a baptism and a wedding.  Tanzanian weddings aren’t known to be brief affairs and we braced ourselves for a long day.  The service was due to start at 2pm and we were assured in advance by the pastor that it would start on time.  When we arrived at 2.30pm the church was still only a quarter full, the bridegroom was sitting outside in his car (making the most of the AC) and the bride had not yet arrived!  When things eventually got underway we were interested and slightly amused to see all the members of the wedding party dance down the aisle – the groom, his best man, the bridesmaids and the bride - imagine that in the UK!  The bride came in by herself, sashaying demurely halfway up the aisle where she waited for her groom to come and meet her, he looking rather self-conscious as he shimmied down towards her!  He lifted up her veil and the two of them continued up the aisle together.  There was a real atmosphere of celebration and of course the music and singing was full on!  Needless to say, at the end of the service the whole wedding party shimmied back down the aisle!


In many respects the service resembled a western one, with traditional vows and giving of rings.  We noticed that many guests drifted in throughout the service but nobody took offence at their lateness. Oddly, the groom’s parents arrived towards the end of the whole service, long after the vows had been said, perhaps due to the traffic chaos in Dar.      

The wedding reception was a long, loud affair with lots more dancing!  Although we had only met the groom once before, Steve was called upon to open the proceedings in prayer – talk about lastminute.com!  The MC did a great job at keeping things going but even so, the food wasn’t served until 10pm – mysteriously lots of guests arrived just before that time!  After that came the grand presentation of wedding gifts!  First went the two families, dancing and holding their gifts aloft, followed by friends and other guests, including us, yes, shimmying all the way!  We then shimmied right out the door as by that time it was 10.30pm and that was enough for us!!  Although it was a long day, it was on the whole a good experience, similar to a UK wedding but a whole lot louder! 


The baptism site complete with car washing

Last month Steve was invited to preach at a baptismal service in a village where 15 people were being baptised.  We gathered, not around a neat and tidy baptismal pool at the front of a church, but around a large watering hole used by the Maasai to water their cattle!  Although there were no cattle present at the time, there was ample evidence of them having been there!  A couple of Maasai women were busy washing their ankle jewellery and a local guy backed his car up to the water’s edge and proceeded to wash it inside and out!  The pastor conducting the service was most concerned about getting bacteria in his feet as he stood waist deep in the water with the squelching mud reaching mid-shin, and the last lady to be baptised refused to go right under – despite the pastor’s best efforts in trying to force her under, with both hands on her shoulders!!  Then it was back to the ‘church’ – or should I say the back garden of someone’s house, where a couple of large tarpaulins had been tied together and erected as a make-shift shelter. Somehow over 80 people managed to sit underneath it for the duration of the four-hour service, of which only 35 minutes was Steve’s contribution!  He managed to preach in Swahili on the subject of discipleship, and what the Bible has to say on what it means to be a genuine disciple of Christ: are we really following Christ?  Are we living our lives with Him at the centre?  Are we bearing fruit and pointing others to Christ?  Distractions included numerous chickens running around the place; the crowing of cockerels, the loud and crackly sound system and a number of breast-feeding mothers on the front row!!  The service was followed by a rice and bean feast, and yet a few more ‘thank you’ speeches, and at 4pm everyone began to drift off to their homes.  All in all, a long day but an interesting cultural experience!

Last month we mentioned boils.  Ruth still continues to suffer with them, having had several in her ears and one on her leg which turned into an abscess.  Thankfully we were able to see a doctor in Dar who, rather than lance the wretched thing, prescribed ointment to apply inside her nostrils as apparently that’s where the bacteria causing the boils reside – who knew?!  Please pray that the ointment will be effective and that the boils become a thing of the past.

We wish you a joyful and blessed Christmas as you celebrate the Saviour’s birth. Thank you so much for all your support, prayers, cards, gifts and emails to us this year.  We’re sorry that our fleeting visit to the UK doesn’t allow us time to visit you all – that will have to wait until home assignment in 2016!

With every blessing

Steve and Ruth

Prayer and praise:

- Praise God for safety in the hundreds of miles we’ve travelled in Tanzania this year.

- Pray for a good time with family this Christmas.

- Pray for good health and respite from boils!

- Pray for Ruth as she begins to prepare another English course for the New Year.

- Praise God for a good year of settling in to Morogoro and the ministry we’ve been involved with.

Random photos of the month:

5 November 2014

Bombs & Boils, Blessings & Botherations!

One of the last things that a visiting preacher wants as he addresses his audience is a distraction, especially when that distraction sits in the middle of his face! That was how it was as I went to do the Bible teaching at a church weekend conference in Iringa back in September - a swollen nose that was glowing with an angry redness! Joy of joys – the boil emerges! So, conscious of my red snout, as I stood to introduce myself I decided to get the ‘Rudolph’ reference in before anyone else did and urged the listeners to “fix their eyes not on what was seen but on what was unseen” (1 Cor 4:18)! Despite the throbbing hooter the weekend went really well, and I enjoyed being able to speak out God’s Word in a language I was comfortable with! We also appreciated meeting up again with folks from the Iringa Christian Fellowship – people we’d met during our intensive language course last year. And whilst it wasn’t exactly a plague (we had three each, one of which was on Ruth’s eyelid!) we’re both pleased that the unexplained boil season is behind us for now! 
And then, as September came to an end, it was on to the Ifakara Conference where 25 AICT pastors and evangelists gathered for some teaching on church planting and discipleship. Ruth was there in her role as Communications Officer, dealing with administration and finance, and I was able to practise my Swahili, teaching three sessions on prayer and what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, relating these issues to 
evangelism within an Islamic setting. Many of these pastors minister in areas with a high proportion of Muslims in their communities and so some of our teaching this year has been focused on taking the gospel to such people. One of the evangelists who attended the conference, a lady called Tausi, is from a Muslim background and knows all about the pressures of being a Christian within a Muslim environment. Last year her husband died and she was left with their four children, one of whom was taken by Muslim relatives (at the funeral) to live with them in the north of the country. The other children are now being pressured to move away from her – and she is of course desperate not to lose her children. Please pray for Tausi as she faces this battle and for the church as they support her. 

Beneath the sealed Golden Gate in Jerusalem
Oak Hall Israel: Three days after the Ifakara conference I was sitting on a plane bound for the Middle East to lead another Oak Hall Israel trip - and what a trip of contrasts it was! From the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem’s old city to the long-deserted cities of Capernaum and Megiddo; looking across to the highest mountain in Israel (Hermon) to being in the lowest city on the earth (Jericho); from the night-time street-party atmosphere outside our East Jerusalem hotel to the tranquil surrounds of our accommodation on the shores of Galilee; from the heat of the Judean desert to the relative cool of Hezekiah’s tunnel - and so I could go on! The trip went extremely smoothly and I so enjoyed leading and guiding this tour, with a lot of help from my friend and one-time Bible College tutor Bob Hunt.  

As you’ll be aware, Israel is a land of constant tension and the number of Israeli soldiers on the streets of old Jerusalem bear testament to this. However, despite the various checkpoints and the fact that our visit occurred only five weeks after the conflict in Gaza, we didn’t have to alter our tour schedule and nor did we encounter any problems. There was, however, one moment on the Golan Heights where eyebrows were raised by a few of the guests! As we looked out over Syria, and I began to read about the Apostle Paul’s journey to Damascus, a couple of bombs/rockets landed about a mile away, sending up clouds of smoke and debris! It gave us a tiny glimpse of what many people in Syria have been experiencing over the last few years as the fighting was between two rebel Syrian armies near to the Israeli border. 

Steve in full flow beside
The Oak Hall Israel trip is certainly a full-on tour but one that has a lasting impact on the guests. One of them remarked at the end of the trip that, “It was wonderful to be able to put the various places into perspective; to see the terrain, feel the heat and walk the walks. It’s going to open up a new vista as I read the Bible, being able to visualise the places and events of the both the Old and the New Testaments.” I say it every time, but I’ll say it again: I find it such a blessing and a privilege to be able to introduce folks to the sights, sounds, smells and significance of this fascinating land; and that despite a rather lengthy return journey to Tanzania of 32 hours!     

Three days later Ruth and I attended the AIM Tanzania conference, enjoying the not-so tranquil environment of Dar es Salaam! Our accommodation was situated rather close to a huge road-building project where work continued 24-hours a day! It was good to meet up with other AIM colleagues from around the country and to hear of the blessings and the challenges they’re facing in their various situations. We enjoyed some teaching from the book of 1 Thessalonians, brought to us by a pastor from Nottingham, and it was a refreshing change to be able to sing God’s praises in full voice, in a language we were familiar with. Another reminder that we were in Africa came during one of the afternoon tea breaks where, along with the regular tea and coffee, popcorn and chicken gizzards were served!   

Steve and Ruth posing under the rare wheel tree!
Yet another three days later and we were back in Delightful Dar – this time for another pastors’ conference, seeking to “enable, mobilise and inspire” the AICT pastors in the Dar region. Again, I was using the Miraculous Movements book to focus on prayer and discipleship, and to highlight the fact that God is speaking to thousands of Muslims across Africa through dreams and visions, calling them to Himself. We looked briefly at the subject of dreams and visions in the Bible and there was a resounding response of ‘yes’ when I asked whether they thought God still spoke to people in that way today. I asked the pastors whether they had had any experience of God speaking to them through dreams or visions (maybe a dangerous question to ask!).

One man (Pastor Malelo) told us that he’d had three identical dreams over the course of a few nights, where he had been travelling in a bus that had crashed, causing injury and death to some of the passengers. He was shortly due to go on a journey by bus, and wondered whether these three dreams were a warning for him not to go. He chose to ignore them and went on his journey. He was unable to sit in his allocated seat because someone else was already sitting there. Miles down the road the bus did indeed crash causing injury and death. Pastor Malelo suffered injuries which kept him in hospital for six months but the man who was sitting in his seat died of his injuries. I’m not in a position to say for definite whether these were godly dreams of warning, because I didn’t have them, but having heard a number of testimonies down through the years, and having read books like ‘Miraculous Movements’ I have no doubt that our God is still in the business of speaking into people’s lives in this way today, especially amongst Muslims who are secretly searching for a loving God.

I’ll also remember this conference for something that happened during my first session – and it’s a problem that every preacher faces. It was indeed the dreaded ‘after lunch’ slot and even though we were meeting outside under the shade of a thatched banda, the temperatures were a tad stifling. Half way through my talk I spotted a couple of guys who could have uttered the words of Jesus to those three disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane: “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak”! The fact that their heads were at a 90 degree angle to their bodies gave it away! I’ve often wondered whether I would have the nerve to stop what I was saying and, in a very gentle way (of course!), encourage such people back into the land of the living! Well, I didn’t have to on this occasion because one of the other pastors interrupted my talk to inform me that we had a number of people who weren’t paying attention! Heads swivelled from side to side and a fair bit of poking ensued, and the two rather sheepish sleepers were roused back to life – brilliant! Maybe I’ll employ the ‘sleeper-watcher’ on a permanent basis!   

Praise & Prayer: So – that’s what it’s been like in the Lancs Lane over the last few weeks. We’re so grateful to those who pray for us, and always humbled when people write to assure us of their prayers - thank you. We’re grateful to God for safety on our travels; for smooth and uncomplicated journeys during the last few months, and also for the health and strength to be doing what we’re doing.  

As you’ll see from the diary, we’re planning a two week holiday in UK over Christmas and New Year. It’s an unexpected blessing to be able to do this, coming at the half-way point of our first term in Africa, and so we’re chuffed at the prospect of spending some precious time with family, two of whom we’ve never met before!  

We have two more pastors’ conferences that we’re involved in before the year comes to a close and we’ll also continue with our language learning - which leads me on to a request for prayer – and the issue of ‘botheration’ - an exclamation indicating vexation or annoyance!  Time for a bit of honesty!  Whilst I am able to teach a number of repeated sessions in Swahili, I’m preaching from a script and am becoming increasingly frustrated that I’m not learning faster than I am. Maybe it’s about unrealistic expectations on my part; maybe it’s the learning method I’m using; maybe it’s because I’m not feeling as useful as I’d like to be, or maybe it’s simply a case of being fifteen months in and realising there aren’t any short cuts!  In short, as I said to my bro the other day, I’m fed up to the back molars with language learning! It feels as though I’m swimming through treacle and the motivation levels are down, my patience threshold is wavering and I’m in danger of becoming a disgruntled cynic!  Don’t panic – it’s not a case of “I’m a missionary, get me out of here”, but I would certainly appreciate your prayers on this front, as I seek to press through this ‘botheration’ and finish the year well. Oh – and as for Ruth – she’s loving it!! She comes to the end of the current course in a few weeks’ time and would appreciate prayer for wisdom as she seeks to find a language helper using a more conversational method for the next stage. Many thanks for your support – and for reading this far!     

Steve & Ruth

Diary for Nov/Dec:

17th-21st Nov:        Pastors’ conference at Sanga Sanga, Morogoro
2nd – 6th Dec:         Pastors’ conference at Lindi (SW Tanz near to border with 
                               Mozambique and an 800 mile round trip)
18th Dec – 4th Jan:  Christmas hols with family in UK! 

Random photos of the month:

"Anyone got a spirit level?!"

Health and safety eat your heart out!

3 September 2014

TEFL, travel, teaching

Hi folks.  It's been a couple of months since our last update so let's bring you up to date with what we've been doing. TEFL has launched at Sanga Sanga, we've explored new parts of Tanzania, and we’ve had visitors!

Visiting a Compassion sponsored school
linked to our AIC church in Morogoro
In July Steve’s parents (David & Ruth) came out for a 2 week visit.  It was great to introduce them to the distinctive sights, sounds and smells of Africa.  As well as giving them a taste of life in Morogoro we also wanted to give them a mixture of ‘holiday’ Africa and ‘real’ Africa – and so it turned out to be a time of real contrasts: from splashing around in the Indian Ocean to visiting a home for the destitute where those who couldn’t walk simply shuffled around outside in the dirt.  We had a few days on safari in the wilderness of Ruaha National Park, and we visited the home of a widow looking after her grandchildren where the conditions were best described as squalid. We ventured up into the tropical rainforests of the Udzungwa Mountains and swam in clear and cool waterfalls – and we meandered our way around the dusty fruit and veg market where hustle and 
Ma and Pa Lancs meet orphan-carers
in Tabora
bustle reigns and vendors strive to earn what they can.  We also squeezed in a weekend trip to the town of Tabora to visit a Tanzanian friend whose wife runs a community orphan project. David and Ruth’s house-group in Carlisle has been supporting it for the past few years, so it was good for them to see the project first-hand, although heart-breaking to hear the stories of the three widows we visited.  It was great to have had them here and many precious memories were added to the memory banks! 

Standing at the top of the Sanje falls in the
Udzungwa Mountains

Ruth has just finished leading a TEFL course at Sanga Sanga, teaching English to some of the workers there. She has loved doing it, although it has had its challenges.  Her ‘students’ came with a variety of abilities in English, and indeed in literacy – some could speak a few words, some surprised her with random phrases and comments, and one lady was almost illiterate – she could write her name only. But all came with enthusiasm and commitment.  It may have been the first time some of them had been in a classroom for many years but they gave it their best and were proud to receive their certificates at the end of the course. 

Talking of Sanga Sanga, the Retreat House has been well used during August with a number of groups and visitors.  Fran and Felista (bottom right in photo above) have worked hard looking after them all, and we’ve had lots of positive feedback.  Publicity leaflets have been produced and sent out to various places so do pray that word will spread and bookings increase.  We hope that it will become a self-sustaining facility. 

The old and the new - the original church
building in Magambua is on the left!
In August we travelled to Magambua, a small village right in the ‘sticks’ north of Dodoma.  It was the first time Ruth had ever stayed in that kind of setting – truly the wilderness. We were there for a pastors’ conference and Steve was providing some of the teaching – in Swahili again! The theme of the conference was the principles of planting churches. Steve focused on discipleship and prayer in Muslim communities, using real life illustrations from a book called ‘Miraculous Movements’.  We were joined by a couple from the US, Cliff and Becky Boone, ex-AIM missionaries who pioneered the work in Magambua back in the 1990’s when the Sindawe were an unreached people group.  Today there is a church and a clinic, and translation work going on.  We were fascinated by Cliff’s tales of being chased by lions after he’d taken a pot-shot at one with a .22 rifle (apparently about as powerful as a pea shooter!). Thankfully lions are rare visitors in Magambua these days, although we were told there are plenty of snakes.  

Steve teaching in the newly-built Sunday School room
We stayed with an AIM missionary, an Australian nurse.  I was surprised to learn that she had recently replaced her flushing toilet with a 12ft long-drop. Usually it’s the other way round.  But flushing toilets are only as good as the plumbing, and in this case it wasn’t very good! There was no electricity; everything ran off solar power, except the fridge which was gas powered!  We came away very much in admiration of Margaret and the other missionaries there, having learnt a little of some of the issues that face them.  While many in the West would claim to be ‘spiritual’, few would acknowledge the reality of demon possession today, but in Africa it’s sadly very real.  Margaret told us recently of a 16 year old who had come to the clinic and was suffering in this way with frequent manifestations.  As she says, there is no culture in this part of the world without witchcraft and it is heart-breaking to see the results.

On a lighter note, our return journey from Magambua was probably typical of travel in Africa.  We ended up giving a lift to several of the pastors and their wives and 11 of us squeezed like sardines into wherever we could fit.  At one point we realised that one lady had smuggled in a live cockerel under the back seat!  During the conference our driver (we were using a diocese car) spent his time stocking up on supplies so, even before we started loading our luggage on, the roof rack was already bulging with items, including a bed frame! Thankfully our fears for the suspension were unfounded, and we all survived a bumpy journey of several hours on an earth road before hitting the tarmac and offloading our passengers at Dodoma.

Ambrose with his carving of 
the Lord's Supper
We are gradually getting to know some of the people in Morogoro, some through chance encounters on the street. One such is Ambrose.  As a child Ambrose contracted polio. His father hid him away at home, so he missed out on a school education.  Amazingly, in the 1980s Ambrose was able to go to Dar es Salaam where he trained to become a carpenter.  Now he has a small ‘duka’ in Morogoro where he makes wooden gifts, supporting his wife and family.  We suspect that he often doesn’t make enough money to live on.  He is very skilful and produces beautiful items such as carvings of the Lord’s Supper and the Good Shepherd.

Thank you for your prayers for us and the different ways in which you support us.  The next couple of months will be particularly busy with a lot of travel so we would appreciate your on-going prayers. 

Every blessing,

Steve and Ruth

Dates for Sept/Oct:

12-15 Sept         Steve preaching at Iringa Christian Fellowship retreat

23-27 Sept         Steve teaching at pastors’ conference at Ifakara
30 Sept-13 Oct  Steve in Israel leading Oak Hall trip
7-11 Oct            Pastors’ conference in Mbeya – Ruth attending
15-20 Oct          AIM Tanzania Region Conference, Dar es Salaam
23-26 Oct          Pastors’ conference in Dar es Salaam – Steve teaching

Points for prayer:

 Praise God for safety over the many miles we’ve travelled.

 Praise God for good health and the chance to enjoy a holiday.
 Pray for the pastors’ seminars in September and October.
 Pray for Steve as he leads the trip to Israel.

Random photos of the month:

African Fish Eagle - Ruaha National Park

Don't call the fire brigade - it's just a
birthday cake!

3 July 2014

Plaques & Ribbons, Pac-a-macs & Milestones!

Leadership Conference in Nairobi: Early June in Nairobi – and the sun was certainly not cracking the pavements! In fact, as we touched down at the airport and gazed out of the oval window, we could see the rain bouncing off the tarmac monsoon-style!  Not a problem if your plane latches onto one of those moveable corridors – but on this occasion the pilot ‘parked’ some distance away from the terminal building. We then watched in dismay as the waiting bus driver also decided to park well away from our plane! A classic comedy moment followed as plastic Pac-a-macs were handed out by the crew to protect us from the adverse conditions.  Why the bus parked a good 200 yards from the plane is a mystery – although I’m sure the driver had a good laugh as he watched the passengers scurrying across the rain-soaked tarmac towards him wrapped in their see-through bin-bags! He certainly had reason to chuckle as yours truly later stepped off the bus into an ankle-deep puddle!

Our reason for being in Nairobi was two-fold. We had been invited to attend AIM’s leadership conference and Ruth needed to have another medical check-up to discuss the blood clot issue that happened nearly 12 months ago now. Thankfully the detailed blood tests that were carried out revealed nothing sinister and the Doc was able to give a definite ‘thumbs up’ with no further appointments needed until next July. Ruth left armed with a further 12 months' supply of medication due to the fact that we’re unable to obtain it as easily here in Tanzania. As an aside, our walking route from the AIM guesthouse to the hospital is normally an ordinary journey of about ten minutes, but we’re learning that here in Africa, there is often no such thing as an ordinary journey! As we rounded a bend we were rather shocked to come across a bloodied dead body in a ditch running alongside the pavement of the main road next to the hospital! It would seem he was the victim of a hit-and-run accident during the night and yet here he was hours later, still lying there, just yards away from a group of policemen directing the queuing traffic during the 9am rush-hour!

The leadership conference went well and it was great to meet up with some familiar AIM faces, some of whom I had interviewed during my time with AIM in the UK. The highlight for us both was listening to some quality Bible teaching from our friend and pastor Eddie Larkman, and it was great to be able to meet with others to sing and pray in a language we actually understood! Thirty four sessions were packed into five days and the subjects covered included strategic planning, courage and leadership, values and alignment, changes in vision, and the art of listening and affirming, as well as a focussed look at what is happening in the various regions in which AIM is working. Our International Director emphasised the need for AIM to reaffirm its original priority of being a mission agency primarily involved in reaching the unreached of Africa with the good news of Christ. At this point in time there are still 2070+ unreached people groups here in Africa (primarily in the north) totalling over 708 million people who’ve never had the chance to hear the life-giving message of the cross.

Retreat House official opening
Tony Sargent did the honours
Sanga Sanga Retreat House officially opened! Just a few days after returning from Nairobi we had a two-day pastors' conference here at the home of IBM near Morogoro and the main speaker was Tony Sargent, former Principal of the International Christian College in Glasgow. Due to his close association with the work of IBM he was invited to officially open the Retreat Centre and Campsite and it was great to see pastors and workers gather together for the opening ceremony. The traditional plaque unveiling and ribbon cutting went without hitch! The work at Sanga continues to develop with a conference centre next on the building agenda – all with the primary goal of equipping the Church in Tanzania.

The Babati Milestone! It took us over 9 hours to drive the 430 miles from Morogoro to Babati through some varied and stunning scenery. We drove through part of the African Rift Valley, past Tanzania’s third highest mountain (Mt Hanang standing at 11,381ft), through a land of baobab trees and rock outcrops, over roads where carts and cows competed with lorries and buses, and where people wandered around wrapped up in blankets due to the cold! What made it even more memorable were the numerous rumble strips and road humps that put the shock absorbers through their paces!

Babati  AIC church
The venue we used for the Babati Pastors' Conference can best be described as a half-finished barn with an unpolished dirt floor! Let me try and set the scene for you: sixteen upright poles supporting a timber-framed tin roof; open to the elements on all sides except for some ripped bin-liners and some coloured curtain material wrapped around the bottom half. This is the Africa Inland Church of Babati – unfinished due to a shortage of funds. The view from the inside is slightly different to the average UK church! No stained glass windows here; no Bible-verse banners hanging on the pastel-painted walls; no projectors or screens, and no padded seats to get comfortable on. Just a couple of rough-edged benches and some plastic chairs with a home-made lectern that would put any spirit-level awry! And the view from the non-existent pew, apart from the ragged bin-liners and the colourful curtains, included banana trees, mud-bricked houses with corrugated roofs, and the blue of the African sky. Concentration was rather hard due to the many distractions of meeting in an open-sided church: the sound of children running outside; the buzzing of giant bumble bees; neighbours carrying out their household chores; the washing of metal pots and pans; the occasional bark of a dog and the not-so-occasional crowing of a cockerel! Welcome to ministry in rural Africa! And this was to be the scene for my first real taste of preaching/speaking in Swahili to a group of 17 AIC pastors, and where Ruth would take on the challenge of sorting out the finances for such an event!

Pastors getting stuck into the Word!

Pastor John, who cycled 12 miles
on a borrowed bike each day of the conference! 
During the three-day conference I was very aware that a number of you were lifting me up in prayer and I felt that God answered those prayers by enabling me to speak on three occasions for 90 minutes each, and to my surprise, without too many stumbles and corrections! And although I am still far from being a fluent Swahili speaker it was a huge milestone for me – one which I actually enjoyed! Basing the three talks on a book about discipleship amongst Muslims in Africa I focussed on what it means to be a disciple of Christ and looked at the way in which Jesus discipled his followers. We also looked at the importance of prayer when reaching out to such people in our communities, and using the principles in the book, challenged some of the ways in which many churches undertake evangelism and discipleship. I was also given an extra session where I focussed on the basics of prayer and was so encouraged to see the pastors enthusiastically working through the Bible-study exercise that I had prepared for them. After eleven months of on-going preparation, it was great to be doing what I came here to do: “preparing God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up” - and I hope that these pastors went away challenged and inspired, and not just entertained listening to an Englishman trying to speak their language! 

Babati town
At least someone enjoyed
the conference!
And so – onwards into July & August: I’m very much looking forward to welcoming my parents to Tanzania! We’re taking some holiday and introducing them to the sights and sounds of Tanzania which will of course include a taste of the African safari. Binoculars will at the ready and bird lists added to! Another milestone will be reached on 11th July as Ruth and I celebrate our first anniversary of being in Africa. We’re amazed at how quickly the year has gone and still feel that we’ve barely started, but we’re thankful for the way in which we’ve settled and look forward to getting more involved in the lives of the pastors we’ve come to serve. Thank you so much to those who commit to praying and supporting us, and to those who send us the occasional email and letter. We’ve included our scheduled diary for the next two months – at least the dates that we’re aware of at this point, and would appreciate your prayers, especially for the two pastors' conferences in August. We hope to be in touch in early September – until then, go well and God bless.

Dates for the Diary: July & August

9th–23rd July:  Holiday time with Ma & Pa Lancs here in Tanz

11th July:          Our 1 year anniversary in Tanzania!
5th–9th Aug:          AIC Pastor training conference in Magambua
20th Aug:          Ruth’s birthday!  
26th-30th Aug:      AIC Pastor training conference in Iringa

Random photo of the month:

Pick up thy bed and ride!

31 May 2014

Dangers on the roads

Beware the ditches!
We’ve been experiencing the rainy season here over the last six weeks.  Almost every day the clouds have rolled down from the Uluguru Mountains and dropped their load on Morogoro.  Now we know why the roadside gutters – a hazard for many a driver - are so deep: to cope with the torrents of rain that pour down from the mountains.  A few weeks ago it rained solidly for 40 hours, causing havoc across eastern Tanzania.   Several people died, there was much flooding and chaos on the roads as bridges were swept away.  The homes of many people were destroyed and crops washed away.

And yet the rain is welcome.  The temperatures have dropped and now scarcely reach 30 degrees C (!) during the day, and at night we’ve even been able to sleep without a fan.  Everywhere you look people are cultivating.  Every scrap of land seems to have something growing on it, even the roadside verges.   Morogoro is well known as a centre of agriculture in Tanzania – the town even has a University of Agriculture.  People are busy in their “shambas” every day, and what they don’t use for themselves they sell, bringing in much-needed income.  We’ve recently met a man called Saif who works as a security guard Monday-Thursday for a Christian household, and on Fridays he cycles down from his home higher up the mountain with a basket of fruit and vegetables that he sells from gate to gate.  So I know that every week I will be able to buy freshly picked carrots, spring onions, peppers, leeks, radishes, coriander, lettuce, broccoli, even strawberries.  I love Fridays!  On the other hand, we've realised that fresh food here doesn’t last as long as it does in the UK – no preservatives added!  So instead of buying enough for two or three days, now I buy extra and freeze it all.

When I (Ruth) was writing this update in the last week of May I was anticipating that I would be telling you all about the pastors’ seminar in Babati that was to be held from 27th-29th May.  However, unexpected events meant that the seminar was cancelled (see below).  It was to have been the first time that Steve preached in Swahili – a real milestone for him.  Since the seminar in March (see last month’s blog) Steve has been painstakingly translating the three talks he did then into Swahili, with the help of his language teacher.  Many hours went into the work of translating, refining and practising the pronunciation.  Even though the conference was cancelled it has been a really useful exercise.  Steve will use these talks at the rescheduled conference later in June.

On 25th May we received a very sombre reminder of the dangers of travelling on Tanzanian roads. Our team mate and friend Tony Swanson was involved in a head-on collision with another car, which unexpectedly pulled out from behind a lorry to overtake it, heading straight into Tony’s path.  In a split second, in spite of swerving, Tony’s car was hit, rolled and ended upside down in a ditch.  Thankfully Tony managed to escape with 'only' a couple of fractures in his foot, bruising and grazes.  The other car burst into flames and sadly two of the five occupants died. We understand that the driver was a policeman and that he had been drinking.

There are so many reasons to be thankful to God.  Tony’s car (now written off) was a Toyota Landcruiser – a sturdy beast of a car, ideal for Tanzania’s many unmade roads.  No doubt this was partly why Tony survived without more serious injuries.  (The other car was a Suburu like ours – a chilling thought for us.)  Almost immediately after the accident another car passed the scene and the driver, Daniel, 'happened' to be a member of our church!  He saw Tony and stopped to help.   It was he who called Rev Falanta (Chair of the Institute of
Bible & Ministry) who then called Steve. Steve and Falanta drove to the scene of the accident and brought a rather dazed and shocked Tony back to Morogoro. The AICT has rallied around Tony.  At the hospital where Tony went to have an X-ray on his foot, the pastor, his wife and several members of his congregation came to show support and assist in dealing with the hospital.  Praise God that it wasn’t left to me and my meagre Swahili!  In the meantime Rev Falanta and Steve returned to the scene of the crash to deal with the police, and organise a crane to retrieve Tony’s car which is now sitting in a garage in Morogoro.

One of the cultural attitudes that we struggle to accept here is how people drive.  We see the results of many accidents on the road – usually lorries in ditches, sometimes coaches.  There is a fatalistic attitude to life – “If it’s my day to die, then I will die” – with no apparent understanding that many accidents could be avoided and lives saved.  It’s also true that a lack of vehicle maintenance contributes to accidents, but, from what we’ve observed on the roads, bad driving and a “don’t care” attitude are the main causes.

What is also shocking to us is how onlookers behave at accidents.  Rather than help the victims, they see it as an opportunity to help themselves.  Daniel very kindly guarded Tony’s car until Steve was able to crawl inside and retrieve Tony’s possessions.  He wasn’t able to remove Tony’s car radio - but somebody else did overnight.  Sadly Daniel had his phone stolen from his car while he was helping Tony.  The other car, wrecked and burning as it was, had its spare tyre stolen!  What a mad world we live in.

We are so thankful to God that Tony escaped with his life.  Amazingly this was his first serious accident in the 15 years he’s been in Tanzania.

Better news is that the project at Sanga Sanga is progressing steadily.  In May the campsite was opened and we are ready to welcome overland travellers who are passing through Morogoro.  The retreat house already has several bookings from various groups.  Thus we hope the Retreat Centre will begin to be self-sustaining.

We are gradually settling into a routine of language and work.  Steve has preached several times recently and I’ve been working on publicising the Retreat Centre, updating the website, doing the accounts and other admin tasks.  Tony has asked me to teach English to the staff at Sanga Sanga, which I’m looking forward to doing although I’ve never taught complete beginners before.  Still, I’m up for a challenge!

As always, we thank you for your support and prayers.  Your prayers for “travelling mercies” mean so much to us.  Listed below are our dates for June.  We’ve been invited to attend AIM’s Leadership Conference in Nairobi and are looking forward to hearing our pastor from Corsham Baptist, Eddie Larkman, as he gives the Bible teaching.

With love

Ruth & Steve

Dates in June:

5th                 Travel to Nairobi for Leadership Conference
6th                 Ruth has check up with doctor
9th – 14th  Leadership Conference
15th               Return to Morogoro
16th-17th     Islamics course at Sanga Sanga
22nd             Steve’s birthday!
24th-28th     In Babati for pastors' seminar

For prayer:

- Please pray for a speedy recovery for Tony and that there will be no legal implications arising from the accident (it has to go to court because there were fatalities).  The police have apportioned no blame to Tony for the accident.  Tony's left foot/leg is now in plaster.

- Pray for safe travels this month as we go to Nairobi – by car and plane, and that we would benefit from AIM's Leadership Conference.

- Please pray for Ruth’s check-up at hospital, that the various tests will have good outcomes.

- Pray that the Islamics course at Sanga Sanga will be of great benefit to pastors and evangelists and help them to understand and relate to their Muslim neighbours.  Tanzania's population is around 40% Muslim.

Random photo of the month:

The strange but beautiful preying mantis

29 May 2014

Hotmail account blocked!

Steve's Hotmail account has been blocked for the last 10 days or so.  If you have emailed him and are surprised at not receiving a reply, that's the reason.  We are doing our best to get it re-opened.  In the meantime, please contact Steve on his new hotmail address: stevelancs69@hotmail.com.

P.S.  If you normally receive an email from Steve notifying you of our latest newsletter, please drop him a line at the above email address.  Sadly, the blocked account means he doesn't have access to his contact list.


11 April 2014

Solar at Sanga – and insects that burn!

Ten miles west of Morogoro is a small village called Sanga Sanga, which I’m told is not slang for ‘sandwich’ but actually means something like ‘mud hole’ in Swahili!  Maybe not the most desirable of addresses, although this didn’t stop an AIC pastor from naming one of his children after the village, simply because his child was born whilst he was at a conference there!  Just outside this village is the home of The Institute of Bible & Ministry (IBM) which is a department of the AICT (Africa Inland Church Tanzania). The Institute was set up back in 1998 to “enable, mobilise and inspire AIC pastors to a closer relationship with God so that they are equipped to teach and disciple their own congregations and reach out to their own communities with the gospel.”  It’s not a residential Bible college or an academic institution but it is an ongoing theological programme seeking to serve and train about 150 AIC pastors in eastern Tanzania. Ministry guidance and Bible teaching is given to the pastors as they meet together, along with their wives, for conferences and retreats.

During the past five years work has been underway to build a base for IBM on a thirteen acre site near Sanga Sanga.  Slowly but surely things are taking shape as various buildings are beginning to grow out of the Tanzanian bush.  The first ‘buildings’ on site were formed out of a couple of old shipping containers, but just recently a new 13-bed retreat house has been completed  - and just in time for the pastors’ conference which was held from 10th-14th March.  In fact the day before the pastors arrived wardrobes were being manhandled into place, mirrors were being attached to walls, curtains were being hung, and the smell of varnish filled the air!

Spot the shipping containers!

The finished Retreat House: March 2014
Many thanks must go to AIMer Matt Dixon who has been the resident building engineer on site for the last couple of years and his wife Amy who helped to furnish the centre, along with Tony Swanson who has been the brains behind the project for the last five years and who holds things together in a very laid-back but squirish sort of way!  Ruth and I have come into this small AIM team more recently but it was great for us be involved in the tail-end of this project and we look forward to seeing what God has in store for the next phase of the development which will involve building a larger conference centre on the site.  I can’t help but marvel at the way in which God has brought this small team of UK ‘wazungu’ (Europeans) together; to a small plot of bush-land just outside the village of ‘Mud-hole’!  I first met Tony and Cath Swanson during my time at All Nations Christian College (2002-04) and I was also very involved in the interview process of the Dixons during my time working for AIM in the UK – and now here we are, helping in our different ways, using the various gifts that God has given us, to put together buildings and conferences with the sole aim of “enabling, mobilising & inspiring pastors to a closer relationship with God”.  For more info on IBM please see www.institute.ipages.biz.

Pastors gathering for the conference - an upgrade for Ruth!
For Ruth and I this was our first pastors’ conference since arriving last July.  Some of the conferences that IBM run have an attendance of around 70 people so the fact that this one had been arranged for only eight pastors made it an ideal taster event for us and an ideal tester for the new retreat centre. Ruth was involved in her capacity as the Communications Officer for IBM and I was involved in teaching at three of the sessions, which were based on the first three chapters of a book called ‘Miraculous Movements’ by Jerry Trousdale.  It’s a powerful book focussing on what God is doing amongst Muslim communities here in Africa with testimonies of how God is revealing himself to Muslims through dreams and visions, possibly as never before.  The result is that thousands of Muslims, including Imams, are turning away from Islam and devoting their lives to Christ, many of them at great risk.  The focus of the conference was cross-cultural church planting and so I was asked to use the book as a platform to look at the issues of prayer and discipleship as used by the various teams working amongst Islamic people groups.  All in all it was a great week and we both enjoyed being involved whilst trying to use our faltering Swahili!


Solar Lanterns!  And what exactly are we here to do?  What is the purpose of us being here?  Well, I’ve already mentioned IBM’s mission statement and I could quote AIM’s strap line (Christ-centred churches among all African peoples).  But for me, our purpose was summed up in a very simple image that I saw as I gazed out of the seminar room we were meeting in.  It wasn’t the awe-inspiring mountains that caused me to ponder, or even the remarkable rainbow that we saw during that week, but eight solar lanterns sitting on a row of bricks!  And why had they been put there?  After the darkness of the night, each morning they were brought out to sit in the sun and to soak up its energy so that they were fully charged and ready to be used by the pastors that night when the electricity had gone off.  Eight lamps equalled the eight pastors who had been brought together to learn from God’s Word; to soak up His renewing power so that, as they head back into their various ministries, they are re-charged, fully charged and prepared to shine as lights in dark communities, hopefully better equipped to disciple others to a more effective walk with Christ.  And in that one image, the sight of those solar lanterns lined up each morning, it struck me that this is what IBM is all about: bringing pastors together for a time of recharging so that they can be effective in bringing light to others.

Taking it further…….. But what happens if those lanterns don’t see the sun for a long while?  What happens if layers of dirt and grime build up on the solar panel on the top?  The charging process may well be affected and any lantern which hasn’t spent time in the sun will lose its power and cease to be of use.  Guess where this is going?!  The life of one of these solar lanterns is similar to the Christian’s connectivity with God.  We need to have our spiritual batteries charged on a daily basis in order to manage the ups and downs of life, to serve others effectively and to grow closer to Christ.  We need to take time out to soak up God’s power and to allow His Holy Spirit to work within our lives so that we are of use to Him as we go about our lives.  Sometimes we simply need to get away from the business of life to spend time with Him, to read our Bibles and other ‘worthy’ books (!), to pray, to ponder, to write, to listen, to sing, to confess etc etc.  Am I being a diligent Christian in recharging my relationship with Christ – or do I spend more attention to the ‘importance’ of making sure my mobile phone is charged every day?  If we’re not paying attention to spending time in the power of His rays, we’ll become ineffective, lukewarm, indistinctive, and possibly burnt-out as we try to run the race with no power.  We’ll also miss out on all that it means to spend time in relationship with the designer, creator and sustainer of this planet that we live on!  So - get out on the bricks and soak up the rays!

Psalm 89:15: “Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence.” 
Isaiah 2:5: “Come let us walk in the light of the Lord.” 
Matt 5:14 & 16: “You are the light of the world.  Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” 
Mark 6:30-31: “The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught...and He said to them, come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
And now for something slightly different!  Insect Watch!

In a few weeks’ time many of you in the UK will be tuning into the ‘Spring Watch’ TV series.  Well, we have our own ongoing ‘Insect Watch’ series! Africa seems to specialise in the insect department so we thought we’d re-visit that aspect of living in Africa!  So far we’ve featured an army ant invasion and we’ve brought you the burrowing habits of the sand-flea (Jiggers) as they journeyed into the very depths of our toes!  There is of course the occasional cockroach to deal with as well as some termites which seek to eat the wooden window sills and leave their red/brown ‘shelter tubes’ on the walls.  And then there’s the daily battle with the much-hated mosquito.  The stats regarding these ‘killers’ say that there are over 207 million cases of malaria across the world each year resulting in 630,000 deaths, 90% of which occur in Africa.  We’re fortunate in that we can take preventative medication which reduces the chances of getting the disease, plus we’re able to afford the treatment, should we get malarialised.  Sadly, for some Africans, they can’t afford the 25p that I paid for 9 tablets the other day.  The bites can also be an itchy annoyance to deal with, as Ruth will testify.  When she gets bitten the area around the bite swells up and this can prove to be rather irritating, especially if you get bitten on the eyelid, which is what happened over Christmas.  Her eye completely closed-up for a few days, making it look as though she’d been in the ring with Mike Tyson!

The dreaded Nairobi Fly
Well, last week, my shoulder experienced a new insect - a beetle called the Nairobi Fly, which tends to appear after heavy rains, and certainly likes the florescent lights outside our house!  Not sure how it got its name because they don’t come from the Kenyan capital and neither do they fly! They are black and red in colour and about 1cm in length; they don’t bite or sting but when crushed against the skin (whilst trapped in your T-shirt!) they cause an irritation due to the release of a potent toxin.  Two to three days after contact with the beetle, the area reddens and swells, and small blisters appear, which progress to look like a chemical burn or a boil.  If this toxin happens to get rubbed into the eye it can also cause severe irritation which is why it also goes by the name ‘Nairobi Eye’.  Needless to say, we’ve become very wary of these mini-beasts!  Although many programmes will claim that no living creatures were harmed during the making of their films I’m afraid we’re unable to add the disclaimer to our ‘Insect Watch’ series!

Talking of insects – insectivorous giganticus! 

Diary for April/May: 

Every Tues/Thurs morning: Language lessons at local Lutheran Seminary
Sun 13th April: Steve to preach at CCT Church in Morogoro
Tues 22nd – Thurs 24th April: Ruth to attend Ladies’ AIM Retreat in Dar
Sun 4th – Weds 7th May: Peter Root (AIM Personnel Officer) to stay with us
Weds 14th – Fri 16th May:     Steve speaking at IBM Pastors’ Conference in Babati

Prayer & Praise: 
  • We’re thanking God that we both feel very settled in our house, in Morogoro, and in our roles here, even though we realise that there is probably much round the corner that we are unaware of! 
  • Please continue to pray for us as we learn Swahili – we’re attending language school twice a week and the process is often quite frustrating.  My favourite phrase after every lesson is “kichwa changu kinauma” – my head hurts!!  The particular challenge set before me is to teach in Swahili come the conference in May! 
  • That we would prioritise spending time with God and be open to the Holy Spirit’s leading in our lives. 
  • Despite the occasional insect bite and burn we’re thankful for good health!  In particular, Ruth has had no further issues regarding her blood clot and the doctor is happy for her not to be seen until July – which will have been a full year since it first happened! 

Random photo of the month:

Whilst on our team retreat we spotted this recycled roof
complete with flattened sardine cans!