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!