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!