18 December 2015

Christmas through a different lens

As I type it’s mid-December and our Christmas card count is currently ten!  A small fake tree sits in the corner of our lounge and a few homemade decorations hang on the wall as Ruth attempts to make it feel a bit more festive.  However, it’s hard to feel festive when the temperature is 35 degrees, the humidity level is a sweaty 70%, the monkeys are chattering noisily in the tree outside, and the portable fan is whirring away on its top setting!  But what is ‘feeling festive’ all about? Surely that depends on which part of the world you come from and your normal experience of how you celebrate Christmas.  In the West the traditional festive image seems to be summed up in these words: mince pies and turkeys, Christmas trees and nativity sets, woolly jumpers and crackers, families and presents, and mulled wine being sipped whilst standing around a roaring log fire, having just come in from a carol service at a quaint village church which is covered in snow!

Well, those images and pictures are certainly not present here in Tanzania, which means we get to see Christmas through a very different lens.  For the vast majority of people here, there won’t be a Christmas lunch and there won’t be an array of presents sitting under a tree.  Forty percent of the population is Muslim, but even for many of the Christians it will simply be a ‘normal’ day with a meal of ugali and beans, and, as a treat, maybe a chicken.  There will be numerous church services where the birth of Jesus is celebrated, some of which will be loud and long, but there won’t be many nativity plays (some might utter the word ‘thankfully’!) or carols, and there certainly won’t be mulled wine! There won’t be a Queen’s speech to listen to, although it would seem the new Tanzanian president has already made his Christmas speech by declaring a ban on his government officials sending Christmas cards using public money!  Some people have cried ‘bah humbug’ but most Tanzanians have welcomed his cost-cutting measures as he seeks to trim unnecessary government spending.

As I drove back from meetings in Dar es Salaam yesterday I was struck how much easier it is here in Tanzania to imagine what it might have been like on that original Christmas Day. There were shepherds out in the fields (and along the roadside!) cajoling their flocks and herds, leading them to pasture and water.  Many of them were Masai men or boys, wearing their traditional garb, seeking to protect their animals from the passing traffic!  It was to people such as this that God sent the most incredible angelic choir of all time to announce the birth of a saviour!  In the rural areas people were out and about with hoe in hand, planting up their plots with maize and trying to take advantage of the recent rains.  Whilst cars and motorbikes are certainly on the increase, many people still walk to their destinations, and in the rural areas, you can still see rickety old carts being pulled by plodding donkeys or oxen, and occasionally, certainly on the outskirts of Morogoro, you’ll even catch a glimpse of a small herd of camels!

And then there are the pictures of poverty that abound here, some of which leap off the pages of scripture. There are the street beggars, the deranged, and the homeless who wait at ‘the city gate’, or outside the mosque or the mini-market!  There are the women wrapped up in their colourful kangas and saris.  There are those who plod wearily home with a bundle of firewood strapped to their backs so they can prepare their evening meal over an open fire.

There are those who have to draw their water from a well; those who haul their water home in used plastic cooking-oil containers!  At one point I saw an elderly lady crouching over a roadside puddle trying to funnel some of the cleaner water into a plastic bottle, presumably for her to drink.

Many of the mud-brick huts that I passed along the way made it easy for me to imagine the squalor of a stable scene; chickens scratching around the doorway and goats milling around outside.  Having been here for over two years now there is a tendency for these images to lose their shock value and I need to be reminded that I lead such a privileged life and that life, for many, is so tough. 

I imagine that life was somewhat tough for Mary and Joseph too!  Sometimes, due to our romanticised and sanitised view of that first Christmas, we often forget the shock-value of what was really happening!  Here is a young teenage girl who’s had to try and explain to her parents and her ‘righteous’ fiancĂ© that she is pregnant……… with the Son of God!  Where do you start?!  Here is a young woman who has accepted the words of a powerful angelic being and whose response has been “I am the Lord’s servant.  May it be to me as you have said.”  Wow!!  Here is a heavily pregnant girl who has had to travel over 60 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem on the back of a donkey, just because the Roman authorities have said they must.  Here is a young woman who has had to give birth in a cowshed because there wasn’t any other option, and who then lays her firstborn child in a cattle feeding trough, where just a short time before, the cows have been munching.  Let’s be honest, what woman would want such a situation for her first experience of childbirth!?  And here’s a young woman who has seen a bunch of excited shepherds (the outcasts of society) crowd into her humble maternity suite just a few hours later, no doubt smelling of their profession, to ‘glorify and praise God’ for the arrival of this swaddled baby.  Oh the shock value!

Our carving friend Ambrose
with his giant nativity set!
nd in all of these incredible scenes, at the centre of all that is happening, lies the Son of God, the firstborn over all creation, the Word becoming flesh, God ‘putting on skin’, the second person of the trinity pitching his tent amongst humanity!  Oh the shock value – but oh, how marvellous and humbling and awe-inspiring is this plan of salvation hatched by the Almighty God!  Father, as we celebrate the birth of your son the Lord Jesus Christ, as we seek to sift the meaningful from the trite this Christmas time, help us to marvel in reverence at what you have done for us, help us “to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” as he stooped to become one of us – in order to save and restore humanity to a right relationship with God.  And furthermore, help us “to know this love that surpasses knowledge that we may be filled to the measure of the fullness of God.”     

I’ll leave you with a quote from the Victorian preacher, Charles Spurgeon, who suggests that the squalid and shocking surroundings of Jesus’ birth were intended to show the humility of Christ and his association in life with the poorest and the lowest in society: “Would it have been fitting that the man who was to die naked on the cross should be robed in purple at his birth?  Would it not have been inappropriate that the Redeemer who was to be buried in a borrowed tomb should be born anywhere but in the humblest of sheds?  The manger and the cross seem to fit together well, encompassing the whole of his earthly life.  He is to wear peasants' clothing; he is to associate with fishermen; the lowly and the sinners are to be his disciples; the cold mountains are often to be his only bed.  Nothing therefore could be more fitting for a man who is laying aside all his glory and taking upon himself the form of a servant that he should be laid in a humble feeding trough.”

The past month – and the next few:  

I think the last six weeks can best be summed up with these phrases: management meetings, monetary matters, missionary reviews, translation work and preaching appointments, a bishops’ retreat, a team retreat, a very loud and hot AIC church celebration, a four day holiday on the beach, and even the wielding of a bow-saw as I got to do some tree work at our AIM guesthouse!  We’re looking forward to a break over Christmas and then we’ll head into the home straight of our first term here, continuing to finish up our current work as well as making preparations for our home assignment beginning on 8th March.  There are obviously a number of churches and AIM prayer groups that we hope to speak at during our six months in UK, but we’ll let you know nearer the time as to where they’ll be happening, on the off-chance you want to come along and listen!  Whilst I’m aware you’ve probably got Christmassy matters on your mind, for those who like to plan summer hols well in advance, here’s an option for some of you to consider!  God willing I will be leading another Oak Hall trip to Israel in June 2016 and it would be great to have some familiar faces on the trip!  If you are interested, please go to www.oakhall.co.uk and click on the “Israel & Palestine” link – and see trip code IS16 for more details. 

Ruth shares her drink with a cheeky monkey

This gecko sought solace from the heat in our
fridge but sadly he couldn't find the way
out again!
As we come to the end of the year we want to say again how thankful we are for your support and partnership in the work we’re involved with.  To those of you who support us financially and prayerfully, thank you so very much.  We’re blessed to be backed-up by folks such as you, and we look forward to being able to say a personal ‘thank you’ to many of you during the middle period of next year!  I think our prayer requests for the next few months would be these:

  • That we would finish this first term well;  
  • That we’d prepare as well as we can for home assignment;  
  • That we’d be able to do well the hand-over process of our various responsibilities to our team members;  
  • That the church here in Tanzania would become more Christ-centred,  
  • And that we’d know the love of Christ more and more in our lives.     

8 November 2015

Changing seasons

In the last week the short rains have arrived.  We're enjoying the cloudy skies and the vegetation that's springing to life again after several months of no rain. When the rains finish in a few short weeks temperatures will rise again as the hot season arrives.

These changing seasons are reflected a little in our ministry lives too.  We have now completed all of the Institute of Bible & Ministry's regional conferences, meaning that Steve has completed his teaching on the Holy Spirit that he began preparing for in January, and we won't be travelling as much now.  Of course, there is always administration and finance work to do so Ruth will still be busy!

On the road to Magambua, among
the towering baobabs
The last regional conference was held in September in Magambua, a village in a rural part of Tanzania.  Steve taught three sessions and guest speaker Cliff Boone from the USA spoke on the principles of church planting in different cultures.  As well as getting to know the pastors who attended, we enjoyed catching up with the other AIM missionaries in Magambua who are involved in medical and translation work there.  We had a memorable evening being regaled with Cliff’s story of how he once shot a lion that wandered past his house when he was a missionary in Magambua many years ago!  (FYI, he didn’t kill the lion, although it was killed by villagers a few days later to stop it taking their livestock.)

This last week the Institute of Bible & Ministry held a conference for AICT evangelists and their wives at Sanga Sanga.  Around 70 people attended, many of whom we met during the regional conferences over the last few months.  Phil Morrison, our AIM colleague and Director of the Multi-Church Pastor Institute in Kenya, was guest speaker together with the Bishop of the AICT’s Coastal Diocese.  There was a great vibe around the place and during breaks you could see small groups of people sitting together chatting and catching up, sheltering from the hot sun.  The sound of 70 people raising their voices in worship (no instruments!) was truly wonderful.

The queue for lunch was pretty long!

Last month the AIM Tanzania Conference took place in Dar es Salaam.  Steve and I and another couple were the main organisers so, as you can imagine, we have been rather busy lately!  It was a lovely time of catching up with friends, getting to know others better, receiving good teaching, enjoying lively worship in English and taking the opportunity to rest and relax.  It was wonderful to hear of how God is working in the places in which AIM members serve and of how Tanzanian believers are ministering to their countrymen and women.  Our pastor, Eddie Larkman, from our home church, was the main speaker and it was so good to be under his teaching again and to spend time with him, Kathy his wife, and the team from Corsham Baptist who came to run the children’s programme.  The team was a huge hit with the kids who were often seen queuing up early during breaks in their eagerness to get back into the children’s room.

Eddie & Kathy at home
with us in Morogoro
After conference Eddie and Kathy spent a couple of days with us in Morogoro. We enjoyed showing them round ‘our’ town and taking them to visit Bibi.  Bibi
(‘grandmother’ in Kiswahili) is a Christian lady (from a Muslim background) who attends our church.  She is raising 5 grandchildren on her own, lives in a couple of mud-walled rooms, is 80 years old and weighs 29kg.  We suspect the food she can afford to buy goes largely to the children.  We took her a bag of rice but I think she was mostly blessed to receive guests.  How unlike our western culture in which we prefer to have visitors ring in advance rather than turn up unannounced.   

Election fever!  Sunday 25th October was a significant day here in Tanzania and our first taste of an election in Africa.  For the past few months the country has been awash with the colours of the various political parties with flags and huge posters appearing all over.  For the first time in 54 years there was a serious challenge to the reign of the ruling party with the opposition of four coalition parties.  Thankfully election day passed off fairly peacefully, although there were outbreaks of violence in a few places (not Morogoro) and protests about irregularities in the voting process.  Our team kept a low profile during this time, mostly staying at home.  We pray that God’s chosen leaders for this country will lead with justice and compassion.

The columns are rising at Sanga Sanga
The construction work on the conference centre at Sanga Sanga is progressing speedily, thanks to Matt Dixon’s good management.  Recently the cement slab was laid—all done with manual labour (no cement trucks here!).  Dozens of fundis went to and fro carrying buckets of cement on their heads, all in the blazing sun.  We are in awe of their strength and capacity to cope with the heat!  As you can see in the picture, the cement columns are going up too.  If you’re on Facebook you can keep up-to-date with progress—just look for Sanga Sanga Retreat Centre and Campsite.

We are happy to have our teammates Tony & Cath Swanson back with us having returned from their home assignment a few weeks ago.  Our thoughts are inevitably turning to our own home assignment which begins in March next year.  It seems amazing to me that we are nearing the end of our first term in Tanzania.  Where has that time gone?!  We are so grateful to God for helping us reach this point, feeling settled, coping with a new language, new culture and a new climate, and being useful in the work we came to do.

Our plans for home assignment are far from fixed at present but we will be spending time with family and friends, taking some holiday, and visiting various churches that are supporting us.  We intend, God willing, to return to Morogoro in September, if our teammates will have us back!!

Thank you, as always, for your support, prayers and encouragement.

Many blessings,

Steve and Ruth

Prayer and Praise:

  • Praise God for the AIM Tanzania conference, for refreshment, good teaching and renewed relationships.
  • Pray for Tanzania’s new president and government.
  • Pray that the evangelists who attended the recent conference will be refreshed and equipped for their ministries.
  • Pray that God will guide us as we make plans for home assignment.

Random photos of the month:


Whoops!  Someone forgot to
build the steps

31 August 2015

Impressions of Ifakara

Rachel and Ruth celebrating their birthdays
As many of you begin to prepare for the Autumn months we’re preparing for the onset of heat!  The last three months have been pleasant to say the least - mid to late 20’s (temperature not age!) and on the whole, some cloudy skies that have kept the temperatures down. September will see the thermometer rising and the humidity levels increasing as we begin the climb to a hot and sweaty Christmas!  Thank you to those who have been praying for us.  We’ve done a lot of travelling, but all without hitch and without a scratch to either bumper, although I won’t talk about the numerous and rather exasperating police checkpoints along the way!  Ruth has continued to manage the Retreat House at Sanga and oversee the staff accounts, along with the conference administration, marketing, fundraising etc... We enjoyed a holiday with Ruth’s twin sister and brother-in-law in August, and celebrated the birthday of those ‘tenacious twins’ on the beaches of Zanzibar!  It was great to be able to show them around, and to introduce them to some of the things that make Tanzania famous: snorkelling in the Indian ocean, listening to the night-time noises of the laughing hyenas, playing golf on the ‘browns’ of Morogoro golf course, and having our safari tent attacked by a lizard-eating Genet! 

Musings on the Ifakara Conference: To boldly go where few fear to tread! Well, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration but our travel guidebook did tell us that “few travellers ever make it to the Udzungwa National Park, and fewer still follow the road further south to Ifakara”!  And there’s a good reason for that!  The dirt road is bumpy and dusty for much of the way, and it’s a dead-end town unless you happen to be heading to the Kilombero swamps or the Selous National Park, which is a wilderness area twice the size of Belgium! 

Good to see so many smiling faces at the end of the conference
But it was here in Ifakara that our fourth conference of the year was held, and it turned out to be the best yet, and indeed the most encouraging!  From the start there seemed to be a good atmosphere amongst the 37 pastors and evangelists, some of them travelling over 100 miles to be there. As the conference kicked off and each pastor stood to introduce themselves, it sounded like a role call from the Old Testament!  Ezekiel, Daniel, Lamech, Shadrach, Hosea, Zephaniah, Samuel, Reuben, and Joseph were all present, and even Pastor Gabriel put in an appearance!  I felt a bit sorry for Leonard who I’m sure must have felt the odd one out!  It was also good to see a representative from the New Testament there in the form of Stephanos, which is of course an extremely fine name!  There was even a one-year old toddler called ‘Steve’ - and therein lies a story!  At last year’s Ifakara conference one of the ladies had been ‘carrying luggage’ (a polite Tanzanian way of saying she was pregnant!) and a month later had given birth to a baby boy, who she then decided to name after me! 

My eight teaching slots went well and I found that I was more relaxed and ‘at home’ in pronouncing and emphasising the content of my talks on the Holy Spirit.  The man who helped to lead the conference was a young pastor by the name of Tobotobo and, although it was his first time in leading an IBM conference, he did a top job and we worked well with each other.  He was obviously taking his role seriously, because on the third day he turned up wearing a second-hand Lufthansa pilot’s jacket!  It’s amazing what you can pick up on the street-stalls of Tanzania!  It was also encouraging to see the pastors send round the collection basket on a couple of occasions in support of their colleagues who were in need, and a few pastors even made a small contribution to the costs of the seminar. 

On our way home, Pastor Shadrach asked us to call in at his house because he wanted to give us a gift. We arrived in his village, and were ushered into a small room which was no bigger than your average garden shed, and which had a huge ‘Jesus’ picture stuck to the coarsely plastered wall. Even though it was only 10am we were then served a lunch of rice and beans, which had been cooked in a makeshift kitchen outside. Meanwhile, the children of the village had gathered excitedly around the car and were fascinated by their own reflections in the metallic paintwork; a sure sign that there weren’t too many mirrors hanging up in their homes!

Just before we left, Shadrach went into his store and pulled out a big bag of rice, which he then presented to us as a gift.  Talk about humbling! These AIC pastors and evangelists don’t get a regular salary but receive a percentage of the Sunday morning offering.  Whereas this might provide you with a reasonable income if you work at a large church, it’s a different matter if you happen to be pastoring a small church out in the sticks with only a handful of folks attending. Pastor Shadrach falls into the latter category and would probably count it a good week if the percentage he received from the offering enabled him to buy the equivalent of five or six 1st class stamps in UK!  And that’s the reason why you’ll see the likes of Shadrach wearing a ‘health & beauty’ T-shirt which he purchased at a second-hand clothes stall, but was probably a free promotional gift at a UK trade fair!  That’s also the reason why he’s only got a small house to live in and that the walls are left unpainted.  And you would think that would be a good enough reason to keep hold of a 10kg bag of rice!  Not at all.  This was the gift we were presented with as we got up to leave; a token of his thanks for the teaching that I had done during the week. Needless to say we felt humbled and blessed, but also found ourselves wondering if we would be as extravagantly generous if we owned so little.   

There was something else that I was impressed with at this particular conference and it relates to a couple of my favourite Bible passages; the well known foot-washing passage in John Ch 13, and the not-so-well-known passage in 2 Kings Ch 3.  Just hours before his arrest Jesus does something that isn’t associated with status or position: that of washing the feet of his disciples. In humility he considered others better than himself and stooped to serve his followers.  The latter passage involves the prophet Elisha who was known by one of the king’s officials as a man “who used to pour water on the hands of Elijah”.  What a wonderful statement!  Here was a man who had already been anointed as Elijah’s successor and yet he continued to serve Elijah by assisting him in his ministry. 

The Tanzanians are big on washing hands before meals!  Go to a Tanzanian home to eat, and out comes the washbasin and the soap, normally brought to you where you’re siting.  During the Ifakara conference we ate at the church where the meetings were held but before every meal, a long line of pastors formed, first of all to have their hands washed, and then to collect their rice, beans and ugali, which would often be eaten with the hands, and not with cutlery.  And on every occasion I observed the same pastor quietly standing with jug and soap in hand, offering to ‘pour water on the hands of’ his colleagues; offering to serve and therefore be the last in the queue for his meal.  Quite often the issue of servant leadership seems to be a hard one to grasp in the Tanzanian church, so it was encouraging to see this pastor selflessly serving, and putting others first, without drawing attention to himself; an example I need to heed particularly at a time (26 months in!) when the patience levels begin to wear thin and the annoyances seems to be magnified, and the last thing I feel like doing is serving others!  Let’s make it our aim, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to be a people who delight to pour water on the hands of others.   

Prayer & Praise: 

  • Praise God for safe travels and a good holiday.
  • Thank God for a top Ifakara conference, where the Swahili flowed and where people seemed hungry to learn.
  • Praise God for good progress on the construction of the conference centre. Still at the foundation stage but great to report savings made and no injuries to the 53 workers on site! 
  • Steve has been below par in terms of general health for the last few weeks, so would be grateful for prayer in terms of stamina and energy as we approach a busy two months of conferencing, the first of which starts on the 2nd Sept. Pray that God would use us both. 
  • Pray that the AIM Tanzania conference in October would be special!  That God would really use Eddie Larkman and the team from Corsham Baptist Church to speak into lives. 
Diary dates for Sept/Oct: 

1st Sept:            Travel to Iringa
2nd-4th:             Teaching at Pastors' conference
5th:                    Return to Morogoro
13th:                  Preaching at the Shed Church, Dakawa
22nd:                 Travel to Magambua 
23rd-25th:          Teaching at Pastors' conference 
26th:                  Return to Morogoro
14th-19th Oct:    AIM Tanzania Conference in Dar 
19th-22nd:         Our Corsham Baptist pastor and his wife staying with us
30th/31st:          Bible teaching at Church weekend conference in Iringa

Random photos of the month:

Can't see this labelling taking off in a UK supermarket!

Maybe this is where the Army got it's camouflage idea from?

One of the children playing outside
the Ifakara church

30 June 2015

Turning Two in Tanzania

We celebrated Steve's birthday in June with 
a trip to Mikumi National Park
Two years ago this month we were making final preparations for leaving the UK and starting our first term in Tanzania with AIM. We scratched our heads over what to take and what to leave behind.  Many miles were travelled up and down the M5/M6 as we packed up our house and took our things to be stored in the garage at Steve’s parents’ house.  We said our goodbyes to family and friends.  We were blessed with a wonderful commissioning service in our church, and then we were off!  11th July marks our two year anniversary!

In the great scheme of things, 2 years is not a long time.  And yet, as we look back at them, we can truly say we feel settled here in Morogoro.  We are pressing on (some might say plodding on!) with learning language and culture, and we are both busy in the roles we came here to do.  We give thanks to God for helping us so far, for the way He’s helped us to adjust, to learn and to settle. There have been ‘blips’ along the way, but we can say with Isaiah, “Lord, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished You have done for us.” (Is. 26:12).

Pastors’ Conferences
Steve teaching at the conference in Moshi
The two recent conferences at Moshi and in Dar for pastors and evangelists went very well.  Both were well attended, and the topic being taught, the Holy Spirit, generated much lively discussion.  Steve taught eight sessions, mainly in Swahili, at each conference, although language fatigue saw him revert to English for one or two of them!  He says, “There were times when my language energy levels felt depleted, but there were also times when I felt an extra sense of fluency - and not just in the session on speaking in tongues! There were times, especially in those dreaded afternoon sessions, when a number of heads were drooping - but there were also times when I could sense that people were switched on and hungry to learn.  There were times when people requested discussion times to be extended, and times when the unaccompanied singing of the pastors filled the room and thrilled the heart!  There were times when I wondered whether it was all worth it - and times when I felt that what I was doing had eternal significance. And there was a time after one particular session, when a pastor’s wife approached me with bag in hand, only to ask me whether I wanted to buy some pants and socks!!”  

Photos from the conferences: l-r: Steve with Pastor Matinya, Pastor Yatoshta, and the kitchen at the Dar conference!

This month we will be making the longest journey we’ve done so far in Tanzania, down to Mtwara for a pastors’ seminar.  Mtwara (twinned with Redditch, by the way!) is in the far south of Tanzania—next stop Mozambique!  It will take us almost 2 days of travel to get there.  We understand that the road to the south is tarmacked and fairly good.  This seminar, although it won’t have as high numbers as the previous two, will provide encouragement to the pastors and evangelists who otherwise might feel cut off from the rest of the Diocese.  Then, in August, we travel to Ifaraka (a mere 5 hours away!) for a pastors' conference there.

Following the conference in Dar in June we travelled to Nairobi for Ruth’s annual medical check-up.  A raft of blood tests relating to the original DVT revealed nothing untoward, although Ruth was advised to wear a compression stocking when sitting or standing for long periods, not just for travelling.  You can imagine her delight to receive this advice!  But we are thankful for good progress and another year’s supply of medication!

Our trip to Nairobi coincided with that of various members of AIM’s International Office and also a friend of Ruth’s from Tearfund and Oak Hall days who was en-route home from Rwanda.  We had a good time catching up with folks and managed to fit in a visit to the Eastern Region office to join them in their daily prayer/chai time.  We attended the morning service at Nairobi Baptist and found that the preacher was, until recently, a member of St. Nicholas, Sevenoaks, the very church where we were married and that Ruth’s friend attends!  What a small world!

Matt Dixon with Fidelis, our building contractor
Back in Morogoro, work at Sanga Sanga continues.  We’ve had various groups making use of the Retreat House, and Matt Dixon has been stockpiling materials and finalising plans for the construction of the conference hall.  We are delighted to report that the ground has been broken and that digging has commenced!  Please pray that this work will proceed on schedule, on budget and without too many problems.

We’re looking forward to a visit from the UK of Ruth’s (twin) sister Rachel and Ian, her husband.  This will be their first foray into Africa and we hope to be able to show them something of what we do, a slice of real life in Tanzania, as well as having a few days of tourist Africa on safari and visiting Zanzibar.  It will be interesting to see their reactions...

Thank you, as always, for your interest, prayers and support.

Steve & Ruth

For your prayers:

• Praise God for His help and guidance over 2 years in Tanzania.
• Praise God for good results from Ruth’s check-up.
• Pray that the construction work at Sanga Sanga will proceed well.
• Pray for safety as we travel to conferences.
• Pray for the pastors’ seminars in Mtwara and Ifakara.
• Pray for good times with family and friends as they visit.

Diary Dates for July/August:

6th/7th July Travel to Mtwara
8th-10th          Teaching at Mtwara AIC pastors’ seminar
11th/12th        Travel back to Morogoro via Dar
19th               Steve preaching at AIC Dakawa
20th-24th        Meeting with Africa leaders for prayer summit in Bagamoyo
4th August Travel to Ifakara
5th-7th Teaching at AIC Ifakara pastors’ seminar
8th                 Travel home to Morogoro
12th-22nd Ruth’s sister and brother-in-law visit
20th                Ruth’s (and Rachel’s!) birthday

 Random Photos of the Month:

Whoops!  Should have gone to Specsavers!

18 May 2015

Translation Trials & Bountiful Blessings!

Rainbow over the Uluguru Mountains
behind our house
It’s been seven weeks since we last wrote, so it’s definitely time to send out this update, although one can only say so much about translation work!  The good news is that, with the help of my language helper, I’ve now finished translating my eight talks on the Holy Spirit from English into Swahili – and its only taken 60 hours of tuition time!  On the whole it’s been an enjoyable and satisfying process but there have been times of frustration and mental block, where it’s felt as if I’ve been wading through grammatical treacle!  I never realised that learning a language could be so draining. 

An Easter Sunday walk into the Uluguru
Mountains, where we found David Livingstone!
Often, my limited mental energy is sapped simply trying to pronounce a word correctly, which is vitally important when you’re preaching, and when one mispronounced letter can make a huge difference!  Consider the following examples: "bariki" = to bless, "birika" = teapot, "bikira" = virgin.  Think what fun I could have from the pulpit in trying to say ‘God bless you’!  In fact one of our team mates learnt this lesson the hard way during a Sunday School class when she repeatedly talked about the ‘teapot Mary’!  A few years ago, whilst introducing myself at a school assembly here in Tanzania, I couldn’t quite work out why there was so much sniggering going on until it was pointed out that I had said “Jino langu ni Steve" instead of “Jina langu ni Steve”. Only one letter out, but it made all the difference between “My tooth is Steve” and “My name is Steve”!  And what about the verbs “kuonyesha - to show”, “kunyesha - to rain”, and “kunyonyesha - to breastfeed”!  And finally, what can go wrong with a casual greeting?  “Jambo" = hello but “Jamba" = to break wind! Oh, the joys of making mistakes in these situations!  Hence the mental gymnastics required when trying to learn a language.  Your prayers for clarity and a decent memory are much appreciated as I prepare to deliver those eight talks at our first pastors’ conference of the year, starting on 27th May!    

“The Lord has done great things for us and we are filled with joy.” Psalm 126:3.  
Let me take you back to something we wrote in our Jan/Feb newsletter with regard to a proposed building project at the IBM base: “The next stage of development at Sanga is to build a 250-seat conference hall complete with a seminar room and a small library to aid visiting pastors in their studies. The site has been cleared and various test holes have been dug and the boys with the shovels are about to ‘break ground’, although the speed of progress will depend very much on what’s in the kitty from week to week!  If you’re looking for a project to support in 2015, believe in the ethos of IBM and want to contribute, then please consider giving to the conference centre project.” 

Well, three months on and someone has indeed done some considering, and blessed us with an extremely generous donation, totalling 60% of the budget!!  Needless to say that is a lot of bricks!  The team here has been super-encouraged and blown away by this gift, and we’re thankful to God for someone who wants to partner with us in this way, helping to invest in the lives of the Tanzanian pastors we work with.  And this gift means that as soon as the rains have stopped (hopefully this month) we’ll be able to welcome on site the shovellers, measurers, hod-carriers, and concrete mixers!  We’re looking forward to seeing those bricks slowly rising up from the African soil and becoming a centre where God’s Word can be faithfully taught. We’ll keep you posted! 
A toddler plays with electrical cables
during a service at the 'Shed Church
As well as dealing with day to day management issues at Sanga Ruth has also been busy on the speaking circuit during the past few weeks!  She spoke on Philippians ch. 1 recently at an AIM ladies’ retreat, and also at a ladies prayer breakfast on the issue of trust and suffering.  We’ve both been involved in helping to plan the AIM Tanzania conference scheduled for October, and I’ve had a couple of preaching appointments in two very contrasting churches; one in the “Shed Church” where the choir kicks up the dust and the chickens join in!  And the other in an old Anglican church that looks as though it’s been picked up from rural England and plonked down on the hillside of Morogoro! They say variety is the spice of life! 

The beach is alive with the sound of scurrying!
We had a short break on the coast in April and although it rained rather a lot, it was at least warm rain!  It being the rainy season meant that we almost had the place to ourselves, and the beach was bereft of people…… but certainly not of crabs!! Up and down the beach hundreds could be seen scurrying around, some of them daring to venture into the sea, only to be tossed back out again by the incoming surf!  Apart from the crab-watching we were able to put work aside for a few days, read a few books, wander up and down the secluded sands, and we even managed to brace the warmth of the Indian Ocean ….when the crabs weren’t looking! 

With regard to the next six weeks, you’ll see from the diary below that we’re on the road for much of them. The conference season kicks off in Moshi and then onwards to Dar nine days later, where months of prep becomes three days of teaching.  I am praying a line from the Believers Prayer in Acts 4:29: “Lord, enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness”. The results are indeed up to God but it would be awesome if Acts 4:31 could then also be applied: “The place where they were meeting was shaken and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly”!  To those who pray for us, thank you for your steadfast back-up and support, and to those who write or email, thank you for your encouragement – it’s good to hear from you.  Our next newsletter/blog update should be out in early July.   
Ruth finally finishes the course at the Morogoro
Language School and graduates!
For your prayers:

  • Praise God for the generous donation towards the conference centre building costs.
  • As always, for safety on the roads as we travel hundreds of kilometres over the next few weeks.
  • For Steve as he preaches in Swahili.
  • For Ruth as she undergoes her annual medical check-up in June.

Diary Dates for MAY/JUNE: 

25th May:   Drive to Tanga – taking new missionaries to their assignment
26th:         Drive to Moshi, northern Tanzania for Pastors’ Conference
27-29th: Bible teaching – eight sessions on the role of the Holy Spirit
30th: Drive back to Morogoro
31st: Drive to Dar 
1st June:    Kurasini Management meeting in Dar – return Morogoro
9th:          Travel to Dar for Pastors’ Conference 
10-12th: Bible teaching - eight sessions on the role of the Holy Spirit
13th: Flight to Nairobi: annual medical check-up for Ruth 
17th: Flight to Dar 
18th: Travel to Morogoro
21st:   Preaching at the Shed Church in Dakawa!  
22nd:         Steve's birthday!

Random Photos of the Month: 

A simple home-made toy.  Remote control cars
can only be imagined.
Cutting from a local newspaper.
16p–64p hardly seems a killing in our economy!

2 April 2015

The times, they are a-changin'

So sang Bob Dylan in 1964.  And changes are afoot for us in Morogoro in various ways – in our team, our roles and the weather!  

Crops growing well at
Sanga Sanga
In the last couple of weeks the rainy season has begun.  Everywhere is greening up and people are hard at work in their shambas clearing and planting.  We’re enjoying the slightly cooler weather that comes with the season.  Not so welcome is all the mud and mess that comes down the mountain with the heavy rains, blocking the ditches and flooding the roads!

This month our team mates, Tony and Cath Swanson, return to the UK for 6 months’ home assignment.  Tony has been managing the day-to-day operations at Sanga Sanga (amongst other things) and in his absence we and the Dixons will continue with this.  We would appreciate your prayers for us as we spend more time there liaising with the workers, paying their wages, receiving guests and dealing with any issues that come up.  Matt will continue planning for the construction of the conference hall which, God willing, will commence once the rainy season has finished in May.

Matt's construction site office 
at Sanga is coming on well
You may not know that Tanzania is very much a cash society.  With the highest denomination of banknote being 10,000 shillings (around £3.50), withdrawing cash from the bank or ATM means that you frequently have hundreds of thousands of shillings in cash on your person when you visit town to do business, purchase supplies etc.  Vigilance and common sense are required – please do pray for our personal security as we go about our business in town. Ruth will take over managing the cash funds of Sanga Sanga and the Institute from Tony.  The process is that when funds are required, Ruth liaises with AIM's Eastern Region Office in Nairobi to request a transfer of funds (donations from supporters). She then visits the bank to withdraw the cash in dollars and goes on to a bureau de change to change it into shillings.  It may be one of the more mundane aspects of ministry but it’s also fairly important to get it right!

Last month we welcomed two temporary team mates – Katherine and Melody – who are in Morogoro for three months to learn Swahili. After that they will be living in the village of Pande, near Tanga.  Pande is a majority Muslim village and the people are from the Digo tribe – an unreached people group.  We recently visited Pande to meet the pastor of the AICT church there, check out accommodation for Katherine and Melody and visit Amani Primary School where they will be working.  It was a productive visit and the two ladies are looking forward to getting there. 

Beautiful Arusha National Park
We’ve been on the road a lot in the last month.  We recently travelled up to Arusha, a journey of some 10.5 hours, to attend an AIM Emerging Leaders conference with other mission partners from Tanzania and Kenya.  It was good to spend time with this small group, to get to know people better and to receive training in various aspects of leadership.  A change of plans at the end of that week meant that we had an unexpected free day, so we treated ourselves to a day of bird-watching in Arusha National Park.  We managed to add another 10 new birds to our list, including the Broad-billed Roller and Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, if you’re interested!  But the highlight of the day was driving up through dense forests to the rim of a volcanic crater and gazing down at the almost Eden-like sight below us.  There was no access inside the crater, so what we saw was untouched by human hands – a vast area of forest and marsh land.  Buffalo grazed undisturbed and Colobus monkeys frolicked in the trees.  We almost expected to see dinosaurs stroll out from the trees, reminiscent of the film Jurassic Park! 

'Motorway' service station - not closed for repairs!
Unit Leadership
As part of our call to Tanzania, a Bible passage that played a confirming role for Steve was the story of Elisha’s calling at the end of 1 Kings 19 (v. 19-21).  Here was Elisha going about his daily business, ploughing his fields, when out of the blue steps the prophet Elijah, who simply throws his cloak over the shoulders of Elisha – and then seemingly runs off!  It might sound a strange passage but for various reasons there were a number of elements to that story that rang true for Steve.  Whilst not equating Tony Swanson to the camel-skin wearing Elijah, the time seems to have come for the transference of the cloak so to speak!  And that mantle of unit leadership will be taken up by Steve when Tony leaves for home assignment on 6th April. 

So, what will unit leadership involve?  The core task will be to ensure member care for those in the Eastern Tanzania unit, currently numbering 23 adults, and that will include visitation, debriefs and reviews, and encouraging members in their current ministries.  Amongst other things, Steve will also be helping to oversee housing and immigration issues for the missionaries, as well as maintaining relationships with partner organisations, and working with the AICT church to further their efforts to work in unreached areas of Tanzania. 

Steve says, "A few months ago I read a very practical book on leadership by Dave Kraft, and he defined a Christian leader in this way: 'A Christian leader is a humble, God-dependent, team-playing servant of God who is called by God to shepherd, develop, equip, and empower a specific group of believers to accomplish an agreed-upon vision from God.'  In no way am I saying that that describes me, but I think the quote sums up what I want to be and need to be as I take on this responsibility of supporting AIM missionaries here in eastern Tanzania.  I would certainly value your prayers as I take this on, and maybe you could use the specifics of that quote to pray for me: that God would enable me to support our folks here in a humble and God-dependent way, and that I would be a person who intentionally and lastingly influences others, for His glory and purposes.” 

Thank you for your continued interest and prayerful support.  We pray that you will be truly blessed as you reflect on God’s sacrificial love this Easter time.  

“And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!  Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  Phil. 2: 9-11

AICT Dakawa, near Morogoro -
the 'shed' church!
For your prayers:
  • Please pray for us as we both prepare talks – Steve in Swahili for the pastors' seminars and Ruth for a Ladies Retreat in May.
  • Pray for Steve as he takes over as Unit Leader, for wisdom and insight into this new role.
  • Pray for Tony & Cath Swanson as they begin home assignment, and for the Dixons and ourselves in their absence.
  • Pray for Ruth as she manages the cash for Sanga Sanga, for good systems and processes.

Diary Dates for April:

6th:             Tony & Cath leave for home assignment in UK.  Steve takes up Unit Leader role 
                    for Eastern Tanzania, initially for six months
19th:            Steve preaching at Dakawa AICT church  
22nd–26th:   Mini-break on the coast, south of Dar

Random photos of the month:

Half coach - half lorry!  The words on the front say
'The Grace of God'!

Home-made roadworks sign!