3 December 2016

Touchdown in Tanzania

It’s nearly 12 weeks since we touched down in ‘Delightful Dar’ and made our way back to Morogoro.  The house was still in one piece; the night-guard had done his job and although our dog (affectionately referred to as the ginger maggot by some!) was a bit thinner, she was very much alive and happy to see us!  Everywhere looked very dry and dusty compared to the early autumnal Wiltshire that we’d just left, and of course that wasn’t the only comparison that we found ourselves musing over.  However, it was definitely different this time round.  We were returning to the familiar: our home, our team, our roles, even the language was now somewhat familiar!  And we were pleased to find that within just a few days, we seemed to have stepped relatively seamlessly from one culture into another and into the routine of life here in Tanzania.  It had been tough for me (Steve) gearing up to return from such an awesome home assignment and, as some of you will know, I was not exactly champing at the bit to get back here!  However, once we were back, there was a feeling of familiarity and that this is where we’re meant to be for the next term.  And those feelings made it easier to say to myself: “I’ve had a great HA but this is now what God would have us do, so get on with it!”

Life on the road: Over the last couple of months the car has clocked up over 4,000 miles, much of that in connection with my unit leader role, visiting AIM personnel, some of whom live in some pretty remote locations.  Journeys in Africa are often not as straightforward as they are in Wiltshire, which I guess often relieves the boredom normally associated with sitting in a car!  There are the humps and bumps in the road to look out for, as well as the broken-down trucks and vehicle debris lying around, not to mention the numerous police checkpoints.  Detours and diversions can be a regular feature, either to avoid accidents blocking the road, or from having to rumble across untarred land running parallel to the main road which is being worked on!  On two recent journeys we came across large-scale roadworks that went on for 50 mile stretches, and, on another, we had to get out on a steep hillside track to remove some hefty stones so as not to rip out the bottom of our Subaru! 
It definitely beats sitting on the M25 but it does mean the car needs more regular servicing!  I return from these journeys in awe of the folks who have settled in such locations; their dedication to living out the gospel in areas where Christ is not really known is wonderful to see.

Our first journey happened within a week of landing in Tanzania, to a town way out west called Njombe.  Ruth and I were helping to facilitate and organise an IBM pastors’ conference, although the teaching was being done by a Tanzanian pastor.  I did manage a 20 minute devotional one morning in Swahili and was encouraged to find I hadn’t forgotten too much!

One thing we hadn’t prepared for was the temperature in Njombe!  We peeled back the curtains on our first morning to find the mist was down and the thermometer was showing a cool 10 degrees; at least 15 degrees lower than we’re used to in Morogoro!  Due to the fact that the expected church dress for a lady here in Tanzania is always a long skirt, Ruth had to nip down to a local market stall to buy a pair of ‘secret’ leggings in a bid to keep the temperatures up!  Despite the power cuts and the lack of hot water, it was a good conference and it was encouraging to see the response of the pastors when challenged about the issue of mission in the Tanzanian church.

Preaching in a sauna! 
To the other extreme, certainly in terms of temperatures, just a few weeks later I found myself way down in the south of the country, near to the border with Mozambique, at a church in the cul-de-sac town of Mtwara.  I was preaching at a church that resembled a sauna, not in appearance but certainly in terms of sweat levels!  I’ve come to appreciate why many Tanzanian pastors carry a flannel with them into the pulpit!!  A combination of factors (sun, humidity, tin roof and lack of working fans in the church) made for a lot of perspiration, and I found that those humid conditions tend not to help the preacher in his cause.  A number of nodding heads could be seen from my vantage point, and I don’t think that was because they were agreeing with my scriptural musings! Three hours after the choir had started their first number, and after four separate collections and a sermonette of comfort to a grieving daughter, it was time for the service to close – but not before I was presented with a giant watermelon which someone had donated to me following their winning bid in the ‘perishable goods’ auction!  I was thankful that I had the car with me and that no one had decided to donate a live chicken to the auction, which has actually happened in the past!

Sanga Conference Centre – the opening!   Meanwhile back at the ranch, the middle of November saw the opening of the conference centre at Sanga Sanga.  Building work commenced in June 2015 and, although the project is still some way from being finished, the completion of the roof meant that we could use the facility for a large gathering of AICT pastors – over 85 in attendance.  The ceremonial ribbon was cut and the veil that separated the fancy marble plaque from the watching eyes was torn in two from side to side!  It was a great moment for ‘Matt the Builder’, Tony Swanson (who has
championed this cause) and for IBM which will soon have a base to work out of.  The spacious meeting room, which is yet to be walled, had a different feel to last year’s venue, which was the containerised pump house!  We look forward to the day when we’re open
for business and God’s Word is being taught there on a regular basis.

Our staff at Sanga pulled out all the stops to make sure the conference went well, working from dawn till dusk, and sometimes well beyond.  Even one of the general labourers was pressed into catering action, donning an apron and a chef’s hat to serve the long line of hungry pastors!  It was a case of “all hands on deck” during the event, and this very much applied on one particular evening when a large bush fire began rampaging through the Sanga site.

The cooks, cleaners and labourers, who had been clearing up after the evening meal, immediately turned into firefighters!  After an hour of beating flames with nothing more than small tree branches, the fire was put out and the workers returned to base (some nursing their singed arms!) to deal with the washing up!  All in a day’s work for our dedicated staff!

Back to School!
Cast your mind back to the start of our Tanzanian journey and our period of language learning. I seem to remember writing about the undiluted ‘pleasures’ of grappling with another language and the joys of wrestling with nouns, verbs and Swahili tenses. I also remember telling you of my annoyance at having read the phrase “Swahili is one of the easiest languages to learn”, and how the mental gymnastics of language learning had wearied the body, dulled the senses, and made my head hurt!  Well, that was three years ago!  And now we’re back at the very same school, albeit in the very un-schoolish surrounds of the Rivervalley Campsite out in the Tanzanian bush.

Unlike last time, where we grappled with grammar for three months, this time we’re here for just three weeks, which I think is more manageable for a guy who’s not a born linguist!  We’ve definitely grown in our use of Swahili (some more than others!) but we felt it would be helpful, at the start of our second term here, to get back into the classroom.  It’s a time of intense learning away from our day-to-day activities, where we can hopefully concentrate on moving up a level, expanding our vocab, and going over the stuff that we’ve forgotten.  By the end of these three weeks I know that my head will be hurting!  Oh, to be one of the disciples on the day of Pentecost when the Spirit was poured out upon them!  Imagine how it felt for them as they spoke clearly in other languages without having to learn them!  I can only dream on!

Diary Dates:

26th Nov – 17th Dec:       Swahili language school in Iringa
24th—28th Dec:               Christmas at home
29th Dec – 2nd Jan:         Team retreat at Masumbo, Iringa
4th/5th Jan:                      Steve to Dar – personnel meetings
16th—19th Jan:               Steve to Nairobi for unit leader meetings
26th—29th Jan:               Wedding anniversary retreat on the coast!

Prayer Requests:

  • It does feel different being back at language school the second time round – please pray that we would apply ourselves to the task ahead and, with more understanding, really move up a gear!

  • We’re thankful for our team here in Morogoro and for those who have contributed to the building of the conference centre at Sanga. Please pray that this place would be a centre of encouragement and solid biblical teaching for pastors.

  • Please continue to pray for Steve as he travels around Tanzania carrying out his unit leader responsibilities; for safety behind the wheel and for wisdom as he serves AIM personnel.

  • We’re praising God for 9 years of marriage on 19th January!  For those who were there – yes, it really was that long ago!  Please pray for protection on our marriage, that we would reflect Christ in our married lives, and that we would grow closer together in Him.

  • During the months of Jan/Feb/March Steve will be preparing his teaching material for the 2017 conference season.  Please pray that he would be guided clearly by the Holy Spirit as to what subjects and passages he should teach.

Thank you so much for your prayers and support.  We wish you a very happy and blessed Christmas.

Steve & Ruth

PS: Oak Hall Expeditions and AIM are teaming up next summer to offer a holiday/taste of mission trip to Tanzania.  If you're interested click here. 

Ruth and Cath receiving thank you gifts at the pastors'
conference in the Tanzanian way!

Pastor & Mrs Katwale looking
smart in their matching outfits

11 September 2016

Relaunching after 'dry dock'

I heard from a friend recently that their mission agency refers to home assignment as “dry dock”: where ships are taken out of the water to allow maintenance and refitting work to be done.  I can see the analogy.  We’ve been taken out of Tanzanian ‘waters’ for the last six months and it’s been a time when the engines haven’t been at full throttle; an opportunity for some maintenance and repair work, both physical and spiritual!  It’s been a time of assessment and examination, and an opportunity to prepare for the next ‘voyage’ as we launch out for our next cruise!  Hmmmm!  I guess you can only take the analogy so far - I’m not so sure I like the image of a ship sitting idle for any length of time, because that doesn’t reflect what the last six months have been like for us, but you get the picture!  So, what exactly has this period of ‘dry dock’ been like for us?  We thought we’d give you an idea by giving you the A to Z of what’s been happening in the Lancs Lane during that time.  The following is a random collection of memories, observations and highlights which have made up a wonderful home assignment!

A: All Nations Christian College. We attended the AIM retirees conference at All Nations right at the end of our HA; a fitting place to finish as I spent three years there preparing for overseas mission!  These folks are serious prayer warriors and it was great to be at prayer meetings where there was barely a second of silence!  In fact it was hard to get a prayer in!

B: Blessings & Birthdays.  HA has been full of blessing and we’re grateful to God for this time.  All of our planning has come together well and I’m not sure it could have gone any better!  There has also been a number of significant birthdays to celebrate too!

C: Corsham Baptist Church; Cakes, Coffee & Chats.  Corsham Baptist is our supporting church, and not just in name!  The folks there have been so supportive, and again we’ve been humbled by that support.  The opportunity for cakes, coffee and chat with various church friends has been much appreciated by Ruth!

D: Deputation, Debriefing, Donkeys & Dolphins!  We’ve done 19 presentations to various church groups reporting on what we’ve been doing in Tanzania.  Debriefing was done at the AIM offices in Nottingham.  We made friends with the braying donkeys next door to us, and on Ruth’s birthday weekend we even succeeded in seeing the dolphins of the Moray Firth!

E: Ebay & Endoscopy!  Ebay doesn’t exist in Tanzania and so we’ve made the most of internet buying whilst we’ve been home.  Something I didn’t get on Ebay was an endoscopy!  Results were good but they don’t explain the stomach discomfort that I sometimes get – load up on the Gaviscon!

F: Family.  You miss those family happenings and gatherings when you’re away, and so it’s been a real joy to spend quality time with family in places like Bicester, Newark, Portsmouth, Nairn, Elgin and Carlisle.  Some quality memories are stored in the memory bank!

G: Golf & Generosity.  Many a hole has been played in various parts of the country and it’s been a nice change to play on ‘greens’ not ‘browns’!  My wife gave me a birthday card with the following words on it, and it seems she knows my game well!  “If the ball goes right it’s a slice; if it goes left it’s a hook, and if it goes straight it’s a miracle”!  In terms of generosity, we’ve been blown away by people’s kindness and support for us and, indeed, for the work of IBM at Sanga Sanga.

H: Health.  Ruth has been able to see a specialist haematologist with regard to the blood clot she experienced on our outward journey back in July 2013, and whilst she needs to take various precautions, she’s been told that she doesn’t need to be taking meds on a daily basis.  Thanking God that there’s been no reoccurrence of the DVT.

I: Invitations.  We’ve been on the receiving end of some serious hospitality!  On 30 occasions we’ve been invited out for meals – wonderful times of sharing and fellowship and eating!

J: Jerusalem & Jericho.  Once again, I had the privilege of introducing people to the land of the Bible with another Oak Hall trip to Israel and Palestine.  Despite the ongoing tensions that exist in those lands we didn’t feel unsafe and the trip went without a hitch.  Highlights included an early morning run around the city walls of Jerusalem and an ascent of Mount Arbel in Galilee!

Steve surveying the view from Mt Arbel

By blue Galilee!

K: Keswick & Kilograms.  I was able to take in some Bible teaching at the Keswick Convention, a conference that in the past has been used mightily by God to call men and women into serving overseas.  In terms of kilograms, owing to the numerous meal invitations we’ve received, and also to the amazing variety of food one can buy in UK, we’re going back a tad heavier!

L: Long summer evenings.  In Tanzania it’s dark by 7pm all year round so we’ve enjoyed the light summer nights.

M: Ministry, Miles & Motorways.  The little red car that Mum & Dad lent us has clocked up over 14,000 miles in the last six months and has enabled us to motor around England, Wales and Scotland visiting friends and family, and also to talk about our ministry at various churches.  Oh, the joy of motorway driving – except for the often-clogged-up M6!

N: No mosquitoes!  It’s been a welcome relief to be away from those munching mozzies and not to be spraying ourselves with the sticky stuff that’s meant to keep them away!

O: Ornithology.  Whilst Tanzania is great for birding, we’ve managed a couple of birding forays here in the UK and have seen Osprey, Marsh Harrier and Turtle Doves – and the odd Blackbird, to name a few!

P: Pulpit & Preaching.  It’s been great to get back in the pulpit to preach in English again and I’ve had the opportunity on 16 occasions.

Q: Queuing.  This is something the Brits are good at!  Whether it’s at the bank or the post office we like our orderly lines and as I sat there in another M6 queue I wondered what the equivalent would look like in Tanzania.  It certainly wouldn’t be three orderly lanes and an empty hard shoulder, so maybe it’s a good job they haven’t got any motorways!  It’s bad enough on a single track road!

Ruth, Steve and twin Rachel relieved to have
finished the race!
R: Running.  We enjoyed running the country lanes of Wiltshire in a sensible climate!  Our training schedule saw us run about 200 miles in preparation for the Nairn half marathon.  T he event itself went well – even if it was a tad hot!  We both managed personal best times (1:58) and Ruth managed to raise £1,950 for IBM—thank you to everyone who donated.

S: Skiing in Switzerland.  After a three year absence we were finally able to strap our skis on and hit the slippery slopes of the Alps!  Wonderful weather, stunning scenery in the surrounds of the Eiger, good snow and great to be cold again!

T: Tree work.  In a former life I used to be a tree surgeon and so it was great to be able to wield a bow saw again!  I spent seven days in my sister’s garden in Elgin pruning various trees and reducing the height of a long Leylandii hedge – loved it!

U: Unpacking & repacking.  Being on the road has meant some heavy usage of the suitcases!

V: Val D’Isere.  What a wonderful family holiday we had in Val D’Isere (France) to celebrate Mum & Dad Lancaster’s 50th wedding anniversary.  Dad celebrated by doing some paragliding and Mum celebrated by anxiously watching on!  The week included running, boating, swimming, tennis and walking the heights.  One of the highlights was playing 18 holes of golf with my brother on Europe’s highest course; mountainous golf at its best!

W: Worshipping in English.  One of the things we miss when we’re in Tanzania is being able to sing out songs of praise in English, and to be back at our church in Corsham belting out songs and hymns we knew and understood was wonderful!

X: Xamine!  I couldn’t think of a word beginning with ‘x’ that fitted here so I had to bend the rules slightly!  Our time here has enabled us to spend time thinking, reflecting, and examining our time in Tanzania.  What did we achieve?  What did we do wrong as we tried to blend into our new culture?  What could we have done differently, and what will it be like second time round?

Y: Yatton Keynell & the Stable Cottage.  For much of our time we’ve been based near to the villages of Yatton Keynell & Castle Comb, and blessed with the provision of Stable Cottage.  This place was balm to the soul and we praise God for it.

Z: Zurich in the snow and Zzzzzz’s!  Our flight back from Tanzania in March took us through Zurich airport.  We were buzzing to find the place covered in snow and marvelled at how, just eight hours previously, we had been sweltering in the heat of Dar at temps in the mid 30’s.  Zzzzzz’s represents sleep, and having suffered with bouts of insomnia for 7/8 years, I think it’s safe to say that good sleep has returned because the last year has been much better.  During our HA we slept in 21 different beds!

What next? 
The ropes are being loosened as we prepare to set off on our return voyage!  We’ll be flying to Tanzania via Zurich and Nairobi on Monday 12th Sept and then settling back into our various roles with AIM and IBM (Institute of Bible & Ministry) in Morogoro, along with our team mates Tony & Cath and Matt & Amy.  Ruth is very much looking forward to seeing our ‘guard’ dog and I can’t wait to tackle those Swahili verbs again!  Within a week of arriving back we’ll be on the road to an IBM pastors’ conference near Mbeya in the west of Tanzania, although I won’t have any teaching responsibilities.

We would very much value your prayers for us as we begin our second term in Tanzania and here are a few Prayer Pointers:

  • We’re praising God for a wonderful home assignment and that we go back fully supported.

  • In many ways it feels as though it should be easier this time round as things are in place, we know where we’re going and what we’re doing, and we know a bit of language etc - but we also know more about the challenges before us!  Please pray that we’ll settle down quickly into our roles and into team life.

  • Please pray for safety and protection on the roads and as we go about our daily business.

  • Pray that God would use us for His glory as we seek to serve Him in Tanzania.

  • We will need to make an effort in terms of continuing to learn Swahili – please pray that we’d recall what we’ve already learnt but not used during the last six months, and that we’d really push on towards some sort of fluency!

The secretary of the London Mission Society Rev Arthur Tidman, back in 1840, wrote to David Livingstone with these words: “Let your ardour be sustained by incessant communion with Christ and your consolation drawn from the conviction of His power and sympathy, and then you will neither be faint not wearied in your mind, whatever obstacles may exist or trials arise.”  This is our prayer – that we would know Christ more and more in our lives, marriage and work; that we would be sustained by that ‘incessant communion’; that we would know more of His power in our lives, and so become more effective for Him as we go about our various roles.  It’s a big prayer, which is why we’d love you to join us in praying it for us!  Many thanks for your prayers and support.

Diary Dates:

12th Sept:          6am flight from London Heathrow to Dar via Zurich
13th:                  Travel from Dar to Morogoro
21st-23rd           IBM Pastors Conference in Njombe  (travelling 20th & 24th)
1st-8th Oct:       Hosting personnel from AIM UK office
13th-18th:         AIM Tanzania Conference in Dar
23rd-28th:         Showing AIM Eastern Region Staff around AIM ministry placements in
eastern Tanzania
15th-18th Nov:  IBM Pastors conference & the opening of the new Sanga conference
26th-17th Dec:  Intensive Language refresher course in Iringa?

Many blessings,

Steve and Ruth

29 March 2016

The Lancs have landed!

“He drew a deep breath. ‘Well, I’m back,’ he said.”  Those of you who are familiar with the JR Tolkien trilogy ‘Lord of the Rings’ will recall these words uttered in the very last sentence by Frodo’s travelling companion, Sam Gamgee.  He had just returned to his hobbit-hole of a home in the Shire following his epic adventures, having succeeded in helping to destroy the evil powers that had threatened to destroy Middle Earth.  Well, I’ve just returned from the land of Tanzania with my faithful travelling companion following our 31-month adventure, and now that we’ve settled into our Wiltshire stable cottage, we’re able to sit back and draw a breath, ponder our adventures and take stock of what’s been happening, and finally say those words: “We’re back”!

“Count your blessings, see what God has done.”  We arrived safely back in the UK on 8th March, together with our luggage, which is always a blessing!  Whilst it might sound strange to most of you, we felt a tinge of excitement and relief as we landed in a snow-covered Zurich airport!  The temperatures in Delightful Dar had been 35oC when we left.  Before we took off from Zurich bound for London, the plane had to be de-iced!  We then had fun hauling our five pieces of luggage across the London underground system before taking a train to Carlisle where a blustery Cumbrian platform was the scene for a much-anticipated reunion with Ma & Pa Lancs!  The requested fry-up duly appeared, followed the next day by the desired pork pie and celery!  It’s amazing what brings pleasure to a returning missionary!  Mum & Dad have lent us their run-around car for the next five months so we haven’t had the added hassle of looking for some wheels to use - yet another blessing!

Having rummaged through our stored stuff we grabbed our winter gear and travelled down to Newark to spend some time with Ruth’s parents, and then headed to the Swiss Alps with Oak Hall to ski the pistes above Wengen, Grindlewald and Murren.  After three years, it was great to be skiing again, especially in the place where it all began for us, in the shadow of the north face of the Eiger!  We tried to make the most of being in such majestic surroundings – covering 130,000 ft of ascent and descent; using 140 ski lifts in the process, and enjoying six days of good snow and blue skies!  Could it get any better!?  Needless to say – we came away feeling extremely blessed and very refreshed, despite putting our legs through 160 miles of downhill distance!

We arrived back in Wiltshire last Thursday – and straight into another couple of blessings!  Through a friend at church a cottage has been made available for us to use during our time here, on a farm about six miles from Corsham, near Yatton Keynell.  Our nearest neighbours, who we’re getting to know quite well with the help of some carrots, are a couple of donkeys!  Incidentally, to get to Corsham from Yatton Keynell, you drive through the delightfully-named village of ‘Tiddleywink’.  Not sure how I’d explain that to a Tanzanian!  And to think that we laughed at the meaning of the village name Sanga Sanga!  Furthermore, to add blessing upon blessing, we arrived to find that someone from our church had been in and stocked the shelves with all sorts of edible goodies!  Yet again, awesomely blessed!

Stable Cottage, our home during Home Assignment
Over the next few weeks and months, we’ll be spending time with our home church in Corsham, meeting up with family members we’ve never met before (and those we have!), and talking to folks about the work we’ve been involved in, and I’ll be back in the pulpit to do some preaching – although this time in English!  Among the more routine matters that need attending to are visits to doctors, dentists and opticians, renewing passports, preparing presentations and sermons, sorting out tax and pension issues, and having debriefs at AIM’s HQ in Nottingham.  We’ve listed below our current speaking appointments and diary dates to give you an idea of where we’ll be and when - and we look forward to seeing many of you along the way at some of these events!

Our new neighbours
Diary Dates: 

April 4th      Wimborne Africa Prayer Group (7.30pm)
10th          Corsham Baptist Church – reporting back to our church (6pm)
11th:          Chippenham: Ladyfield Church ladies meeting
13th:           Lincoln Evangelical Church – Ruth speaking at Ladies meeting (10.30am)
14th:           Nottingham AIM offices for debrief
23rd:           Wallington (Surrey) for AIM South Conference (1.30-6pm)
24th:           Corsham Baptist Church – Steve preaching (6pm)
27th:           Elgin – Steve to visit family until 6th May – Ruth to Elgin on 2nd 

May 8th:     Chippenham Ladyfield Evangelical Church - Steve preaching (11am)
11th:           Street Baptist Church missions meeting (7.30pm)
15th:           Corsham Baptist Church – Steve preaching (6pm)
16th:           London AIM prayer group (10.30am)
20-22:       Otford, Kent - Oak Hall team weekend
23rd:           Leamington Spa – Midlands AIM prayer group (7.30pm)
29th:           Corsham Baptist Church – Steve preaching (11.15am)

June 5th:    Corsham Baptist Church – Steve preaching (11.15am)
14-25:       Israel Oak Hall trip – Steve leading

July 10th:   Corsham Baptist Church – Steve preaching (11.15am & 6pm)
14-23:       France family holiday
26th:          Atworth Chapel Wiltshire – AIM presentation

Aug 14thStreet Baptist Church – Steve preaching (11am & 6.30pm)
20th:          Nairn half-marathon & Ruth’s 50th birthday! 

Sept 7th:    Return to Tanzania!   

Praise & Prayer Points:
  • Please join us in thanking God for the completion of our first term, for safety and good health, and for the little accomplishments along the way! “All that we have accomplished, You have done for us.” Is. 26: 12

  • We’re certainly thanking God for the many blessings that he has poured out upon us during this first term and for those we’ve received since we’ve been back: for faithful supporters who have prayed and given, for good travel home, for the use of a wonderful farm cottage near to our home church, and for the generosity of parents prepared to lend cars!

  • Please pray for times of refreshing as we reconnect with friends and family, and as I prepare sermons. Pray, as we prepare and deliver our various presentations, that we would inspire, encourage and challenge.

  • Please continue to pray for the work of IBM and for the team we’ve left behind; for Tony as he will be doing the bulk of this year’s Bible teaching; for Matt as he continues to supervise the building of the conference centre at Sanga; for Amy as she takes up some of Ruth’s responsibilities, and for Cath as she continues with her child protection work and takes on the unit leader role in my absence.

10 February 2016

“Take me home, pot-holed roads, to the place I belong”!

Very nearly the words of a famous John Denver song from yesteryear!  It’s hard to believe that in less than four weeks time our first term here in Tanzania will come to a close and we’ll be touching down on the soggy soil of England!  Where has the last 2.7 years gone?!  For us, as we prepare for our home assignment, it’s a time of excitement and anticipation, but also a time of reflection as we ponder the happenings of our time here.  Has it been what we expected?  Could we have done anything differently and more effectively?  Has language learning been as hard as we thought it would be?  Have we settled down as well as we could?  Have we represented Christ well in our team, in our home and amongst the pastors we’re here to serve?  And, in one of my ‘glass half empty’ moments, has what I’ve done really made any impact?!  So many questions and evaluations as we prepare to head home on 7th March.

Last month we celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary – and to mark the occasion we spent a day in the African wilderness getting nibbled by tsetse flies!  We put our trusty car through its paces and bumped our way around the back of the Uluguru mountains to the Selous Game reserve.  It was only 115 miles away but it took us 5.5 hours to get there due to the fact that, for much of the time, we were doing less than 10 mph on a stony dirt track!  We had a top day on safari, seeing over sixty species of bird, and hundreds of hippos and crocodiles on the Rufiji River.  The one sobering aspect of our day was the lack of elephants.  The Selous used to be famous for its large elephant population (109,000 in 1976) but, during the last 40 years, 88% of its elephants have fallen to the poacher, a sad trend that continues across Tanzania.

For the rest of Jan/Feb it’s beenbusiness as usual, as we’ve continued in our various roles and made some preparations to hand over some of our responsibilities.  For Ruth, it’s been about the management and accounting work for IBM and Sanga Sanga, and for me, translation and preaching, as well as member care for some of the missionaries in the unit.

So, what exactly is this thing called “home-assignment”?!

Is it just a big long holiday for missionaries?  Is it like a sabbatical?  Is it secret code for a ‘fundraising trip’?  Do missionaries go on home assignment when they get so fed up with their host culture that they need a break?  Well, there’s probably an element of truth in all of these – but as definitions go they don’t paint the full picture, so let me try and explain.  In former years, within missionary circles the word’ furlough’ was used to describe such an activity.  The dictionary definition is this: “A period of time where a soldier is allowed to be absent from service, especially to return temporarily to their own town or country.”  I also found another definition, although I’m not so sure it’s too helpful….. “Work furlough is a correctional programme which allows prison inmates to leave an institution for the purpose of regular employment but returning to confinement at nights and weekends’ - hmmmm!  Let’s go with the first – although it does have its limitations because it suggests a time of getting away from active service.

Construction work at Sanga Sanga continues apace
Today, mission organisations prefer to use the term ‘home assignment’ because they want to emphasise that missionaries who are back in their home countries are still on active service, working and doing ministry, but just in a different venue.  And so that is why I’ll still be involved in preaching, and why we’ll both be out and about speaking at various AIM events and prayer groups, raising awareness of what AIM is doing in Africa, as well as informing people of what we’ve been doing during the last 2.7 years.  In fact, one of the main purposes of our HA is to reconnect with our sending church and report back to them.  It is our church that we are primarily responsible to, and it is our church, in partnership with AIM, that commissioned and sent us to Tanzania back in July 2013.  And so we need to spend time with them, along with other supporters, to inform and hopefully inspire, as well as to say a big ‘thank you’ to those who have supported us financially and prayerfully.

Home assignments—they’re biblical you know!

This is how it was right at the very beginning of the missionary era.  At the end of Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas are coming to the end of their first missionary journey, and after four years on the road they returned to their ‘sending church’ in Antioch.  “They gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them….. and they stayed there a long time with the disciples”.  That, however, is where any comparison between the Lancs and Paul and Barnabas stops!  They travelled on foot everywhere; they planted church after church, and they also had to endure beatings, imprisonments and a lot of opposition from religious leaders and government officials!

Home assignment also provides opportunities for spending time with family and friends.  Besides grappling with a new language and trying to adapt to living in a new culture, I think the hardest part about being overseas is the separation from family.  We’re so thankful for the modern conveniences of email and skype that the missionary of yesteryear could only dream of, but nothing beats face-to-face quality time with those who are nearest and dearest.  There’s also a need to take time out from a ‘field assignment’ and spend time in a home culture where things are familiar and relaxed, because after a while some of the cultural norms here can begin to wear you down.  I (Steve) have noticed this especially in the last six months where my grace and patience levels are low, my tolerance and compassion reserves are sometimes depleted, and my spiritual tank is in need of topping up!  In short, one can become rather tetchy and grumpy when things don’t happen as they would at home, and where you get fed up with certain aspects of a culture!  We’re certainly looking forward to a change of environment and temperature, doing some holidaying, and to recharging the batteries on a number of levels!

Twenty things we’re looking forward to on HA!

Not sweating, good internet connection, going to Israel, being at Corsham Baptist Church, exercising normally, spending quality time with family and friends, no mosquitoes, watching Carlisle United play, not battling with Swahili, eating pork pie and celery, not having power-cuts, long light evenings, driving on smooth roads where most people adhere to the highway code, being cold, meeting new nephews and nieces, playing golf on greens, preaching in English, skiing, climbing a mountain or two, and going to the chippie!

Livingstone and his first ‘home assignment’!  
Sorry folks, but I couldn’t finish our first term without referring once more to the good doctor!  David Livingstone set out for Africa in December 1840, and arrived back in England 16 years later in December 1856 for his first home assignment!  And even then, he nearly didn’t make it!  Twenty months before heading home he meandered his way across the continent of Africa, trekking from Luanda (in Angola) on the west coast, to Quillimane (in Mozambique) on the east coast, exploring the land and looking for ideal sites on which to set up mission stations.  He covered the 2230 miles by foot and on ox-back, only to arrive on the Mozambican coast, ravaged by malarial fever, to find that the ship which had been sent to pick him up, had run aground on a sandbar!

He then waited a further six weeks for another ship to come, and during the long journey home aboard the not-so- aptly named HMS Frolic, one of his African attendants, who had never seen the sea before, jumped overboard due to insanity!  The ship was then nearly wrecked on an island near the Bay of Tunis due to a snapped engine shaft, only to be saved at the last moment by a providential wind which carried them away from the rocks!  And finally, to add insult to many an injury, after five months at sea, the boat docked in Dover whilst his wife and friends formed a welcoming party for him….. in Southampton!!  Needless to say, we’re hoping that our journey home won’t take quite as long, and won’t be quite as eventful!

Ruth founds this beast, a Huntsman Spider, sitting on the
back seat of the car when she got home one day.  If she’d 
seen it during the journey, who knows what ditch this 
arachnaphobe would have driven into!
Thank you so much to those who have helped make this first term in Tanzania possible.  To those who support us financially and pray for us regularly – we want to say thank you for your partnership and backing.  And we hope you’ve enjoyed following our tentative steps into Tanzanian ministry and reading about some of our adventures and misadventures along the way!  Our aim has been to keep you informed about the ministries we’re involved in, but also to give you a glimpse of what life in Tanzania is like.  We’re not exactly sure when we’ll next be in touch via newsletter or blog, but we look forward to meeting up with many of you over the next 6 months, and we’ll certainly be in touch before we head back to Tanzania in September, God willing.

Malachite Kingfisher
Many blessings,

Steve and Ruth

Prayer Points:

  • That we would finish our term well and do what we need to do before we leave on 7th March.

  • We’re praising God for what we’ve been able to do through Him during our time here, thanking Him for safety and protection, and for His continued blessing on our lives.

  • Please pray that we’ll plan wisely for our HA and that we would also be a blessing and encouragement to those we meet.

  • Please continue to pray for the work of IBM – for Tony as he heads up the seminar programme, and for Matt as he continues to supervise the building of the conference centre.

  • Please pray for spiritual refreshment during our HA – and for re-charged batteries!

Postal address in UK (from 24th March – 7th Sept): West Sevington Farm, Yatton Keynell, Chippenham, Wiltshire SN14 7LE.

How's that for a big-nosed moth!

Now he just needs some passengers!