12 December 2017

"Flying home for Christmas!"

As I sat in a well-worn barber’s chair on Saturday morning, my mind began to drift towards our UK Christmas visit. As the scissors and the clippers did their work, it gave me time to ponder on how very different my surroundings would be in just a week’s time. They won’t be singing “snow had fallen, snow on snow” here in Morogoro and there’s no chance of “frosty winds making moan”, just warm and wet winds sweeping off the Uluguru mountains behind us. There won’t be any jingling of bells or the twinkling of fairy lights and, whilst there will be plenty of open fires, there won’t be any chestnuts being roasted – just rice, beans, maize, ugali and possibly some chicken. And as you walk around Morogoro you have to look very hard to find a tinselled tree or a laughing Santa – thankfully!

Christmas is indeed coming but there’s a very different feel to it here, where Christians remember the birth of Christ but in a ‘business as usual’ sort of way. The church services do get a bit longer and, quite possibly, a bit noisier! The AIC church here will be having services on three consecutive days, each one lasting for about three hours. Spare a thought for our team leader Tony Swanson who is preaching at all three and is very much looking forward to watching the choir dancing their way through ‘Hark the herald angels sing’! There might also be a few candlelight services happening on Christmas eve but that’s probably more to do with a regular power cut than wanting to create a cosy stable-like feel (?!) in the service!

By the way, talking of power cuts, what does my Tanzanian/Indian barber do in his psychedelic green shop when the power goes off? He cranks up a noisy generator and carries on with the job, which by this point is very nearly done. Out comes a razor for the finishing touch and out comes a rather large brush (the type that goes with a regular dustpan and brush!) to sweep away the cuttings from my head and shoulders. Finally a dab of un-manly fragrant talc is applied to the neck and the job is done. And all for just £2!

Back to the Christmas musings! Whilst there are many differences between Christmas in Tanzania and the UK, the real focus is still the same – it’s a ‘holyday’ to remember the birth of Christ. It’s a time to reflect on an occasion when God began to put his plan of salvation into action; a time when God chose to ‘put on skin’ and come to live on this earth as a human; a time when he chose to use a young peasant girl to bring into the world the Son of the Almighty God, who somehow was also there when the world began! What an outrageous story! And all for the benefit of humanity! Amidst the froth of Christmas let’s find the time to ponder afresh the astounding truths of what it meant for God to become man. And then let’s pour out our hearts in gratitude by giving our lives in service to Him. “What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a Shepherd I would bring a lamb. If I were a wise Man I would do my part. Yet what I can I give Him, I give my heart.”

A Tale of Two Churches
The IBM conference season has now finished for the year; Ruth is working on the year-end reports and I’m beginning to ponder the subject for next year’s teaching. We’re thankful to God that the conferences this year have all gone to plan, and that the subject of godly leadership seems to have had an impact.

Bearing in mind Ruth’s comment about statistics in our last update, I’ll refrain from going into detail about miles travelled, litres of fuel consumed (by the car!), sermons preached, and the number of times I’ve been stopped by the police! Suffice to say, whilst it’s been a busy year, it’s been a good one, and we’re finishing the year with a sense of satisfaction at what God has done through us as a team. I’ll round up the year by giving you a glimpse of what life can be like on the preaching road here in Tanzania, in the form of a few diary entries.

AIC Dumila: This was a long and painful day! Left home at 8am, and drove 75 kms to the church. On arrival I was given a dried chapatti and some tea; in hindsight, a mistake! Before I got up to preach, I had to visit the cob-webbed toilet shed three times, although it did give me the opportunity to escape the distorted noise of the generator-powered sound system for a few minutes! When the time came to preach, I then had to battle against the sound of an Islamic wedding party happening nearby. The hypnotic trance-like music seemed to have an effect on the congregation – or was that my preaching!?

There were about 70 people crammed into this small mud-brick church. The notices lasted 20 mins, and there were three collections; one of them a general one, another for some building work, and the other for the choir! For the last one, the guy on the microphone was on hand to call out the amount that each person put into the basket! Meanwhile, sitting rather awkwardly at the front of the church and being able to see through the hole in the wall where a window should have been, I tried to keep a close eye on my car which was in danger of being swamped by Sunday School children! They found it amusing to look at their reflections in the mirrors and to run their hands down the not-so-glistening paintwork! Once the service was finished, I sold 15 Bibles at a knock-down price and was later given a lunch of rice and beans. I finally arrived home at 5:30pm with a pounding headache and the need for a paracetamol!

AIC Kinzudi Dar: Due to the fact this church was off the beaten track, I had asked the pastor to meet me at the main road. On the way to the church he asked me to stop at the butchers so that he could buy lunch! With a quick glance towards the hanging lumps of meat in the shop window, I assured him that my favourite meal was indeed rice and beans, and that he needn’t go to the expense of buying meat just for me! Off we drove with me inwardly cheering! As we approached the church the track got rather more ‘off-road’ and somehow I managed to arrive without ripping the sump from the bottom of the car! Yet again, mine was the only car outside the church; there were a few bicycles but the other 40 people had walked there. We started 25 minutes late and people continued to arrive as the service progressed. In a number of churches I’ve even seen people arrive with five mins of the sermon to go!

What a pleasant surprise! There were no microphones or speakers to shake the internal organs, which meant that I wouldn’t need the wax earplugs that I’d put in my pocket! There was only one collection, one song from a four-woman choir, and lots of congregational singing, much of which I couldn’t really understand, but nevertheless it proved to be a tonic to the soul! The tin-roofed church provided oven-like conditions in the humid heat of Dar, and I noticed that the pastor’s shirt was somewhat damp with only a few minutes gone! I’ve learnt that when preaching in Tanzania, it’s always wise to carry a flannel with you, and indeed, it proved useful as the service went on! I preached from John 13 - the section where Jesus washed the feet of his disciples just hours before the cross. We’re urged to stoop and serve as Jesus did, and that includes ‘washing the feet’ of those we don’t get on with, and those who may have wronged us in the past. I don’t recall reading that Jesus refused to wash the feet of the man who was planning to betray him - such a challenge to us all. As the service drew to a close, we filed out whilst singing the closing song and stood in a long line having shaken each other’s hands. And then……time for some more rice and beans!

Diary Dates:

16th Dec – 4th Jan:           Christmas & New Year with family in England & Scotland!
5th- 7th Jan:                      Unit Leader meetings in Kenya
8th Jan:                             Return to Tanzania
19th Jan:                           Our 10th wedding anniversary!
Jan – dates tbc:                Ruth teaching Intermediates English course
Jan/Feb/March:                Steve preparing seminar teaching material

Progress at Sanga Sanga.  Forget the view - look at those new window frames!
Prayer & Praise:

  • We’re thanking God for the past year and for all the plans that have come to fruition; for safety on the roads and in the home; for the opportunity to teach from God’s Word; for the progress made at Sanga Sanga. We’re also praising God for you! We’re thankful for the fact that many of you are journeying with us and providing finance and prayer. Thank you so much for being such a blessing!

  • Please pray for Ruth as she continues to provide administrative support to IBM & Sanga, and as she balances the books, handles bookings and manages the housekeeping staff there. The site is certainly being used more and more, with groups coming on a regular basis to use the facilities, but with that growth comes busyness!

  • Please pray for Steve as he spends the bulk of Jan/Feb/March preparing teaching material for the IBM seminars which begin in May. Please also pray for the Swansons as 2018 will be their last year in Morogoro! They’ll be leaving in December 2018 and heading to a new assignment in Uganda. It raises all sorts of questions as to ‘what next’ for the team, for IBM and the work at Sanga. We would value your prayers as we try to discern the best way forward, and seek to recruit new personnel to cover Tony’s roles.
Further ahead: I’ll be leading another Oak Hall Israel trip from 30th Mar–9th April and it would be great to have some familiar faces on the trip! If you’re interested in seeing the sights of Israel & Palestine with your Bibles open, please see this link for further details: http://www.oakhall.co.uk/israel/israel.

In our last update Ruth reported on Oak Hall’s first Tanzania trip which took place back in August. Well, there’s another trip planned for next year (18 Aug-1 Sep), so if you want an idea of what the trip looks like, or maybe even fancy the idea of staying at Sanga yourself, have a look at the online brochure: http://www.oakhall.co.uk/summer/tanzania.

We wish you every blessing for Christmas and the New Year.

Steve & Ruth

There's a push bike in there somewhere!

2 November 2017

Oakies in Tanzania!

One of highlights of life here in Morogoro is the Book Club that I (Ruth) attend every month.  Half a dozen Christian ladies get together to discuss whatever book we are currently studying.  Right now we are reading through Sally Breedlove’s book ‘Choosing Rest’.  It’s subheading is, “Cultivating a Sunday heart in a Monday world.”

Rest is an interesting concept for missionaries when there can be many demands on our time.  We can often feel the pressure to ‘redeem the time’ for the sake of those who are supporting us financially.  And, frankly, sometimes there is just so much to do.  But rest is vital if we are to be here for the long haul.  It’s sometimes difficult to get the balance right.  2017 has been an exceptionally busy year for us and we are looking forward to a rest.  But first, what have we been doing since we last wrote….?

August—Oak Hall in Tanzania!
Steve and I have been connected with Oak Hall Expeditions for over 10 years and Oak Hall has also been a generous supporter of Sanga Sanga Retreat Centre.  So it was a real pleasure to host the first Oak Hall trip to Tanzania!  Twenty-four intrepid souls came for a taste of mission and culture.  The trip started with a hiccup as fog in Amsterdam meant the group missed its connection and ended up coming on 2 separate flights much later than expected.  Good job our Oak Hall training and experiences in Africa have taught us to be flexible!

The group was based at Sanga Sanga Retreat Centre for 10 days.  They threw themselves gladly into some practical work on 2 of those days, painting the outside of the conference centre and working on the hydroponics project.  Evenings were special times, spent around the campfire as we gathered for worship and Bible study, gazing at the stars above.  We took them to visit a nearby Maasai village where they tried some Maasai dancing; we visited a local NGO which trains ‘hero’ rats to sniff out landmines and TB (fascinating—visit apopo.org); we enjoyed a mountain hike in the Ulugurus and we had a day on safari where we saw everything including lion!

Worshipping at AICT Kiloka
But the real highlights for the group were the visits we made to  AICT Dakawa and AICT Kiloka, small village churches.  At Dakawa, as soon as the choir began to sing and dance our group jumped up to join in too!  It was amazing and surprisingly emotional—two sets of people, different in language, culture, appearance and economic status, but united in enjoying praising God.  The British aren’t so stiff-upper lipped after all!  At Kiloka we sang a couple of songs to the church (with actions!) and received a very warm welcome and gifts of rice and bananas.  It was fascinating to watch our group’s reactions and see it all through their eyes, as if for the first time.

Ruth's birthday coincided with the visit to AICT Dakawa
and she was presented with a kanga
We ended the trip on the coast for a couple of days, including a day on a tropical island enjoying the golden sands and warm waters of the Indian Ocean—and all getting completely soaked on choppy seas on the way back!  All in all, it was a successful trip, tiring but rewarding, and we look forward, God willing, to hosting another group next year!  If you’re interested contact Oak Hall!


AICT Magambua
We travelled deep into rural Tanzania in September for a pastors’ seminar.  Magambua is in an area where the people group are classed as ‘unreached’.  Steve was again teaching on the subject of leadership with moral integrity.  We stayed with an AIM missionary couple , fellow birding enthusiasts!  Numbers attending the conference were lower than expected but they still enjoyed some lively discussion on the topic!  At the end of the conference we took an extra day in Magambua to rest and enjoy some bird watching.  I saw 21 new birds!

October—AIM Tanzania Conference & Iringa

Bob Hunt - Steve's former
All Nations tutor
AIM has quite a number of missionaries in different parts of Tanzania and our annual conference is the opportunity to get together and catch up.  Steve, myself and Cath were responsible for organising this year’s conference but in spite of that it all went very smoothly!  Bob Hunt, Steve’s former tutor at All Nations, came to do the Bible teaching, leading us through the Gospel of John on some of the journeys of Jesus.  After conference Bob came back to Morogoro with us for a couple of days and it was good to be able to show him a little of our lives here and, of course, Sanga Sanga.

Steve has just returned from Iringa where he has been teaching at the last of this year’s regional seminars.  If this were Steve writing you would now get a series of stats—numbers of kilometres driven, hours on the road, numbers of sessions taught etc!  Suffice to say, however, that 138 pastors, evangelists and their wives have received teaching on godly leadership this year.  Let’s pray that God will use them to shape His church into a model for the world to follow.

Thanks, as always, for your support and prayers for us.  Every blessing,

Steve & Ruth

Diary Dates & Prayer Requests:

5 Nov             Steve preaching at AICT Dumila
14-17 Nov      Evangelists’ plenary seminar at Sanga Sanga
19 Nov           Steve preaching at AICT Mbezi Beach, Dar
20-24 Nov      Ruth teaching English course for Intermediates
15 Dec           Travel to Dar/UK for Christmas break

- Praise God for the completion of this year’s regional pastors’ seminars and pray that God will raise up humble leaders.  We are thankful for the many kilometers driven safely and for the people who have received this year’s teaching.

- Praise God for a successful Oak Hall trip, after months of planning.  Pray that those who came will be open to God’s calling on their lives to serve him however he chooses.

- Pray for Steve in his Unit Leader duties—he will be travelling to visit various members of the unit over the next few weeks.

- We are planning a short break in the UK over Christmas and New Year.  It will be Ruth’s parents’ diamond wedding anniversary on Boxing Day.  Pray for safe travels and for a good time with family in Carlisle, Bicester, Newark, Nairn and Elgin!  We return to Tanzania via Kenya on 8th January.

One of our Oak Hall guests has a close encounter with
a hero rat!

2 August 2017

Conference Conundrums!

Barazani, with dried up Lake Eyasi behind
Barazani: the town reminded me of an old wild-west movie set, although with a lot more poverty.  A number of ramshackled shops lined the rough-roaded street and the one main cafĂ© in the town consisted of a small plastic-covered shed and a couple of charcoal stoves.  Youths hung about in the ‘pool hall’, many of them with glazed eyes and looking decidedly bored, a sure sign of unemployment in a town which is known for its seasonal onion farming!  The words on the gate of my accommodation read ‘Florida Guesthouse’ and outside loitered a couple of stray dogs.  I knew in that instance that I was not in for a luxurious stay and that this was anything but Florida!  Maybe the room rate of £2.80 per night should also have raised an eyebrow, but alas, this was indeed the best that Barazani had to offer.  Thus began the IBM conference season back in early May!  I’ll let my diary entry for that night set the scene:

The Florida guesthouse!
“My room is 3x3 metres.  There’s no desk, no chair, no cupboard; just a bed with a multi-coloured chequered sheet on it!  There is electricity; it’s been in the town for a couple of years now.  There’s also running water, even when the shower is turned off!  Drip, drip, drip – onto the tiles.  The remedy is to pop next door and turn off the water supply to all of the rooms!  There is a window – but less than a metre away there’s a brick wall, so the view isn’t exactly ‘lake district’!  There’s no mirror in the small bathroom, so shaving should be fun, and to get to the squatty potty, I have to pass under the leaking shower!  Four glorious nights of this!  If I’m honest, I’m not relishing it and would rather be elsewhere, but I am here to do a job, and the job will be done.  I feel woefully inadequate going into this and, being as this is the first of the year, I am not sure how things will go.  How will the pastors respond to nine sessions of my Swahili teaching this week!?  Father God, I need your strengthening hand on me this week.  Please fill me with your Holy Spirit, enable me to teach your Word, and grant me fluency beyond the natural.”

Well, the conference did go very well and the pastors seemed keen to tackle the subject: “Show me a leader with integrity.”  In fact it was a hot topic that grabbed their attention and the questions and head-nodding (in agreement, not sleep!) revealed that this was definitely a timely subject that needed expounding.  On the final afternoon we were also able to encourage the local AIC pastor by visiting his small unfinished church building and praying for him and his family.  Their story, accompanied by tears, revealed that they were going through some very tough times and I left the church astounded, wondering how this guy has been able to cope in this isolated northern outpost.  His house made the Florida Guesthouse seem like the Ritz – or at least like a Travelodge!  As I lay in bed that night listening to the call of a distant hyena, and trying not to itch my 120+ bed-bug bites, I couldn’t help but wonder what it was I had to be grumpy about!

The house where trees live, Lindi
Whilst the Barazani conference is our most northerly venue, the second conference of the year took place in our southern-most venue: the town of Lindi, not too far from the Mozambique border.  One of my guidebooks describes Lindi as follows: “With one eye closed, you can even imagine that the main beach served as a resort of sorts, but today the beachfront benches are all broken and they probably go for weeks at a stretch without being perched on by a tourist.  In the town centre numerous colonial-era buildings are ruined or heading that way, whilst the old derelict German Boma has nothing in it except trees”!  The conference, although small in number (12), went well, but the humid coastal temps meant that, at one point, we had to move out of the tin-roofed church and under some nearby trees to get some much needed breeze!  Whilst some relief was found, the nearby wailing minarets seemed to become a tad louder!  The only issue to report was that, on one morning just before we were due to start, I was summoned to present my passport at the local immigration office and told that I had committed a crime by staying in the town without obtaining prior permission!  Whilst my Tanzanian colleague graciously asked if he could pray for the very officious Muslim official, I sat in the corner biting my tongue and zipping my mouth for fear of a longer confinement!

Our most recent conference (July) was actually on home turf, as we decided to hold the Pwani event at Sanga Sanga, instead of Dar.  Thankfully, with Sanga only being 12 miles up the road from our house, there’s little to report on the travails of travel!  The only drawbacks in trying to hold people’s attention at this venue were the nesting sparrows overhead and the stunning views of the Uluguru mountains!  We had to position the seating so that the pastors wouldn’t be mesmerised all of the time!  We met in the main upper room of the new conference centre, which as yet doesn’t have windows fitted, but the sparrows, the views and the breeze certainly made it memorable.  There was also some great singing during the three days, and it thrilled the soul to hear those African voices, especially as there wasn’t a keyboard or an amplifier in sight!!

The seminar room with a view!
The one thing that did stand out for me personally was how tough the first day was.  I taught three sessions but it felt as though I was wading through treacle for much of it!  I was aware of a lack of inner enthusiasm; the ummpphh was missing, and I stepped away from my homemade lectern a bit dejected.  Was it simply an off day, or was cultural fatigue showing through?  It could indeed be a bit of both, but my team leader Tony helpfully reminded me that what we’re doing at IBM and the subject that we’re teaching is bound to rattle the cage of Satan.  He is very much opposed to seeing teaching on integrity in the Church and, as we know, he comes to steal, disrupt and discourage us in our work.  Thankfully, days 2 and 2 went much better.  The ummpphh was back and I felt that I was more expressive in my Swahili teaching than I had been before!

Mum & Dad Lancs 'gift-wrapped' - literally!
Parental Visit!  The very next day Ruth and I headed to Dar to pick up my parents who had flown in for a two-week holiday.  One of the first things to be unwrapped from their luggage was…… a pork pie!  It’s strange what you long for when away from your home culture.  Following the Lancaster tradition, our holiday did not consist of much ‘sit-at-home’ time, and we packed a lot into our time.  We swam in, or rather were battered about by the eight-foot waves of the Indian Ocean!  We spotted scorpions, sea-snakes and storks – literally thousands of them!  In fact the bird list was certainly added to as we toured the National Parks of Tarangire, Manyara, Arusha and Mikumi.  We also spent some time in Tabora with a pastor and his wife who run an orphans and widows project, and came away humbled at the welcome we received by people who literally had next to nothing.  Another sobering moment came as we travelled back from Tabora and observed a disabled women crawling across a busy main road on her hands and knees.  Other more amusing journey sightings included a goat standing on the top of a speeding petrol tanker, and a man walking down the street with a pig on his shoulders!  We also gave a lift to a man who told us he had been walking for three days because he couldn’t afford the bus fare of £1.70 to get to his home town.  We had just driven his ‘three days’ in a little over three hours!  Never a dull moment on the roads of Africa!

Life in Ruth’s Lane!  Every year AIM’s female missionaries in Tanzania get together for a time of retreat.  This year’s retreat was held in May on the coast south of Dar es Salaam.  Kathy Larkman, our pastor’s wife from Corsham Baptist, came to speak on ‘Christ’s Love Compels Us’.  It was a special time of relaxation, catching up with friends, praying with each other and having a few laughs too.  Unfortunately I had again been suffering from a few boils, and a large abscess on my side distracted me somewhat from the retreat.  I was able to have a small surgical procedure at a clinic in Dar before we headed home to Morogoro.  Thank you to everyone who prayed for me during this time – it has healed up nicely now and added to my collection of scars!

We’ve had lots of visitors at Sanga Sanga over the last few months, including two large AICT children’s camps.  We converted the pump house into a temporary dorm to add to our capacity!  It was lovely seeing the children enjoying the fresh air, space and their Sunday School lessons.

One of the highlights of the year so far was the visit of a work team from our church in Corsham who came to help build a shower block on the campsite.  Nine folks came and joined with our local team to lay bricks, mix cement and plaster walls.  Some of the nine were returnees from last year’s group but some were new and had never visited Africa before.  They coped really well in the unfamiliar environment and even picked up a few words of Swahili.  They were very focused on their task and at the end of the trip the roof was on – a great achievement!  We are so thankful to our church for sending them and for raising the funds to build these much-needed facilities.

I had a few days of holiday at the end of May when my friend Rachel from Tearfund/Oak Hall days came to visit.  We had 3 nights on Zanzibar and a day on safari.  It was her first time to Tanzania so it was lovely to show her our ministry and home life here.

Cookery course students
One part of my role that I very much enjoy is spending time with the staff at the Retreat House.  Francisca, the housekeeper and cook, is a bright spark who has all sorts of ideas about generating funds for the Institute.  One of them was to hold a cookery course for Tanzanians who work in western households in Morogoro.  She already knew how to cook a few western dishes but we had great fun one afternoon when I was able to teach her how to cook chilli con carne, spicy chicken and guacamole, among others.  It means we are able to offer a more varied menu to our guests at Sanga Sanga.  The cookery course itself was a big success and we have plans to hold more in the future.

Diary Dates & Prayer Requests:

1-5 Aug:               Ifakara IBM pastors’ conference (Steve)
16-30 Aug:           Hosting, speaking and leading on Oak Hall’s first Tanzania trip!
20 Aug:                Ruth’s birthday!
5-9 Sept:              Magambua IBM pastors’ conference
18-22 Sept:          Ruth teaching an English course at Sanga Sanga
25-30 Sept:          Mbeya IBM pastors’ conference
12-17 Oct:            AIM Tanzania conference in Dar es Salaam

There's always room for one more bag!
We’re praising God for a busy few months at Sanga, for safety on the roads, for plans that have come to fruition, for teaching that’s gone well, and for a great holiday with Mum & Dad.

We’re also thankful for our home church and band of faithful supporters who have enabled us to be here for four years now!  Yes, it really is that long!  On 11th July we celebrated our four year anniversary here in Tanzania.  Thank you to those who support us through prayer and finance.  We couldn’t do what we’re doing without your support.

Please pray for Steve as he continues to teach at the IBM conferences on the subject of Biblical leadership and moral integrity.  The next one starts on 2nd August.

Please pray for Ruth as she handles bookings at Sanga and manages the Retreat House staff.  Pray that we would be able to move forward into completing the conference centre build.  Things are certainly happening but on a slower basis, although we’re now in a position where we can use some of the rooms.

Please pray for us both as we host and lead the first ever Oak Hall Tanzania trip in August!  Obviously, we’d love for this trip to be a success and for the guests to go away having had a real taste of Africa and a taste of mission.

Please pray for us both (and our team mate Cath Swanson) as we continue to plan for the AIM Tanzania Conference in October.  We’re looking forward to welcoming a certain Bob Hunt as our speaker, and we’ve now got a children’s team all lined up!

As always, Dad needs help with his phone!
Visits from family and friends are wonderful but also tend to make us long for home—we sometimes wish we were going with them as we wave them off at the airport.  Pray that we will be fully focused on our calling to Morogoro and that our hearts and minds will be guarded by the One who called us.

Many thanks.

Steve & Ruth

29 April 2017

“Insects, Integrity & Israel”! (There’s a combination you don’t see too often!)

How's that for a gigantic leaf!
"Wake up and smell the coffee”!  It’s a phrase normally used to encourage someone to ‘get real’ about a situation but this morning it took on a more literal sense.  As I (Steve) sat down at my desk to scan the online news, a pesky mosquito managed to bite me four times!  And this one seemed to have it in for me, as it left extra-itchy bite marks!  The insecticide spray was quickly found and the hunt was on!  But in the process of moving my desk, the coffee cafetiere was knocked off and its contents splattered all over the tiled floor!  I guess I should be thankful we don’t have carpets here!  The wee beastie was eventually found and dispatched with determination – or is that ‘extermination’!?  Thus began my coffee-scented morning!

It’s the time of the year when insects of all shapes and sizes are plentiful and it can be a losing battle trying to keep them out of the house.  In addition to the insects, we also had to dispatch a small snake from the bathroom last week!  And this increase in creepy crawlies is all down to the fact that there’s been a humungous amount of rain here in Morogoro; so much so, that it even found its way into our kitchen through our roof!  The reddened dust has been dampened, the maize crops are reaching for the skies, the waterfalls are tumbling off the mountains behind us, and everywhere is a verdant green.  Temperatures are also dropping into the mid-20’s and some of the missionary folks can be heard uttering the words ‘It’s getting cold’ - hmmmm!

Conference season begins!  It’s also the time of the year when the IBM conference season is about to begin and yesterday marked a significant moment for me.  As you know, my main focus for the past three months has been the preparation of teaching material for this year’s pastors’ conferences - and yesterday, with a fair amount of relief and satisfaction, I was able to take my twelve teaching sessions to the printers! Actually, the relief was far more palpable than I expected it to be!  During the last sentence of translation with my language helper, as I pressed the ‘full-stop’ key on my laptop, I broke down and sobbed my eyes out!  Finally, it was ‘mission accomplished’!

Working hard with evangelist Yohana Dutuyi
I’ve been very conscious of people praying for me over these last few months, and am indebted to those who’ve been lifting this cause up to God.  During this time I’ve been praying a verse from the prayer of Moses in Psalm 90: “May the favour of the Lord rest upon us, and establish the work of our hands for us.”  In other words: “Lord, enable me in this process, and make my labours effective and enduring for your glory.”  And I’ve definitely felt blessed and strengthened during this time.  On a number of occasions, whilst lying in bed at night with strained eyes and an aching neck, I would pray that I would be strengthened beyond my natural self to continue the next day.  Low and behold, I was!  It was tangible, and I felt God at work through this process in a number of ways.  He also provided me with a wonderful translator to work with, who’s been such a blessing to me.  When the energy to move forwards has been flagging, he’s spurred me on, and together we’ve pondered God’s Word and chewed the spiritual cud!  So, a huge thank you to those who have prayed; I believe those prayers have been answered.

Our subject this year is: “show me a leader with moral integrity”, based on a book by a Tanzanian bishop. Amongst the things we’ll be focussing on are the following topics: a mini study of biblical leaders with integrity; the qualities of a leader with integrity; the example of Jesus; servant leadership; compassion in leadership; obedient leadership; and how we deal with temptations and conflict in the ministry.  With several recent negative reports concerning church leadership here in Tanzania, and with various church leadership elections around the corner, there’s a feeling that this is exactly the right topic for this year.

The first conference starts on Wednesday 3rd May, so I’ll be leaving home on Monday, to do battle with the roads, some of which will be rough and not-so-ready!  We’ll be based in a small town called Barazani in the north of the country and, as you’ll see from the map, it’s situated right at the top of Lake Eyasi in the Rift Valley, just below the Serengeti plateau and the Ngorongoro Crater.  Whilst I did visit Barazani seven years ago (when the lake was completely dry!), I haven’t been to the church where the conference will be held.  I’ve been told that “at least the church has a roof”, so it could be interesting!  The towns marked with a blue star are the locations of all the conferences that will be taking place over the next seven months.

What’s Ruth been up to?  Ruth has been busy over the last couple of months with various projects.  An English course for beginners in March went well, despite having students with a wide range of abilities.  Part of her teaching included learning two worship songs, some simple prayers and memorising Psalm 117.  Two of her students, one a nominal Christian and the other a nominal Muslim, asked for Bibles at the end of the course, which Ruth was delighted to give them.  Pray that Monika and Thabiti will read their new Bibles and come to know the Lord.  The Retreat Centre has been fairly busy with different guests and groups.  We are running three courses at the Centre in May and June is fully booked with a couple of children’s camps and we’re looking forward to welcoming a work team from our home church, Corsham Baptist!  Ruth will also be attending a retreat for AIM ladies in May which is being held on the south coast of Tanzania.  In spite of her busy schedule Ruth is finding time to attend one of AICT Morogoro’s home groups on a Wednesday afternoon.  It means that she is getting to know various members of the church a little better and it’s good practice for her Swahili.  In fact, during the prayer time Ruth has been asked to pray on several occasions – which is rather daunting and out of her comfort zone!

Stepping in the footsteps of Jesus – again! In early April, I was able to fit in a trip to Israel with Oak Hall. Flight timings and stopovers were not so friendly, but the privilege of showing people around this biblically significant land and treading in the footsteps of so many biblical characters, far outweighed the airport hang-abouts and blurry eyes!  Plus, the views from above weren’t too bad either!  Snow-covered mountains in Turkey, the Bosphorus Strait near Istanbul, the sprawling city of Cairo, the meandering Nile, the horn of East Africa, and the infamous city of Mogadishu!  The tour itself went very well, and it was great to see the guests taking in the sights and having their ‘wow’ moments as we opened our Bibles to reflect on events that happened over 2000 years ago and yet still have such an impact today.  We stayed in Jerusalem, Galilee, and Bethlehem and packed in as much as we could in the time available.

Steps up to the Huldah Gates - newer steps to the left,
original steps to the right
On one of our mornings in Jerusalem we visited the south end of the Temple Mount and looked up at the steps leading to the Huldah Gates, through which many a biblical pilgrim would have entered on their way up into the Temple area.  We imagined the early church congregation meeting under Solomon’s Portico, just above the gates, and we read about Jesus and his disciples entering the Temple.  Apparently, so too did the astronaut Neil Armstrong!  When he visited Israel sometime after his trip to the moon, he was taken to these gates (now blocked up) by an Israeli archaeologist.  Armstrong asked whether Jesus might have stepped anywhere around there and the archaeologist replied: “Well, being as Jesus was a Jew and these are the steps that lead to the Temple, he must have walked up them many times”.  Armstrong then asked whether the steps they were standing on were the original steps, and the archaeologist confirmed they were.  Armstrong, who was a devout Christian, pondered for a while and then said this: “I find that I am more excited stepping on these stones than I was when I stepped on the moon.”  Whilst I can’t make the same comparison with standing on the moon, I can certainly appreciate his excitement and I guess that’s one of the reasons why I never tire of visiting this fascinating land.

We’ve included some diary dates below, and would be grateful for your prayers as we enter a busy conference period.  Please pray that God would move in the lives of the pastors and evangelists, and that He would enable me to teach well, with a Swahili that is beyond my natural ability!!  Please pray that we’d also experience good health and safety as we travel.  And join with us in thanksgiving for the fact that our conference budget has been met for this year with a generous donation, and for the progress that continues to happen at Sanga Sanga.  Many thanks!

Steve & Ruth

Dates for the Diary:

1st-7th:       Steve to Barazani – IBM conference 3rd-5th
4th-9th:       Ruth to Kilwa for AIM Ladies Retreat
15th-19th:   Ruth teaching English course at Sanga Sanga
18th-20th:   Steve to Dar for unit leader meetings
27th-31st:   Steve to Nairobi for UL meetings/Ruth holidaying with a visiting

13th-18th:  Lindi (south) - 2nd IBM pastors’ conference
20th-30th:  Corsham Baptist team arrive to help out at Sanga

4th-6th:     Sanga Sanga - 3rd IBM pastors’ conference
7th-25th:   Ma & Pa Lancs come to visit!

1st-5th:    Ifakara - 4th IBM pastors’ conference

12 February 2017

'Deluxe' to Dar, sheds to warehouses, and light into darkness

Welcome to the warehouse church - started
18 months ago!
From “The Shed” to “The Warehouse”!  Last Sunday Ruth and I returned to AICT Dakawa - the ‘Shed’ Church - for the first time since last February.  However, there wasn’t much activity in the lean-to shed adjacent to the church leader’s house because the new partly-finished church building, just 100 yards away, is now in use.  Compared to the shed it feels like a cavernous warehouse, especially when there are only 30 people sitting inside!  There’s still work to be done (cementing the earthen floor, fitting the remaining window grilles and doors) but it’s testament to the dedication of the members that they are even at this stage, having only begun eighteen months ago!  Listening to the notices I worked out that their average weekly collection is about £5.50, so goodness knows how they’ve managed it!

How's that for a central aisle?!  Men on one side,
women on the other
The choir danced and sung, the generator spluttered outside, the microphone hummed, and the boy on the keyboard insisted on playing sound effects whenever the leader finished a sentence!  It was amusing at first but after 2.5 hours not so much!  From a preaching point of view there were certainly fewer distractions, although I might just miss those pesky cockerels which used to hang around ‘the shed’!  I preached in Swahili on the letter to the church at Ephesus from Revelation 2 where Jesus rebukes the church for having lost their first love – and so the focus turned to our love for the Lord, and for each other.  Putting it into practice is always the hard part but I did manage to shake hands with the boy on the keyboard afterwards!!

All 20 carriages of the deluxe Kigoma-Dar train
going at break-neck speed round a bend!
An adventure by rail!  I attended Unit Leader meetings in Nairobi in January and decided to do the first leg of my journey using a different mode of transport!  Despite a couple of raised eyebrows from colleagues here, I chose to travel from Morogoro to Dar by rail.  You may well question the raising of eyebrows at such a choice but when there’s only one ‘deluxe’ train a week that doesn’t guarantee delivering you to your destination on the same day, it becomes a bit more understandable.  It took me 6.5 hours, sitting in a surprisingly new and comfortable carriage, to travel 115 miles.  That means that the average speed was 18 mph!!  I had ample time to watch the Tanzanian world go by, even though it was accompanied by the monotonous drone of African rap music echoing down the carriage!  Still, it was much preferred to the alternative coach journey and it did take out the risk of getting stopped by the traffic police had I gone by car!

Two weeks later and the Deluxe derailed!
That being said, having mentioned the word ‘risk’, imagine my surprise just two weeks later to read in the newspaper that the very same train had derailed on its way to Dar!  Apparently the intense sun had buckled the rails and the driver, despite maxing out at 18 mph, hadn’t been able to stop in time!  So maybe there was some justification in those raised eyebrows after all!

An African Puff Adder, much like the one we
nearly stepped on!
Anyone for a stroll?!  For those who tend to get a bit wobbly when the word ‘snake’ is mentioned, avoid this paragraph!  During our New Year team retreat in the idyllic surrounds of Masumbo Camp, Iringa, the suggestion of a stroll to the river rapids sounded very non-threatening.  But this is Africa!  We enjoyed some bouldering as we clambered over the rocks near the half-empty river, but not before encountering a rather fattened Puff Adder!  We were walking single-file through the bush when, suddenly, I froze mid-stride because a few feet away, lying right next to the path, was a 3ft snake.  This is how Wikipedia describes it: “The African Puff Adder is responsible for causing the most snakebite fatalities in Africa.  It’s normally a sluggish species and relies on camouflage for protection, but as its Latin name implies, it can strike violently.  If disturbed they will hiss or puff loudly, adopting a tightly coiled defensive posture.  They may strike suddenly and at a high speed, to the side as easily as forwards.”  Well, it was indeed sluggish and camouflaged, but we were mighty thankful that we didn’t experience the rest of the description!  In fact, it didn’t move a muscle, except for its tongue which was busy sensing our whereabouts!  We backed up rather slowly, gave it a wide birth, and continued on our merry way, mindful of the fact that for many a rural African, such encounters don’t end as well as ours did.  The remainder of our retreat was spent talking and praying through team issues, relaxing in our little hobbit holes, and playing pickleball!  Ruth organized our New Year’s Eve celebration with party games, poetry and sparklers!  We closed our time together with a communion service, sitting around a campfire under the African stars accompanied by a gaggle of glow worms!

An African Hobbi hut at Masumbo!
Some of the team relieved to have survived the
snake encounter!
Power Encounters: One of the joys of being unit leader is that I hear about what happens in other ministries and locations around Tanzania.  Whilst I sometimes hear stories that make it seem that there’s not much visible fruit, I also hear stories that thrill the heart and reassure me that what we’re doing is certainly not in vain!  Over the last few months it does seem as though a few exciting things are beginning to happen in places considered to be ‘unreached’ with the gospel.  One particular team is rejoicing over a number of healings, a baptism in the sea, and a neighbour who came to Christ.  Another small team in a rural village is rejoicing that a guy, who asked them for a copy of the New Testament so that he could compare it with the writings of his religion, has now decided to give his life to Christ.  He’s since been baptised and has changed his name to reflect this!

Just a few weeks ago, I heard from another small team where ‘the light of the Gospel is beginning to shine and the Holy Spirit is at work.’  The team had only been in situ for a few weeks and was looking at ways to reach out into the community.  A number of students at a local primary school had been experiencing demonic attacks and their religious leaders had already ‘prayed’ for them, but with no result.  The team offered to pray for the students and, somewhat surprisingly, their offer was accepted!  When they arrived to pray there were 26 children in the classroom who had been suffering from these attacks!  The team was able to share the gospel and, during a mammoth three-hour prayer session, some of the students were delivered from demons!  God provided this incredible opportunity for this team and already there are signs that a number of people are keen to know more about Jesus.  Please pray for this ongoing situation and for the protection of the team as they continue to shine their light into what has been a very dark community.

Stories like these warm the heart don’t they?  They open our eyes, broaden the mind, deepen and refresh our faith, and even challenge some of our beliefs!  They encourage us to pray and they cause us to rejoice in a God who is still in the business of changing lives and moving powerfully against the enemy.  Despite the hiccups that we sometimes experience within the Church, it’s great to know that people are being introduced to the gospel, lives are being changed, disciples are being made, and His Church is being built and strengthened through a whole range of ministries.

Points for Prayer & Praise:

The conference centre at Sanga has certainly entered the final phase. Whilst there is still a lot of work to be done, most of the walls are now up and the place is a hive of activity as fundis work on the plastering and begin work on the interior. Building supervisor Matt and his family head off on home assignment in April, whilst Tony holds the reigns!

Ruth has been immersed in Sanga administration and end-of-year accounts and is also busy preparing to teach two English courses at Sanga in February and March.

Why throw it away when you can sew it up!
I’m trying to keep the travelling to a minimum during February and March so that I can concentrate on preparing teaching material for the IBM conferences which start in early May. The subject this year will be something along the lines of ‘Show me a leader with moral integrity’, and my hope is that much of that prep will be done before I head off to lead an Oak Hall Israel trip in April.

For those who also like to pray through our itinerary we’ve included some dates below.  Many, many thanks for your support and your prayers.

19th Feb:        Preaching at Morogoro AICT
20-24 Feb:      Ruth teaching English at Sanga
7-8 Mar:          Steve travels to Dar for UL meetings
27th-31st:       Ruth teaching English for beginners, at Sanga
2nd Apr:         AICT diocese-wide fundraising day for the conference centre at Sanga
3rd-13th Apr:  Steve to Israel
5th-8th May:   Ruth attending Tz Ladies Retreat (speaker: Kathy Larkman)

The bottle boys of Africa!  These guys walk the streets
collecting plastic bottles and in return they get the
equivalent of 13p for every kg collected!

Bird of the month - notice the pink eyelid!  It's an owl -
but what sort?