20 December 2019

Tanzania Touch-down!

It seems more than five weeks ago that we packed up our stuff and headed back here to Tanzania.  I’d been given the all-clear by the surgeon and was able to return with a new nose!  The operation went well and my sinuses were well and truly scrubbed up and scraped out!  As we touched down in Dar another delight awaited us!  In fact, we wondered whether we’d arrived in the right country!  We left Dar back in March from a rather grotty airport and arrived back at a brand new terminal building!  And this time, it was great to see all our luggage trundling around the gleaming new carousel!  It was also a bit of a surprise to have no issues at Immigration, so the system obviously acknowledged the recent renewal of our permits. 

As forecast in the last newsletter, the cars were indeed a lengthy job!  Peeling back the tarpaulins revealed that the insides of the cars were covered in a thick layer of mould!  In an effort to protect the outside of the cars, the insides had certainly suffered, so much so that we had to take the seats out to give them a thorough cleansing!  Rotting fuel (?!) also added to a fuel-filter issue and, although the engine compartments hadn’t become a nesting place for termites, rats or snakes, we did find a couple of rather large spiders hiding in there, one of which is still lurking somewhere amongst the spark plugs!  Thankfully, the house was in good condition and it didn’t take us long to get settled in.

On our return to Sanga Sanga, it was good to see the conference hall being used for a pastors’ conference and to hear that all but one scheduled seminar had taken place during the year.  It was also encouraging to see the AIC using the facilities for a children’s camp.  Thanks to our sending church, Corsham Baptist, it was great to see a new accommodation block rising out of the bush!  And, as a tree lover, it was fantastic to see that the team had been busy planting lots of trees and shrubs around the site.



Since our return Ruth has been spending hours with her head in the cash books, sorting out vouchers and receipts from the last eight months and playing the detective in trying to work out what came from which budget etc!  It’s consumed her every waking thought (and some night-time thoughts as well!) but headway is being made slowly.  My efforts have been focussed more on unit leadership matters, which has meant more time behind the mouldy steering wheel as I visited various missionaries in the unit.   
 
“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas everywhere you go”?! 
As I wandered the aisles of a supermarket in Dar the other day, this was one of many Christmas songs being played.  It all seemed a bit surreal and disconnected from life outside.  In fact, here in Morogoro, there are only a few small shops that are remotely Christmassy and it’s rather ironic that those shops belong to Muslims!  I pondered some of the words of these so-called Christmas classics and wondered what Tanzanians make of them.  After all, reindeers and sleigh bells, mulled wine and mince pies, snowy Christmas-card scenes and Santa, carolling and Christmas cake don’t quite fit into an African culture!  Thankfully, there’s more to Christmas than some of these western traditions! 

The situation I found myself in 24 hours earlier was even further removed from the title of that song!  As part of my role as unit leader, I was visiting a team of AIM missionaries out in the bush who are living amongst an unreached Muslim people group - and it certainly didn’t feel anything like Christmas there!  The rutted red-mudded ‘road’ was a bit of a challenge for the Subaru but it led me to a village of mud huts and mud-bricked houses.  The heat was intense, the cicadas buzzed in the trees, and a family sat on the ground under some trees, whilst bare-bottomed toddlers toddled around!  One of the recent buildings is a small school which was built by an AIC church and the team.  Providing education has definitely been a gateway for the gospel here, where teaching the Bible is part of the curriculum.  Twenty five children have made it through the first year of education and there are some encouraging tales of the gospel rubbing off on some of these little ones. 

You might remember a rather different Christmas song released back in 1984 (35 years ago!) which contained the words “Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?”  Well, here in this off-the-beaten-track Tanzanian village, they definitely do!  They’ve heard the real Christmas message, without having to wade through wrapping paper and tinsel to hear about Jesus.  Thanks to this team, this group of people has heard the real and relevant message of God’s son “putting on skin” and descending into humanity for the most dramatic and sacrificial rescue mission of all time!  As you pray for people around you this Christmas who don’t yet know Christ, please also spare a prayer for this team and the villagers they’re trying to reach with the gospel. 

Christmas will be different for us this year as we’re heading to Uganda to spend some time with our former team-mates, Tony & Cath Swanson.  At some point during those festivities we’re also hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive Shoebill, which I realise might not mean much to many of you, or even be top of your Christmas wish list, but it’s one of those ‘must see’ birds in the African birding world!  For those trying to picture it, just think of a large bird with a shoe-like bill!  Soon after New Year, we’ll be heading to the cooler climes of Nairobi for unit leader meetings.  So all in all, a festive period that will involve quite a bit of travel, some of it for pleasure and some for ministry.  

As we close up a memorable year, we’d like to take the opportunity to thank those of you who support us prayerfully and financially.  We couldn’t do our work here in Tanzania without you – so many, many thanks to you all.  Whatever you’re up to for Christmas and New Year, have a truly blessed time!  “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 15:13).      

Diary Dates: 

23-30 Dec: Christmas in Uganda
5-11 Jan: Nairobi (Unit Leader meetings) 
Jan-March: Steve prepares teaching material for 2020 conferences

Prayer & Praise Points: 
  • We’re thanking God for a safe return and for the fact that we’re fully supported.
  • Please pray for Steve as he begins his teaching preparation for the seminars in 2020.
  • Pray for Ruth as she wades through the accounts, checking and correcting.
  • Please pray for an accountant to be employed at Sanga, sooner rather than later! 
  • Please pray for Steve and his health.  Whilst the sinus operation was very much needed, it has now become obvious that the sinuses weren’t the real cause of headaches and dizziness.  They still exist, along with the insomnia. The sleep tank is pretty empty!  

Bird of the month:
Long-crested Eagle







19 October 2019

Permits & Polyps - Delays & Deferrals!

We all know that feeling don’t we? That feeling of relief when your luggage finally appears on the carousel!  Some of us have also experienced the other feeling - that anxious and annoyed feeling when the carousel comes to a grinding halt and your luggage hasn’t appeared!  When we returned from Tanzania back in March, we experienced the latter feeling and had to wait 5 days for our luggage to arrive, all the way from……. Amsterdam!  Our home assignment started with a delay and it certainly seems to be ending with a delay….or two!  First of all there was the issue of our residents permits not being ready for our scheduled return in September.  And then just a few weeks ago (following a delay in getting my CT scan results) it was decided I needed sinus surgery to remove polyps, and so this has resulted in a further delay in our return!  So, until 17th November, we’re still very much based in UK.      

UK based: the past seven months. You may just about remember that in our last update (nearly 8 months ago!) we listed 20 things that we were looking forward to during our home assignment.  Whilst I could wax lyrical about the whole list, you’ll be pleased to know that I’ve only chosen 8 things from that list as a way of reporting back on what’s been happening. 


Overlooking Nazareth
Visiting Israel. I’ve had the pleasure of leading two Oak Hall trips to Israel/Palestine, one of them with Ruth as my co-leader!  Maybe I’ve said this before (!?) but to teach from God’s Word in the place where it all happened provides a real buzz!  And these trips are often eye-openers for the guests.  You can begin to imagine Hezekiah’s men chiselling their way through bedrock as you wade through his tunnel underneath David’s City!  You can picture Jesus weeping over Jerusalem as you descend the Mount of Olives, and, as you mingle with the crowds in the bazaars in the old city, it’s easy to visualise what a busy Passover festival would have been like.  And then, when you sail on the Sea of Galilee or sit on the shore, you can almost hear the words of Jesus as he teaches the crowds or stills the storm.  And so I could go on! 
Steve waxing lyrical overlooking the Dead Sea

Running in cooler climes. We both enjoyed running the country lanes of Wiltshire in preparation for the Nairn half marathon in August.  My time of 1hr 58 mins over 13 miles was slightly faster than Eliud Kipchoge managed in Vienna last weekend, although it might be fair to point out that the professional Kenyan runner covered twice the distance in that time!!
Here we are with bro Lancs and Kerri.
90th birthday tea!


Spending quality time with family and friends. It’s been great to catch up with family and we’ve enjoyed some top times together!  We were able to see Steve’s youngest sister and her family for the first time in six years, and had the privilege of doing a mini-preach at my Grandad’s funeral back in July – just a month after his 97th birthday!  There have also been some awesome family holidays in Scotland to add to the memory bank.  Ruth enjoyed being able to celebrate her parents’ birthdays in September and October – Mum was 90 and Dad was 89. 

Food variety. Bring out the pork pies!  And that could be the reason I’ve put on 7kgs (1 stone)!  We’ve enjoyed being able to eat salads without having to bleach them beforehand, and, as a bread fan, I’ve enjoyed eating some of the 20+ different varieties currently found in Morrison’s!  In Morogoro, brown bread is a relatively recent addition.   

Driving on smooth roads where most people adhere to the highway code!  I realise that some of you will question my judgement on this one, but I’ve found driving in the UK to be relatively relaxing!  I’ve been amazed that drivers actually let you out at junctions!  It also makes a nice change not to see police jumping out of bushes with a tampered speed camera in hand!    


The mighty Schilthorn


Skiing. What better way to unwind from the heat of Tanzania than to head to the Swiss Alps?!  We enjoyed a great Oak Hall skiing trip for five days back in March.  Somehow we covered 199 miles in distance and skied 170,000 vertical feet – although not all in one drop!  For those familiar with the Jungfrau ski area, I also managed 58mph on the wall of death; still shaking!!

Climbing a mountain or two. Definitely delivered on this one!  A number of minor Lakeland summits plus the Welsh summit of Snowdon were climbed.  We were also able to stand on the same mountain on which Moses stood (Mt Nebo) as he looked across from Moab (modern-day Jordan) into the Promised Land.  The view from Mt Masada (Israel) is also said to be one of the finest in the Middle East, although it’s more of a cable-car ride than a climb!  And during the Oak Hall Iceland trip that I spoke on, we stayed just a few miles away from the volcano that caused so much trouble back in 2010 - the one that no one outside of Iceland can really pronounce: Eyafjallajokul!     


Cycling the Hebrides. What a week up in the southern Hebrides in July!  Along with some of the family, we cycled 95 miles on the islands of Barra, Eriskay, South and North Uist, Benbecula and Berneray.  Fantastic beaches, stunning scenery, and some quality birding: lots of short-eared owl and hen harriers, plus white-tailed eagle and snipe.  








Not being at the mechanics on a weekly basis! We’ve managed to put 13,000 miles on the ‘little red blimp’ (mums car!), and apart from a standard service, we haven’t had to see a mechanic!    


Being at our home church. We’re blessed to have a supportive church behind us (Corsham Baptist) who not only support us financially and prayerfully, but also send out teams to help at Sanga Sanga and at various AIM conferences - so we feel the connection is pretty strong!  We’re also blessed to be fully supported so we haven’t had the added stress of having to raise funds while at home.  I was asked to do the Bible teaching at our church weekend back in June and was given four 1 hour slots to focus on the Upper Room chapters in John’s Gospel.  Not sure about the folks there, but I very much enjoyed having quality time to preach in English!  We’ve also presented at a number of other churches in Liverpool, Lincoln, Carlisle and Chippenham, and I’ve been able to preach/teach on 30 occasions, including at the AIM Fellowship Conference in London and a warehouse church in Iceland!      


Steve teaching the Word at the AIM Fellowship Conference in September

Delays & Deferrals are plentiful in the Bible!  Think about Jacob waiting to marry Rachel for 14 years!  What about the Israelites who took 40 years to enter the Promised Land when it could have taken them less than 3 weeks; that’s a huge delay!  The Apostle Paul was ‘delayed’ in Caesarea for two years sitting about waiting for his trial to happen.  Elisha was anointed Elijah’s successor but then had to wait 7 years for Elijah’s chariot to appear so that he could become Israel’s main prophet!  Jesus himself chose to delay for a few days on hearing about Lazarus.  And according to Daniel 10 even angels sometimes get delayed in their duties! 


One of the passages that I preached on recently involves a delay, albeit a slightly shorter delay than the ones mentioned above!  Mark 6:47 says, “When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and Jesus was alone on the land.  He saw the disciples straining at the oars because the wind was against them.”  We are told in the next verse that Jesus went out to them, walking on the water, during the 4th watch of the night (3-6am).  The disciples had been on the lake since late the previous afternoon, wrestling with the wind and battling with the waves. They were still in that position 10-12 hours later!  And yet remember, Jesus had seen them straining at the oars the previous evening!  He knew about their situation and the ordeal that they were facing but he chose not to come to their aid immediately.  Jesus chose to delay his rescue operation!  Why did he wait until the 4th watch of the night?  We simply don’t know.  Maybe the disciples asked that same question!  


Steve & Ruth with a calm Galilee in the background
There are some delays in our lives that work well for us and, as we look back on them, we can see a clear reason for the delay. We can even thank God for the delay because in His sovereignty He works these things out and knows what’s best for us. There are, however, other delays which are painful to bear and we long for God to remove them - we just can't see any logic in the delay. In fact it feels as though we’ve been sitting in our storm-tossed boat for too long, crying out for God to intervene, but He seems to delay in coming to our aid. 

Be assured, the Almighty God sees you straining at your oars and, at His appointed time, He will come to your aid.  Somehow, in the midst of the delay, He is working His purposes out for your life.  It is during the delays, some of which can be quite stormy, that God teaches us about Himself.  He calls us to trust Him through the delays and through the storms.  Indeed, without the delays, stresses, trials, and even failures, we would never grow to be what we should become as Christians.  They are a vital part in our spiritual growth, even though at the time, we might not like or appreciate them.  Father God, grant us grace and patience to face the various delays that You, in Your sovereignty, have allowed to happen. 

Onwards and southwards! Hopefully, if all goes to plan in the nasal department, we’ll be flying back to Tanzania on Sunday 17th Nov to begin our third and final term at Sanga Sanga (2 years).  Ruth will continue to work closely with Pastor Batano in the management of IBM & Sanga (bookings, admin and finance), and I’ll continue in my role as a Bible teacher amongst the pastors and evangelists of the AIC.  I will also continue as AIM unit leader for Tanzania East.  When we get back we’ll be returning to the same house in Morogoro, and hoping that our night guards haven’t moved in during our absence!  One of the first lengthy jobs will be to get the cars started, whilst hoping that the engine compartments haven’t become a nesting place for termites, rats or snakes!  One of the cars also needs some new brake disks, which I’m told can’t be obtained in Tanzania, and so packing that 14kgs of steel into our suitcases is going to be a bit of a challenge! 

It will also be quite strange returning to Morogoro without the Swansons or the Dixons being there, but we’re looking forward to working with our new team-mates (Joel & Lauren Wildasin), who arrived back in May and seem to have got their feet firmly under what was the Swansons’ dining table!  So, onwards and southwards we go, back to the mighty continent of Africa, and in His strength we’ll carry on the work that He’s given us to do for this next chapter.  We’re fully aware that “there is nothing in us that allows us to claim that we are capable of doing this work” but we know that “the capacity we have comes from God” (2 Cor 3:4). And so we commit ourselves to Him and ask that He would use us mightily for His purposes, despite our weaknesses and our ‘jars of clay’ fragility!     

Praise & Prayer Points: 

  • We’re certainly praising God for a top quality home assignment!  We’ve been able to do everything that we planned - and more!  We’ve also been bowled-over with how generous people have been towards us and our ministry – from a cottage, to a car; from a holiday, to various gifts and meals along the way.  You know who you are!  Many thanks to you, and of course, to the Ultimate Giver for His provision!
  • Please pray for Steve and a number of health issues he’s facing; that the sinus operation would go well on Weds 23rd Oct and that the ongoing stomach issue (functional dyspepsia) would somehow settle down!         
  • Please pray for us as we return on Sun 17th Nov; that we would be able to pick up where we left off; for good relationships with our new team mates; for strength and stamina as we get back into the Tanzanian flow; and for safety on the roads and in the home.
  • Please pray for the continued work at Sanga Sanga, and amongst the pastors and evangelists of the AIC church with whom we work.  Pray that I may proclaim God’s Word clearly whenever I have the opportunity. 
  • Whilst we think this next chapter is for a two year period, we don’t know what’s in the pipeline after that.  We don’t need to know right now, and we know that God has a plan for the next phase, but we’d value prayer as we keep our spiritual eyes and ears open for what He may be saying to us during this next two years.    

Every blessing,

Steve & Ruth

Bird of the month: Short-eared Owl, North Uist

Sunset in the Hebrides


17 February 2019

“We’re leaving on a jet plane”

Back in February 2016 the title of our pre-home assignment newsletter was taken from a John Denver song: “Take me home pot-holed roads”! Three years on and it’s another one of his songs. We are indeed “leaving on a jet plane” after completing our second term in Tanzania. On the morning of 7th March you can expect me (Steve) to be humming JD’s words: “All my bags are packed and I’m ready to go; the taxi’s waiting, he’s blowing his horn”, although I won’t be able to sing along with the words, “I hate to go”, because I’m very much looking forward to heading home! In fact we both are.

In February 2016 I referred to the first home assignment (furlough) of a certain missionary explorer that you may just have heard of! And so it seems fitting to refer to Mr Livingstone as he prepared for his second home assignment! His first stint in Africa lasted a whole 15 years but he decided to take his second home assignment after only 8 years of trudging around Africa! During that time he ‘discovered’ Lake Nyassa in Malawi, buried his wife in Mozambique, encountered the ‘wretchedness’ of the slave trade, and sailed a small boat 2500 miles from Zanzibar to Bombay in 45 days! Having then sold his boat, he got back on another one and headed home for England. He arrived in London to find that not one member of his family had come to meet him, and so he ended up having dinner with the Prime minister instead! It had been an extremely tough term for him. He wrote in his journal: “Due to the failure of our recent mission all my work seems in vain. Am I to be cut off before I can do anything to effect permanent improvement in Africa? I have been unprofitable enough….”

Well, as we prepare for our second home assignment, I can assure you we’re not feeling as low as Livingstone was! Whatever hurdles and hardships we’ve had to deal with can in no way be compared to what DL had to endure, although we both admit that this term seems to have been tougher than our first one. I’ve struggled with illness for the past 10 months (sinusitis and gastritis) and we’ve both had bouts of what they call “culture fatigue”, although which missionary hasn’t experienced this?! Sadly I’ve had to deal with a disciplinary matter concerning a Tanzanian pastor who had been a close friend and, just a few weeks ago our ‘guard’ dog died, a faithful companion who really enabled Ruth to settle here in Tanzania. Ruth has also felt the burden of various responsibilities more this term. All that to say, we’re ready to get on that jet plane and we’re thankful for the fact that we can be home in 12 hours!

However, and it is a big ‘however’, we do have much to praise God for! Many positive things have happened during this second term – so here goes! I’ve driven over 50,000 km without accident or breakdown. We’ve seen the Conference Centre grow to its completion with the facilities being well-used by various groups. I’ve preached or taught over 160 times, mainly to Tanzanian pastors & leaders, and had a go at my first Swahili commentary! Ruth has dealt with over 80 bookings at Sanga with over 2600 people staying there, taught several English courses, and she’s also processed donations for work at Sanga totalling 507 million shillings (£170,000)!

We’ve also had the pleasure of introducing family members to Tanzania, as well as a number of church teams and Oak Hall groups. It was also heartening to hear that a number of those Oak Hall folks have gone on to invest further in mission. So, whilst we travel home with jaded eagerness (!) we’re counting our blessings, and we’re thankful for what God has gifted us to do. As I mentioned in our last newsletter, using the words of Paul in 2 Cor. 3: 5 & 8: “There is nothing in us that allows us to claim that we are capable of doing this work, for the capacity we have comes from God alone”. And one of Ruth’s favourite verses, Isaiah 26:12: “Lord, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished You have done for us.”


Over the next six months we’ll be spending time with our home church in Corsham, meeting up with family members, some of whom we’ve never met before, and talking to folks about the work we’ve been involved in. I’ll be doing some Bible teaching on a number of Oak Hall trips, and we’re hoping to get away for a few breaks, one of which will hopefully see me celebrate a significant birthday! Among the more routine matters that need attending to will be visits to doctors, dentists and opticians, preparing presentations and sermons, sorting out tax and pension issues, and having a debrief at AIM’s HQ in Nottingham. At some point along the way, we hope to be able to see many of you, so that we can say a personal “THANK YOU” to those who have supported us. Without the financial and prayerful support of many of you, we simply couldn’t do what we’ve done – so “ASANTE SANA” for your backing and for lifting us up to the throne room of the Almighty! A privilege indeed.

The last few months…. As well as dealing with bookings and the finances of Sanga, Ruth has spent a lot of time training up an AIC pastor to look after the accounts. Fortunately, he’s not just a pastor but a qualified accountant! Praise God for this provision. Whilst on the subject of the AIC (Africa Inland Church) we were recently very encouraged to see a clip of the General Secretary addressing the Tanzanian President on TV. Once in a while various church denominations get the opportunity to make requests to the President, and one of the requests that our AIC guy raised was whether it would be possible for missionaries not to have to pay for work permits! At $500 a time, we’re hoping for a positive result!

In terms of recent preaching appointments, I’ve formed firm friendships with a number of local churches. The AIC church at Kihonda meets in a dilapidated school classroom on the edge of town, and for that privilege they get to pay £17 per month in rent! Thankfully there’s no electricity! It means there are no microphones or sound systems to damage the eardrums! The singing is great and it’s from the heart. The d├ęcor is also interesting! They decorate the front of the dusty classroom with brightly coloured material and stick a couple of yucca plants in the corner wrapped in plastic bags! They also wrap up the pulpit as if it were a Christmas present! At the end of the service everyone files out whilst singing with the added benefit that you get to shake every sweaty hand along the way! Apart from the dive-bombing sparrows that target the gaudy pulpit, I’m always encouraged when I preach there, because the percentage of note-takers outnumbers those who don’t! They’re keen to study the Word, and that’s always an encouragement to the preacher.

The folks at AICT Kihonda

AICT Kiloka
One of the other churches we sometimes visit is out in the bush at a place called Kiloka, although it could be Kiroka! We never quite know due to the problem many Tanzanians have with their L’s and R’s! The AIC church at Kiloka is led by a man called Francis who is actually one of our trusty workers at Sanga – even though it’s an hour’s journey from Sanga to Kiloka! I’m not sure I’ve ever met such a godly, committed, smiley evangelist during my time in Tanzania. Just a few weeks ago, I was preaching to the small congregation there and was able to give out Bibles thanks to a monetary gift from someone who had read about the church in one of AIM’s publications. Other gifts have also meant that the church had a makeover a few months ago. In fact it was more like a rebuild due to the fact that the cracks in the bowed walls were getting bigger! Whilst it can be a bit of a challenge getting to the church, it’s always well worth it and we come away feeling blessed at their generous welcome, often shown with a big bunch of bananas! The church provides a small glimmer of gospel light in an otherwise dark community where Islam rules, and we pray that this small gathering would be protected and blessed as they witness for Christ there.



20 things we’re looking forward to on HA!The cold! No mosquitoes! Visiting Israel. Being spiritually fed. Running in cooler climes. Spending quality time with family & friends. Watching Carlisle United get promotion?! Not battling with Swahili! Enjoying long summer evenings. Food variety. Driving on smooth roads where most people adhere to the highway code! Playing golf on greens. Skiing. Climbing a mountain or two. Going to the chippie! Not having ants crawling around the kitchen! Cycling the Hebrides. Not being at the mechanics on a weekly basis! Not being stared at! Being at our home church.

Prayer Points:

  • Please pray for us as we aim to finish well and handover our various responsibilities. Pray in particular for Pastor Heri Ruma who will be looking after the accounts. Pray that our home assignment would be a time of refreshment, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

  • Please pray for our teammates Matt and Amy Dixon as they will be the only missionaries left at Sanga, at least until May when we have another family joining.
    Please pray for stomach healing for Steve! Recently diagnosed with gastritis and duodenitis.

  • Please pray for the two K churches; Kihonda & Kiloka. Pray that the Kiloka folks would be protected as they live out their faith, and for the Kihonda church which is currently leaderless as their pastor recently went to Bible College!
Every blessing and see you soon!

Steve & Ruth

Yikes!

Found this magnificent creature on Steve's shoe -
a praying mantis