21 June 2007

Welcome to Seabus 1

Well well well. The trip to Zanzibar was pretty incredible...I decided that it's a good thing that my friends are spontaneous and adventurous, because otherwise I'd be missing out on a lot of fun experiences and beautiful sights. We were able to take trip to Zanzibar courtesy of Blair's mom. It was a generous and wonderful gift, and we really needed the rest.

We took a short flight from Dar Es Salaam to Zanzibar at the last minute on Saturday evening. We ended up flying 20 minutes over the ocean just as the sun was setting. It was incredible and beautiful. We spent two days gettng lost in Stone Town's meandering alleys. I thought I had a good sense of direction until I went there--I must have done the same circle three times in one day. That place is mysterious and wonderful. We also got to spend one day on the beach, which was great.

The best and worst part was definitely the memorable journey on Seabus 1, the ferry back from Zanzibar to Dar. We did some running around town in the morning and made the ferry at noon. The water has been very choppy because it's the end of rainy season, but really we had no idea how bad it could be. The ferry was like a huge yacht thing, and we spent 5 bucks more to be upstairs in the AC part rather than with the live chickens. The boat started out and it is a two hour journey. I was content watching some kind of Jean Claude Van Dam movie where he was busting things up in Thailand. It was very dramatic and entertaning. Shortly thereafter though, people started utilizing their little black plastic bags that were actually labled "sick bag".

I have learned new things about the severity of my stubbornness and think I will forever be changed because of this boat ride. When the man was handing out these nice bags, I refused, thinking: If I take a bag, that means I will be admitting that I don't feel so good. I refused the bag, put on my headphones to drown out the sounds of other passengers who had started wretching, and looked out the window practicing deep breathing exercises. My lips were pressed tight together. My plan was working.

About 15 minutes into the ride, my poor companion Blair was the color of something...je ne sais quoi....not human. She got up from her seat to go out for air, and to not be sick in front of me. I continued to be passably ok for the next 10 minutes or so, all the while thinking that if I concentrated hard enough, I would not be sick. Then, I turned around to look back and find Blair because I was rather worried. As I turned forward again, it was the last straw. Not having the sick bag, I covered my mouth and leaned over toward the wall. Yes. Vomit. All over my left leg and down the wall, on my hands. This is quite humiliating, but I tell this story because even as I was crying from the disgust of sitting in this plastic seat on Seabus 1 with puke all over my hands, Blair sat back down and saw the state I was in. We both started laughing rather uncontrollably. I think people thought we were fully crazy. It was so funny and so awful...everyone being so sick, the smell of their sickness, my own re-lunch wafting up toward me every instant as I continued to fight the nausea.

Blair was sweet. She retrieved an anti-bacterial wipe for me, and sat next to me even though I smelled like vomit. Now that's a real friend.

It was just so funny. Welcome to Seabus 1. Welcome to puke-fest 2007. Seriously, I don't know if I will ever ride a ferry again. Perhaps I will. But for sure, I will be taking one of those sick bags.

We had more adventures getting from Dar back to Morogoro. We missed the last Hood bus (which are the big busses) and crammed into a packed bus that was not much bigger than a mini-van. Blair defended my honor by telling some over-friendly young men who were asking about my boyfriends (since I didn't have a husband) that I was married to Jesus, and I think maybe that I was a nun. They were much more polite, stopped touching my hair and gave me personal space after that, which was nice. We arrived back in Morogoro last night at 10:30 pm glad to be alive (these buses are known to pass on blind curves, and at one point there was a fight about fares, and people hanging off the outside as we drove along at 30 miles an hour) and thankful for little things, like showers and clean sheets. It really puts things in perspective to be covered in vomit.

Today being back and seeing the facilitators smiling faces and warm greetings was even better than vacation. I am starting to realize that I have to say goodbye to them in a few days, and that is sad. I'm praying for the next few days to be a blessing for the Arusha seminar participants (who are coming here to Morogoro for the workshop....no travel until next Thurs. when we return to fly out of Dar) and for those of us working together to serve them. God is good.

11 June 2007

Seminar complete

We closed the seminar last night in a flurry of certificates and chaos. There were dramas and songs, there was a feeling of tiredness, but also brotherhood, unity, accomplishment. There were things that we’d planned that didn’t get done or said, but more importantly God brought to the forefront some other issues that were completely necessary and met great needs that we hadn’t even known about. One unexpected issue that was addressed was that men are not attending church, are not being ministered to. There was study of scripture about what it means for men to be Godly leaders in their homes and churches and communities, and several participants left feeling called to begin to teach and encourage men in Christ-centered leadership and nurture their spiritual growth in small groups within their parishes.

In all, it felt like the Holy Spirit was guiding and leading, that people were touched, that they were thankful and convicted. I personally learned more than I can begin to articulate about the dynamic of the body of Christ coming together to search out and encourage one another about following Christ, ministry, and being messengers of healing in the midst of fear and suffering. And how to even begin to grasp or practically live within the hope we have in Christ in the face of such a disease? We need guidance and humility; we need faith.

One of the small groups shared the song they had composed:
“If we go to the mountains, we will not escape.
If we go to the good doctors, we will not escape.
If we go to the clinics, we will not escape.
We ask: Lord, have mercy on us.”

I had to make an effort to not fall apart as they shared these songs. It was humbling and moving. I turned to a friend and told him that I think Tanzanians are some of the best people. As I stood in the back watching these new friends, the words of a song (I think it is Kirk Ward’s) were in my head as a prayer: “Restore us, O Lord Almighty. Make your face shine upon us. Restore us that we may be saved.”

It has been overwhelming to begin to hear the stories beneath the stories about AIDS. The published infection rate for Tanzania is at about 7%. But talking with Rachel Tarling, the doctor in Mpwapwa who has built the birthing center, we found out that it is much, frighteningly, higher. They have received blood donations for their center which have to be screened for use. They said that among those who donate, the numbers are probably closer to 30% that come back HIV+.

There are many laws protecting those who may be infected, so from what I understand, people cannot be told that they have tested positive unless they ask. A guest speaker came to share with us in the seminar about voluntary testing and counseling—urging the people who have been under a blanket of silence, terror, suspicion, and denial—to be counseled, and then tested. He understands the importance of counseling before you even test, understands that these who feel they have received their death sentence must have some idea of how to pick up and continue on, how to tell their families, how to live with and combat the disease that will eventually ravage their body.

Lord have mercy. Bwana uwe na rehema. My heart grieves.

There is mourning in the hearts of these gentle, friendly and joyful people. As I spend just a few weeks here, standing with, learning from and walking among those who have lost friends and family, among some who may themselves be infected, the word of God comes to my mind for this broken part of the body of Christ. It must be our hope here and in the brothels of Calcutta, and in the streets of Nepal, and in the homeless shelters of St. Louis, and in the cosmopolitan streets of New York where others face the affects of AIDS on their lives:

Jesus said to her: “I am the resurrection and the life.
He who believes in me will live, even though he dies:
and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
(John 11:25&26)

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
(Lamentations 3:22&23)

I called on your name, O Lord, from the depths of the pit.
You heard my plea: “Do not close your ears to my cry for relief.”
You came near when I called you, and you said, “Do not fear.”
(Lamentations 3:55-57)

Have mercy on me, O God,
have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge.
I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings
until the disaster has passed.
(Psalm 57:1)

and, courtesy of the chaplain of CTS library:

The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble.
He knows those who take refuge in Him.
(Nahum 1:7)

taste and see

We are at the church property, which is a collection of classrooms and offices, a school and a sanctuary arranged around a yard and one large tree, which we shelter under as people slowly arrive. It has been raining all morning here, and I am learning to practice the word “mvua.” I see children walking past with umbrellas that look like giant lollipops, and a man riding a bicycle outside the gate, sitting perfectly upright with an umbrella in one steady hand.

Later, after hours of meetings and translation about the upcoming seminar, I find myself unable pay attention. We hear the students released from classes at midday break and about a hundred four year olds come bouncing out into the church yard in their blue school uniforms laughing and dancing outside our windows. One of the church officers who is a year away from retirement seems to be as distracted as I am. He is most delighted by the fact that chai has arrived. It is served with milk and sugar, and we each receive two small homemade packets of sugared & roasted peanuts. He eats them one by one from the bag, closing his eyes as content as a lion lazing in the sunshine, and I half expect him to begin to purr. When he finishes the tea and snacks, he dozes a bit, contentedly, and sniffs awake to resume note-taking. He is old, gentle, pastoral and personable, which I decide is a winning combination. I am smitten in a way and think that if I had had a different life, one in this far away country, he could have been my grandfather.

In the church sanctuary across the courtyard, the choir practices music for a wedding that will take place tomorrow. The joyful music pours in the windows, creating further distraction. The rain stops and the sun comes out strong and bright, making the trees glisten, making the room begin to feel steamy and sleepy. We yawn and stretch, continuing to hear reports from parish leaders. There are small groups collecting money for soap and nutritious food for orphans and widows, for those dying of a disease that has many euphemisims and many victims. I am humbled by the reports of these faithful ones who have so little to begin with, who cannot afford to feed their own famililies and yet continue in obedience, in sacrifice, in faithfulness, in love.

Give us this day.

As the clouds roll out over the mountains behind us, the powerful sun starts to make dust and ruts of the red dirt in the courtyard. I think of the muddy roads we took to visit some new friends in the village last week who are the hands and feet of the ministry reports we’ve been hearing. Travel on these roads is arduous, but nothing compared to the labor that people who live in the remote villages perform several times each day just to carry water from the river to their homes, to chop fire wood, to harvest their fields of maize and sweet potatoes, to visit the sick, to go to small group.

We are out of touch. Sometimes it feels as if the heaviness of all of these burdens together in one place should send the earth spinning off into some new orbit. We are closer to the sun here—I burn, I shield my eyes. I feel the need to ask for re-centering, for strength to hear the struggles and injustices, for wisdom. I pray to the only one who promises these things.

Later in the week at the beginning of one of the workshop sessions, Bernard said to me: “Have you noticed something about the people here?”

“Yes,” I said, “They love to sing.”

Everyone in the meeting hall stands, and a quiet rhythm finds its way out of these same feet and hands who carry the compassion and love of Christ to the suffering. Faith leads a song and her whole face lights up—“Lord, you are our home”—she sings out, and raises her eyebrows as all respond. Dennis, the pastor on our team, is in front smiling and clapping, doing his own little swaying dance. He has been in seminary in St. Louis, away from his wife and children, from his brothers and sisters, away from beautiful, simple, familiar songs. He is clearly thankful to be back in the midst of these joyous harmonies, surrounded by the warmth and gentleness that seem to be the most ready demeanors here.

I listen to the song—the Swahili words which I am just begining to understand—the idea which is elusive and obvious, frightening and reassuring all at the same time: Lord, you are our home. My feet begin to shuffle out the rhythm. I look at Faith and Dennis, Naomi, Sedock, Octavian, baby Harriet. I think: As much as I feel ill-equipped, afraid, overwhelmed, and full of disbelief, this is what faith means: to take one step, and then another. To not take them alone. To give praise to the one who holds all of us in his mighty hands. And to remember my home.

09 June 2007

Morogoro Seminar

Been a bit too busy to email and update, but things are going well here. Today is the last day of sessions during the first workshop. Tomorrow we will have a big ceremony at the church and a celebration meal. Overall, I have been having a hard but wonderful time. I'll have to share some more reflections when I can go to a cafe to hook up my laptop.

It has been an interesting few days in my mind of cultures clashing--that is the culture of God's kingdom vs the culture of man. We've talked a lot about how we cannot change without the Holy Spirit helping us, but that requires surrender. When it comes down to it, we all have idolatry of the heart in one way or another, and have to wrestle with why we continue doing things that hurt us, why we choose sin when deep down we know God's way is safer, healthier, better in every way??

I have a billion things floating around my mind right now. I'm thinking about how amazing it is to see the Peacemaking curriculum applied to the issues of stigma with AIDS (kristin, beth, sarah--I want to talk to you so bad!! You're going to love this!). I'm thinking that it is astounding to hear that the G8 summit decided on $60 billion worth of aid for Africa to deal with AIDS, tb and malaria. I'm thinking about how political the issue of AIDS is--how little the people in the villages actually see of the aid money, how much of it is lost in bureaucracy and programs that distribute condoms, but don't deal with heart issues, deal with the unspoken aspects of the disease. God, give us wisdom.

On another note, the people here have been a blessing as I begin to know them even a little bit. I have more thoughts on that, but it will have to wait.

Pictures coming, hopefully.

03 June 2007


So the workshop is getting off to a start today. It has a been busy few days for us arranging the order of seminars and doing running around to get things ready.

Sorry no pictures yet...had some uploaded and tried to email, but after waiting 40 minutes, the connection reset, and I had no time to start over! Dag nabit. So, I rassled with the idea of waiting and trying again, but needed to deliver some materials to the facilitators. Alas. It will have to wait.

We're really excited to have Judy Dabler here, who taught all of us (Blair & myself, Dennis and the facilitators) the Peacemaker curriculum in an overview format for over three hours this morning. Bless her! She's only a little jet lagged too! The facilitators (10 Tanzanian Christians with a lot of spunk and heart) will be teaching the Biblical peacemaking curriculum in one session per day. It is a new part of the curriculum that will apply in the areas of personal discipleship, small group facilitating and teacing, HIV/AIDS (with stigma rduction and conflicts related to H/A) and in leadership development. It sounds confusing right now, but I'm looking at the schedule and it's going to be great.

Must go now, hope you friends are well. Keep it real. Peace.