We live in Mwanza, Tanzania, serving with Emmanuel International helping local churches in physical and spiritual ministry.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Give us this day our daily ugali ...

Ugali is the staple food here in Tanzania. It is made by cooking maize flour with water to a thick porridge-like consistency. It is difficult to explain to those who have never tried it before. It looks like mashed potato, but is thick and stodgey with a granular texture. We don't think it tastes of much so it is much better with a good sauce to dip it into. This is done by taking a small bit of ugali, shaping it into a ball with your fingers and pressing a small thumbhole which is then used a bit like a spoon to pick up the sauce when you dip. Often the meal is communal; you all take from a huge tray of ugali and dip your bit in the shared bowl of spinach or beans. This is the usual meal for both lunch and dinner in the village, and a watered down version (called uji) is eaten for breakfast. It is a daily food and it fills you up.

Cooking ugali

Ugali is fine, but I'd probably still rather have a sandwich! Where I come from, it is quite usual to have toast for breakfast, a sandwich or filled roll (bun) for lunch and not uncommon to have some kind of bread for dinner in the form of a bread roll, burger bun, garlic bread or cornbread. Bread. Our daily bread.

So the Lord's Prayer makes sense for us. "Give us this day our daily bread." But it doesn't work for Tanzanians. "Give us this day our daily ugali" means more to our friends here! Actually the Swahili Bible says "Utupe siku kwa siku riziki yetu" translating "bread" as "provision." But Tim preached with his own "ugali" translation in his sermon last week and that resonated with people!

After teaching his friends how to pray ("The Lord's Prayer), Jesus tells a story. We will put this story in the African context. One night in a small village in Tanzania, a man who has travelled far arrives at his friend Ezekiel's house. Ezekiel is surprised to see his friend and feels terrible because he has no ugali to give him to eat. The shame of it! He must provide his guest the hospitality expected. Even though it is very late, Ezekiel goes to his friend Mendriad's house to ask for help. He asks for three cups of maize flour to make ugali. It is inconvenient for Mendriad. He has locked up his house and his family is all asleep. "Don't bother me!" Mendriad says. "I can't get up and give you anything." He tells Ezekiel to go away; he will not help.

Can you imagine a friend like this, who refuses to help? No! Of course not!

No, a friend in the village would help. And why would he help? Jesus explains. "Even if the one inside (Mendriad) will not get up and give him the bread (ugali) because he is a friend, he will still give it to him." (Luke 11:8) The reason is not because the one outside (Ezekiel) keeps on asking and asking (as many translations suggest), but actually because the one inside (Mendriad) will avoid shame. Even if Mendriad didn't want to help his friend because it was inconvenient and easier not to, he would still do so because he would not see himself shamed by the whole village. That is certainly what would happen if people heard the next morning that he had refused food to a guest. In fact, the whole village would be shamed that a visitor to their village did not receive hospitality.

Living in the village, we have seen a glimpse of this story played out. We have received guests to our house in the village. English visitors. Now, before they came, they told us not to worry about feeding them. They didn't want to be a burden and were really not all that keen to eat ugali and spinach anyway. So they brought their own English sandwiches. We completely understood, but it was harder for our friends in the village to understand. To have special visitors and not offer them hospitality (ugali) is just not done here. It was shameful. They were worried that we, the immediate hosts, would look bad. Not only that, but the whole village would look bad! We had long conversations assuring them that our guests respected the people of the village and they need feel no shame.

The incident helped us to better understand this story in Luke. If we are the ones asking (like  Ezekiel), who is the one inside? It is God, the Father. Will God give us the daily bread (ugali)? Of course He will. Because He will not be shamed. He will do what honours His name. But God is not like the one inside who does not want to help. He is our Father and as our Father who loves us, how much more will he answer us? He doesn't just give three cupfuls of maize flour, he gives as much as is needed! And as Jesus says, to a child who asks for an fish or an egg, what father would give a snake or a scorpion? (We understand snakes and scorpions a bit better here in Tanzania too!)

So we see this link of bread (or in our case, ugali) here between the Lord's prayer and this story. And the asking for bread is in the context of other people; asking for bread in order to meet our need to be hospitable. We can see "being hospitable" not only as practically giving food or a place to stay, but also giving whatever it is that people need. We can ask the Father so that others can be given what they need. This is not just a prayer for ourselves, but so that we can share and meet the needs of others. How better can God's name be honoured and how better can His kingdom come than when he is able to give us what we ask and others experience His blessing? If we can attune ourselves to God through His Spirit and attune ourselves to the needs of others, then we can ask God for the very thing they need to know the peace and joy of the Father himself. And we can also ask how we might be part of God answering that prayer!

Sharing ugali in the evening

"When we come to the altar with our hands open, receiving the bread of life, the source of our hope and the sustenance for our spirit, we participate in the kingdom here and now." NT Wright 

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