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

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Meaningless! Meaningless! A Mango Tree in Darkness

On Sunday afternoon, ten-year old Bruno went to play with his two friends from the village. Bruno is a boy from a family in the small Anglican church here in Kimande. A family that the whole village is now rallying round and many are praying for.
The three boys wandered over to the shambas (rice fields) and like many boys their age, they got up to mischief. There is a large mango tree out there, and the mangos on this tree are now temptingly lush. But this mango tree is on a man's land, a man who many fear has done again what he has done before. The last time was just last year; this man caught a boy stealing a mango from his tree and he murdered the boy and buried him in the ground. The whole village searched for the missing boy only to find his rough grave. So this week, again, the whole village began searching for a boy. We heard that it may be that  Bruno ran away and escaped the man; that his two friends were beaten but not killed. But as Mama Elisabeti said to me, many were searching for a grave. The sadness for me was not only in their sadness but also in their lack of shock at the recurrence of this horrific event. Horrific also are the stories we hear from people about the police. They tell of police that have wanted money in return for their help. And even if this family could somehow get money if it was asked for, there is the chance that the man with mango tree could have already bribed or threatened the police to stay away from the case. So much evil and corruption. So much sadness.

Many are searching. Mama Esther, the pastor's wife, our neighbour, prepares food for Mama Bruno and the family as they search. We could only pray. We left yesterday (Wednesday) while searching continues.

So much sadness. The last time we were in the village, we saw the silent, heartbroken grief of a young mother on her knees in the Itunundu church as we prayed for her after her three-year old child  drowned in the river.

So much sadness. Also on that last Sunday in Itunundu a young girl was overcome by evil spirits that wracked her whole body, fighting to control, to destroy. And on Sunday, this time in the Magozi church, a young woman is wrought with evil spirits, screaming to be heard.

The power of evil in darkness and the pain of death. The heaviness it carries is real and strong. We have felt discouraged and sad. I felt so tired I felt sick. A heavy, completely drained, searing headache, energy-less, futile tired. Tensions in the stoves groups added to it all. Rumours of theft and usurping gossip sap enthusiasm and the drive to continue. The verse that came to mind was Ecclesiastes 1:2-3, "Meaningless! meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless! What does anyone gain from all their labours at which they toil under the sun?"  And really there was a lot of toil and an awful lot of sun this week.

I jumped to the end of the book of Ecclesiastes to find the meaning. And there it was ... after the bit in chapter 12 about clay pots shattered and the wheel broken at the well (there is still no water at our water point and washing our dirty bodies once a day with a very small jug of water and saving every last drop from washing up for sloshing the pit sometimes adds to the futile thinking). But the conclusion of the matter: "Fear God and keep his commandments ... for God will bring every deed into judgement, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil."

The power of God is greater. Greater than these powers of death, corruption, evil, sin and sadness. Greater than powers of typhoons like Haiyan which has just brought death and destruction to the Philippines. Through what Jesus did on the cross (not just thinking of "me" as the song "Above All" below sings, but for all creation, for us for the sake of His Glory) the power of sin and death has been defeated. Yes, there is still pain in death and the evil of sin clearly shows that disconnect between what is and what ought to be. We can see that any human effort in "development" will never develop into anything unless we recognize what destructs and destroys and also what truly brings hope and builds up. We so want to bring this hope, "to announce healing to a world that has discovered its brokenness, to proclaim love and trust to a world that knows only exploitation, fear and suspicion" (NT Wright). But that doesn't mean it is easy. And Ecclesiastes makes this quite clear. As Pete Enns summarised,

Qohelet (the character speaking in Ecclesiastes): “It sucks being an Israelite.
Narrator: “Dude, good call. You are so right. Be an Israelite anyway.”

C.S. Lewis said that “in God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself.” And this is what this fear of the Lord brings us to. This reminder that on our own we can do nothing. We need to stay humble before him, seek him in all things, knowing that he gives us all we need and in him is our strength. It is not about us giving but about instead receiving.

God is with us in the darkness. And the Light drives out the darkness.


  1. Rachel,
    So glad we have connected through our blogs--definitely not a coincidence! We will be praying for the family of this missing boy. Blessings.

  2. Rachel,

    As I read this story my heart is overwhelmed, so much sadness. I myself as of late have been thinking, "Does what I do even matter in the big scheme of things?" Then I read your story and I find I am ashamed of myself. I have come to understand that thankfulness plays a big part in everything we do. I find myself so often being ungrateful even for the little things - how evil is that? How quickly I forget how good I have it - -

    (Heavy sigh!) My heart is heavy for you and your family...I have been so selfish as of late, please forgive me for not doing my duty in praying for the saints who are in the thick of it, saints like you and your family. And so I will do my duty. That seems like such a little thing, but I have to remind myself what big things Jesus can do with such seemingly little things!

    I'm not sure what you meant by "It's not us giving, but instead about us receiving" other than we can't give what we don't have. Jesus has already given us so much, all we have to do is give it to others, even the little things - because they can mean so much. Oh yeah, Jesus did say that to his disciples, "freely you have received, now freely give." (Matt. 10:8)

    So keep fighting the good fight of faith, don't give up, especially when there is so much evil a foot. Our weapons of faith, prayer, preaching the gospel, and doing good may seem puny to our enemies, but not to Jesus. To be honest, my flesh would love to give that evil man some "cowboy justice", but Jesus won't have any of that. Not yet, not while his mercy and grace are to be put in motion. Faith is word and deed - so do we really believe that evil is overcome by good? Then we better put it into practice, not an easy thing to do (believe me I know) but you're doing it. So I will have to crucify my flesh and pray for that evil man, while I'm praying for that precious boy too. Faith, or believing, without works, is dead - and you are doing a great good!
    Sigh - - battle on brave one, battle on, and don't give up!

    Love In Christ Jesus



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