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

Sunday, 18 May 2014

When Tim became a Hip Hop Star

So yesterday Tim won his first Hip Hop dance contest! Probably because as the only white guy he drew a fair lot of attention ... but he drew in the cheers as well! It was a hip-hop fun time at the Lake yesterday. MICC (Mwanza International Community Church) young adults hosted a huge "Beach Party" for all the kids off the street and the drug addicts from around town. They cooked all morning and the crowd at 2pm devoured the feast most happily! There was rice, pilau, beef, beans, cabbage and watermelon ... a real (nutritious) feast! There must have been two hundred young people who turned up; it was great!
Tim and Zakayo

Amisadai on watermelon duty and Louisa on plate duty

Louisa snuck in to get some food!

Congrats following the Hip Hop Dance!
After the food, there was hip hop music and dancing. Godwin (a young hip-hop star) shared his story of how after being stabbed and given no hope to live, God saved and changed his life. But he didn't just speak ... he rapped his story! Incredible guy, incredible story with an incredible gift. The whole event was a great opportunity to sit down with these boys, chat a little with them and show them the love of God. One little guy was only six years old, two years younger than Louisa, yet living on the streets. I sat with Peter, a young guy of 13 who really wants to go to school. We pass these boys all the time on the street and have met them at a few events and it was wonderful to again have the opportunity to meet more of them "personally" and we look forward to doing more with them. 

Godwin sharing his story

I clearly need help on the Hip Hop look! My sunglasses would have helped!
Earlier this week Tim and I found ourselves miles and miles away from the girls' school as pick-up time loomed! We had gone to visit the pastor of the Nyakato church for a chat at 9am about agricultural projects. (A short aside here ... this Nyakato church is the one where we were a few weeks ago and met the young shoemakers ... see the link here! They kindly made Louisa some flip flops when they heard it was her birthday. After that day, we had rather a shoe saga going on with difficulty finding school shoes for the girls and then shoes getting nicked after two weeks ... so difficulty finding shoes again ... you get the idea! Anyway, we then thought to ask these guys to make some school shoes for Louisa which they did. They did such a good job - beautifully handmade black shoes. We were so impressed! But unfortunately they were two sizes too big! So the saga continued!)

Anyway, back to my story ... We visited a shamba (farming plot) with Pastor Swai, which has been bought by the church and is available for us to use as a demonstration farm for the agricultural project. We also chatted with a local guy there about his shamba who very kindly sent us on our way with harvested watermelons. 
Pastor Swai and Rachel with the watermelons
Proposed shamba site for the project 

But then we ended up going far north down a dirt road to the same village we had visited for the Health Seminar and SODIS Shake (Kayenze) to meet with another pastor and some guys there interested in working with us. It was a fantastic opportunity to meet a great group of very interested and keen guys and see what they are already doing there. After an impromptu meeting in the church, we walked out to the pastor's shamba. They were farming rice, sugar cane, cabbage, tomatoes, chili peppers .... But then as I am anxiously checking the time, Mama was just starting to prepare lunch for us all! There was nothing to do but wait! Thankfully, our kind friend by the international school was able and very happy to pick up our girls and take them to her house to wait for us. Meanwhile we enjoyed the generous rice and chicken meal made especially for us. And we were once again sent on our way, this time with a sackful of cassava and bag of lemons. Once again overwhelmed by generosity. We are really looking forward to starting this agricultural project with five local university graduates and these local pastors which will demonstrate and teach better farming practices in this area.
Walking out to the shamba
Good cabbage specimens

Checking out the sugarcane and chili peppers
A generous meal prepared
Our other excitement of the week was a trip to the dentist! The best part was we only had to drive 10 minutes to get there and not 10 hours!! There are some advantages to living in a city. And it was so nice to know that our very own Dr Holley (from Tadley Dental Care on Newchurch Road and East Church in Basingstoke), had been there just last year and worked with the dentists. Hope Dentist in Mwnza works with the dental charity Bridge2Aid so it's good to know that the small fortune we spent on Louisa's extractions and Amisadai's baby molar filling will go to a very good cause!

Saturday, 10 May 2014

One Hundred Mother's Days

Today is the 100th birthday of Mother’s Day (North American Mother’s Day, not to be confused with Mothering Sunday celebrated in the UK). I was reading about it in a National Geographic article and was struck by its story. You can read the whole article (click here) but I am focussing now on its early (happier) beginnings. The roots of this day go back to a woman called Ann Jarvis in America in the 1850’s. She held “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” to “improve sanitary conditions and try to lower infant mortality by fighting disease and curbing milk contamination.” These clubs also worked to both care for and remember soldiers who fought in the Civil War. And after the war, with Mothers’s Friendship Days, they worked to bring unity and peace between former enemies. I think we could do with some more of these Mother’s Friendships Days today. In 1870, a "Mother's Day Proclamation" called for women to take an active political role in promoting peace. It was U.S. President Woodrow Wilson who officially set aside the second Sunday in May for Mother’s Day in 1914, this initiated after Ann’s death, by her daughter.

I was particularly struck by those early Mother’s Day efforts to improve sanitary conditions and lower infant mortality, something needed so very much in many places today. Here in Mwanza, Dr Bernard tells us that the number of infant and mother deaths in childbirth is far too high, above the national average and government targets. I read one statistic stating that 1 in 24 women in Tanzania will not survive childbirth. According to official estimates quoted this year by the White Ribbon Alliance “more than 20 women die of pregnancy and childbirth-related complications every day in Tanzania.” For these women, their first mother’s day is their last.
As we have seen particularly on the islands here and also in our experience in the villages surrounding Iringa, one of the big difficulties is just getting to a health facility. Given the fact that a woman suffering from obstructed labour, heavy bleeding or fitting from high blood pressure (eclampsia) may have only two hours to live, the distances needed to travel and the lack of transportation can be a fatal problem. Our friend, Azizi in Itunundu, walked well over an hour in labour, in the total darkness of the night to get to a clinic to birth her baby. We have seen women struggling in labour as they walk long distances in searing sun or sitting uncomfortably through labour on the back of bicycle, bumping along dusty, pot-holed roads.

Death comes far too easily for these new mothers. And often too easily for their babies; reports from Save the Children say that more babies die on their first day of life in Tanzania than in any other country and 1 in 20 are dying before their first birthday. While I don’t know these statistics firsthand, I do know from talking with Dr Makori, that the problem is very real here, particularly on the islands where there is very little healthcare. I have heard too often the stories of the baby that didn’t survive delivery, or the baby twins that lost their mother. And I know that no pregnant mother here will talk about her pregnancy; here there is no talk of babies or “due dates,” there are no baby showers, no showing off the bump. Women carry their babies inside silently. The celebration comes later when a healthy child is birthed.

Baby Joy: A survivor of a difficult pregnancy

A new addition to Emmanueli's family, our Masai friends in Magozi 

Neli, in the Magozi Stoves Group, with her little ones

Mama Loveness (Susanna),
also from the Magozi Stoves Group
Many people, doctors like Bernard Makori, local groups, and other NGO’s are working to help these women, these mothers and their children. And things are improving. But today, I for one am inspired by this one mother, Ann Jarvis; inspired one hundred years later to see “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” which would seek to improve sanitary conditions and access to clinics and try to lower infant mortality by fighting disease. And today, when we still see so much strife and division, to see “Mother’s Friendship Days,” where women are working together to bring unity and peace. Are you inspired? Share your thoughts; I am still wondering how this all works out in practice! And as part of this day in support of motherhood, we have the opportunity to do as Ann Jarvis’ daughter wanted, to celebrate our own mother, in thanks for all she has done. For me, I am blessed to still have my mother and I can thank her (albeit without flowers and from afar) for all she has done for me (thank you so much, mom!)

Me and My Mom!
Whose sacrificial love is given here in a toilet seat! And whose attitude to life is inspirational!

But for many, I know this is a difficult time, and you must celebrate a mother no longer with you. Other mothers have lived to lose a child, and this celebration of motherhood intensifies your loss. For many of the children and families whose stories lie behind the statistics I have written about, they too must celebrate the life of a mother no longer with them. A mother who died becoming a mother, who gave her life for her child.  
May we thankfully celebrate our mothers and the sacrifices they made for us. And whatever our situation, may we be inspired to do what we can wherever we are to help mothers, particularly those in need and to take active roles pursuing peace!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Friday, 9 May 2014

The Voice for the Voiceless

For the past three weeks, the world has cried out on behalf of #bringbackourgirls; we have mourned and protested the horrible fact that hundreds of girls from Chibok Government Secondary Girls School in Nigeria have been kidnapped and remain held by Nigerian Islamist terrorist group, Boko Haram. This violent group that has massacred Christians for their faith now attacks young girls for their education. They want to eradicate anything “Christian” and anything “Western.”

So many people have run to social media, desperate to be a “voice” for these young girls. For these and so many other girls who are denied the right or access to education, denied the right to their own bodies as they are stolen, sold, abused. These and so many women who have no voice, who feel only shame and hopelessness.
Will our voices be heard?
Here in Tanzania, we have come face to face with the terrible plight of so many women and young girls who have no voice. On one of the islands on Lake Victoria, we know the woman struggling with HIV/AIDS, desperately needing medicine but with a husband that refuses her help. We heard the screaming cries of the woman being beaten by a man, presumably her husband in a drunken rage. But she is in a culture that disempowers her legal rights. We listened on the steps outside a bar to the desperation of two young women working in these lake shore places. They cannot see a way out of this life they despise on an island. We hear the stories of young women, even girls from the age of 14, who roam the islands to sell themselves. Even if they know the risks of contracting HIV, they are often unable to get tested with the limited resources and services on the islands. Wives are left abandoned by fishermen husbands who leave in search of a better catch at an island elsewhere. The women are left to fend for themselves and their children while the fisherman husband takes a new island woman.
The stories are not confined to these islands. Here in town, women are on the streets, without hope, with stories of hurt and pain. But they are women trapped in a lucrative business, one that is very difficult to match in terms of providing a viable livelihood alternative. We listened to the painful story of our friend in the city whose house-girl was brutally raped and murdered. So many vulnerable people taken advantage of, their “rights” denied.
When it comes to education, we know that on these islands, so much stands in the way of any children going to school: parents who would rather their children stay home with other work to do and also a lack of safe access to a school as some must travel by small boats to another island, which can be dangerous. But particularly for girls, with increased pressure to stay at home, sanitary issues preventing them, and schoolgirl abuse and pregnancy, even without Islamic extremists to stop them, it isn’t easy. 
Girls in school (Magozi) collect water
Young girls collect firewood
And yet even here, the threat of extremist groups although small in comparison, is real and the ideology of Boko Haram permeates. As Tanzania currently rewrites its constitution, issues political have pulled in Islamic activity. Uamsho (The Association for Islamic Mobilisation and Propagation, an Islamist Separatist Group here in Tanzania) wants the full autonomy of the Zanzibar Islands, making it a centre of Islamic institution under Islamic law. Clashes have led to incidents of religious persecution, particularly in Zanzibar.

This all came rather close to home just this week. A few days ago, just down the road from where we live (on Airport Road), a bomb blasted from an abandoned bag in the Lutheran church guesthouse. The young woman cleaning at the time (a member of the church and a friend of our friends’ house help) who found the bag is now in very critical condition in hospital. There is no evidence of who is to blame (many people had access to the church and guesthouse), or why this large Lutheran church was targeted, but speculation abounds, particularly following recent events in Zanzibar earlier this year.

So what can we say? What voice do we have on behalf of the voiceless? My voice, our voices, although we may clamour to shout, post and tweet, will never be enough. But in our fallen world full of wickedness and injustice, abuse and poverty, just one voice is needed. The Word. The Word that no one can silence. The Word that became flesh in Jesus.
“In faithfulness He will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth.  In his teaching the islands will put their hope.” (Isaiah 42:4)
The Word has the power to change lives. Through the Spirit, which breathes things into being, a King’s policy is actioned. His just purpose in the world is implemented. So yes, here in Tanzania, we will go to women to carry out HIV testing in remote places, to educate and inform, to counsel through illness and grief. We will go with Christ’s Daughters (Mwanza International Community Church) to women on the streets to help and encourage them with opportunities for honourable, safe businesses and we will go to young girls on the islands to try and remove hurdles to help and encourage them to get an education. We will encourage upright people of truth to pursue careers as judges and politicians in this nation, to follow in the inspirational footsteps of women like Mama Kileo. We want to see blind eyes opened and those in captive set free. So yes, we will “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed.  Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.” (Proverbs 31:8-9).

One woman trains as a potter in Ikuka
But most importantly we want to continue to go to these women and girls with the Word. To read with them, where necessary to teach them to read. That they might know the Voice that speaks both to them and for them. The Voice that says they are loved, they are valued, they have worth. The Voice that identifies with them when no one else can. The Voice that tells their story and puts it in a bigger, better one. The Voice that speaks life.
Women given the Word in Kimande

Women given the Word in Magozi

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Bent Back, Reshaped, New Parts

We have good news! Finally, over a month after the accident, we have our vehicle back! It has dragged on and on for so long, for various reasons, and really we shouldn't even have it yet as the police still have the documents that the insurance company normally expect before they proceed. But we know the Managing Director of the company (he's in Pastor Huruma Nkone's church in Dar), and through chats with him, he was able to get us through!

There is sadness looking at the straightened, polished, painted bonnet and the bull bars bent back into place. It all looks like nothing ever happened; a new windshield and new lights, no sign of a car bent back through the force of a boy. How easy to erase all signs and evidence of that terrible day, but all the while knowing things will not be so easily bent back into shape for the family of that boy. But we pray that the Great Mechanic will be at work in their lives, bending and reshaping, giving new parts. And somehow in all that has happened, in our own bending back and reshaping, we hope that we will run much better now.

Now we are just left waiting for the Bunda police to close the case and give back Tim's driving license and the papers. We don't think that here is any reason that Tim should go to court. We have been told just to be patient. So thank you so much for your prayers... pray that we could be patient, but also that it could all be resolved as quickly and simply as possible!

Monday, 5 May 2014

Love for Kids with Albinism and Compassion for Kids in Need

I have blogged before about the great work that Under the Same Sun (UTSS) is doing here in Mwanza to help kids with albinism (Rich Life Under the Same Son). This Sunday we were at a service at Beacon Ministry Christian Centre which is pastored by an amazing man, Valentine Mbuke, who is actively involved with helping so many in this area, including those with albinism and also the street boys. But it was a special Sunday this week, as the founder of UTSS, Peter Ash was visiting from Canada ... from Langley, B.C. Canada! He came with a team of others, including a few from Langley ... sometimes the world seems so small!

Peter Ash (right)
It was a privilege to meet Peter, who himself has albinism, and over the past five years has done incredible work as an advocate for people with albinism, people often in very real danger and also facing terrible discrimination here in Tanzania. You can find out more about him and the work he and others do with UTSS on their website here.

We arrived at the church at 8am, too late for Sunday school, but in time for the service. Following the first service in which Peter shared, we had time for a brief chat with the visiting team before they left and we returned to the second service in which Tim was preaching on extending the love of God. It was a real Tanzanian Sunday ... lots of singing and dancing and we finished the service 6 1/2 hours later at 2:30pm ... with a third service about to start! We all stopped for an amazing lunch, provided by the church, for EVERYONE! It was wonderful; all the kids ... those with albinism, all the street boys (all who had been bussed in specially), the whole congregation and us! And there was no "high" table (which is usual here) ... but everyone equal together, mixed and mingling! As Pastor Mbuke said "today there will be no high table, no low table or middle tables. We are ALL on the high tables!" It was a wonderful picture of the love of God extended to all without discrimination or hierarchy. I enjoyed sitting next to a lovely girl of eighteen called Elizabeti, whose goal was to become a doctor. She was truly an overcomer!
Tim preaching on the love of God

Lunch Line-up (another multitude!)

Chakula kitamu sana!
The previous Sunday, we went to a church on the edge of the city in a place called Nyakato, pastored by Elihuruma Swai, the Director of Projects and Development for the TAG Diocese. We were warmly welcomed there and Tim preached on Isaiah 42, impressing them all with his good Swahili! After the service, I was particularly interested to hear about the bees that Pastor Swai is accumulating to start a bee project, something I would like to get going on when we move into our new house! We were also all interested to see how well the shoe project is going (run with Compassion, who works with the church to help meet the needs of children from poor families). There are five boys working there, learning the art of making shoes ... and doing a very good job! When someone discovered it was Louisa's birthday, they made these beautiful shoes just for her! They also have a knitting machine on which others are making school uniform sweaters to sell.

Louisa watching her shoe being finished!

Boys on the job!
And in between these Sundays, as you know we had the "multitudes" conference, during which time we enjoyed having Andrew with us for the week from Iringa! In the little spare time we had with him, we were able to take him up for the view at the Dancing Rocks.

The Dancing Rocks

Andrew couldn't shift the rock!
And lastly, we can share the excellent news that our good friend and colleague, Jesca, who we trained to take over the stoves project in Iringa, is now MARRIED! We were so very sorry to miss the occasion at the weekend, but so happy to see and hear about their wonderful day! And we were so happy that Ezekiel and Mendriad were able to go to the wedding! We pray God's blessing on Frank and Jesca as they begin their married life!

Jesca and Frank with the EI Iringa Team

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Feeding the Multitudes

On Monday night we felt rather like the disciples of Jesus who were worrying, wondering how on earth they were supposed to find food for the thousands of people that had come to listen to Jesus on the mountainside on the far shore of the Sea of Galilee. We were expecting 20-30 people to arrive from places further afield on the night before the Church and Mission Conference (hosted by Bishop Charles and the TAG Church and ourselves with Emmanuel International). But suddenly, on that Monday night, there were 120 people looking for food and lodgings! How would we provide for everyone on our rocky mountainside on the far shore of Lake Victoria?

But God provided! Pastor Zakayo and his wife, Evelyn did such a good job organizing things and everyone was fed and bedded for the night. On Tuesday morning, Andrew Wingfield (joining us from Iringa), Tim and I arrived … and so did many other people! We were expecting to have about one hundred people when those from the local area had also arrived in the morning. However we ended up with over 350 people all together, from all over the place ... including the islands!  We only had 350 people, not 5000, but thinking about the disciple Philip’s comment to Jesus (in John 6:7), it would have taken more than two year’s wages of some of those there to feed and bed everyone! But the immediate challenge was morning chai for everyone. And by the end of the long lunchtime line-up, I think the budget for the entire 3-day conference was blown!
The long lunch line-up
But while we had tried to limit things, based on what we saw as our limited resources, God had other plans, much bigger than ours! And He made things work with the resources we had offered … even when we thought we didn’t have enough!  We were able to squeeze the content of the three days into two, accept an offering from delegates (and friends) at the conference and gratefully accept the generosity of the Bible College opening their dorms at no extra cost. Everyone had a place to stay and enough to eat and all were fed with the Word of God and encouraged to be His people fulfilling His mission here in the Mwanza region!

People sitting on the steps outside
Bishop Charles introducing Andrew
It was exciting to have so many pastors and leaders there; it was a fantastic opportunity to share our heart for mission, to see the Church fulfilling God’s purposes in the world, in their own communities, in every area of life. Tim introduced the overall topic of “integral mission” and with an overview of the Bible talked about the place of God’s people in God’s mission. Pastor Zakayo and Andrew also talked about reaching out with the all-embracing love of God, helping the church to use their own resources, using what they already have, to reach out to meet the physical, social and spiritual needs of the poor and oppressed in their communities.

Group discussions

This conference was significant for us, after our period of exploring all that is happening in Mwanza, observing the assets we see in the different communities and the needs to be met. And now at a pivotal point, as we begin to move ahead in reaching out with the church here, we were able align ourselves with them, standing with them to help and serve the poor in and around Mwanza.  And we were encouraged that whatever our vision, God’s is bigger! And we were reminded in a very real way that we don’t need to have “everything”  or even much at all; we just need to offer what we do have and God will multiply it and in His compassion, will satisfy the needs of the multitudes.