Wednesday, November 24, 2010

“Generosity depends on our readiness to open our hearts for the needs of others and to share what we have with them.” –Life Application Topic, Wesley Study Bible, p. 1416

This past month we have brought in three new children. Kikwete, named after the current President that took office in 2005, and his sister Neema. They came to us through the local District Commissioners office. The two children were left in the rain at the police station after their caretakers decided they no longer wanted them. Kikwete is not more than five years old and Neema is no more than eighteen months. She has been a new experience for all of us as she cannot talk or use the bathroom by herself. She is in need of constant supervision.

Two days ago we received wonderful children’s blankets from St. Paul UMC in Fort Smith, Arkansas. The children of the church had put the blankets together during their VBS this past summer and then shipped some over for us. I handed out eight of these new, soft blankets and told them where they were from and that I wanted to take their picture with them. After the picture, Kikwete asked “do I have to give it back?” At that moment I realized how hard it is to explain what a “gift” is and that “no,” he did not need to give it back. Things such as love and gifts from people that he has never and will possibly never meet are extremely hard to explain.

I am reminded of how hard it is for a pastor to explain the gifts of love, grace, and forgiveness to his/her congregation. “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). We as instruments of God and caretakers for fifty children must explain that a blanket is a gift from other children and that they do not have to give it back. We as Christians cannot give back to God what He gave to us, but we are to give to others in the same manner. For it is written, “The one who had much did not have too much and the one who had little did not have too little” (2 Corinthians 8:15).

Six of the children with new blankets.
Neema happy because she has something of her very own.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Angel House Choir and CD Release (written by Holly)

Angel House has been worshipping God with song and dance in a beautiful way for a long time, but not until April of this year did we form an official Youth Choir. The students recently recorded a CD that we think our Grassroots family and friends will really enjoy. Twenty of the older students have been practicing together since April under the direction of Samson, the worship pastor from the local Lutheran mission church. It was a wonderful adventure to travel up to the recording studio in Nairobi, Kenya to make the CD...not only did they thoroughly enjoy the process of recording, but their minds were opened to new horizons as they experienced life in the big city and in a different country all at once. Upon our return to Tanzania, we held a CD release party at the orphanage and invited friends from all over town to come join us. The Tarime District Commissioner was our guest of honor for the day, and several church choirs from around town joined us and offered their own praise as well. Countless people who had not reached the property until now were able to come visit and see where the children live and the site of our new school that will open mid-January. It has been an excellent six months, and we look forward to our friends and family in the states hearing their beautiful Swahili songs of praise.

If you would like a CD, they are now available for $10 each, which will include shipping. Checks can be made out to Grassroots Ministry (choir CD to be written in the memo line) and mailed to Grassroots Ministry, c/o FUMC, 220 S. Main Street, New Carlisle OH 45344.

Proceeds from the CD sales will go towards books for the new school.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Experience Dignity

When I was working as a youth director it was always amazing how in tune with the youth culture the business world was. They want to sell products and they spend a lot of time and money (more than the church) understanding youth culture and then figuring out how to manipulate it. If you wanted to know what youth wanted you really just needed to watch the advertising aimed at them. It was pointed out at a youth leaders conference that we met once a year to learn about the up and coming while the marketing groups met three times a year to do the same thing in their field. So…I have learned to pay attention to advertising to understand what people at least think that they want and I think there is one company in Kenya that has hit the nail on the head. Easy Coach’s motto is “Experience Dignity” and they are a bus company that operates in Kenya.

I think the thing most lacking in Tanzania and possibly most of East Africa is dignity. This is because there is a cultural system in place that sends a continual message that whatever you have has been given to you. You have not earned it, you do not deserve it, but because of the benevolence of those above you, you now have what you need or at least what they think you need. This system most likely had roots in the colonization of this part of Africa and has most definitely been continued by many non-profits and NGOs operating in Africa, both faith based and secular. However, I have seen it even within the Tanzanian culture where NGOs are not involved. If you are given a job it is not because you are qualified but because you know someone that was able to get it for you or because of the richness of your employer. If you are able to attend higher education it is because the government has extended that opportunity to you. This mind set is present in the vocabulary and posturing of almost everyone I have heard talk about it. Most things in this culture are phrased in terms of being gifts and this has now become the mindset of not only those giving the gifts who want to feel important, but also those receiving them so that they have been conditioned to wait patiently until someone decides they are worth giving something to. I have written before about this, but I think I have now developed a more concrete desire of what I would like to see changed. I would like to see people “Experience Dignity.” I want to see people enter into the partnership of work where the employer benefits from the skills of the employee while the employee benefits from the business or organization of the employer. I want to see the bright students of this generation be able to take pride in their thoughts, ideas, and possibly even vision for the future in a way that allows them to step up to the stage of higher education with the attitude that they have earned it. I want to talk to people who can describe the benefit they will bring to an organization as if it was their ability that gave them a right to be there instead of the hand out of a boss. The World Bank did an international survey once that focused on the causes and effects of poverty. Most of the poor people they interviewed said that they thing most lacking in their lives was not stuff, but dignity and equality in their society. I think it is pride that has given America its place in the world and I am interested in seeing what would happen to Tanzania if the people could “Experience Dignity” in their community’s and the country could “Experience Dignity” within the global village that is becoming closer and closer every day.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


We have all heard that from the mouths of babes comes truth, but I sometimes wonder how much we also pay attention to their actions and how often their actions are a reflection of our actions. On the grand scale of global conflicts most people have decided that violence is a complicated thing. We work diplomatic solutions while at the same time use the excuse of determent to feel better about housing large amounts of weapons that can kill more people than currently exist on the earth (which might be a bit excessive even in the name of security). The majority of the church both Roman Catholic and Protestant, at least in the Western world, has developed a complicated theology of justification for conflicts involving whole countries. This is a theology that has required the brains of great thinkers like St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. I think this complexity of thought has muddied up the waters of understanding violence. I also think my generation has a hard time focusing on violence in a real way because we grew up as part of a nation at war, yet whose daily lives have been largely unaffected by said war in the major ways that wars usually affect a country (the notable exception being families and friends who have lost loved ones as part of the fighting and will never forget that impact of the war…I am one such person).

In the last month a little child named Chacha has taught me a lot about how our actions can often be perceived by others. He has also taught me how simple it is to understand violence without the complication of the Just War Theory and nuclear armaments. Chacha is three years old, yet seems to have the mind of someone much younger. Since we work with orphans it is not uncommon for the full story of their lives up to the point of entering Angel House to be unknown. Chacha is one such child. Since Chacha’s communication skills is one of the things that has remained underdeveloped setting boundaries and discipline have been major problems for the staff. One of our steps of discipline after verbal instructions and discussion is a physical reminder. This is not beating, but can be anything from physically removing the child from a situation to a small spank to get the message across that an action is not good. This is used possibly more in Chacha’s case because communicating verbally with him almost never works. Chacha’s response though is the most interesting thing. He often times does not understand that he is in trouble or that he is doing anything wrong. He does not seem to have much of a sense of what a discipline system is so his response is often to spank back. I think this is a very telling response for a child that often acts on instinct more than any kind of fore-thought. He already knows at a young age that physical violence of any kind elicits a physically violent response. He is not old enough to understand that I am an authority figure whom he should respect or he does not have the forethought that I am bigger and could end up hurting him more than he can hurt me. He just goes on the instinct that you respond to violence with violence. I think this shows how much some things are a learned response and how much violence is being learned everywhere in the world. In fact earlier this week another child was crying and Chacha at first hit the other child and told them to be quite. He was much smaller and this didn’t hurt the child, but it was still disturbing. I came up seconds later and tried to sooth the child instead of using the “I’ll give you something to cry about” method. Chacha came up right behind me and copied my behavior of soothing. He, like most children, repeats what he sees. Children learn violence from abusive parents just as smaller communities learn violence from bigger, more powerful, abusive communities.

Chacha is also Kuria, one of the most violent tribes in Tanzania, one of the tribes most likely to fight with others and most likely to fight among themselves. This is a tribe whose members have learned violence as a way of life for generations. This is a tribe for whom I would say life has a different value than it does for most of us from the West. My hope with Chacha is that I can develop different, more intentional means of communication and discipline that can teach something besides violence. I often have the hope that a same simple, yet hard solution can also be found on the world stage.

Much like a scientific formula, violence on one side is always somehow balanced by violence on the other side. You can add more chemicals and more elements to change the makeup of the formula, but violence will still always equal violence. What we need is a new formula not a more complex formula, a new way of life instead of more of the old way of life, and a path that follows the person of perfect love and non-violence instead of the raising of the value of a death over the value of many lives.