Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Kuria Christmas

“Roho Mtakatifu!?! Labda, una roho mtakatifu.” (The Holy Spirit!?! Maybe you are the Holy Spirit)
-          Said to Wambura (Joseph) by his father after his father found out Joseph’s fiancĂ© was having a baby. 

Conga wearing Angel visits Wambura
This has to be my favorite line from the Kuria Christmas Story. Some of the teenagers at Gamasara United Methodist acted out the story of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus, but they rewrote it to reflect their own culture and how it would be received for an unwed woman to have a baby conceived with the Holy Spirit within the Kuria tribe. They did it complete with Bhoke (Mary), Wambura (Joseph), and Emmaunel (Jesus). It had the whole church laughing as Bhoke’s parents tried to figure out who had impregnated their daughter, not taking the Holy Spirit for an acceptable answer. There were also some very openly painful parts as Bhoke and Wambura both had to endure the jeering of a community that could not let this juicy piece of gossip pass without comment as women went to fetch water from the well. The conga wearing angel and card playing herders just made it that much more complete. 

No room at the guest house
The real goal though was completed with style. This well-read Bible story was made very understandable to a group of people very unfamiliar with the Bible.  Maybe for the first time the church saw how God uses ordinary people to do even the most extraordinary of things.  That has become the Christmas story for Gamasara United Methodist Church this year. God uses ordinary people, all we have to do is say yes. Wambura had dreams of his own, a good business plan, and a good reputation in his village. However, in the span of a few months he had lost his good reputation and had to give up on his good business plan as he accepted God’s call on his life. This ordinary man wanted all the same things all of us want, a good job, a family, and a way to provide for them. This is the type of peaceful, secure life that I think most people truly desire. Wambura was willing to put all of that aside though, was willing to give all of that up, in order to follow God’s call on his life. I think that lesson stuck well with the church as a story came to life in front of them. Maybe it will stick with you as well.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Visiting Without Directions

Two weeks ago I was invited to a church to talk with some of their people who wanted to be baptized. It is out in a village and is led by a lay pastor. I had met the pastor before, but had never been to the church itself. I agreed to come, secured transportation and a translator, set a schedule, and kinda got directions. I understood that it was just past Gamsara Village, a place I am very familiar with.  The morning of I picked up the motorcycle I had rented for the trip, picked up my translator, and we headed out. I called before I left and we were told that we should just head passed Gamsara and we would see someone on the road. Not the most promising directions as far as I am concerned, but I have learned to roll with it. We passed Gamasara and kept going. I wasn’t overly concerned about the distance because I have been told that it is a short distance before only to find out that their definition of short and mine are more than a little different.  The problem came when we eventually hit another main (dirt) road that I am familiar with and I realized we have probably gone too far. So we called that pastor again and sure enough we had passed the correct turn off…by about an hour. We turned around, headed back, and had to call four more times before we finally met that guy on the road that we were supposed to pass the first time. I then had a new adventure. The man that came out to meet us and lead us to the church was on a bicycle. I was on a motorcycle. I got to follow the man on the bike back to the church on my motorcycle. We went very, very slow. It is a toss-up as to whether it was the motorcycle following the bicycle or crossing a river on a 125 pikipiki (swhaili for motorcycle) that made me wish I had brought my camera more.  I will ruin the end of the story and say that it took two hours to get to the church and only thirty minutes to get back home. Visiting without directions is hard. 

However, leading a church in a place where you cannot even give directions to may be more difficult. We arrived at Masalula (don’t try to pronounce it yourself) to find a church made out of sticks, mud, and a grass roof. A church that I later found out had been built by several widows in the church. They were continually apologizing about the state of the church, the small space, and the way I had to double over to duck into the door. The spirit that filled the church though was what really caught my attention. The strength with which they prayed, the way the pastor knew the lives of those around him, and the obvious relationship that has grown from time together in prayer and study of the Bible. During testimony time the pastor, with barely concealed, water filled eyes talked about the death of his son only a month earlier and now his daughter was in the hospital. However, the testimony ended with praise that God was still with him and still loved him. 

I had come to give them instructions on the upcoming baptism that they wanted to do for several members of the church. I started to ask questions and received answers back that came straight from the Bible and their hearts…they meant what they were saying. I had come to give directions to the church and the pastor that was there. And while it may have been difficult to get directions to the location of this church, the actions and faith of the Christians there gave me great direction in my own life and in anticipating future visits to these hard to find places.     

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Occupy Africa

It has been exciting to see people in the US, people who many others in the world consider to be the most consumer driven of any world culture, stand up in the last month and say enough is enough. How much does a person need to be truly satisfied? One international news organization called it the “American Awakening.” What if this really is the start of our realization that there is such a thing as too much and nobody really needs the Supper Size Fries from McDonalds. As a Christian I feel called to a different set of economics than the “consume as much as you can” mentality and it seems that most of Americans agree, or at least those not in the top 1%. And worldwide we have the same problem. 20% of the world’s top earners are earning 75% of the world’s income. My question though is would people still stand in protest if they were in that top 20%? Would you be willing to stand at a protest where it was your picture on the poster? 20% of the world’s top earners are earning 75% of the world’s income, but also consider that 80% of people in the world live on less than $10 a day. That means if you spend more than $10 a day on food, rent, gas, car payments, movie tickets, and health care than you fall in the top 20% of the world’s economy. As a note of honesty and openness, even I the missionary fall into that category of the world’s top 20%.

 I guarantee you that if you own a computer and are reading this blog that you spend more than $10 a day for your family, especially since statistics like this are calculated not based on currency exchange, but on purchasing power which means that the fact that it is cheaper to live in a developing country is already taken into account. I have a feeling that many of the people I know who do live on less than $10 a day would find it odd that people protesting economic inequality are doing so while wearing North Face jackets, at least if they understood how much they cost. So are we ready? Are we ready to move onto the next step? Are we ready to do more than stand on sidewalks and debate which political party will best be able to take advantage of this movement in the 2012 election? Are we ready to live simply and divert the rest of our resources to others in need? You can make that choice right now and I can help.

All of the following people live on less than $10 a day, actually they all live on less than $2 a day which is the international mark of extreme poverty, the kind that experts say people cannot get out of on their own.  

Nelson Mandela and Raphel Charles – For less than $2 a day you can pay for a year of education for
                                                                     either of these young men
Wikindi Juma – For $1 a day you can put him through adult education classes where he can get a
              secondary certificate in 2 years (something that normally takes 4)

If you bring the signs I will free up some sidewalk space. You are welcome anytime.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Growth of a Village Church or Baptism No. 2

October 9th, 2011 saw the second baptism celebration of the year at Gamasara United Methodist Church. I will start with saying that we ended the day with music, food, and soda. Baptism should always be a cause of celebration. It is not a magic ticket into a life of perfection, but it is the start of a journey where God can perfect us in love as we live in this world. It is the entrance into the house of God. The difference this baptism and the first one of the year was the group of people being baptized. The first baptism of 2011 was mainly those children of Angel House and others that were connected in some way to Angel House. However, God has a way of growing things in small ways through unexpected means. This church that was held up by the children and staff of Angel House has crept into the village of Gamasara and is starting to change lives. The number of children baptized was astonishing, but equally warming to my heart was the number of older people being baptized. There were several Bibis (grandmothers), with ear lobes almost to their shoulders in traditional Kuria fashion, who were for the first time accepting God into their lives the same as they had been accepted into the church. Possibly even more incredible were the number of grandfathers and men that were baptized. Just as in America, men are noticeably absent from the church seats in Tanzania. Having the church grow in the number of older members and men was a testimony to the way in which the church is reaching out into the community and being used as a tool of God to reach many who have not previously heard or accepted the message of God.

After over two months of baptism class and special times of teaching for older children in between childhood and adulthood, 94 people were baptized into the church. This is a church of God and he is starting amazing things here in Gamasara. I believe that he has plans for all of those people to bear witness to how he is growing his kingdom here in this part of the world.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Man I Admire

Anyone who has ever read this blog and thought, “Whew, I could never do that.” Please hold your applause until all names have been announced. I have had the privilege this year of meeting a man who has surprised me with his dedication and his ability to persevere with very little help or encouragement. Jacoba Korinda is a local pastor who pastors a small church in Ingrachini, Tanzania. Don’t even try, you won’t find it on a map. This village is almost an hour off of the main road.

Jacoba has the spirit of a pastor and the mind of a leader. Since the time when he was first selected to lead this newly planted church in Ingrachini he has continued to recruit help in building God’s kingdom. He has recruited and held together four evangelists who have managed to start churches in four other villages also off of the main road. All churches, except the one in Ingachini itself, meet outside. The church in Ingrachini is hardly a building, with four brick walls and a tin roof that is always threatening to blow off. The seating inside are logs on the floor and the only Bible or song book in the house belong to the pastor. Yet it is a church in every sense of the song we all sang at VBS growing up “I am the church. You are the church. We are the church together.” Jacoba has continued to be a faithful leader of all five churches despite a rocky last few years. He still visits and lifts up these other evangelists and leads them to continue with their ministries. And he does all of this using one leg and a stick as the other leg is damaged from a childhood disease. However, this does not stop him from visiting the other churches at least once a month or standing up strong at the front of the church on Sunday and leading songs, prayers, and preaching the sermon. In fact, he made it to Gamasara to greet me at least three times before I ever made it to Ingrachini.

The thing that most strikes me about Jacoba is his desire to improve himself as a pastor and his ministry to God’s kingdom, and how hard it has been to try and achieve that desire. He is shy to the point of embarrassment about not knowing as much about the United Methodist Church as he should since he works for it, yet no one has ever done much to teach him. Hopefully all of this will start to change next year. Pastor Jacoba has been invited to Morogoro, Tanzania to enter pastor’s training school. It will take eight years since he will only go for two months a year, but Jacoba did not hesitate. He is as excited as any student who has been accepted to Duke, Asbury, or Chandler about starting this new part of growing as a minister of God. I am very happy to see what he can do with this next stage of schooling and ministry.

*If you are interested in helping sponsor Jacoba with his schooling please let me know. It is only $200 a year for transport, lodging, food, and school fees.