Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Scholarship Selection and the Importance of Proximity

I will continue to maintain that proximity is the most important part of development. If anyone, and I mean anyone, truly wants to make a difference in the world you have to be close to the people that you want to work with, empower, and ultimately help. The only thing that comes in a close second is supporting those who are in close proximity. That is why you find me where I am, in Tanzania, doing work that I love, but which I know would be almost impossible to do from anywhere else. Today I had another example, among many, as to why proximity is so important.

This afternoon the scholarship committee of Wesley College sat to figure out which of the students who applied for scholarships was going to receive them. We had 10 new scholarships to assign and almost 30 students who had made requests. What I can say is that all of the students had the grades, some better than others, but all of them will do well at Wesley College. All of the students have financial need, they were orphans, single mothers, students who are young adults who have been left on their own with no family support, small holder farmers whose entire family makes less than $75 a month. And I saw the members of the committee dig into what is a beautiful and sometimes depressing struggle. 

I would say that there are many people in the world who could help contribute to these students so that they could study and finish their college education. Some of you reading this may have already done so. But many, many of the people who have this ability do not know these students. They don’t know the students without parents who are raising themselves and trying to find some piece of calm in their lives to study. They don’t see how their grades slowly improve the longer they are in the Wesley College environment of caring teachers, daily prayers, and encouraging classmates. They don't know the single mother with 12 children, 2 of whom are currently studying at Wesley College. They don’t get a chance to share in the dreams of students who see their chance at education as a way to change their communities, but lack a simple $500 to be able to cover their tuition fees. I say that because I believe if they did know them and did see them, that we would have been able to choose many more students for scholarships today.

At the same time the scholarship committee was able to experience something new today. They have the proximity and have had the proximity for much of their lives, and for the first time they were given the ability to get to decide who to help. They were faced with the dilemma of having the resources to help change someone’s life, even though it wasn’t enough to change everyone’s. And the conversation, the comments made, the way that they were pulling for the students and seeing the possibilities for change within their lives through this small gift is to be honest one of the more inspiring things I have seen in a long time. They know these students since many of them are returning students, having finished their certificate level and are now applying for diploma. They started asking questions about how we get the scholarships, how we could raise more, and what they could do in order to help. It was because of their proximity that it became something so real, raw, and powerful within this small group of staff.

So I say again, proximity. Get to know the people around you. Get to know the vulnerable populations, and get to know their names, faces, and stories. And if you feel so moved, consider supporting scholarships at Wesley College. We have a group of very committed, very thoughtful staff who are hoping and praying for a few more scholarships so that one more orphan, or one more young adult hauling and selling water or making handmade soap for a living can get their education and transform their life.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Leading Outside of Ourselves

There are more than enough books on leadership out there and just as many on management. The challenge is that so many of these resources talk about the how and the what exhaustively, but when it comes to the WHY we often only get half the picture. The Why often talked about in leadership is why good leadership is needed and what happens when good leadership is lacking. As Christians though we need to take things a step further. Our Why of being leaders should start with Why we should be a leader in a specific time or space?

Nehemiah was a great leader and accomplished major changes for Jerusalem. The book of Nehemiah is a great study on good leadership and good management, but there are two important statements about leadership made in chapter 1 of the book of Nehemiah which should never be far from our hearts and minds. 

Leadership starts as a response to a need or pain found in the world. Nehemiah was not looking for an opportunity to escape, there is actually no indication that he was dissatisfied at all with his lot in life. Unlike Daniel he had not rebelled against being in the house of a foreign king, and later on we see that the king can discern that something is bothering Nehemiah indicating that up until that point he was fairly satisfied. What shook Nehemiah and grew in him a hunger to work for change in Jerusalem was the pain that the people were going through. The fact that they were defenceless, lacking dignity, and being taken advantage of. Leadership should never start as a need for affirmation or praise, but because of a missing piece seen in someone’s life or in a community or an organisation which we can fill and in filling bring holy transformation. 

The second lesson we learn in Nehemiah 1 is that God given leadership starts with putting God at the center. Nehemiah, before creating his plan, before appealing to the king for help, before doing anything else wanted to make sure that he was right with God. He repented, spoke with humility, and placed himself and his family in God’s care. The temptations of leadership are many, as are the stresses. It is easy to start with good intentions and to still be caught up in the title, the respect we get, the people who listen to us, and even the rush of the job so that we stop setting time aside for what is important. Things get tight and in positions of leadership it is easy to start responding based on the needs of the job or our own needs in fulfilling the job instead of remembering to respond to the needs of people and the cry of the world for redemption. It is at those times that we have to remember who is at the center of what we do…it isn’t us. This humility and God centeredness is at the heart of being a leader because it keeps us grounding to our original task, which is to respond to the needs of others and not our own. 

This not only sets the foundation for Nehemiah’s leadership style and principles, but should also be reflected in our own. 


Sunday, August 11, 2019

Finding Yourself, Finding Home

Traveling always teaches us something about ourselves. Over the years we have seen many volunteers come. Some find adventure, some find relaxation, some find purpose, many find friends but only a few find themselves and home.

Kimberly Watson came as a businesswoman ready to take a break and find out what God had store for her next in life. When I picked her from the airport she was full of energy, even after a full 30 hours of traveling. She looked surprisingly refreshed! We quickly became friends as I introduced her to Mwanza. What we did not expect was the friendship we would form. Kimberly helped us personally through a big house move while Eric was in America. She played with the boys, went out to eat with us, texted constantly and was a rock to many within the Mwanza community, in and outside of Wesley College. She worked tirelessly to be “mama Kim” to a group of younger men that were living in Mwanza without their families. She made sure they ate, had fun, and I think grew better for having known her. All of this is not even to explain her impact on Wesley College!

Kim worked alongside Reiko, Noel, and Eric to get Tukuwe: Wesley College’s Entrepreneurship Center launched using her business skills, knowledge, and heart for ministry to begin something new in Mwanza and at Wesley College. In the time that she was here Tukuwe was able to start piloting three businesses through the incubator and have their first stakeholder’s meeting to introduce the idea to the wider Mwanza community. This may sound like a simple step, but nothing here is simple and the quick development of the business incubator idea into a reality shows a passion for work that Kim and Noel, Head of Business and Entrepreneurship at Wesley College both have. This including meeting with local businesses, working on a financing model for the incubator and the businesses, and most of all looking into the most common challenges for Small to Medium Size Businesses in Mwanza (SMEs).

After two months and quite a bit of work Tukuwe is shaping up and getting ready to officially launch, Kim headed back to the US, and some of us in Mwanza are forever changed. We are already excited for her next time around.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Women’s Health, Men’s Health, Construction, and Most Importantly: Relationships

“Good works is giving to the poor and the helpless, but divine works is showing them their worth to the One who matters.” 
Criss Jami, Killosophy

Geita UMC started in 2016 with help from Vestavia Hills UMC. This year a combined team from Trinity UMC and Vestavia Hills UMC in Birmingham, AL came back to help the church take an important step, building a permanent church building. Geita UMC has been worshipping on rented land, under a tarp since it began three years ago, and now the walls are up on a new building.

However, the most important part of the trip was continuing to see relationships built and encouragement for the mission in the Geita District of Tanzania Annual Conference. Members from Trinity UMC can in 2016 and helped build a pastor’s house in Katoro. We have been discussing for over 2 years their return to continue in the partnership, and this year they were able to come back and bring some friends.

After raising funds for the purchase of land and beginning construction on a new church a group of 8 individuals came to work alongside Pastor Joseph Tanganyika and his congregation to complete the building walls. Pastor Amy from Trinity UMC held a pastor’s seminar on spiritual gifts for all the pastors, evangelists, and district leaders. The team also talked about community health in the Geita community around the church. Days for Girls kits (reusable sanitary pads) were well received as a way to ensure that a monthly menstrual cycle does not keep girls out of school or women away from work. Discussions were also had about hygiene, sanitation, and the power of choice in the relationships among men and women. The men in the area also received similar training about relationships, safe sex choices, good health practices, and had a discussion on healthy roles of men in the community. Being the partnership that it is the teaching was done jointly between the visiting team and church members led by Pastor Joseph.

They all worked extremely hard in their areas of health and construction but most importantly, they built relationships. Individuals who had come before were well remembered and new team members were able to experience the beauty of Tanzania, which is always held and most vibrantly displayed in its people. We look forward to seeing how this partnership between churches in Birmingham and Geita continues.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Welcome again, Michael Parishner!

Emmanuel Center for Women and Children hosted it’s first Individual Volunteer in Mission for 2019! Michael Parishner joined us for 4 weeks during his semester of service this year. He was an extremely quick learner and everyone truly loved having him around.

Michael came in and quickly got to work without hesitation.  He was not fluent in Swahili, but he learned how to respectfully build relationships with those whom he worked with.

Michael came in to help our income generating projects to move forward. There were several projects started in Tarime with the goal of helping the ministries there become more sustainable, while also economically empowering the communities around them. Unfortunately it is not as simple as bringing in some equipment and starting a business. When the goal is a social enterprise with a double bottom line it is important that those involved, who are usually not business people, receive a lot of training and are truly prepared for the work that they are being asked to do.

Michael was a huge asset to the chicken, sewing, and brick projects as he developed financial templates and outlined manuals to assist in making things more viable for the future development of those projects.  Michael succeeded in helping the leaders involved in these projects to move their thinking from simply making things move from day to day to really looking into the future and how these projects can be successful in transforming their communities and providing a sustainable income to the projects themselves.

It was a great experience for everyone involved including Michael who blogged throughout his time here and said,

“I have learned how to do with so much less than what I am used to in the United States or even other mission sites and I know I am better for it. I have learned about and respect the missionaries and their family and see how their impact is really helping the people here. And I know when I leave I will miss it. And the random smell or sight or feeling will bring me right back here and I will long to come back.”


Friday, July 12, 2019

A Boy With a Camera

Paul says in scripture that as we grow up we have to put away childish things, and take on more mature things. He talks about the spiritual process that can take place at any age, and yet I have found in life that often spiritual and emotional growth goes hand and hand with natural stages of growth that we encounter in our lives. 

Derrick received a camera for his 12th birthday. He has always loved taking pictures and videos, and is regularly talking about what it would look like to make his own movie. Maybe some day he will be able to tell his own stories. I have enjoyed as his baba watching him grow, mature, and his view of the world continue to shift and change. This is a reflection that I wrote the day after he received his camera as I watched his take some pictures.

The boy got a camera for his birthday and his face lit up as he realized the fun he was going to have. He immediately took the lens cap off, turned the camera on, and put it up to his face. His one brown eye now staring out into the world through a different kind of lens.

He took picture of family, his brothers, and friends. He tried the video and flash, quickly becoming familiar with a new way of viewing things. His new view was limited, he could not see as much through this new lens like he could with an unfettered eye. But maybe this new lens provided a different type of focus as he looked out onto the world.

He now had a new opportunity, he can now share what he sees. He can capture the view of the world which only he posses, a new ability moving from observing to telling, from receiving, to giving. What story is he going to tell, what images will he share. How will the narrative change as he learns how to tell a new story, both with his new camera but also with his new perspective as a budding adult?

His camera and him will grow up together, what things will they be able to tell the world as a boy, becoming a man starts to see anew?