ADVENTures

Christmas-time in Tanzania doesn’t really feel like Christmas.  People don’t decorate much, there are no big carol services, no one has real plans or Christmas parties, and the weather is nowhere near your typical White Christmas scene.  A few weeks ago, Grace Kanungha (boss/mentor/host mom/all around go-to person) and I were lamenting about Christmas traditions we missed most, but agreed that not having a “Western” Christmas wasn’t the end of the world.  Last week though, she came to me with the “crazy” (her words) idea of putting together a nativity play for our church service the following Sunday.  I love spur of the moment plans, so obviously I agreed and this left us with a little less than a week to plan an entire service for a congregation who had little to no experience or knowledge of what we were going to do.  She planned liturgy and logistics while I was in charge of costumes and props.  At first, this seemed like a daunting task.  At home, most churches would have some extra fabric and craft supplies lying around, but our church in Solya doesn’t.  There are very few shops you can just run to and buy supplies, and as much as I wish there was, Michael’s hasn’t made it to rural Tanzania yet.  However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it doesn’t have to be perfect.  Cardboard, sticks, and bits of fabric we had around the house could be turned into perfectly good props and costumes.  Dishrags tied around your head and a piece of paper with cotton balls on can turn anyone into a shepherd!  These people had zero expectations of what my vision of a nativity play looked like, and they would not know or even care that everything was (quickly) handmade by a 22 year old and a 13 year old (my wonderful helper, Patrick).  What mattered to the congregation at Solya Church was that they got to see, some for the first time, the entire story acted out before their eyes.  They were able to visualize and put human faces to the story that we’ve all heard a million times.  They could envision the scary idea of giving birth in a stable; one just like a stable that they or their neighbors probably have.

There’s a sign in our living room here that says “Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.”  I think about it often, and think it’s a perfect motto, not just for missionaries, but for people everywhere.  When you try your best and do what you can, even if it’s not much, God makes it enough.  So next time you’re having a little panic because you can’t find the ~holiest~ halo for your little angel, or Joseph’s beard falls apart halfway through the service, take a breath and know that it’s okay.  The costumes and props, no matter how adorable, are not the point.  The point is the message and the incredible gift God gave us when He sent His son to us.  These plays are meant to honor and remember that gift, and I really think God will appreciate whatever we put before him, even if it’s a little messy.

Look around

I am a person who likes to stay busy.  If I’m idle for too long, I start to feel restless and a little useless honestly.  In college, I filled my time with school, church, friends, and work, with barely any time left over.  I loved this schedule and relished in my busy-ness (even though you could often hear me complaining, it was way better than just doing nothing).  Here in Tanzania, school is out for summer break and I am left with a whole lot of idle time.  There’s no work to fill my hours, many fewer friends to spend time with, church is only a few hours a week, and so I am left with lots and lots of hours to fill.  I’ve taken to reading, listening to podcasts, spending time on social media, and planning for the future.  This last activity has been my real time-waster recently.  I think about things I could do months in advance, I’ve planned activities for the youth group I’ll be leading next year, I created a plan for how I want to decorate my future apartment, and I even planned an entire camp theme, down to each skit’s costumes.  I consumed myself with thoughts and plans for the future.

Last week I was taking a walk (another way I enjoy spending idle time here) and thinking about the future, not paying attention, when I tripped on a rock and fell flat on my face.  I was shocked for a second, found that the only thing that hurt was my ego, and ended up laughing it off as my own clumsiness.  As the day went on, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and not just remembering my embarrassment.  I had this feeling that it wasn’t just a freak accident.  I think it was a not-so-gentle reminder from God to be more present.  To stop and take a look around and realize what an incredible place I am in and what amazing things I could be missing when my mind is elsewhere.

I think it’s easy to slip into fantasy when your mind and body is idle, but when you take time to be present in the moment you allow yourself to be open to all things God is trying to show you.  This morning as I read the daily scripture, I was struck again by God telling me to be more mindful of my presence.  Today’s psalm (85:1-2, 8-13) said “I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, for he is speaking peace to his faithful people”.  Despite my discomfort with inactivity, regardless of my desire to remain aware of what is happening in the lives of my friends and family, no matter where I am or what I am doing, God wants to be, and DESERVES to be, heard above all.  He wants to tell us to be present and aware and above all he wants us to find peace with our surroundings.  If we constantly worry about the future and bemoan our trivial problems, we close ourselves off to the amazing gifts God is giving us right here, right now.  The second reading today (2 Peter 3: 8-15) says that as we are waiting for God to come for us, “strive to be found by him at peace”.  These next few weeks, I am challenging myself to devote more hours of my time to finding peace in my idleness rather than agitation, deliberately taking time to listen to God and being aware of my surroundings, and really looking around and appreciating the incredible gifts God has given me.  I encourage you to do the same, especially in this busy Christmas season.  Worries and thoughts about the future cannot be put away forever, they are important too, but every now and then, take a second to breathe and listen, before God sends a rock to trip you into awareness too.

Recently,

My apologies, I know this post is long overdue, but life happens and you get busy, and I’ve been quite busy trying to figure out my place here in Kilimatinde!  It’s been about a month and a half since I moved here, and I finally feel like I’m fitting in to the lifestyle here!  This post is going to jump around a bit, but that’s just because so much has been happening; bear with me.

Last week we celebrated Thanksgiving, which was wonderful!  There are two other Americans here with me, Mary and Jim from California!  Between the three of us and some help from our generous hosts, we were able to make a pretty lovely Tanzanian Thanksgiving.  We had macaroni and cheese, roasted potatoes and vegetables, pork, salad, and for dessert, apple and mango pie.  Quite the feast, and it was a lot of fun to make.  Although it’s hard being away from home for big family holidays like that, I am immensely grateful for the friendships I have made here and the Kilimatinde family I have been so graciously welcomed in to.

Rainy season is beginning, so everyone is hard at work on their farms planting crops.  (Everyone means EVERYONE, so this has affected school attendance too; it’s all hands on deck for the family farms, children included.)  Thankfully, the rain brings cool winds and chilly mornings, though the afternoons are still obscenely hot and humid.  The rains also bring lots of exciting new wildlife, such as snakes and scorpions!  I’ve already spotted one green mamba in the house and killed a scorpion on my way to the bathroom at night.  I’d honestly be quite content if this is all the wildlife I encounter so close!  Luckily for us, there are always helpful Tanzanians around who have more than enough practice killing dangerous snakes!  Despite all of these crazy animals, I am thankful for rain and the new life it is bringing to our little village.

Some people have been asking about my daily life and activities, so I figured it might be interesting to give an example of one of my normal days!  On average, I wake up around 6:45 and start getting ready for school.  Breakfast usually consists of fruit (mangoes or bananas) or toast with jam or peanut butter.  Around 7:30, myself and two other volunteers (Mary and Simon) walk to school.  School starts at 8 but students usually get there quite early so we do too to supervise and have some morning playtime.  During school, my job tends to vary.  Most of the time, I work as assistant teacher, doing whatever the main teacher needs be that keeping students quiet, making copies, or occasionally teaching lessons in math or English.  This week in school we gave the students their end of year exams, so for the past few weeks the volunteer’s job was making these exams and going over the syllabus for each class to make plans for next year as well.  (School years here start in January and end in November- we are about to have summer break!)  Nursery school has three classes based on age and ability and for now we just have one primary class.  They are taught English, Kiswahili, math, and science, with occasional lessons in craft and singing.  Sometimes at the end of the day there is a time for structured play- which Jim (accurately) calls structured chaos.  This is a really good time to get to know the kids and form a more personal relationship than simply student and teacher.  School ends at 11am every day, so after we head home.

Afternoons are really where all of that rest comes in.  Because it is so hot, I usually just try to find a cool place to sit and read.  Sometimes I’ll walk to the village where, if you’re lucky, you can find a cold soda and some chocolate cookies.  The children are always around and looking for someone to play with so lots of afternoons are spent with blocks and trains and cars.  There are scenic lookouts you can get to after just a short walk; these are best viewed in the morning or evening, and offer spectacular views of the sunrise and sunset.  Right now there are two medical students working at the Kilimatinde hospital, so many afternoons I will spend at their house chatting, hearing stories from small town hospitals, or playing card games.  Afternoons offer lots of opportunity!  We tend to eat lunch around 1pm.  Lunch often consists of chapati (a type of flatbread) with tomato and cucumber, peanut butter, or leftover beans.  Sometimes we make salads, or if we really want a treat we walk to the village to get Chips Mayai, which is basically a french fry omelette.

In the evening, we eat around 6 with the whole family (or as many as we can gather at one time, there’s about 12 of us right now).  Dinner is usually rice with some sort of sauce- beans, lentils, or peas usually.  Grace is an incredible baker, so occasionally we will have cake for dessert.  After dinner, we chat, clean up, play board games like Catan or Dominion, or just sit and watch a movie.  For me, bedtime is fairly early, around 9, because of the early mornings (if you know me well, you know I struggle with mornings).  So that’s it! An average day in the life of a missionary in Kilimatinde!  Life is slower paced here, but I am actually enjoying the extra time to rest and just be.  I’ve already read 10 books, and have a few more lined up, but feel free to send recommendations!

I’ll leave you with a prayer for rain from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer:

O God, heavenly Father, who by your Son Jesus Christ
hast promised to all those who seek your kingdom and its
righteousness all things necessary to sustain their life: Send
us, we entreat you, in this time of need, such moderate rain
and showers, that we may receive the fruits of the earth, to
our comfort and to your honor; through Jesus Christ our
Lord. Amen.

Reflections on my First Week

Today is my second Sunday in Kilimatinde, and as I sat in church this morning, I was blown away with the way the people here worship.  As I sat, taking in the incredible praise songs and dances, the shouts of Bwana Asifiwe (praise the Lord), and the prayers of the celebrant, I started thinking about a prayer I have said a hundred times, but had never fully understood until then.  It’s from Compline, the evening time prayer from the Episcopal prayer book, and it reads, “Be present, O merciful God . . . so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness.”

These last few weeks have brought me a million changes.  I moved halfway across the world.  I left behind friends and family and took a chance that honestly is still kind of terrifying to me.  I’ve come to a country where I barely speak the language.  I started a job that I’ve never done before, and have almost no qualifications to do.  Trying to make a space for myself and figure out what I’m supposed to be doing is tiresome.  Trying to learn about and relate to my students and fellow teachers is difficult and overwhelming.  Simply being more exposed to the sun and weather is physically draining.  In short, I am wearied, for sure.

Despite this I feel at peace, because I recognized this God that they were worshiping in church, he’s the same one from home.  Regardless of the miles I’ve travelled and the culture and language barriers I’ve experienced, He stays unchanged.  I think people assume that missionaries are sent to Godless places, but this couldn’t be more untrue for Kilimatinde.  God came here long before I did, and let me tell you, he is ALIVE here.  He is present not just in church, but is integrated into all aspects of life.  He’s still the same God that makes you feel at home when you pray to Him.  He’s the God you see in the smile on a child’s face.  He’s still the God that urges you to join in with song and dance, wanting your praise not just with words but with your whole body and soul.  He’s still that God that guides me through the unknown and gives me strength to carry on.  He’s the God that will show me what I am meant to be doing here in Tanzania.  He will take my fear and trepidation and turn it into confidence and joy.  It doesn’t matter that the locals worship in a different language and do not know me yet, we worship the same Lord and are brothers and sisters under Him.  We are one church, one family, one people.

Change is a good thing.  It’s frightening and at times can seem like the end of the world, but it is good.  Change pushes you out of your comfort zone and encourages growth- spiritually, emotionally, physically.  I welcome the changes of my new life here in Africa, and I rest easy knowing that no matter what happens in this life, my God will never change, will never abandon me, and will always answer when I call to Him.  Change is inevitable, and I look forward to seeing the person God is leading me to become through my time here.

I’ll leave you with a prayer for guidance, from the Book of Common Prayer:

“O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgement, and light rises up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what you would have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in your light we may see light, and in your straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen”

To new adventures

Welcome to my first blog post!  I might be jumping the gun on this a bit since I won’t leave for a few more months, but I thought it might be nice to share some details about what I will be doing and so forth.  So, let’s begin:

Where: Kilimatinde, Tanzania.  If you search this town on Wikipedia, the entire entry is one simple sentence, “Kilimatinde is a village in the Singida region of Tanzania,” if that gives you any idea of how small of a place it is.  It is almost directly in the center of Tanzania, and while it is fairly rural, there are larger cities like Dodoma that are only a short road trip away.  There are two distinct seasons, wet (Dec- April) and dry (the rest of the months).  I’ve heard it’s incredibly hot, but more of a dry heat, so maybe it will be more pleasant than the Mississippi summers I am already used to.  Tanzania is a gorgeous and diverse country that is home to many attractions such as Mount Kilimanjaro, Serengeti National Park, and beautiful beaches along the Indian Ocean.  I really cannot wait to call this place home.

What: St. John’s Seminary.  This school is made up of a nursery, primary, and secondary school along with the Seminary, and it is located in the Rift Valley Anglican Diocese.  I do not have a set job within the schools yet, but after some discussions with the people in charge, they think I would be a good fit working in the nursery, leading after school activities and sports for girls, reading in English with some of the younger students, and acting as friend/mentor to some of the older girls in the school, along with anything else they throw at me.  Working with kids has been a passion of mine for some time, so being able to continue that ministry in such a different place is truly a dream come true for me!  While serving there for a year, I will be living in a house created for the volunteers that work at the school.  I’ve heard that the volunteers come from diverse backgrounds, so I’m really looking forward to meeting people from all around the world.  Honestly, learning that I will be living with roommates was a nice surprise and will be such an interesting experience.  Knowing that I won’t be living alone in a totally new culture is pretty comforting.

When: August.  The official date is not set yet, as they are trying to coordinate the arrivals of multiple volunteers so as not to have to take the 11 (!!!) hour bus trip to the Dar es Salaam airport more than they have to.  As I learn more about my departure, I’ll let you all know.

For now, that’s basically everything I know about my placement.  I am beyond excited to take this new step, and am fully prepared to be completely out of my comfort zone.  Living well means taking risks and doing something a little crazy.  Taking a year to move halfway around the world is just my kind of crazy, and knowing that I am doing it for such an amazing cause makes it all the more worth it.  Service for God has become a passion of mine over the past years, and I thank Him for the opportunity to do His works in Tanzania.

I’ll leave you today with Galatians 5:13, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh ; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”