Sunrise to sunset ... in Tanzania
Liz Burns returned to Tanzania with CMS in January, 2004, after spending two years as a short-term volunteer, assisting the Kagera Anglican Diocese with administration and training.
Liz is teaching at Kagera Technical and Christian Training Centre part-time and visiting local parishes to help them develop their Bible teaching ministries. Here is the story of one of her trips to a remote part of Tanzania.
Recently I organised to travel to one of the more remote areas of the Diocese (about 200km north) for a three-day seminar on the meaning of the Bible and Bible Studies.
I was invited by one of the students who had been in the course at the end of last year and his pastor. This is the first three-day seminar that I have been able to organise and I thought it would be best to take one or two others to help me do the teaching.
The Parish of Kaisho in the north of Tanzania includes 13 churches and is about 85 km long, set over a mountain range that the pastor usually travels by bicycle or by foot. Most of the evangelists who run the churches have never had any training and several do not own Bibles due to availability and cost.
This area is very mountainous with many undeveloped areas; it borders Rwanda and Uganda and has a history of Rwandan settlement.
Initially I asked one evangelist to accompany me, Josias from the Murutabo Parish, who had been helping me with the work there. We also asked some other local evangelists who had previously studied at the Bible school, a pastor from a church where we started Bible Studies as well as a Bible school student. Most of the team had never traveled to the north and were excited to be getting a chance to see what it would be like.
We set off early on a cold and windy Sunday morning. With only one puncture on the way we finally reached a small town and then headed to the pastor's house amongst coffee trees, the cash crop in this area. The international coffee prices have a huge impact on this region and they have been very low over recent years.
We stayed the night at the pastor's house and I was given a room of my own with a bed and mosquito net. I showered as the sun set, looking up at the stars whilst surrounded by a three-sided banana leaf shelter equipped with a bucket of hot water. By the light of kerosene lamps we shared a dinner of chicken, rice, mangos, pineapple and other fruits.
The next morning en route to the seminar we stopped for breakfast at the evangelist's house and met the members of a Bible study group he has started with people from a mix of churches - particularly Anglican and Pentecostal. The evangelists on the team welcomed the idea of working with other denominations.
We arrived at the seminar to singing, a hot drink of chai and chapattis. After introductions were made we divided into three groups, for the first of six Bible Studies. We had taken Bibles with us and for some, even some of the evangelists, it was the first time they had had a chance to hold a Bible themselves.
I took a group of children and we read a children's version of the gospels together under the coffee and banana trees in the nearby field. The children surrounding me were eager to read and I gave them stickers as rewards for correctly answering simple comprehension questions about what we read.
After about half an hour I left them to continue reading for themselves and went to visit the three bible study groups. The team was apprehensive at first but gained quickly in confidence. Questions and discussion were flowing often requiring translation from the local language to Swahili.
I taught a session on the meaning of the Bible followed by another Bible study where the members were beginning to understand what we were doing and to warm up to the idea. This was the pattern that we followed for the next two days.
The locals came to see what was going on and to join in with singing at the start of every session and also to listen when I did the main group teaching session in the middle of the day.
The second night we showed the "Jesus' film, the story of Jesus' life based on the Gospel of Luke. Another night we sang and danced together in a mix of languages and dancing styles, worshipping God in prayer and in the action of sharing meals.
The team were amazed how little people knew, how few leaders had Bibles, at the number of languages that had to be used, the size of the parish, the lack of pastors in the area and the living conditions of their fellow evangelists.
But they were encouraged to find everyone so keen and eager to learn. It was great to have brought a team of evangelists to teach. They had the chance to learn but it also enabled the local evangelists to think that this was something that they could do too. At other places it has been a case of, “We need the expert (teacher, missionary) to do this. We can't.”
It was great to see God's word opened, thought about and discussed. Now those who have had a chance to learn are ready to try to take that information with them to teach their churches, whether in Bible Studies they will start themselves, or in their preaching. Fellowship across the Diocese and sharing in ministry all made this a very encouraging time.