TENNESSEE TO TANZANIA
A mission to remember!
Like all mission trips you try to keep your expectations to a minimum so you can be flexible and after having been on a few, I know I’m going to receive as much or more than what I’m giving. However this was no ordinary mission trip. By far it was the smallest group I had ever been part of not to mention the furthest I had ever traveled. There were only two ladies accompanying, Charlotte and Tab. What made this trip so extraordinary from any other, was the impact that it has had on my life. I’m not saying that other mission trips I have been on haven’t made an impact but it was nothing like Tanzania.
We started on our 36 hour journey to Tanzania on June 3rd, 2019. If you have ever flown for a long period of time, you understand how taxing it is on your body. We arrived a little after 8pm Tanzanian time on June 4th, and spent almost 3 hours battling with custom agents over things that we had brought with us to give to the kids, mainly the soccer balls. They thought we were going to resell these items and wanted us to tax us highly for bringing them into the country. Once we FINALLY got through customs, we met our hosts for the first time. Cathy and BJ were all smiles and encouraging from the start, which was ironic considering that was what we were there to do for them. We had another hour car ride to where we would be staying the next two weeks. A little guest house, emphasis on the word little, would be our new home.
At the point of exhaustion, being completely fatigued and not to mention hungry, it was so hard to not let everything get to you, which for me it did. The little trickle of water whenever I tried to take a shower plus almost knocking myself out leaning up from the bunk bed too fast made me more than ready to turn around and come straight home! We all tried to settle in and find some rest on what seem to be like a concrete slab for a mattress. But tomorrow was going to be a new day, we were in Africa!
With a little over four hours of sleep, the morning came. The smell is one of the first thing that I noticed. You could smell dirt, not like the dirt back home, this had a very distinctive odor and the birds were in full chorus telling us good morning. A little after 7 o’clock, we heard a knock on the door. It was the two daughters of the missionary family we were there to visit and support, Michaela, age 15 and Caity, age 9. They had come to retrieve us and walk us to their house. You could see Tab fill with elation when she saw them as she knew them from her previous two trips and was so happy to with them again. My first impression of them was joy, complete joy when they stepped in the door. This was mine and Charlotte’s first "karibu" - "welcome" to Africa.
We made the less than a mile walk to their house attempting to greet those that we came in contact with. Every single moment was a learning experience. Upon arriving at their house we were welcomed not only with hugs but with a home-cooked breakfast which would be our norm for the next two weeks. We started right to work after breakfast unpacking the seven 50 pound suitcases full of items we brought for the family and our mission. After a couple hours of unpacking and sorting through items, we got them ready for the next two weeks then we went for our first visit.
First stop Pastor Philemoni’s home and church which is in Merirani. We visited for a short time with his family and then walked through the church, which consist of four walls with cutouts for windows and doors and a roof. BJ wanted to show us the needs they have and why it is so important to have support from those of us in the USA. The main need for this church is to have the interior walls re-stuccoed because as you touched them, pieces would fall off into your hand. I immediately thought of how many thousands of dollars it would take. As that thought went through my mind, BJ surprised me when he said they needed just $500 to have it done. I thought well that's not a lot and once again I was surprised when BJ commented that $500 was a lot of money for them. Reality hit once again for me that we are in Africa.
After visiting with Pastor Philemoni ‘s family, we went with him for a home visit to another pastor's home. Next stop was to see the new site for a second church in Kingereka, next to Blue Tananite English Medium Primary School. The site would house a church (just a roof and four walls) that would be about 40x40. Yes, my brain starts calculating what prices would be in the States, and as the thoughts start BJ says, “We’ll need about $10-$15,000 to build a nice church”. This meant actual doors and windows. Which raising that kind of money would compare to trying to raise $50-$75,000 in the States.
It is now time for lunch, and we stopped at Snow View Cafe for our first meal out in Africa. Important thing to remember; if you are not sure if the vegetables are washed with tap water, only eat them cooked and only drink from something that is bottle; i.e. water, Coke etc.. I have to say though that the food was excellent, and this would not be even close to the best we would eat while we there. It was time to head back to BJ and Cathy’s to rest, learn a little Swahili and go to diner. The day was amazing, for one exception that would plague me the rest of our trip. At some point that day I hurt my knee. What I thought was a “tweak”, I would later find out was a ruptured bursa at the suprapatellar, after going to the hospital a.k.a. the A-Z Health Care.
The next part of my journey is what most people around the world go to Africa to experience, a Safari. Charlotte and I left Thursday morning to start our Safari experience, Tab already chose not to go on this trip since she had already been on Safari on one of her past trips to Africa. So we began our 5 hour road trip to the Ngorongoro Crater. We stopped at the Maasai Market (similar to a flea market). Every booth you passed would beg you to come in and shop. They would say they made, painted or carved everything you see. Some of that was true but much of it was the same in each nook. Charlotte and I, like every tourist, found things we didn’t want to leave behind, but for her and I, the one thing we did not expect was to hear the praise and worship song Hosanna being played in the next isle over. A gentle reminder from God as to why we were there. Along the way we had our first “pleasure” of experiencing the Choo (squatty potty) and they mean it- squatty, which is hard enough in good health. Remember me saying I ruptured my bursa? You cannot bend your knee too well when it is the size of a cantaloupe. Arriving at our accommodations for the night we had a meal that would rival a 5 star restaurant.
The next morning we woke and headed for the Crater. I could write an entire book on this part of our journey, so I will say it was truly an experience of a lifetime. In less than eight hours we saw all the "Big Five" (Elephant, Lion, Leopard, Water Buffalo and Rhino) along with so much more to see.
The day back from Safari begins the real reason for coming to Africa. It is now Saturday and our first stop of the day is to Kiwoce Open School, which is a second chance school for teenagers that either lack the grades or finances to be able to go to secondary school, which would be our high school. Mama Grace had a burden for teenagers that could not continue on in school and she wanted to keep them from the streets or worse so she started the second chance school in 1982 under a tree. In Tanzania if you do not pass the test finishing 7th grade you are not allowed to continue in school. There is no “No Child Left Behind” program. If you are not smart or your family does not have money, the government will not let you continue. Many work farms or tend to livestock, but some of the girls are not so lucky. They may be given or sold to another family and some end up as sex slaves or prostitutes at 12 years of age or younger.
Next we headed to Treasures of Africa Orphanage. Our goal is simple, to love. The mission was to love on kids and caregivers, which would be our theme for the remainder of our time. We played, well I mostly watched and took pictures, with kids, held babies, laughed and loved. Several of these children were brought and left there by their parents for various reasons such as their family could not afford to keep them or their parents have died. In any case, adoption is a hard and long process here and statistically, if they don't come to the orphanage at a young age, most are not adopted.
VBS (Vacation Bible School) at Believers Fellowship Baptist Church would start out the next week where the theme of love and play continue. This is the church BJ started and it is an English speaking church for Tanzanians. We lead two days of VBS here and had about 25 kids attend. We taught them about how we are to be “salt” and “light “ to the world.
The next couple of days we had home visits and experienced life in the town of Moshi plus did a little shopping. Every moment was an opportunity to love people, to talk with them and see what life is like here. It was as if time had gone backwards about fifty years. The only true modern items were cell phones, everything else was surreal.
This next part, our last full day, was “Africa”. We went to a village over an hour car ride affectionately called a “Tanzanian massage” (vehicle rides on their dirt roads will vibrate your insides so hard its a full body workout). It was an experience I can barely put into words. There were over 130 kids and none of them spoke English. No one person except our group and the pastor of the village spoke English, but you would have never known it while we were playing. No words needed to be spoken to understand the heart. Like the song Sandy Patti sings, “Love in Any Language”, it is “fluently spoken here”. Smiles, hugs, a little hand slipping inside of yours when you’re not looking, these took the place of words. For over two hours we played and laughed. Then something even more extraordinary happened. We were there for them....to minister to them ... to do for them and yet we were the guest of honor. They had us to sit on the stage when lunch was being served like someone important. Up to that point I had worried about the food and if we might get sick eating it, which was still a possibility. While I had concerns of if it was safe, there was a sense that is just didn’t matter if we became sick. When you see kids eating beans and rice with their fingers and have no complaints it is hard not to feel as if my life has been too easy. You would have thought it was Christmas when the pastor passed out a Coke to each child (as I type this it is still hard to hold back the tears.)
When it was time to go I am not sure who was more sad for the day to end, us or the kids. Their faces come to me each day. I cannot begin to count the times we said to each other that day, “this is Africa”. This phrase represents life there. Everything is hard! At the beginning of this condensed story, remember the trickle of water in the shower? It led me to only having five hot showers the entire trip and don't forget the concrete feeling mattress. These are the things, the non important things, that those who live there face every day. The painting below, painted by Michaela is an accurate picture into the life in Tanzania. Life there is hard and yet everyone we met greeted us with a smile and "Jambo" ("how are you"), "Karibu" ("you are welcome here"), or "Asante Sana" ("thank you greatly").
My life will never be the same!
“The sounds are all as different As the lands from which they came And though our words are all unique Our hearts are still the same
Love in any language, straight from the heart Pulls us all together, never apart And once we learn to speak it, all the world will hear Love in any language, fluently spoken here”