earthen vessels, East Africa, and the gospel
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Pay no Attention to the White Man in Front

Mbugani is still remote enough that the presence of white skin causes commotion. This can be good and bad for the advance of the gospel. It may attract people to hear. But it may also become a distraction. [Read more →]

August 2, 2017   No Comments

Three Day Tour

Since the beginning of 2016 I have made monthly visits to Nyakaliro and Lusolelo. The rough roads and the Gulf that separate those villages from our home would otherwise make it difficult to keep in touch. A weekend trip gives me some dedicated time to encourage the pastors (Jonas and Laurent) and participate in their church planting or teaching efforts.

Typically, I leave home on Saturday morning, arrive in Nyakaliro late afternoon, and then participate in evangelistic visitation or spend the evening with Jonas. I stay overnight there. Sunday morning I preach in one of the two churches and spend the afternoon with Laurent.

Now that both of these congregations are working to start new churches, the weekend agenda can fill up quickly. My monthly visit in January expanded to 3 days to include the monthly pastors’ meeting. [Read more →]

February 16, 2017   No Comments

November-December 2016 Ministry Update

Bible Institute class

Bible Institute students after class on spiritual growth

The news since the last update that floats to the top is, perhaps, a subtle shift of my attention from Usagara to Bible Institute preparations. I continue to make regular trips to Usagara to work with William. On Sundays there, I have completed a sermon series through the Gospel of Mark. The climax was a survey of the things that Jesus gave up in service to us (Mark 14 and 15). No matter how difficult you consider your own circumstances, our Lord certainly understands suffering.

Joint Church Worship Service

On Sunday December 4 the churches of Usagara, Shadi, and Sweya met together for a marathon worship service. This provided like-minded believers—who would not otherwise know each other—an opportunity to meet and encourage one another. We deliberately planned one specific kind of encouragement in that we invited Bible Institute students from the other 3 churches to give testimony to what God is doing through them. In the joint service students from Lusolelo preached the gospel; students from Sengerema taught the children; and others led the congregation in song. Dan Eads, Pastor Laurent, and myself each preached; Pastors Hamisi and Jonas gave testimony via letter. Yeah, it was a long morning—about four hours.

To add to the excitement, Pastor and Mrs. Samson’s baby girl was born earlier the same morning. Samson came back to church to participate (by his own will). Also, during my sermon, a snake entered our house where Laura and the kids were taking a halftime break. Everyone is fine—at least nobody fell out of an upper story window from over-tiredness!

Many people have responded to the Bible Institute students’ and pastors’ mutual exhortation that day and registered as new students. Next week we repeat the first class on personal evangelism and the meta-narrative of Scripture, “The Story of the Bible.” With more than 50 interested, we might actually have too many students to handle.

Prayer Update

  1. Three months after the Bible Institute class on spiritual growth, the students are making great progress with their homework. They were assigned to regularly read or listen to God’s word and pray in response. Their pastors report that this has been both incredibly challenging and rewarding for the students. Let’s thank God and pray that He continues to make His word a means of spiritual renewal.
  2. Please pray that the young church in Usagara will develop habits of taking in God’s word and praying together. William and I are planning in-home visits to encourage informal group reading and prayer gatherings.
  3. Evangelism continues in Bukokwa where a temporary meeting structure has been erected. Those who have responded to gospel conversations are invited to meet for teaching and worship. Pray that the group will pursue a clear commitment to the gospel and obedience to God’s word.
  4. Being reminded how influential our example can be for good or for ill, please pray with us that God will continue making us people of Christlike mercy, faith, and love, and that our progress in such matters would be evident (1 Tim 4:15).

December 15, 2016   1 Comment

First Wedding in Usagara

wedding party in the tent

In June a young couple from Usagara got engaged. We then worked together through the process of giving a bride price. This past Saturday Shukuru and Anna got hitched before their family, friends, and fellow church members. We knocked out a wall to accommodate everyone (you can do that when walls are reed mats!).

This was the first wedding held by this church and the first I have ever officiated. It is a personal privilege to have walked with Shukuru and Anna through the engagement process. I might say that these engagement and wedding customs are likely to utterly exhaust a couple financially and emotionally. But I also have seen how it has drawn this young church closer together and how, over it all, the sanctity of Christian marriage is sufficient for quite a bit of rigamarole. Now the party is over, the couple starts their life together, and we pick up our prayers for them.

November 8, 2016   No Comments

An Engagement in Usagara

Last Monday I participated in a Tanzanian rite of passage: the negotiating of a bride price. After such a brief time working in Usagara we are already heading toward the first marriage among us. Since it’s in everyone’s best interest to make the engagement official, we agreed that the young man along with representatives of the church should meet with the young lady’s family to make intentions known.

couple in Usagara

A Christian Version of Tradition

Traditionally, marriages were negotiated between families. These days the church is more often filling the role that role especially when the couple are Christian and the family is not. The church’s involvement preserves the good aspects of tradition while enabling believing couples to dispense with non-Christian customs. For example, covenant-like accountability in marriage is good; but overbearing parents trying to force traditional religion on the new family is not good.

Most of our churches favor a procedure like as follows: the young man ready to marry approaches church leadership. The pastor counsels the young man and plans are made to start meeting with the young woman’s family for negotiations. The pastor and other adult men from the church would represent the young man in these meetings. Their objectives would be first to secure the consent of the young woman and her family, agree to a bride price which would be paid to the bride’s family, and then arrange plans for the wedding.

Meaning of Bride Price

An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. (Proverbs 31:10)

The bride price is an expression of the groom’s commitment to his bride (Compare Gen 34:12; Ex 22:16–17). Traditionally, it is also seen as a compensation to the bride’s family for giving up one of their household workers (to start a new family usually near or at the groom’s parents’ home).

The closest thing we have to the bride price is the engagement ring. But unlike our customs, the bride price is arranged by families, paid collectively from one family to another, given as cows and/or cash, and could be relatively more costly than the equivalent of that ‘one month’s income’ guideline we hear from Western jewelers. At any rate, the comparison makes for some pretty interesting thought experiments. I couldn’t help but imagine my parents sitting down with Laura’s parents to negotiate how many carats her diamond engagement ring should be. If the discussion went any thing like bride price negotiations here, her parents would certainly point out that she has a college degree, there are other eligible men lining up, and so on. (I’m so glad we did not have to do that!)

how many cows?

Outcome and Take-Aways

For our part we were successful last Monday. We received the bride’s family’s blessing and reached agreement on a bride price. If deadlines for delivering it are met, we should have a wedding by this time next year.

Other miscellaneous observations as an outsider:

  • The negotiating skills at work on that day truly impressed me. The Tanzanian reputation for talking their opponents into submission was proven on that day. Negotiations lasted 6 hours that day, but typically could go on for days.
  • The trip provided the opportunity to visit a part of the country I’ve never been to before.

    Msalala, Geita Region, Tanzania

  • I might consider introducing our family to this custom by the time Kyla comes of age (but most definitely after Ian marries)
  • When asked to be one of the young man’s representatives, I hesitated thinking that I had nothing to offer the negotiating process. But I was told that the family would be interested in pastoral involvement. So, in the end, I was glad to represent the spiritual interests of the couple.

July 20, 2016   1 Comment

Encounters with African Traditional Religion

witchdoctor[image credit: BBC News]

I used to be of the impression that outward and ritualistic practice of African Traditional Religion had become so unpopular in Tanzania that it’s practitioners were now just a small and marginalized minority. I’ve since been forced to readjust my thinking. Belief in the supernatural aspects of traditional religion are alive and well. Perhaps the evidence of this is most visible in places like Lusolelo, where we are further removed from the city. Here are some recent encounters. [Read more →]

June 28, 2016   No Comments

Jonas Update

Remember Jonas?

Some of you may remember the testimony of Jonas’s departure from the church in Lusolelo as I shared it in our US church meetings last year. I explained his struggle to make ends meet and the circumstances which led to his stepping down as their pastor. Mentioning his experience was intended to help you see the complexity of the challenges facing the Tanzanian churches: specifically that spiritual growth in the churches is in some way affected by the economic condition of the churches and their pastors.

Jonas’s is one example among a few similar circumstances that led us to begin temporarily supporting the Tanzanian pastors with modest stipends and helping their churches with building projects. Similar thinking is driving our agricultural projects.

Rebound

Jonas’s spiritual and material recovery since those days has been a source of thanksgiving to God and encouragement to us. After leaving Lusolelo, Jonas returned to his sending church in Nyakaliro. Having reconciled with the church in Lusolelo, he took up occasional ministry with the church in Nyakaliro. His service stepped up when Pastor Elias made the move from there to Sweya. [Read more →]

May 26, 2016   No Comments

How Much Does it Cost?

A recent sermon preached in Usagara provides a means to consider both an important matter in following Jesus as well as an example of contextualizing Bible teaching. [Read more →]

May 18, 2016   1 Comment

Anthony Sollo

Anthony Sollo came to the tent in Usagara for Sunday worship a few weeks after starting services. Already committed to finding a church which preaches so that people may know God rather than getting cars and wealth, our little group instantly appealed to him. Since then, I’ve come to recognize him as one of the most interesting Tanzanians I’ve met so far. Let me introduce him to you using a few recent episodes.

Anthony Sollo and his wife at Bible Institute class

Anthony Sollo and his wife at Bible Institute class

Bible Institute

About two weeks after he started attending Sunday worship services in Usagara, he asked for the opportunity to study the Bible with us. This has been an interest of his for some time. Anthony’s primary occupation is volunteer work with an organization which defends human rights. Among other matters, he advocates for victims of accidents and accused criminals who would otherwise become victims of vigilante justice. He believes that a better understanding of the Scriptures will help him serve his neighbors.

I failed to mention it in the video about our recent Bible Institute class, but we were joined by five students from the church plant in Usagara; Anthony and his wife were among them. We believe that he heard the gospel clearly for the first time that week. Though he grew up going to church, he says that what he learned at Bible Institute convinced him that he had yet to be born again.

Butimba Prison

In a way, he has returned the favor by revealing to me many aspects of Tanzanian life that I know little about. Part of his job is to educate his fellow Tanzanians about the less-known details of the judicial and civil systems (most details such as basic rights are not understood). It’s all appeared pretty opaque to me, so Anthony proposed taking me on a visit to the nearby prison.

Butimba Prison is “home” to over 2,000 inmates–very few of whom have definite sentences. Once you’re locked up, it’s very difficult to get you out. We went in for two purposes: to distribute informational materials provided by Anthony’s parent organization and to explore the possibility of starting a gospel ministry the prison. Regarding the first, the prison staff officers were very receptive to receive any information and training regarding legal rights, admitting that “many [of the inmates] had no reason to be locked up.” (!!) Regarding permission to preach the gospel to the inmates, we would have to get permission from higher-ups in the corrections system.

Jumanne

Anthony is currently in the next major city south of Mwanza locating a home for an abandoned boy that showed up on the doorstep of one of our friends in Mwanza City last Sunday. This boy is about 12-yrs-old; he is originally from north-eastern Tanzania; and he answers to Jumanne, which is Swahili for “Tuesday.” There are procedures and systems for helping abandoned children, but, unfortunately, I’m not that familiar with them. Tumaini Children’s Home is already at capacity, the police have turned Jumanne away and social service system is overwhelmed (they weren’t happy to see us bringing them another child). So what do you do?

Anthony stepped in to help find an orphanage that could care for “Tuesday.” He has received an invitation to stay in Shinyanga where some close friend will vouch for the boy’s wellbeing. But since “Tuesday” is not in the welfare system, somebody will be needed to track down any relatives to confirm his biographical details and the truth regarding his abandonment. That somebody will be Anthony.

Shinyanga

Take-Aways from a Few Laps with Anthony

  1. Great commission work touches a staggeringly large swathe of life. Let’s pray that, where it isn’t already, the Lordship of Christ may reach into areas like parenting and legal matters.
  2. As demonstrated by the comments of the prison staff, the line between guilty and innocent is so much more blurry here than it is in the West.
  3. Even after 3.5 years here, it is still fitting to be the learner. It is good to lean on Tanzanian friends as resident guides.
  4. God is sovereign in building His church. He is drawing people from different walks of life and equipping them in various ways to accomplish His purposes. It’s a beautiful thing.

April 8, 2016   No Comments

Foray into Conservation Agriculture

As we were describing the challenges facing the Tanzanian churches during our furlough, I sporadically mentioned the potential role of conservation agriculture. Many of you, in fact, proposed the same idea after hearing how the condition of a pastor and his family depends so much on how successful his and the church members’ farms are fairing. Regardless of the spiritual condition of the church, it is becoming more apparent that a church cannot become independent without sufficient giving. We have already seen is that as farms and fishing ventures fail, church giving suffers and the pastor is forced to take time that would otherwise be used for ministry and put it towards other means to put food on the table. If the pastor is forced to choose between his family and his ministry, the spiritual condition of the church inevitably suffers.

corn and jack beans

Excepting how unusual the current year’s weather is, the general trend seems to be that those who are dependent on their own farms are struggling more and more to produce a sufficient amount of food. Especially for the people near us around the Lake, the abundance of fish and staple crops that their parents and grandparents once enjoyed is no longer something that can be counted on. [Read more →]

December 30, 2015   2 Comments