I don’t have words. Whenever I try to put words together into a sentence to share about my experience in Tanzania, words fall short. I’ve tried several times, with several responses each geared for a different group of people, but each time the sentences trail off…and then I try to end with a story to illustrate my point. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t.
Like there is the story of the college student who waited for our group as we traveled to our partner congregation. And when our can broke down and needed attention, we had a chance to have an extended “unexpected” conversation. The heart of his message was his gratitude to Prince of Peace for the 6 years of scholarships that helped him move from primary school to secondary school and now into the University. Soon, after a time student teaching, he will be a teacher giving back to another community because of the investment this congregation made in him. As a professor and member of Prince of Peace, it was awesome to see the joy in his face and the thanksgiving in his heart.
There is the string of stories that highlight the Bega Kwa Bega – Shoulder to Shoulder – partnership between the Saint Paul Area Synod and the Iringa Diocese. We signed guest books filled with familiar names from MN, we met Tanzanians who have worked on projects with our friends (i.e. Fred Bergsrud, my childhood neighbor, working with them in agriculture) and we made instant connections, like finding out our interpreter went to seminary with one of my PhD colleagues. With so many ambassadors going back and forth between MN and Iringa, many conversations found common ground very quickly even though I could not speak Swahili or get around town on my own.
Pictures do a better job at communicating, but they too can be flat. The relationships cultivated between members of our group goes beyond the smiles seen in our pictures. The appreciation for church leaders in Iringa is hard to capture in the “group shot” at the DIRA office. The pictures of faces of children, mothers, and farmers are beautiful, but hardly capture the full essence of their lives and community. And the sunset photos do not begin to shed light on the stunning views we had from the top of the mountain, say nothing about the ones of elephants, lion, and giraffes.
Relationships provide the best avenue. So many – new and old – and so diverse. Traveling with a group ages 15 to 76 provides it’s own richness. Add to that the vast array of experiences of the people we encountered that surfaced in conversations around meals, in worship, in celebrations, and in times of trial. The book of Romans reminds us we are one body with many members…and to see that sameness and difference at play over the course of two weeks was amazing.
At the end of the day, I’m grateful to be part of a global church that is rooted in relationships, cares about the world, and takes seriously its call to love God and neighbor. My heart of full. I learned a lot, and have much to reflect on. And my web of ministry partners has expanded.
I’m home from Tanzania, but my experience in Tanzania is still living within me.