Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
Like preachers from around the world, Sandra used these traditional scriptures for the Ash Wednesday service in the chapel at Msalato. We were invited to join Jesus on the forty-day journey to the cross as part of our spiritual training for ministry. The overflow crowd, which included the surrounding Msalato Bible villagers and many from the English congregation in Dodoma, sat on benches in the shade beneath the large tree in front of the chapel. As the service drew to a close, those outside were able to fully appreciate the magnificent various reds of an African setting sun. As we departed from one another, we knew we had worshipped in the beauty of his holiness where the Spirit was powerfully present. We left feeling blessed, united, and hopeful.
...the rains and the food situation
We returned to the college after our time in the U.S. to a lush, green, and overgrown campus. It is always rather shocking to our eyes to see the transformation that occurs in the month of December. Within two weeks of the rains coming, the landscape changes from brown to green, and the roads change from packed earth into mud and pools of water. This lasts until sometime in March when the rains cease. Then the greens will fade until December when the rains (hopefully) will come again. Such is the life cycle in this area. Many areas in Africa have two rainy seasons, but this area is totally dependent on one season. If the rains do not come or if they are not at the right time or in the right amount, there will be famine.
We thank God that the village of Msalato Bible has received ample rain, but it is not an area where people can grow large fields of crops. The soil is simply too poor. The town of Morogoro and Mvumi are traditionally the breadbasket areas for people in Dodoma Region, but, unfortunately, neither of these areas has gotten much rain since December. The corn along the road from Dodoma to Morogoro (3 hours east) has withered at 2 to 3 feet in height. The government has forecast famine for Dodoma, but thankfully, up to this time, we have seen little evidence of such in our immediate area. We can get a pretty good idea of the severity of the problem by the number of people who come to our door asking for food. So far, the number has not increased dramatically, as it did in 2005 and 2006, when we were compelled to have large distributions of corn every two weeks for two to four hundred people. The price of corn in the market, however, is now 60,000 TSh ($48.00) per 100 kilograms, which is over three times normal. This is not a good sign as it indicates a low supply and a large demand.
...walking in the rainy season
Nearly every afternoon at 5:15 P.M. sharp, Sandra and Iri Mato, a missionary priest from New Zealand, walk around the outside of the campus. In rainy season the scenery is magnificent with wild flowers and birds in abundance. The superb starling (an oxymoron?) is often seen flashing its iridescent blue wings in the late afternoon sun. Wildflowers abound. But all of the houses on the north side of the campus have been abandoned. You will note the picture of a crumbling house. In anticipation of building an international airport in this area, the government has given each family $230.00 with orders to move. As you can see from the picture, the roof of the house is missing. This family had a metal roof (very expensive here) and so they have removed it, leaving the mud bricks to return to dust there must be a Lenten sermon in there somewhere. It is a sad sight for the walkers because the children and women would run outside to greet them (if they weren’t already outside, as they often were, pulling weeds or shelling beans or pounding corn.) Sandra and Iri would then get to practice their greetings in Chigogo, the mother tongue of the Wagogo tribe who live in this area. The children would run along beside them for a little way, never failing to giggle at those crazy white people walking for exercise. Africans walk long distances as part of the daily routine of life in traveling to school, to work, to their farms. They therefore find the sport of walking incomprehensible.
...apologizing in advance
We have both felt burdened under the weight of writing this letter as we have been snowed under with work since our return from the states. After struggling with fits and starts, yesterday we had an epiphany. There is simply so much that has happened in the last few months that we cannot hope to contain it in one communiqué. Further more, when we tried, we even bored ourselves. So we have decided to lighten up and to just talk about some of the ordinary things that make us happy to be here. For all of those whom we have not thanked properly for gifts and for all of those who are not being properly informed of matters of interest to them, please forgive us. It is simply more than we can seem to do at this time. We will try to do better in the futuremore frequent shorter letterswell we can always hope!
...the little joys of being here
Sandra, who often has camera in hand, snapped these photos of the campus nursery school children this morning on their way home from school at 11:15 A.M. Many of these munchkins are children of our staff and pastors. Good morning, teacher. Good morning, teacher. Good morning, teacher. Everyone must be greeted. This greeting from the children is invariably followed by shikamoo, to which one answers marahaba, an untranslatable word. We have been told that shikamoo means something along the lines of I throw myself at your feet and the response of marahaba releases the greeter from that obligation. These are Arabic words to which the Kenyans take great offense, and you will not hear them in that country. Kenyans consider these words insulting, a reminder of the Arab slave trade days when the native people were forced to bow to their oppressors. Actually, we did hear this greeting once in our year in Kenya, but it turned out that the young woman was a Tanzanian! In Tanzania, although a people with a similar slave history and similar customs, it is considered the height of rudeness not to shikamoo an elder. What a difference a line makes---even an imaginary border line! Since moving to Tanzania four years ago, we have grown accustomed to being shikamoo-ed, and we respond as expected. We try not to dwell on the literal meaning of the terms!
All that aside, the smiles and joy of the children made Sandra happyhope they do you.
...and unexpected joy in the midst of the day
Just as Sandra walked back to the house after taking the children’s pictures, there was a HODI (the Tanzanian verbal equivalent of a knock-knock) at the front door. It was Ayubu Mazengo, the father of Martin, Martin’s godson, about whom we wrote last year after his death from malaria. Sometime after the funeral Sandra gave Ayubu money to buy mosquito nets. He came today to bring pictures of his children holding them. This was such a big deal in their lives that at great trouble and expense they found a neighbor with a camera and paid to have these pictures developed for us. We might think that a terrible waste of money, but for them the occasion demanded it. It humbles us that such a small gift ($5.00 per net) could mean so much. We are privileged to live among so grateful a people. Thank-you, Lord, for reminding us of our great wealth and how very little it takes to protect the lives of your precious children.
...the joys of making something new
From all over the campus one can hear the steady pounding of hammers. From a $25,000.00 grant from Trinity Episcopal Church, Columbus, GA, all of the faculty houses are being renovated. Water tanks, in-door toilets, re-wiring, painting, and new windows/screens are all on the docket for each home. The joy of the faculty and their pride in their new digs is touching. Another large grant from the grandchildren’s Bradley-Turner Foundation in Columbus is allowing a former bookstore/press to renovated into a very large classroom, in anticipation of a Teachers’ Training College to begin at Msalato in August. There is a great need for teachers in Tanzania, and the government is offering loans to those training for such. This is one of the ways that Msalato hopes to be able to underwrite the cost of the theology school and to help ensure its sustainability. The government will only give loans for secular studies.
...the joys of our daily routines
Martin attends Morning Prayer at Mackay House where he has his office. Some 25-30 staff gather for one-half hour of prayer at 8:00 A.M. This is done in Kiswahili, so he thanks the Holy Spirit for what he understands. This is an opportunity for the staff to read and digest a Psalm and New Testament reading. Some truly wonderful natural voices lead the singing of 3 to 4 hymns. Announcements conclude the service. What a refreshing and meaningful way to start the workday!
...and the not so joyous
We don’t want you to get the idea that it is all peaches and cream! But the trips to the villages, despite being often long and hard and bringing the inevitable flat tire, sustain us, even though Sandra usually stays up all night preparing the sermon. We are including a few photos from our last three weekends, this past Sunday being with our beloved Maasai Lutheran Church in Sokoine near Morogoro.
We pray that you also are finding God in the ordinary events of your everyday life.
Much love and joy,
Sandra and Martin