Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's still my favorite holiday.

I love the food. The time with family. The days off from work. The reminder to pause and count blessings. Like I said in Tuesday's post -- we have a lot to be thankful for. 

Lorie and I are driving down the mountain to spend Thanksgiving with family, and I'll be taking a few days off from blogging. Be sure to check back next week. I'll continue the "What I Learned in Africa" series (with some stuff I did NOT share in last Sunday's sermon!) and I'll post some thoughts on Covenant's 20th Anniversary celebration coming up this Sunday. 

IN THE MEANTIME: Check out these blog posts from friends and colleagues of mine…

  • In the spirit of what I posted yesterday about being proud of the United Methodist Church, here's a recent piece by Jim Harnish on "Why I am a Methodist." 
If you're traveling, be safe. 

If you're a member of Covenant, I hope to see you Sunday at our 20th Celebration. 

And if you're one of my faithful readers -- see ya' next week!


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

What I Learned in Africa, Part 2

This is the second in a series of posts in which I'll share some of the important things I learned in Tanzania.  You'll recognize some of this if you heard my message at Covenant this past Sunday--but keep reading, because I plan to add to and expand on what I shared that day.

Second thing I learned in Tanzania: I'm actually PROUD OF THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH! 

I saw so many wonderful things that the UMC is doing in Tanzania. We're starting new churches. The people in these churches are reaching out to their communities. They share food with their neighbors. They go door-to-door to tell people about Jesus. They're starting small businesses to help people work their way out of poverty. They're ministering to street children

And the UMC is doing this kind of thing all over the world

This is Angel House Orphanage, started by a United Methodist Church in Carlisle, Ohio. It houses almost 60 orphans. 

Right next door is Angel House Secondary School. Remember what I said yesterday about education in Tanzania? This school meets a real need.  

It was started by Eric and Liz Soard, the missionaries with whom I lived and worked in Tanzania. 

Eric and Liz have been in Tanzania for four years, two years as volunteers and two years as full time missionaries with the United Methodist Church

In that time they’ve started the Angel House Secondary School, planted seven churches, trained pastors and church leaders, led several construction projects, led a well project, and started the Emmanuel Center for Women and Children.

And they’re only 26 and 27 years old!

After living with them for 2 ½ weeks and seeing what they do, I’m proud to be part of the United Methodist Church!

Now you may be wondering: "Claude, if you're so proud of the UMC, then why does your church not have 'United Methodist' in its name?" The answer is that we are missionaries to the culture we live in, just like Eric and Liz are missionaries to theirs. 

In Tanzania, a denominational name is a selling point. People there don't trust independent churches. They see independent pastors as charlatans who just want to take people's money. They are attracted to a church that's part of a larger, reputable organization. 

But in the United States, it's exactly the opposite. People here don't trust large institutions. Denominationalism is all but dead. Most of the growing churches in this country are independent.

One reason we say "Covenant Community Church" instead of "Covenant Community United Methodist Church" is because the second one is just way too long of a name!

But another reason--in fact, the main reason for everything we do at Covenant--the reason we dress casual, sing to a praise band, use video and visuals--is to reach our culture -- to create a place where people who are un-churched, de-churched, and hurt-by-church can come home to God. 

Eric and Liz have worked hard to adapt to Tanzanian culture. They've learned to speak the language (Swahili). They've learned the customs. And by now they've probably eaten over a thousand pounds of ugali. They're doing what it takes to reach the culture they're trying to reach. 

And we at Covenant Community are doing the same. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What I Learned in Africa, Part 1

This is the first in a series of posts in which I'll share some of the important things I learned in Tanzania.  You'll recognize some of this if you heard my message at Covenant this past Sunday--but keep reading, because I plan to add to and expand on what I shared that day. 

The first thing I want to share is sort of a no-brainer. You're going to read this and say, "Duh!" And of course, I knew it before I went to Tanzania. But when you're actually there, and you see and hear -- and taste -- and smell -- things in person -- well, it makes it a lot more real. 

First lesson: WE ARE BLESSED.

I mean, we in this country are really blessed. More blessed than we realize.

For example, did you drive on a paved street today?
In Tanzania, I lived and worked in the city of Tarime. And in all of Tarime, I only saw one paved street and it was in horrible shape. Just driving around from place to place was a challenge. 

Have you flushed a toilet today? (I have a pretty small bladder, so I've been down the hall quite a few times this morning.) 

In Tarime there is no sewer. Most folks use an outhouse, which is really just a hole in the ground (no seat) surrounded by some kind of privacy screen -- maybe a wall made out of sticks or mud, or even some sheets stretched across a simple frame. The outhouse pictured above is the one behind the church where we did our pastors' school. It's a pretty nice one since it's built out of block. But using it was ... uh ... well, let's just say I would have preferred a tree, but that wasn't an option in the middle of town. 

Have you been to, are you now attending, or do you plan to go to High School? What about college? 

In Tanzania, education is only provided through grade seven. IF you pass the National Examination (which less than half of students do), you might be accepted to Secondary School (grades 9-12). If you are accepted, you will have to pay for tuition, books, and uniforms. 

If you are fortunate enough to come up with that money and make it through Secondary School, you then have to pass another National Exam. I talked to a young man who had just taken that exam. He has to wait until April to find out whether he passed. 

If your score on the National Exam is in the top two divisions, you have to do another two years of school (like going to grades 13 and 14) before you can be accepted into a university. 

As you can imagine, very few Tanzanians have the resources to make it through high school, much less college. 

Another question for you: When you were in school, or if you are in school now--did you have a textbook of your own for each of your classes? In Tanzania there's only one textbook for every five students. In the cities. In the rural areas, it's one textbook for every forty students. 

Another question: Have you had a bath today? Are you wearing clean clothes? Do you have clean water to drink? 

In Tanzania I saw people washing clothes and bathing in muddy creeks and rivers. I also saw people collecting water in plastic jugs from those same sources -- I hope it wasn't to drink. 

Here's the thing I want us to realize. What I saw in Tanzania is how most of the world lives. (In fact, a lot of the world is even worse off!) I know our country has problems, and I know an increasing number of people here are struggling. But I want us to remember that even with our struggles, we still have a lot to be thankful for -- things we don't even think about -- like paved roads, clean water, sewer systems, free public education (and state-sponsored universities) ... I could keep going, but you get the picture. We are blessed. 

With Thanksgiving approaching, I encourage you to think about some of the blessings we take for granted. (This post will remind you of some others.) As you think about those blessings, breathe a prayer of thanks to God. And maybe think about how you might use your blessings to be a blessing to others. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Similarities ... or not?

 Mtana United Methodist Church outside Tarime, Tanzania

When I was in Tanzania, I didn't just teach. I also had the opportunity to visit some of our United Methodist Churches. I met with the leaders and listened to their stories. And I discovered some similarities between churches in Tanzania and churches in the US...
  • People not attending church: It's a problem in Tanzania just like it is in the US. Church members just don't show up on a regular basis. Except that in Tanzania, it happens because people are subsistence farmers, struggling to survive, scratching out a living by cultivating small plots of land with hand tools. It's back-breaking work, and sometimes people are just too exhausted to go to church. Other times they can't attend because they're working feverishly to sow seed before the rains come, or to get the crops in when they're ready to harvest. 
  • People showing up late: Sometimes people slip into church after the service has already started, just like they do in America. Except that in Tanzania, it's because people have no means of transportation other than their own two feet. I found out that some people walk more than an hour to get to church. And one thing I experienced in Tanzania is that the rain often comes in sudden, torrential downpours. So if you're outside walking to church and there's a sudden rainstorm, and you don't own an umbrella or a raincoat, you're going to run for the nearest cover--and end up being late. 
  • Low offerings/budget issues: I guess it's a problem everywhere. Offerings going down, churches behind on their budgets. Except that in Tanzania, it happens because people have no income. Not low income. No income. In one of the churches I visited, the leaders talked about ways to generate income for the church (not just for the church's operating expenses, but income for the people to live on). One way they could make money was to own cattle as a church and then rent the cows out for people to use for plowing. They would need a minimum of six cows, as it takes four to pull a plow and most of the time two of your cows are going to be sick. This was a great income-generating idea, but the church did not have the capital to purchase the cows. They came up with another idea: Buy fruits and vegetables wholesale at harvest time, when prices are low; store them using careful methods to keep them from spoiling; and then sell them later when supply has decreased and prices have gone up. Great idea. But again--no initial capital. 
So, in Tanzanian churches, just like in the ones I've served as pastor, people skip church, show up late, and don't give. 

Except the reasons are vastly different. 

Maybe you're a church member in the US who's pretty casual about your attendance and your giving. When I think about the challenges faced by church members in Tanzania, I have to ask you a question: 

What's your excuse? 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Saturday in Dar Es Salaam

Hello! Here's a post I wrote last Saturday while I was still in Tanzania...

This is the Azania Lutheran Church in Dar Es Salaam. It was built by the original German settlers of Tanzania.

This is the National Museum of History and Culture, where you can see historical artifacts, ancient fossils, and all kinds of cool stuff.

And this is the New Africa Hotel,  where you can ride an elevator to the top floor, eat Thai food and look out over the city.

 I did not take any of these pictures.

On Saturday morning, I flew from Mwanza to Dar Es Salaam. When I got to Dar, I had 12 hours to kill, since my next flight did not leave until midnight. I would have been happy to just sit at the airport and work on my computer, but the Dar airport is not that kind of place. When you come in off a flight, you have to leave the airport. There's no where to go but out. If you have another flight, you can’t go back in until check-in time, which is no more than three hours before your flight. So I had to find something to do.

Eric and Liz lined up a cab driver who would drive me around the city all day. Take me wherever I wanted to go. I didn’t come to Tanzania to be a tourist, but I figured, since I’m here, I might as well see some sights. I did some research and decided that the places pictured above were where I’d like to go.

I never made it to any of them. Instead, I spent the entire day sitting in traffic.

I had heard that Dar Es Salaam has horrible traffic. I was not prepared for just how horrible. Today is Saturday—it’s the weekend—and the whole city is one big parking lot.

The cab driver did manage to get me to a branch of the national museum (not the one I wanted to see) that is a re-creation of a traditional Tanzanian village. I paid the money and went in, and I saw mud huts with thatched roofs. This did not impress me, as I have been in a real one of those, not a re-creation, and I have sat down and had tea with the real family who actually lives there.

Unlike Tarime or Mwanza, Dar is right at sea level. It’s hot and it’s humid. By the time I finished touring the village, I was dripping sweat.  I headed back to the cab driver and said, “Please take me back to the airport. I’ll find somewhere to sit and get some work done.” After another hour and a half of fighting traffic, we were back. 

Turns out the airport has a nice restaurant just outside of the entrance. Air conditioned! I ordered a Coke and sat for an hour; then I ordered dinner and sat for an hour and a half. Finally I figured I had camped out long enough. I gathered up my bags and headed down to the airport entrance. But, alas, it was as I feared. No entry until three hours before departure time. So here I am sitting outside in the humid Dar evening, sweating, typing this post, and hoping I don’t get malaria.

Next time I come to Tanzania, I’m going to try my best to avoid Dar Es Salaam.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Friday in Mwanza

Hello! I've been home from Tanzania for a few days now, and as I get over my jet lag and ease back into the routine, I wanted to share something I actually wrote last weekend and just haven't posted before now...

On Friday morning, I helped Eric and Liz shoot a video for their home church. Then we loaded up the car: Eric, Liz, little Caleb; Levi Nyaste (a pastor who was in the seminar); and myself. Soon we were off for Mwanza. It’s about a four-and-a-half to five hour drive.

About halfway to Mwanza, we drove past the entrance to the Serengeti National Park. We were able to see plenty of zebra and wildebeest close to the road. Baboons were not just close to the road, they were in it, blocking traffic. A mother baboon with her baby clinging to her back walked right by my car window.

I saw a man leading a herd of cattle down a road just inside the park. Amazing. For people all over the world, the Serengeti is a wild and exotic, world-class safari destination. For an average Tanzanian, it's a place to feed your cows.

We got to Mwanza in time for a late lunch at a resort on the shores of Lake Victoria. The weather was perfect and the place was beautiful. The Americans enjoyed Hawaiian chicken sandwiches and fresh cut French fried potatoes (or, as the Tanzanians call them, "chips" -- served with just about everything here.) Levi opted for something more African: a huge, whole tilapia—head, tail, eyeballs, teeth and all—and a heaping serving of ugali.

Our reason for coming to Mwanza was to spend the night and then have me to the airport by 7:40 the next morning. As we finished up lunch, we explored the possibility of spending the night at the resort. It was not terribly expensive, so we decided to stay.

Here’s a the hut where I spent the night:

And here's the inside. Notice the mosquito netting.

After lunch, Eric and Liz ran to town to do some shopping for things you can’t get in Tarime. I sat by the lake and worked on my sermon for next Sunday.

 Later I walked down to the beach. I stood on a rock and looked out over Lake Victoria. I felt the stiff wind coming in off the lake. And I spent some time in silent prayer and reflection. This trip has been nothing short of amazing. It went way better than I expected. Teaching pastors overseas is something I’ve dreamed of doing for years. I thanked God that this dream has finally been fulfilled.

My quiet time was interrupted when a group of teenagers came walking by. Out of the corner of my eye I saw that one of them was trying to sneak a picture of me on his cell phone. I turned and looked right at him, smiled and waved. And then…oh, my goodness—it was on! The young man handed his phone to his friend and jumped up on the rock with me. Then a bunch more of the youth jumped up on the rock. I put my arms around them and smiled big. One of them asked me my name. I said, “Claude,” but then remembered my Swahili name—Babadavid.

Next thing you know, that rock was a beehive of teenagers jumping up and posing, then jumping down so someone else could take a picture…at one point they formed a long line so that they could have one-on-one pictures with me. Of course I don’t speak Swahili, but I heard “Babadavid” and “Mzungu” (white person) a lot. And of course, I didn’t let them get away before I had them take a picture for me.

The trip is drawing to a close. Tomorrow I head for home.

Thursday, November 14, 2013


Eric and I decided to conclude the Pastors' Seminar a day early. Why? Two reasons. First, some of the pastors were facing a two-day bus ride to get home. So they wanted to be able to travel on Thursday and Friday, and have Saturday to rest and prepare for church on Sunday. Second, we had planned to bring in Joseph to do an entire day on Church and Community Mobilization Project. But it turned out that he was only able to teach for one hour. SO, after Joseph's presentation we asked the pastors to help us evaluate the seminar. They were overwhelmingly positive. Incredibly grateful. Except for one thing: They wanted more meat in the meals. Here's what they ate pretty much everyday for 10 days. But before you read this, let me say that this menu may have been better than what they got at home, and it was very much appreciated (they just wanted more meat). BREAKFAST: Hot tea and white loaf bread (dry, no butter or jelly). Once in a while they had sweet bread instead of white. LUNCH: Ugali and vegetables (see my last post). About every third day we also got chunks of (very tough) beef stewed with a small amount of tomato sauce. DINNER: Beans and rice. On Sunday they got the special treat of a dried fish that is sold in the town of Tarime--sort of like sardines. For the final celebration yesterday we had rice pilaf (yum!), skuma, the stewed beef, bananas, watermelon, AND soda! The celebration was at Eric's house, and this time I insisted on a spoon. Eating ugali with your hand is one thing, but this was rice! Eric called me some name in Swahili and went inside and brought me a spoon. I sat down and ate on the porch, behind the railing, trying to hide my shame. Anyway, about the request for more meat--the pastors had a suggestion for the next time they do a seminar like this. Go to the Serengeti National Park and kill a giraffe. Then they could have plenty of meat for two solid weeks. They were not kidding. Eric laughed so hard that he immediately got out his iPad and posted it on Facebook (you may have seen where I shared it). After the evaluation, we had closing worship. Oh, my goodness. I wish you could have heard these pastors sing. I wish you could have experienced the joy of their worship. I preached the sermon on Joshua 1:6-9, exhorting them to "Be strong and courageous" because God has called them. After the sermon, we handed out certificates. Interesting fact: Eric had planned to do the certificates in Swahili. He asked one of the pastors who speaks good English to look over his translation. The pastor was very adamant: "No! Do it in English. English is the professional language!" So we gave out certificates in English that we then had to translate for them! No matter. They were very proud and very grateful. With the certificates we also handed out the third and final letter from their Covenant Community sponsors. They tore into them immediately, and those who could not read English grabbed the first person they could find who could translate for them. The seminar is over, but my trip is not. I'm doing some meetings today (Thursday) in Tarime. And then tomorrow I've got the long drive to Mwanza. And then Saturday, I've got an early flight to Dar Es Salaam, and then I'm in that city for 12 hours before my next flight leaves. So that will be my one and only "tourist" day. I've got more to say and more pictures to post, so please stay tuned...

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


This is ugali (say “ooo-golly”). It’s a staple here in Tanzania. They grind corn into a fine powder, then boil it and stir it until it hardens into the texture of Play-Do. It is usually served with a vegetable like cabbage (shown here) or skuma (similar to collard greens). Sometimes a few small chunks of meat will be served as well.
Ugali is eaten with the fingers. We’ve had ugali for lunch every day. The first day when they handed me a plate like the one above, I said, “Where’s a fork?” Eric said, “There are no forks--and I consider it like blasphemy to eat ugali with anything other than your fingers!” So I broke off a lump of ugali and kneaded it in my right hand until it was the shape of a football or an egg (That’s what I saw everyone else do.) I dipped it into the skuma, trying to use it like a spoon to scoop up the vegetable. And it broke. That’s when I realized that ugali cannot be eaten without making a complete mess of your hand.
So what did it taste like? Very dry. Very bland. But as long as every bite that goes in your mouth is accompanied by something else, it’s not bad. And I will tell you that on the days we had meat, which was about every third day, ugali was actually very good. It soaks up the juices from the meat and becomes sort of like polenta.

Second Day of Practice and Planning

The pastors who preached on Sunday presented their practice sermons today. Once again I split them into two groups. I mixed up the groups from yesterday so that they could get to know more people. One group stayed at the church, and one group went to the guesthouse. It was such a joy to watch the discussions that followed the presentations. I couldn’t understand them, but I could see that they were lively. And the group that stayed at the church went right on discussing through breakfast time! I actually went to the leader and pointed at my watch, but they didn’t want to stop!
After all sermons and discussions were done, I asked the pastors to talk in pairs—and then with me—about what they had learned about preaching. Their answers warmed my heart and blessed my soul like few things ever have. Some of what they said: • I learned how to prepare a sermon and make it clear. • I learned how to use the introduction to help people pay attention. • I learned the importance of calling for a definite response at the conclusion. • The Big Idea is like a sign that leads me home. • I feel more confident to preach now. • Having to do a 10-minute practice sermon made me realize my sermons don’t have to be long. (I was amazed at how many pastors expressed sincere appreciation for having to do a short timed sermon. This was said over and over. ) • When I go back to my church and preach, the people are going to say, “Two weeks? It seems like you’ve been studying for a year!”
Dear reader, you have no idea how good it feels to know that God has used me to help these pastors. Life is hard here, and these pastors face enormous challenges. Stuff that I’ve never had to deal with. These guys are not just pastors—they’re community leaders, social workers, evangelists, entrepreneurs, designers and builders of church buildings—and farmers. And they do all that with hardly any education. Thank you God, and thank you Covenant Community, that I’ve been able to come here and do this.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Putting it into Practice

Last week we completed the courses on Doctrine and Preaching. Now, with the four days we have left, we're focusing on practice and planning. Today I divided the pastors into two groups. I appointed a leader of each group. One group stayed at the church where classes have been held; the other group went back to the guest house where the pastors have been staying.
In each group,pastors presented the 10-minute sermon which was their homework assignment for the weekend. As one pastor presented, others evaluated different aspects of the sermon: introduction, conclusion, outline, and illustrations; and the "Big Idea" of the sermon--was it clear? Was it well-stated? Did the entire sermon support and get across the Big Idea?
After lunch Eric led a planning session. He and the pastors discussed challenges facing their congregations. They chose one of these to tackle: people who have NO income. Eric used the "problem tree" method to help the pastors identify root causes of the problem. Then he and the pastors identified Scripture texts that pastors could use to address these root causes and tackle the problem of no income. Tomorrow the pastors will work together in groups of 4 to lay the groundwork for sermons based on these texts.
I didn't do a lot of teaching today. And yet it was a very satisfying day. Teaching is great. Watching your students put it into practice is even better.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Lord's Day

Today, Sunday, we had no classes. Instead, the pastors all gathered at the Soard’s house to have a simple breakfast of sweet bread and tea. Then they started heading out to the different local churches where they would be attending and some of them would be preaching.
Meanwhile, the cooks prepared today’s food. This group of ladies has been cooking lunch and dinner (and tea for breakfast) all week. They cook on open fires under the big mango tree in the Soards’ front yard—right out by the well.

Preaching at Ingrichini

I squeeze into the car with 6 or 7 other pastors. We zoom down the highway until the pavement ends, then continue on the dirt road. On the side of the road, women are washing clothes in a muddy creek. One man is washing his hair. We pass flocks of goats being led by children. We stop to drop a group of pastors off at Mika, the newest church plant of the Mara District of the UMC.
As we get farther away from Tarime, the road gets bumpier. Now, in addition to the cinder block houses, we’re seeing houses built with homemade bricks, and mud huts with thatched roofs. We come to Ingrichini Primary School. From here the “road” to the church is literally a path. Imagine driving your car on a mountain bike trail. Keep your hands inside the windows, or thorn bushes will scratch you. And hold on to the dashboard or you’ll hit your head on the ceiling when the car hits the big bumps.
Finally we arrive at the church. It was built by the church members, out of bricks that they made themselves. Before this building, they worshipped under a large tree (which they were proud to show me). The pastor’s house was nearby. Houses, really. One for him and his wife, and several for his children. Oh, and a building just for cooking and washing dishes. A whole compound! But don’t get too impressed. They’re all mud huts.
Bible Study (what some would call Sunday School) is starting soon. But first, the pastor’s wife stands in the door of their house and says (in Swahili), “Welcome inside.” It’s an invitation we must not refuse. We enter through the low door and sit down at a small table with pastor Jacob Korinda. His wife brings around a pitcher of warm water and pours it over our hands so we can wash them. Then she pours us all cups of tea. It’s made with milk and flavored with ginger, lemon, and honey. In Asheville, this cup of tea would be a chai latte that would sell for three dollars at Starbucks. The pastor’s wife also puts a plate of white loaf bread on the table. A blessing is said, and we guests enjoy our second breakfast of the day. Now that tea is over, we gather in the small church for Bible Study. After some singing, the pastor speaks on the story of the hemorrhaging woman in Mark 5. I’m asked to pray, then there is more singing, and then at some point (I’m not sure where) church begins. More singing, more praying, and more singing—and then I’m being introduced. With Eric translating, I tell the people how happy I am to be there, and how much I’ve enjoyed being with their pastor all week in Tarime. Then Eric reads my sermon text—Matthew 14:22-33—the story where Jesus walks on the water, and then Peter tries to do it and sinks. My sermon is “Keep Your Eyes on Jesus.” To be successful in the Christian life, we have to keep our eyes on Jesus. When we take our eyes off Jesus, like Peter did, we sink. The service ends, as all services here do, with the congregation processing out the door of the church. There we greet each other one-by-one in a circle. Then the pastor pronounces the same closing blessing that I often use myself: “The grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all and give you peace.” After church, Eric and I shoot some video of him talking about missions, with the pastor’s houses as a backdrop. Then it’s lunchtime. This time we gather in the church itself. The white cloth is removed from the simple altar table, and it becomes our lunch table. Two of the church’s leaders join Eric, Jacob, and me at the table. Again, Jacob’s wife comes around with a pitcher for hand washing. Then she and another wife serve lunch—heaping bowls of rice, each with two bite-size chunks of beef stewed in tomato sauce. As spare as this may sound, I am full before I reach the bottom of my bowl. We linger at the table for a long time. Finally, we exit the church and begin saying goodbye. We load the car up with church members and children who want to go to the village center to do some business. One church member has a bicycle, which Eric straps to the top. We travel up the mountain bike path, slowly, avoiding the tree stumps, the big ruts, and the mud holes where we could literally get stuck. Finally we reach the primary school and the dirt road, which now feels like a brand new Interstate highway. On the way back to Tarime, we drop off church members and pick up pastors. Before long we’re back at the Soards. The ladies are cooking and a crowd of people is socializing in the front yard. I pop into my room where I shed the dress clothes that I’m so not used to wearing, and ease into shorts and a UNC T-shirt.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Two Interesting Days

Hello there. As you may have guessed, you haven’t heard from me in a while because Internet service has been spotty. Last night, the power was out altogether. Then earlier this evening we had both power and Internet, and I had a long Skype session with Lorie. That was amazing. Good, clear signal. I took the computer around and showed Lorie to the Tanzanians who were at the Soards’ house at the time. They greeted her in Swahili, and she learned how to greet them back. She met Moses, my translator, and Eric, and his 16-month-old son Kaleb. I just could not believe that I could not only talk to, but see my wife—from 8000 miles away---and it was FREE! But then when I sat down after supper to post on this blog…no such luck. I almost gave up and went to bed, but then when the power flicked off and came on again--voila! Wi-Fi! So, the past two days have been very interesting. Yesterday I taught on the Holy Trinity--the doctrine that God is one God in three persons--Father, Son, Holy Spirit. After a lot of Scripture study and teaching, I divided my pastors into pairs, and I asked that one of them pretend to be a Muslim, and ask the other one, "Why do you Christians believe in three gods?" Here in Tanzania, there are as many Muslims as there are Christians, and the Trinity is one of the biggest objections Muslims have to Christianity. Well, you should have seen the lively discussions that went on. They were having so much fun that I asked one pair to stand up and do their dialogue for everyone. The pastor who was pretending to be Muslim was tearing into the other one, so I jumped between them and asked for help from the class. One fellow said, "Ask him (the "Muslim") if he believes the Koran when it says that Jesus will come back to judge." The question was asked, and the "Muslim" started spouting off again. So I put my hand in front of his face (to make him stop talking) and said, "He's trying to avoid the question! Don't let him do that!" And another pastor jumped up and said, "Yeah! Make him say yes or no, nothing else!" The "Muslim" said yes, and one of the pastors said, "Well, then, Jesus is God, because only God can judge!" and all the pastors applauded. Fun! Then another pair got up and tried. This time when I asked the class for help, one of the pastors said, "God created the world by the power of his word. Jesus raised people from the dead by the power of his word. Jesus is God because only God can create life by the power of his word." Again, applause. These guys were really getting into this. Then in the afternoon we had a guest speaker--Joseph, a local Tanzanian pastor who's been involved in CCMP -- Church and Community Mobilization Process. WOW. Not only was this guy an exciting, dynamic speaker--but the stuff he talked about--how churches could use this process to help themselves move out of poverty--it was amazing. When he got done I was so excited that I stood up and applauded, and the Tanzanian pastors joined in. It was a great day. Today was a bit more frustrating. Not bad--but frustrating. It rained. I mean poured. As in torrential. Cataclysmic. You say, "So what, Claude, you were inside." Yeah, but the church we're meeting in has a tin roof. And the rain was so loud we simply could not continue. Then the rain began to blow in through the windows, and just about everything got wet. The picture above is of the non-paved street right outside the main door of this church. As you can see, it's flooded. My normal translator, Moses, had to take off because someone took his computer. He had left it at the office of his school to recharge it -- something most of the students do -- but somehow it walked off. He was trying to both recover his computer and make a deadline for an online class. So he left me with a friend who knew English OK but was not familiar with me, or the pastors, or the subject material. So that made for some long, tedious, and frustrating discussions. At one point the pastors starting asking him to just tell them what goes in the blanks on their outlines (I had a filled-in copy for the translator). Which he did, until I realized what he was doing and said, "Wait a minute, I have more to say than just what's on those outlines!" Meanwhile, the rain continued off and on (mostly on), and it was cold! Here we are, within 200 miles of the equator, and we're all shivering! But despite the dampness, there were still some great moments. Like when we talked about the importance of the church. I acted out my arm disconnecting itself from my body, crawling off by itself, and dying for lack of nourishment. The pastors loved it. Or when we talked about how to conclude a sermon. I pretended to be an airplane, flying around the room, starting to land, but then taking off again, starting to land, but then taking off again (exemplifying the pastor who keeps preaching long after he's "finished.") There was a lot of knowing laughter in the room at that point. I finished up the teaching outlines for both classes today, doctrine and preaching. I gave the pastors the assignment to write a 10-minute sermon, using the process I taught them, that they will present in class next week. Tomorrow we are off from classes--some pastors (including yours truly) will be preaching at the churches around Tarime. We begin again bright and early on Monday. Those who do not preach in churches tomorrow will present their practice sermons first. Those who do preach in churches tomorrow will present on Tuesday. Eric and I are hoping to bring Joseph back on Wednesday, and then Thursday we will have a discussion of their needs for continuing pastoral education in the morning--and a closing celebration in the afternoon--complete with certificates, a big meal, and closing worship! (In the pictures below, the pastors are working in pairs on an assignment...)
SPONSORS: Please forgive that I have not sent many of you pictures of your pastors yet. With internet so spotty (and slow), it's a time consuming process. Some of you may receive your pictures after I've returned home. Please know, in the meantime, that the pastors are very, very appreciative. I mean, like, they are really grateful.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Teaching through Translation

Hello! I'm feeling much better today. And now I know why. It was my anti-malaria medicine! It was making me sick. So I've decided to stop taking it. If you're reading this, and you're a praying person, please pray for me that I don't catch malaria (I'm doing things to avoid mosquito bites--like sleeping under mosquito netting--but there's only so much you can do.) Classes continue to go well. Everyday I am amazed at how much these pastors want to learn. They are very eager for this opportunity. But they're also starting to get tired. Each day I have to work a little harder to keep them engaged. Lately I've been doing a lot of Q&A stuff to keep it interesting--asking them questions instead of having them just sit and listen to me. That works pretty well for the most part, but sometimes translation makes it challenging. Sometimes, based on the answers I get, I think they didn't understand the question. But then I think, maybe it's that the translator did not translate their answer well! Today a pastor came over during a break and wanted to ask me a theological question. Moses (my translator) finally asked him to wait until Eric (the missionary) was around, because he just couldn't figure out how to translate the pastor's question. (Moses was also very tired by that point in the day--understandably.) Since I'm not always sure of the translation happening in the classroom, I'm really glad I did fill-in-the-blank outlines and emailed them over here before I came. These have been translated into Swahili, and are in the hands of the students. But even then, sometimes the students will point out that a translation is not good. So we just stop and hash it out until everyone's satisfied. You might think, "Wow that sounds really frustrating." But what I'm finding remarkable is how much DOES get through--how much we DO have in common--how much we CAN share despite the fact that we can't talk to each other directly. Smiles, laughter, handshakes--all of that transcends language. (Although they do have a different way of shaking hands here -- I'll have to show you when I get home.) Prayer and worship -- they're universal. (Although their method of prayer is a little different -- they all pray out loud together at the same time. And their singing is different, too -- it's WAY BETTER than ours!) Even though I cannot sit down and talk directly with most of these pastors, I feel as though I am getting to know them. Some are strong leaders, some are compassionate caregivers, some are fiery preachers and evangelists, some are studious, and some are really funny (I can't tell what they're saying, but I know it's funny because everybody is laughing). Even though I can't talk with them (without a translator), I feel I am getting to know them--and I am growing to love them.