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? 

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