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. 

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