28 November 2011
Furaha na amani! Joy and peace!
And greetings from Nairobi, Kenya. I have just spent Thanksgiving with old friends after a prolonged stay in this country. I’ve been on the road since late October, the bulk of this time with the Orthodox Church of Turkana County in Northern Kenya. I had a good visit and saw much of interest. God is at work there.
And I will be glad to get back home to Mwanza! Plenty of work has been waiting during my absence- translations, proposals, budgets, reports. As I work on these tasks I’ll also prepare to visit North America in February through April of 2012.
My first term of service as an OCMC Missionary in the Archdiocese of Mwanza and Western Tanzania will soon be complete. Time flies. These first two years have been good, and as a PS I’d like to provide you with a progress report on my development as a missionary in Western Tanzania.
This role I’ve been given by God- and by you- is a great job and an ideal apprenticeship. I am learning from good local leaders, and I am thriving.
Thank you for this job. Thank you for your prayers which sustain me, your friendship which encourages me, and for your faithful gifts which allow me to work out my salvation in a good place of joy and peace.
I hope to celebrate the Nativity of Christ in Bukoba together with Missionaries Michael Pagedas, Maria Roeber, Felice Stewart and their guests. In this Advent season as we fast and repent in anticipation of the Lord’s coming, I pray that Christ will be born anew in your hearts.
By your prayers in Christ,
PS Here are the aspects in which I am working to grow as a missionary in the Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of Mwanza and Western Tanzania.
My Kiswahili could be better. But after much effort I find myself using this language almost exclusively as I work in our Archdiocese office, conduct business and negotiations on behalf of the Church, provide interpretation in public settings, deliver talks and presentations, and go about day-to-day affairs. Living with a Tanzanian family has helped, although operating 24/7 in a foreign language can be tiring. It is my hope, next year, to begin learning a local language such as Kisukuma or Kihaya.
As my Archbishop JERONYMOS has given me increasing responsibilities I’ve found myself learning to handle the ins and outs of getting things done in this environment. Even simple tasks require nuance, considered indirectness, visible compassion for all involved, careful listening, and a great deal of patience. In Western Tanzania the norms for politeness, for conversation, for food and eating, for travel, for negotiation and transaction, for shopping, for friendship and for many other things are significantly different than they are in North America. And then there are big differences between rural and urban Tanzanian culture. It may take more than a lifetime to become fully fluent in this culture, but these days I am coping without great difficulty and thank God for that.
As a tonsured reader in the Church I am getting a lot of practice chanting the daily services in Kiswahili every morning and evening. The heartbeat of the Christian liturgical life is a source of stability and strength which I’ve missed while on the road. My admiration and gratitude for the leadership of my Church- our Archbishop, our priests, our catechists and administrators- continues to grow as I grow closer to these faithful Christians. Their love for their God, for one another, for the faithful and for the unreached- as well as their honest and competent management- are all examples worth following.
My role with short-term OCMC Teams has expanded with every group our Archdiocese has received these past two years. By God’s mercy our visitors have consistently had the orientation, food, drink, accommodation, and translation that they’ve needed. They’ve had their lost luggage retrieved, their crises averted, their questions answered and their issues resolved, and have made it safely home with money still in the bank and the balance sheet straight. Managing these things is hard work which transforms to pure joy in the presence of worthy people who travel far to share in the life of Christ and offer their talents to their sisters and brothers in Tanzania. Our Archdiocese plans to receive three OCMC Teams next year and I may have a big role in hosting all of them.
I travel frequently to attend to business in Bukoba, and enjoy the chance to spend time with fellow OCMC Missionaries Felice Stewart, Michael Pagedas, and Maria Roeber. As each of us develops a distinct role in the Archdiocese of Mwanza it’s helpful to compare notes, share stories, and bounce ideas off one another. Our separate tasks are unrelated on the surface, but our fellowship and our common purpose is a nourishing bond. Plus, the Bukoba house has a big kitchen and banging pots around is one of my favorite ways to relax. When I was there at the end of October I made a pretty good pumpkin soup, and Maria baked biscuits… mmm.
Archbishop JERONYMOS has asked me to work on developing a youth program for the Archdiocese, as well as a regular newspaper/ newsletter. These are big tasks that have made little headway as I’ve worked to become competent in language and culture, and have been busy with the Teams and the Turkana assignment. I look forward to working hard on these projects in the coming year. With 99%+ of our Church offline (clergy as well as faithful) we need a reliable paper-based way of disseminating basic information and itineraries as well as reports on events and Christian teaching. And because the workforce of our Church is made up of youth (In Tanzania “youth” means age 18 to 35), we need to support these folks as they collaborate on a local and regional level to support their communities and their fellows.
More important than projects and programs (they are important!) is my identity and role. First, of course, is my identity as a member of the Body of Christ, living out our common salvation together in mutual love and worship of the Holy Trinity. And then as a member of the local Church, and as a member of that Church’s administrative staff. The more I am immersed in the prayer life of the Church and in the daily life of Tanzanian culture, the more I become fully alive in this place. And the more fully alive I am here, the more I am able to contribute meaningfully to the life, witness and growth of the Body of Christ in Western Tanzania.
The need is great and the resources are limited. So I’m learning to manage money carefully, to make each shilling go far and to report even tiny expenses with transparency and accuracy. I’m learning to negotiate, to do business, to make deals so that we can get the right people to the right places with the right support behind them. And more important by far I’m learning to just be with people, to share in their lives and identify with them. To listen carefully (hard in a foreign language!) and speak sparingly (easy in a foreign language!). To make my dwelling here, as Christ taught us to do.
From this place arise opportunities to support local faithful and local leaders as they grow in Christ and as they bring the good news of the Resurrection of Christ to their neighbors and beyond. And there arise opportunities to be directly involved in the evangelistic task of the Church, in carrying the Gospel to people who have never heard. As an Archdiocese we are responsible for a large territory, much of which is unreached. I’ve visited some of these places, and in the coming years I look forward to seeing where God will call us, and what role he may give me.