As a team, we spent most of our time conducting personal Bible studies and inviting over 2,000 Iringa locals to the three-day seminar we conducted downtown. I personally spent quite a lot of time at home with Magan and her three precious girls (our hosts for the two weeks) helping her as much as I could with cooking, dishes, and laundry as she became acclimated to life there (they’ve only been living there as missionaries for a month), as well as helping her with the overwhelming task of hosting four additional people besides the five you care for all the time! When I wasn’t helping Magan, however, I was out with the guys handing out flyers, accompanying them on Bible studies, or holding precious Tanzanian children, as you can see in the picture. On the day before we flew home, we got to go on a real African safari, which was pretty remarkable, to say the least.
Here are a few things I learned (or was reminded of) while in Tanzania:
1. America could learn a thing or two about sincere, open-minded truth seeking.
As is the case with most third-world countries, we were amazed and refreshed to find just how many people were starving for Biblical teaching and guidance. The work to be done there is overwhelming, but not in a how-can-we-ever-get-people-interested kind of way, but a how-can-we-find-time-to-study-with-all-the-people-who-want-to kind of way. In America, it’s surprising if you find a non-Christian who wants to have a sincere, truth-seeking Biblical discussion with you. In Africa, it’s surprising if someone doesn’t want to soak in whatever Biblical truth you ask to share with him or her. We were amazed, in a good way, at the receptiveness of the area. We were also amazed at the crowd’s behavior at the seminar we hosted in the city library. The seminar lasted around 3 hours every day, usually with no break. When a break was offered, no one moved, but rather asked that we continue, so that they could get as much Biblical teaching as possible during the allotted time. These were non-Christians we’re talking about, people! Just awesome. Every single attendant actively took notes and asked thought-provoking questions that revealed a genuine desire to learn rather than a hard-hearted agenda to prove a point or to attempt to be “right.” It was all about what the Bible says and what we’re supposed to do about it. We had several denominational leaders in the community show up, and their humble, open-hearted questions reminded me that this is the attitude we should all have when presented with an opportunity to search the scriptures, as the Bereans did (Acts 17:11).
2. We’re just so rich.
According to American middle-class standards, my husband and I don’t seem wealthy in any sense of the word. We’re that couple that shops at Goodwill and yard sales exclusively and doesn’t get to eat at nice restaurants unless we have a great coupon. But when you get home from being with African families who live in mud huts with no bathrooms, no heating and cooling, no internet, no nice clothes, no security systems, no showers, no running water, no clean drinking water, no car, no insurance, little money for medical help, and no assurance that there will be food to eat each meal, you realize just how rich you really are. I think most of us here in America could use a good wake-up call once in a while—I know we needed ours.
3. Women, as a general rule, are not treated with respect in Africa.
One of the most heartbreaking things for me to observe was just how pathetically women were treated there. Women are expected to work extremely hard making just enough money to feed their children while, in many cases, the fathers of those children are either nowhere to be found or too lazy to provide for their families. Women, never men, are told to stand up if all the seats on a bus are full and a man steps on the bus and can’t find a seat. Oh, and the reason you always see pictures of women carrying large heavy items on their heads is because you rarely see the men carrying anything heavy—always the women, and no one offers to help them with that load. And don’t even get me started on what women have to go through to deliver a baby over there. And once that ordeal is over, daddy is never around to help with those children. It’s just really sad. I wanted to hug and comfort every woman I saw, because I know each one of them is fighting a horrendous battle just to survive.
4. Children have to grow up super fast in Africa.
One of the things that shocked me the most was how many precious little children I saw having to do very adult things, like constantly care for younger siblings all day long. Even more than that, it was shocking to see the hundreds of children we saw running around all day with no parent in sight. We’re talking 2 and 3 year olds who may or may not have an older sibling nearby, but no parents. Once babies can walk, they’re pretty much turned loose and taught to fend for themselves. I never once heard an African baby or child cry or whine. They are taught to be extremely tough and self-sufficient in order to survive. And as a total side-note, I was fascinated by how small they all are. I saw so many 4 year olds that looked like 2 year olds, and 16 year olds who looked like 12 year olds. Growth is stunted there, so I was always surprised when I discovered the ages of tiny children.
5. American women need to study African culture for a lesson in modesty.
One of the biggest culture shocks I experienced was not in Africa, but when I came back to America. This is because ALL the women in Tanzania are always covered from their necks to their ankles. It’s considered immodest to wear pants there, or to reveal your knees at all. Extreme or not, it was so nice to see a culture completely untouched by the immodesty that saturates our culture here in the states.
6. Africans (even the ones who speak English) do not understand sarcasm.
It’s a completely foreign concept to them, so adapting to their humor was a challenge, especially for me.
7. When people wave at you like this, they are not really waving at you, but asking you to come toward them. If you want someone to come to you, you should definitely do it like that, instead of like this, since that would be a major insult, considering they only summon dogs that way. I learned all of this the hard way.
8. America is really a wonderful place to live.
America is the land of job opportunities, air conditioning, safe evenings out, malaria-free mosquitoes, clean tap water, clean public restrooms with toilets (as opposed to the choos like this that you’ll find in Africa), ice, free refills, convenience stores, smooth roads, and so many other things people take for granted. My husband took me to Logan’s steakhouse for lunch today, and we felt almost guilty for all the food, napkins, rolls, and drinks we got—things most people don’t really think about. They also never have sweets over there. I had to teach most of the children I met how to open the Tootsie Rolls I gave them, as they had obviously never seen wrapped candy before. Another thing I love so much more about America is that it’s so much easier to get things done quickly, whereas, in Africa, it takes much longer to do anything. Everything is a process, whether it be due to lack of technology or lack of education. We made daily comments about how something that would take us 20 minutes to accomplish in the states was taking us several hours to get done in Africa.
9. Overseas missionaries deserve your respect and your support.
People like our hosts, the Evans family, sacrifice all the luxuries and comforts of home to share the gospel with people in areas of the world that most Americans avoid. They face struggles every single day that most of us will never face. They need our daily encouragement and prayers more than anyone. The missionaries you know are most likely the bravest people you know. Treat them as such—with tremendous admiration, love, and support.
10. Primitive Christianity works.
One thing I’ve noticed about the church in Tanzania is that it’s really no different from the church in America. It’s as though God tailor-made the church to work in every single culture and every single age. I guess that was the point. And that’s awesome. His plan for the church, and the example he gave us of that church in Acts 2 is timeless, flawless, and profoundly effective, yet beautifully simple. When you go beyond the Biblical pattern, there are so many adjustments you have to make, depending on the culture and region.
This list could go on and on, but it’s finally bedtime here, and my jet-lagged mind and body are so ready. But before I sign off, let me just say, in closing, that the trip was, I believe, a tremendous success, as many seeds were planted and many doors were opened for further church growth in Iringa. I believe I’m better for having gone, and my fervent prayer is that souls were and will continue to be brought closer to God because of my having gone. Thanks so much to everyone who kept us in your prayers!
Sleep well, friends! Or in Swahili….Lala Salama Marafiki!