September 23, 2015 by Pastor Ben McIntire
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit…
I have to thank my brothers and sisters of St. Mark: “Asante Sana!” for the generous support of Monica and my trip to visit our companion congregation in Lupembe Tanzania.
This opportunity helped us broaden our knowledge of the culture and people of Tanzania, as well as our perspective on many things like the Christian mission and community, poverty and hunger, world politics and policies, and even economics. I am currently writing an in-depth account of the trip, our experiences and what we learned, which will be posted here on the PB&J blog. Throughout October you’ll be able to read chapter-by-chapter about what we saw, the people we met, and what a visit to Africa was like to a first time traveler. Also, we were able to capture some stunning images of African landscapes, wildlife, people and places. Prints of these pictures are available for sale at the church as part of the continued fundraising for the trip and perhaps even future visits by St. Mark or Lupembe members. Because, one thing we learned from this visit was that the best way to build our companion relationship is for us to actually meet and share with one another the ministries, hopes, dreams, challenges, and joys that we experience in our communities.
In the meantime, here is a brief version of the McIntires’ Tanzania safari and what we encountered:
After the cancellation of the ELCT Youth Gathering in Dodoma, Tanzania (which was the original reason for our trip) we found that we were still able to use the airline tickets that were purchased and non-refundable. Since the second half of our trip was to visit Lupembe and our companion congregation members, and plans had been made in those seven churches for our arrival, we rescheduled the beginning of our itinerary. On arrival in Tanzania late Friday evening, we stayed in Dar es Salaam, then rose for an early morning flight to Zanzibar.
Zanzibar is a fascinating island, a blend of African, Arab and Indian influences. The azure beaches, spice markets, fishing dhows, and laid-back atmosphere reminded me of Caribbean islands that I’ve visited. The favorite saying in the tourist areas for which Zanzibar is famous is “Hakuna matata, pole-pole…” (Pronounced poh-lay poh-lay). Which means, “no worries, take it easy!” We poked around Stone Town and tried to absorb as much of the history and culture of the place as possible. While the population is 95% Muslim, Christian churches and Hindu temples can also be found. Probably the most moving experience was our tour of the Anglican Cathedral which was built on the site of the old slave market.
There in front of the altar was a circular spot on the floor which marked the place where the whipping post once stood. There each slave was chained and whipped before being sold; the more lashes a slave could take, the stronger they were believed and the higher their value to buyers. Underneath the church we saw the dungeons where slaves were kept until market day.
Up to fifty men were chained and jammed into a tiny room with only two small air slits. A trough ran through the middle for waste and the inevitable dead body as many people died from injury, disease or asphyxiation. Next door was a slightly larger room where seventy-five women and children were held in identical conditions. It was a terrible sight. The church was built over this horror as a symbol of the reversal of human cruelty by the grace of the divine.
On Wednesday, we left behind those awful images and traveled to Ruaha National Park to bask in the grandeur of God’s creation. On this safari we saw zoo animals in their real, natural lives. We saw twega (giraffes), nyati (Cape buffalo), tembo (elephants), simba (lions), kiboko (hippos), chui (leopards), mamba (crocodiles), and punda milia (zebras) which literally translates as “striped donkey.” This was truly a “Bucket List” experience and I’m so thankful to have included this safari on our visit to Tanzania. It helps drive home the importance of caring for creation, land and water, wildlife, and the impoverished people who have to find a way to survive while living alongside these precious and endangered animals and places.
Saturday found us finally making our way to our companion congregation in Lupembe. We were greeted by church members who guided us, singing, into the church for a welcome ceremony. We stayed at the Center for Agricultural Development (CAD) which is one of the primary ministries Western Iowa Synod partners with the Southern Diocese of Tanzania to operate. The CAD has a large tea farm and tries to generate funds for training programs for local small-hold farmers to learn better and more efficient agricultural practices so they may better feed their families and earn more income from higher yields. Each day in Lupembe Parish we traveled to the preaching points, which are actually congregations in themselves. We discovered to our astonishment that many of these congregations are about the same size as St. Mark. The seven in Lupembe Parish are Lupembe, Ihang’ana, Udinda, Mbato, Uwanginyi, Kanikelele, and Igumbilo. Pastor Yohana Bimbiga is the district pastor who serves Lupembe Parish and the surrounding district; his assistant is Pastor Nelson Godiwe who serves only Lupembe Parish; and the evangelists of the parish make up the leadership at each of the preaching points.
During our visit we inaugurated the new Parish Office which is being built next to Lupembe Church, dedicated two church buildings at Udinda and Kanikelele, and I baptized two babies and presided at communion at Igumbilo Church. Not to mention, preaching at six of the seven churches! Finally, we concluded our time in the Southern Diocese by visiting Bishop Isaiah Mengele at the diocese office, Ilembula Hospital, and Igumbilo Girls’ Secondary School.
We have definitely returned with a new perspective on our own lives, and life in general. We are better informed to be citizens of the world, and better prepared to think about Christian community and the way it transcends human barriers and borders. We carry with us the hopes and worries, joys and prayers of Lutheran brothers and sisters who live much differently from us and who look far different from us. We know how much it means to both American and Tanzanian to be united in the love of Christ and the grace of God. And we know how abundantly we are blessed.
Check out the up-coming stories of the trip here on the blog and you can see a couple of videos from our trip on Youtube by clicking below!
Mungu awabariki – God bless you all!