October 15, 2015 by Pastor Ben McIntire
Five o’clock arrived much too soon. With only about three hours’ rest, I shuffled to the shower for a quick rinse. Forethought had enabled Monica and me to pack almost everything the night before, including our wallets, money belts, and secret stash of cash. Upon arrival at Dar es Salaam’s airport, we had converted $1,100 (which fit easily into my wallet) into a veritable brick of pink notes stamped with an elephant. The exchange rate during our visit was 2,020 Tsh. (Tanzanian shillings) to one US dollar. The largest denomination is the 10,000 Tsh. note bearing said pachyderm and roughly equal to $5. Therefore our $1,100 became about 2.2 million Tsh. It was the McIntires’ first experience as millionaires. As such we parceled our wad of cash into various bags and pockets and started a system for tracking our expenditures in the back of my journal. I highly recommend it, though for us it only lasted about three days, then an accounting breakdown occurred.
At 5:30am, Monica and I, fortified by PowerBars, climbed into Frank Mwakatundu’s van along with Craig, another American on his way to visit Lutheran Tanzanians. Craig was president of his congregation in St. Paul, Minnesota and a twenty-six year old veteran of Iraq and security guard at a Twin Cities hotel. Craig was all set for a return to Iringa after his first trip eleven years earlier. Unfortunately, some inept airline worker, an American mind you, had neglected to plant Craig’s suitcase into the hold of the same aircraft where Craig planted his butt in a seat. Ergo, Craig now boarded Frank’s van with only his carry-on backpack of meager supply, some of our laundry soap, and one of my extra T-shirts.
Like us, Craig had planned to visit Tanzania as a representative of his synod from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America at the national youth gathering of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania. The ELCA and the ELCT have had a partnership dating back to the creation of the ELCA in 1989. This partnership created companion synods in the ELCA with a diocese match in the ELCT. Then, some congregations would go on to form partnerships with their counterparts called companion congregations. Our Western Iowa Synod was partnered with the Southern Diocese of Tanzania and St. Mark Lutheran Church in Storm Lake had a partnership with Lupembe Parish formed in 2004.
In April of 2015, shortly after my one year anniversary of beginning my call as Pastor at St. Mark, I got a phone call from Bishop Rodger Prois. The synod office for the Western Iowa Synod happens to be in Storm Lake, and the Proises live in town and are members of St. Mark, so I was not as twitterpated as I might have been at a call from the Bishop. But I should have been. Bishop Prois told me about the Youth Consultation of the ELCT, then asked if I would like to travel to Dodoma in August and attend as the synod’s representative.
“Of course!” I blurted. Then without a moment’s hesitation I added, “Can Monica come with me?” Let there be no doubt about my caliber as a husband.
So began our plans to visit Tanzania as thirty-somethings for the Youth Consultation of the ELCT in the capital, Dodoma. It turns out that in the ELCT “youth ministry” describes the age range of eighteen to thirty-five year olds. At thirty-three, Monica and I were still in the club, so to speak. Some claim that I do indeed still fit the term “youth” with a sense of humor and emotional level of a sophomore anyway.
As an extra level of coincidence, I was already planning to chaperone my own St. Mark youth at the ELCA Youth Gathering in Detroit. Since the Detroit experience was from July thirteenth to the nineteenth, I would have a chance to compare the similarities and glaring differences between the two. It also gave me a chance to work on my expertise with the brand new Canon EOS Rebel T5i DSLR camera I bought with about a week’s worth of wages. (If you are wondering, it was totally worth the investment!) The ELCA National Youth Gathering went off without a hitch, our high school youth being exceptionally well-behaved, intelligent, and faith-filled kids. I captured lots of great photos and video and compiled them into an eight-minute video of the experience. Great memories and great practice with my new toy, now ready to film the safari to Africa.
You can imagine my shock then, when a week after returning from Detroit I learned of the postponement of the ELCT Youth Consultation. It seems that the organizing committee was unable to finance the event completely, and so with less than a month to go, the youth gathering had to be postponed. As I’ve learned from my reading and slight personal experience, there is a tendency among Africans to save face by minimizing or being circumspect about bad news or delicate matters. In Things Fall Apart, Nigerian author Chinua Achebe writes:
Having spoken plainly so far, Okoye said the next half a dozen sentences in proverbs. Among the Ibo the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten. Okoye was a great talker and he spoke for awhile, skirting around the subject and then hitting it finally. In short, he was asking Unoka to return the two hundred cowries he had borrowed from him more than two years before.
With this in mind, I assumed that in this instance, “postponed” probably meant cancelled. Since we were planning to travel to Njombe and Lupembe after Dodoma to visit our companion synod and congregation, and since airline tickets of nearly $3,500 had already been purchased and were non-refundable, we decided to go ahead with our trip. We simply needed to adapt and adjust our itinerary and plans once in Tanzania. Not to mention that I was probably very difficult to be around for the week between the news of the cancellation and the decision to continue traveling on our planned dates. I had been working overtime to prepare for my absence and was going crazy at the thought of trying to reschedule everything at St. Mark in the event we changed the dates of our departure.
And so it was that we decided to visit Lupembe as planned, but instead of meetings, lectures and reports at the Youth Consultation, we would go on safari at Ruaha National Park and visit the spice island itself, Zanzibar.