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News for beginning of October 2002

Kamisa la Munga la Tansania, S.L.P. 146 Babati Tanzania 29th September 2002

Dear Friends,

Greetings from Tanzania. Makes a change from Kenya ...

I have been trying to reflect on my experiences here in Tanzania, having now completed 3 seminars. The first was short, just 2 days plus Sunday. The second was very ‘part-time’ as the participants could only attend for 2 hours in the afternoon. This last one has been a ‘full seminar’, from Wednesday morning up to the Sunday service.

We have been 3 ‘teachers’. They are the Tanzanian (non-Bible-trained) overseer, a graduate of Babati (Secondary level) Bible School this year and myself. I guess I have taken about 1/2 of the total sessions. I am on principle insisting that I do not take more than 1/2. Otherwise, my own opportunities for learning may become too limited, and I would get too worn-out.

This last week we have had sessions from 9.30 - 12.45, 2.00-5.30 p.m. and then 8.00 - 10.00 p.m. We inevitably run a bit late. In the morning it has been discussion based, modelled basically on YTC (Yala Theological Centre) aimed at leaders. We had 20 people in all. The other sessions are for everyone. the biggest crowd (perhaps of 40) has been coming at night. For these sessions we all sit in the dark, but for the light of one paraffin lamp with about the same power as a candle.

Sessions have typically begun with 2 to 4 songs, introducing remarks and simultaneous prayer by all concerned, before the speaker is invited. (There is one ‘teaching session’ i.e. speaker for the evening. There are two for the afternoon). In the morning as I have mentioned above, I have been the facilitator of the ‘discussion’. The other sessions are basically taught didactically, followed by questions.

I think it is unusual to have such ‘discussion sessions’ in seminars here in Tanzania. Teaching is generally given by didactic presentation, followed by questions. Such is of course a widely used method the world around, despite educational theorists protestations as to its unsuitability. There is discussion also here, as to what extent it is a ‘Colonial hangover’.

I find that both methods have their advantages and disadvantages. So, ideally it is good to mix them! Didactic presentations can be very helpful if they have ‘live topics’, or if combined with drama, questioning etc. Sometimes one can think that people have understood when actually they haven’t. A difficulty with discussion based teaching, is that frankly people think on things differently here than a Westerner is used to.

It is extremely difficult, so as to be in a sense impossible to communicate to the people the ‘Gospel of Grace’, as known in Western protestant circles. Such does not find a home in peoples understanding system.

This may sound shocking. It is not an easy thing for me to accept, and it leaves a large question of what then to teach?

For myself, I do continue to teach this, even though it never seems to come to be understood. I value the Gospel of Grace greatly. Yet, in order to register with peoples’ thinking Christianity must be presented as a religion of power. Hence the title I have chosen of ‘War with the Devil’. That is what people can understand. They perceive themselves as being much troubled by Satan, and in need of help in fighting against him.

While the discussion based teaching is on leadership and evangelism, the seven major presentation topics I am using are on ‘war with the devil’. They are based in the following parts of the Bible 1) Genesis 2) The Law 3) 1 Samuel 4) The Prophets 5) The Writings 6)The Gospels 7)The Letters.

Some of the most valuable times are those at which people ask questions. The ensuing discussion can be very educative and informative of how people are understanding their faith. There was a revealing discussion on Saturday evening (28th September) following a question "Can we accept someone to be a leader in the church, who cannot forgive?" The universal response was "no"! I tried to point out the irony of their response, that in this case none of them qualified to be leaders as evidently none of them was ready to forgive! This seemed to be hard for them to grasp.

This was again indicative of many African peoples’ deep and profound belief in evil. Witchcraft beliefs are rampant in Tanzania. The government will not deal with witches, so people take the killing of witches in their own hands, I was told. They are burnt through soaking with paraffin, perhaps with an old tyre, it was explained to me. Within the church likewise everyone has the potential to harm their colleagues by great evil. Expectations of leaders are high, and few meet the expectations.

I am finding a difference between the Church of God here in Tanzania, and the very ‘spiritual’ churches that I am used to working with in Kenya. Tanzania does not have the plethora of indigenous movements that mark the church scene in Kenya. It is a pleasure to find people more interested in learning and understanding than in Kenya where healing and power are even more to the fore. We have prayed for a number of people who have come forward expressing particular needs. We need to find the right balance between teaching and addressing peoples’ felt needs for spiritual encouragement.

Despite all else that one can say, it is a pleasure to see lives touched and hearts moved. People thronging to services means that needs are being met. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is being accepted. The church is growing (yesterday we worshipped at a church less than 2 years old) and people being brought to faith.

The way of life of the people we have been visiting is very close to native. Cooking is on wood, with pots resting on three stones. Water is carried in. Night-time lighting is very minimal indeed. Chairs are generally not to be found - instead low (6" or less) stools are used for sitting on. Tables are largely unknown, so that the floor acts as table. At one site there was no convenient bathroom, so I was given a basin of water and washed standing in the middle of the church sanctuary! The water from washing helped to still the dust, so I was assured! The food is basic, often consisting of maize - meal porridge and fish or rice with beans (see Proverbs 15:17).

There tends to be a lot of dust everywhere. Up on the hills the wind blows and gusts for much of the day and night. The nights are cool, the days are hot - but not excessively so. there has been no rain as yet, although it is in prospect for next month I am told. People are busy right now harvesting Mbazi - a kind of bean grown for sale around here. Travelling here is all on dirt roads and dusty paths, with many hills and valleys. The landscape is brown, awaiting the rain when I am told it will become lush and green!

Between seminar trips I am coming back to the small town of Babati. After initially staying in the church guest-house, I now have a room in the home of an African family and get fed and looked after by then when I come back here. It was my own choice to stay with an African family. The American Church of God missionaries here have been very welcoming and have opened their homes to me at any time. I do my computer-work and emailing at any time from one such home. Babati also has many hotelis where one can get a cup of tea for 7p or a decent (African) meal for 50p.

As I write we have completed 3 short seminars with 9 more to go - some of them being somewhat longer and also at more distant places. The missionaries here will be providing transport to and from the more distant locations. I thank God for the privilege of doing this work.

Jim Harries