Wednesday – Newala

A young student with a sibling on her back.

Another day of touring – and of goodbyes. At St Joseph’s, Mkalenda, we are greeted by Father Johannes, the priest, a group of Makonde dancers and a church choir. They give us a bag of fresh eggs and another of what we think is ground peanut – they were delighted when Bishop Steven gamely tasted it! Bishop Oscar introduces us, as he always does, explaining about our trip – from Wisconsin to Amsterdam to Dar es Salaam to Mtwara by barabara (road) …  And also as always, he introduces myself and Paula as priests, explaining that they have “padre wanawake” (women priests) in America, and may start having them in Newala soon as well!

Father Johannes and Canon Gideon, one of the elder clergy of the diocese, pile onto a pikipiki – a motorbike – to accompany us to visit the new diocesan farmland. (Father Johannes doesn’t have his own motorbike. The driver is a member of one of the parishes; we make sure to pay him for his petrol.) The farmland (shamba, in Swahili) is about 1000 acres, recently acquired, near one edge of the plateau. Very near – just across the road is another very impressive scenic overlook, Chilolelo, allegedly a site of human sacrifice in the past. (We are told, “Now they just use goats.” I’m unclear on whether they’re teasing us.) The farmland is largely undeveloped, though there are some useful fruit and lumber trees on it. It was given to the diocese by the village council of the nearby village, Miuyu. Their hope is that the church will develop the land (possibly employing local workers) and use the income to do some development in the village, like building a secondary school or health clinic – important resources that the national government is unlikely to provide anytime soon, if ever. The churches can be important agents of development here, when they have the resources and capacity to do so. Right now the diocese is trying to decide what to do with this property, to maximize income: coffee? corn? cashews? …

Somewhere during the course of this day, we learn that Father Oswald Bwechwa, whom I am proud to call a friend, can open a soda bottle cap using the cap of a plastic water bottle. I have no idea how, but am deeply impressed.

I inquire about the ownership of the livestock we see wandering about. Oswald says, everything is free range here. There aren’t ownership disputes; the animals just go home to their right homes at night.

At St. Jacob, Mnyambe, a parish of 1600, we are welcomed with a wonderful celebration. We are given a live chicken and a bag of peanuts. (Driving home, I have to discourage the chicken from feasting on the peanuts as they travel together in the back of the Prado.) A leader in the parish – a woman, this time – reads us a history of the church and report on its ministries. They are building a new church, and have plans for a water-harvesting project as well. There’s no public water in this town. She also observes that the government dispensary here has very little medicine. Again, there’s real human need here – readily-available water and health care – that the church, if empowered to do so, would and could address. Bishop Oscar speaks about our developing “diosisi rafiki” relationship and how it will grow, “polepole”. Bishop Steven speaks, too, and stresses working with Bishop Oscar to strengthen the whole diocese.

We rest for a bit in the afternoon, and work on packing our bags, back at the Country Lodge. Wednesday evening, we meet at the diocesan office by the cathedral, with Bishop Oscar and Dr. Lawi. Dr. Lawi has a list of some possible projects and priorities where American allies might be able to support the work of the diocese and its churches. It’s the beginning of a useful conversation that will be ongoing for months and even years (though we will be doing, even as we are discussing and discerning!) – where and how can our limited resources in the Diocese of Milwaukee (both material and human resources) be deployed to have the greatest impact in Newala, by combining – catalyzing? – with priorities, resources, initiatives on the ground here? The partnership isn’t as simple as the familiar patterns we sometimes want to map onto it: the Americans have the money, the Africans have the needs – and/or the ideas. Both of our dioceses, Newala and Tanzania, have assets and resources – assets and resources we need to figure out how to use, for the vitality of our churches and our communities. Both of our dioceses have financial challenges; nobody has a magic money tree, on either side of the partnership. Both of our dioceses have people with ideas and skills and passions and dreams that could combine in exciting and fruitful ways. May we stay the course, ask the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and be able to look back five years from now and be proud of what we’ve built together.

After our meeting, we head over to the Sisters’ compound for a celebratory banquet. The sisters were there, and some leaders from the Mother’s Union, and diocesan and parish leaders from the cathedral including our friends Violet and Yusuph. And, of course, wonderful food and plenty of it. This evening was so full and so emotional – I can’t try to capture it much. We asked humbly if we could sing a song – so many choirs had sung for us that sometime earlier in the day, driving around, we thought, what could we sing for them? As a thank-offering, as an expression of what we have in common as people of song. We settled on “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” and worked over the words and harmonies in the car. At the banquet, we stood together at the end of the room and lifted our voices for our (very kind!) audience. I don’t know what they thought of it, though they were very gracious – but it felt very holy to me, to sing to and for these new friends about God’s love. It felt like coming back to the foundation of what brings us together. And it felt like setting aside language barriers and questions and uncertainty, for the utter joy of holy song.

And then the Mother’s Union group sang a song for us – and Yusuph translated the words for us, roughly – and it was perfect: God created the whole universe, what can I give back to God? I have nothing to give; all we can do is care for one another as God’s children. Amen, amen.

Gifts: cashews and a carved statue of Mary, for each of us, from the local dark wood called pingo, which grows only in the Makonde area and is frequently used in the famous Makonde wood carvings. Gifts, too: this group of people, gathered to share and celebrate. I am so thankful for the people of this place. I have fallen in love.

We end the evening back at the restaurant at the Country Lodge with Konyagi and tonic for some, Serengeti beer for others, some Scotch of dubious lineage for those who are growing homesick, and some roast goat with rosemary – said to be delicious.

Drummers at Mkalenda.
Drummers at Mkalenda.
The choir at Mkalenda did sort of a sung drama for us, ending with a conversion scene.
The choir at Mkalenda did sort of a sung drama for us, ending with a conversion scene.
A parish leader addresses us at Mkalenda. Beautiful flowers!
A parish leader addresses us at Mkalenda. Beautiful flowers!
Canon Gideon and Father Johannes on the pikipiki on the way to the new farmland.
Canon Gideon and Father Johannes on the pikipiki on the way to the new farmland.
The overlook near the diocesan farmland.
The overlook near the diocesan farmland.
Makonde dancer at Mnyambe.
Makonde dancer at Mnyambe.
A parish leader addresses us at Mnyambe.
A parish leader addresses us at Mnyambe.
Viewing the foundation pits for the new church, Mnyambe.
Viewing the foundation pits for the new church, Mnyambe.
Collection box. Rehema means mercy.
Collection box. Rehema means mercy.
Church bell!
Church bell!
Flowers at the altar at Mnyambe - made from snack wrappers. Using what you have!
Flowers at the altar at Mnyambe – made from snack wrappers. Using what you have!

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