My October 2022 Mission to Tanzania

November 5, 2022

tims blog




When I get home from a mission, I often find myself wondering how much more might have been accomplished if someone else had been given the assignment. I feel so unqualified! But the fact is, I am perfectly qualified to do the work of God, having fulfilled the four great criteria of God’s calling:

1 Corinthians 1:26-29
26 For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:
27 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;
28 And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:
29 That no flesh should glory in his presence.

Remove the Spirit of God from me and all that is remains is someone foolish, weak, base, and despised. Anything I might accomplish for the kingdom of God is a testimony of his pity and longsuffering, and his grace upon my life. I have no academic degrees to bolster my status as a Bible teacher. If I teach something noteworthy, it is only because I was shown something noteworthy.

But even as I write this, a voice in my head sneers, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks" – that wonderfully sardonic line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Do I make these bold disclaimers in order to make some great claim about myself? Do I use self-abasement to elevate myself? Probably! “O wretched man that I am!” One day I will stop beating this dead horse and just concentrate on running the race that is set before me.

This was my first mission trip since the global lock-down began and ended, and three years since my last trip to Tanzania. Having seen how fickle governments can be about keeping their borders open, and the additional demands made on travelers who refuse the Covid-19 vaccination, I had absolutely NO desire to make an international trip again. Then seemingly out of the blue, I felt my heart stirring to return to Tanzania and attend to the work that I began 18 years ago. I began testing my inclination on my friends – “I’m thinking about going back to Africa.” Inwardly, I was echoing the cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz: “There’s just one thing I want you fellas to do. Talk me out of it!” But no one tried to dissuade me, and the more I thought and prayed on it, the more I felt that it was the right thing to do. 

In mid-summer, I communicated my intentions to Patrick Kinani, the chairman of ILASAK TENEBO ONINYE (“workers together with him” in the Maasai language), and he enthusiastically suggested I plan for sometime after late September. I began my search for reasonably-priced airfare.

God does not open doors for me, per se, but for the message he gives me to present.  Since early summer I’d been working on new teaching series on Paul’s epistle to the Galatians which I presented to my church on September 23. I felt confident that this was what I was supposed to teach in Tanzania. My conviction was fortified after I reread Evan Pyle’s message THERE BE SOME THAT TROUBLE YOU which he wrote following one of our first missions to the Maasai. I went through my notes again, adapting them for use in Tanzania, and ferreting out any words that would be difficult for an interpreter to translate. (This is not something I am doing in this essay!)

Even after my ticket was purchased and my notes were prepared, I was still very nervous about making the trip. But the Holy Spirit showed himself to me in the first of three very vivid signs that affirmed to me that my way was aligned with his. The first sign came during our home church meeting when Jay Pearson brought forth a word of prophecy during our prayers, a word that I immediately knew was directed at me. The essence of the message was that the Lord had laid out a path for me and I should not be afraid to walk forward and take what he had given me. A huge weight was lifted off me, and my heart was set as ease.

My trip lasted from October 3 to 20. I spent more days traveling to and from Matebete Village than I actually spent in the village. But until I learn the secret to being transported like Philip in Acts 8, that is just the way it is sometimes. So having left home on Monday, I was finally in the village and ready to start teaching Friday morning.

Galatians divides into three parts, and my presentation was on Friday, Saturday, and Monday. Once again, my chief interpreter was Irene Lobara Kisota. Later in the week, I heard that there had been some grumblings over this; some people said she did not know the Scriptures well enough to do a good job. To be honest, this made me furious. Irene first interpreted for me back in 2005 in Mahango Village (a job she reluctantly agreed to accept simply because there was no one else to do it), and she has been an invaluable asset to my work ever since. She is a good interpreter because she is a careful listener. Truth is, it can be very difficult for me when someone who knows the Bible serves as my interpreter. They think they know what I’m going to say before I say it, and so they stop listening as soon as they hear the first part of the sentence. Some will try to "improve" my presentation by adding dramatic punch to their re-interpretation, trying to turn me from a teacher into their idea of a preacher. They are bad interpreters because they are bad listeners.

In Galatians 4, Paul compares an heir to a servant. This gave me the chance to demonstrate to my class why interpreting from English can be so difficult. The word "heir" (meaning one who inherits) sounds just like "air" (the stuff we breathe) or "err" (to make a mistake). Paul is writing about the heir, not the air or the err. Say that sentence out loud and you'll appreciate the concentration required to be a good interpreter. And don't forget the complications added by an American accent. To the person on the other end of that call to technical support, your accent is as indecipherable to him as his accent is to you.

Irene was assisted by a young man I’d first met when he was just a boy, named Josiah George. Josiah is the son of Rev. George Ole Oripu, who founded and pastored a Baptist church in the village until he passing earlier this year. George was a great help to WTWH ever since we first met in 2005 (also in Mahango Village). He wrote the Swahili translation to my book, The Principles of the Doctrine of Christ.  

On Friday the classroom was very full. I am continually amazed how the Bible speaks so clearly to our present situation. Galatians is the Holy Spirit’s answer to the legalists who taught that everyone who comes to Christ must submit to the laws of the covenant God made with Moses. As a result, believers were “removed” from the gospel of grace (Gal. 1:6), and “bewitched” and “hindered” from obeying the truth (3:1, 5:7). Paul dismantled the arguments of the legalists, and taught Christians how to “stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free” (Gal. 5:1).

Friday’s presentation went very well, and afterwards, as it says in Nehemiah 8:12, “All the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them.” But when Saturday’s class began, almost all the men were absent. This disturbed me and I told the class that, times being what they are, they needed to realize that I might never be back to teach in the village. When I left in 2019, I would not have guessed I wouldn’t return for three years, and I am very suspicious that such a thing can happen again. I later learned that, according to tribal custom, all the men were involved in settling a dispute between a man, his wife, her lover, and a botched abortion. In their culture, the slaughter of the child was as great a crime as adultery. A repayment in cows set things right, and the woman was sent back to her husband.

Due to the afternoon heat, class was held only in the mornings, and after lunch I would take a nap. But on Saturday afternoon, I awoke to an empty house. Teten Kaney (who was one of the few men who did attend the day’s session) had called a meeting, and he along with Irene and Josiah rehearsed some of the main points of the session to a group of people congregating under the big tree by the teaching center. They also led a discussion on what needed to be done so that my lessons would not fall by the wayside as soon as I was gone. There was a new enthusiasm from some of the young people to learn my material so they could carry it forward. This was all great news to me and I decided to write a correspondence class for them like I’ve done for my students in Nepal. If all goes well, this will begin in January.

On Sunday, class was suspended so everyone could attend church. I accepted Josiah’s invitation to teach at the Baptist church. On this morning the congregation was mostly children, and I enjoyed teaching then about the fowls of the air and the lilies of the field. I praise God for those moments he pops a new way of explaining something into my head right in the middle of my own thoughts. To show the children how long it had been since Jesus died for our sins, I told them to imagine a line of 20 men who were each 100 years old. In that sense, it hasn’t been very long at all.

After the afternoon heat was gone, Irene and I, along with Saileni Ole Megelali of the Assemblies of God church, visited some of the grave sites in the village. Later we visited with Irene’s mother, Dorcas, and had a long talk with Patrick Kinani about the future of ITO. After serving on the board of ITO since it was founded in 2009, and as Chairman since 2013, Patrick wanted to step down and let someone else take his place. I hoped to dissuade him. Patrick is a very humble and honorable man who held ITO together when others were trying to dismantle it. But, as was said of Paul, “when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done” (Acts 21:14). We all went to prayer about who the next chairman should be.

On Monday morning I finished my presentation. I talked at length about Galatians 5:7: “Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?” and all the little controversies that had come up in my years of work in the village that had disrupted our progress. This speech was inspired by a dream I had Sunday night, the second of the three signs I received. I woke up very startled, and grabbed my flashlight and a pen and paper and started writing. I saw the big tree that serves as the meeting place of the village cut down to the trunk in order to see all the rings. Each ring represented a phase of my work among the Maasai, and the people who had helped me during that time. When I drew that image on the board in the teaching center, it helped me illustrate the chronicles of my work to bring the gospel to the Maasai. Every ring and the people and events it symbolized was an important part of the story.

I talked about my conversation in 2009 with the first chairman of ITO, Eliakimu Ole Kurupashi, that led to the building of the teaching center, and how this building was also intended to be a historical center. Since my first visits to the village, I voiced my concern that this proud people would be reduced to a tourist attraction like so many of the native Americans in the USA. So many changes have taken place since I first visited Matebete in 2004. Back then a bicycle was a valued commodity. I remember the big celebration over the first motorcycle. Now more and more cars are on the village roads, and those roads are being named. Instead of being carried from the river in five-gallon buckets, well water is now pumped to many of the homes. Fancy houses are being built and electric poles are being installed. For better or worse, Maasai traditions are being overtaken by globalization. The greatest danger faces the young men. Their fathers and grandfathers can boast of facing lions in the savanna. This generation turns to gambling, drunkenness, and womanizing trying to replace the thrill of conquest and adventure. True Christianity – the kind we read about in Acts – has all the excitement they could wish for, but sitting through another pointless sermon does not. The Maasai are warriors by nature. They are perfectly suited to spiritual warfare, but they need to be rightly taught. Otherwise they may join the throngs of Christians caught up in the manufactured excitement of the modern praise and worship sideshow, convinced that submitting to the spirit of the meeting (and not discipleship) is what brings you close to God, mesmerized by the smoke and mirrors of lying signs and wonders.

After the class was over, we took some time to celebrate our success. This was followed by an important meeting of ITO in which Saileni was appointed the new chairman. In accordance with Paul’s letter to Titus and the structure of Maasai society, I appointed a leader over each of the four major groups: the elder men, the younger men, the elder women, and the younger woman. Each group was given the freedom to function independently so that one group wasn’t always waiting on the other to move forward.

When Saileni was inaugurated as the new chairman, I was moved to lay hands on him and prophesy over him. This led to the third sign given me by the Holy Spirit. I don’t remember the entire message but it began, “You have not put yourself in this place. I have put you here.” Upon hearing these words, the man was visibly shaken and had to sit down. I assumed the message was about this appointment, but as it turned out, it was so much more.

Tuesday was my last morning in the village, and Saileni dropped by while we were eating breakfast to say goodbye. I asked him to tell me how he came to Christ. He said that he was born and raised in the Iringa district of Tanzania. When he was a young man, a Maasai prophet, a laibon, said he had a word for him – he should move to Matebete, a place he’d never been. In so doing he would lose all his cows, but gain something more important.

Now, a Maasai man values his cows as much as he does his wives and children, and so Saileni stayed where he was. Some years later, the same laibon ran into him again and chastised him for not following the Spirit’s instruction. Saileni reluctantly made the move to Matebete. There he lost his cows, but gained Christ. So when he heard the words, “You have not put yourself in this place. I have put you here,” he understood exactly what it meant. He also knew this appointment was indeed from the Lord. (Some people think God only speaks through his own people, but Scripture tells a different story. One only needs to read the story of Balaam and Balak to see that God can speak through anyone he chooses, even a man like Balaam.)

In the final leg of my African adventure, I flew to Zimbabwe to visit my nephew Lao Watson-Smith. Lao is the General Manager at the Africa Center for Holistic Management Victoria Falls. The website for ACHM (achmonline.org) states, “We enhance human livelihoods through training that enables communities to manage their land and lives holistically and to use livestock as a tool for regenerating degraded watersheds, croplands and wildlife (and human) habitat [emphasis added].” For years the Tanzanian government has been acting as though the Maasai and their cattle are parasites destroying the land. ACHM is proving that just the opposite is true. Lao showed me two areas of the ranch land that are being used to demonstrate this. The area left untouched was full of old plant life suffocating any new growth. But on the opposite side of the road there is land that was green even though we were at the tail end of the dry season! This ground had been methodically stirred up and fertilized by the ranch livestock, and it was full of new growth. In another area that was being properly managed – again by the use of "livestock as a tool for regenerating degraded watersheds", a creek had sprung up from an underground spring. It was quite amazing to me.

I greatly enjoyed my time with my nephew driving around Dimbancombe Ranch in Victoria Falls and learning about his work. Knowing a thing or two about the challenges the Maasai face in their ever-decreasing share of Tanzanian land, I am hopeful that it is more than a coincidence that my nephew is doing such work, and I have passed on his contact information to my Maasai friends.  

Well, that is my story and I’m sticking to it. In the photo gallery I have put together some pictures of this trip that I hope you will enjoy. Once again, great thanks to everyone whose contributions to WTWH help me with my work. May God bless you.

In the Service of His Majesty, the King of kings,
Tim Sullivan


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