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My April 2015 Mission to Tanzania, day by day

 

Monday, April 13

Nelly dropped me off at the Baton Rouge airport around 7:30 AM. Three flights were on tap for today: Baton Rouge to Atlanta, Atlanta to JFK in New York, and JFK overnight to Amsterdam.

Tuesday, April 14

One flight remained, Amsterdam to Dar es Salaam, landing at 10:00 PM. Even so late at night, the African heat smothered me like an over-zealous grandmother at a family reunion. Irene Lobara had arranged for our taxi driver friend Fred to meet me at the airport and drop me off at a nearby hotel. I checked in, cranked the air conditioner down as low as it would go, and checked out.

Wednesday, April 15

I did not realize until I got to Dar that I had given Irene the wrong dates for our flights to and from Mbeya, for Thursday instead of Wednesday. Actually I did not mind the extra rest. I was pretty tired, and the flight to Mbeya takes off before dawn. Neither did I know that Irene was recovering from a bout with malaria, so the extra day of rest served her well too. She came by later that afternoon for a few hours, and we went back to the airport to change the date of the return flight from Mbeya to Dar.

Thursday, April 16

The eight-hour time difference, the noise from the hotel bar, and fear of oversleeping kept me awake most the night. Fred and Irene picked me up at 4:30 AM so we would be at the airport on time for the 6 AM flight, and I think I fell asleep as soon as I sat down in the plane.

At the airport in Mbeya we were met by Philipo Kaney and his wife Serena. They took us to see his office, and later Evelyn Kaney joined us for breakfast. After this, we drove to the Municipal Court. A young man from Matebete was in jail awaiting a hearing over a controversy concerning their cows. I never really got the facts straight. (Sometimes I get tired of asking people to explain everything to me.) As it turned out, the hearing was postponed.

About this time, Irene got the news that her schoolgirl friend, a girl named Sophia, had died while giving birth to her new baby. As you can imagine, this was a horrible shock to her. We decided to stop by the parents' home for a visitation and to pray with the family. (Later we realized that if the plane ticket had not been wrong, this visit would not have been possible. Sometimes providence has its way.) I know it meant a lot to them to visit with Irene and cry together. I thank God for helping me find some comforting words to share.

After this we resumed our journey to Chimala. (Chimala is about 60 miles from Mbeya.) We stopped to buy some groceries for the week, and soon after we were greeted by friends from Matebete. A 30-minute drive down dusty roads and forest trails took us into the village.

We got out of the car near the big tree that is a community centerpiece. A large crowd was waiting for us, and a group of Maasai were singing and dancing. It took me some time to discern where the amplified music was coming from. Later I was told that a man from Arusha had recorded some contemporary praise songs in the Maasai language, and taught them to the Lutheran choir. They were singing and dancing along to a recording he had made. They made their own recording as well, but their CD was still being processed. To be honest, I prefer the traditional, acappella Maasai songs that I've come to know, but the recording was well done and it was obvious that both the singers and the audience were really enjoying themselves. I was asked to bring greetings, and I felt like kicking myself for not preparing something ahead of time.

After the ceremonies I was taken to the home of my hosts, China and Eneres. A nice meal, a hot bath, and the end of a very long day.

Friday, April 17

Our first meeting was scheduled to begin at 9 AM, but we actually got rolling around 10. (Many years ago the Maasai told me, "Americans have watches. We have time.") I taught my favorite sermon, "A Man, An Ox, A Lion, and an Eagle," and Teten Ole Kaney provided some nice illustrations.

The last time I had been with my friends from ITO was in September 2014 when I was teaching in the village of Melela. (ITO stands for Ilaasak Tenebo Oninye, "Working Together With Him" in Maa). After my teaching, I talked about that mission, and how it showed me that my work must be concentrated in Matebete. When I teach at the ITO Center, I have the freedom to say anything I want to say. That is not the case when I am a guest at someone's church. There are rules of propriety that must be followed.

I told them that I would spend a week teaching from the Book of Acts, and after that we would talk about what we wanted to accomplish in the years to come. I was sure that the things we learned from Acts would refine our vision and methodology for reaching the other Maasai.

The last time I was in the village, I noticed the deteriorating condition of the ITO Center. This building has been in use for a few years, but it has been a long time since any steps were made toward finishing it. The poor quality of the workmanship was also starting to show. For example, the builders had used nails rather than screws on the door hinges (they probably pocketed the screws for themselves), and now the doors were falling off.

I am not a carpenter (understatement of the year!) but this time I packed a box of screws and a power drill/screwdriver that I borrowed from Evan Pyle. We probably looked like the Keystone Kops, but eventually a group of us got the door hanging again. But the more I looked around, the more I realized how much work needed to be done. But how should we proceed?

Later that day, two people came to me with the same suggestion: we should ask two or more builders to look the place over and submit an estimate to the board of ITO. The board would decide who would get the contract, and then keep their eye on the progress to ensure that the work was done as promised. I liked this idea very much, and looked forward to discussing it with Patrick Kinana, the Director of ITO.

Once again, I saw God's hand in the timing of things. Over the last few years, Matebete has changed dramatically. People are building very contemporary houses. As a result, carpenters and masons are competing for work, anxious to prove their skills and reliability. This was not the case when the ITO Center was first constructed.

Saturday, April 18

On Saturday morning I was invited breakfast at the new home of Parkepu Eliakimu Kurupashi. As I toured his beautiful place, I joked that his grandchildren would grow up thinking that the Maasai always lived in homes like this. This was our only chance for a visit since he was leaving the next day along with five other people from the village to attend a symposium on cattle ranching.

Later that morning I was called into the forest where a group of Morani had roasted a freshly-killed lamb. Parkepu took charge of slicing the meat into bite-sized pieces and sending them around the circle of men. (Irene took part as well, the first and only time a woman was allowed into this exclusive men's club, and only because there was no man who could be my interpreter.) After eating what seemed to be pounds of delicious meat, I was given some bark stripped from a nearby tree and told to add it to my bottle of water. Drinking it, they said, would help digest the fat. I can't say for sure that it helped, but I had no stomach problems.

The heat of the day and the glare of the sun was pretty unbearable from midday to around 4 PM, so I usually went to my room to take a nap or read. After the day cooled, it became a habit for a group of us to go on a walk through the village, stopping here and there to visit someone along the way. Today we visited with Dorcas (the mother of Irene), Anaa (the mother of Patrick), and Monica (the mother of Evelyn). For the most part, I just listened while the others did the talking, and tried to pick out one or two familiar words.

Traveling by myself has many advantages. The most obvious benefit is economic. It is also easier to get around, and less of a strain on my hosts. When I travel with a group of people, I feel responsible for their well-being. If they are uncomfortable, so am I. If they are not good travelers and are prone to complain, it makes for a long trip. Of course, traveling alone has disadvantages as well. It can feel like solitary confinement. Because I want to give my interpreter a break (What did he say? What did he say?), I am excluded from 90% of the conversation. When I get bored, I pull out my camera and start taking pictures.

I took about 500 pictures on this trip.

Sunday, April 19

For Sunday service we attended the Church of Christ, pastored by Patrick and Teten. After lunch I met with Patrick to talk about the suggestions for renovating the Center, and to ask him what I could do to better help him in his job as Director.

Monday, April 20

On Monday morning I started teaching from the Book of Acts. Today's lessons were the Introduction, and Part One: The Witness in Jerusalem.

On our afternoon walk we visited the home of Pastor Megelali Saileni of the Assemblies of God church, and prayed for his bedridden mother. From there we walked to the home of Anna Kisota, the mother of Faraja, and had a nice visit. I knew that personal obligations had kept Pastor Megelali and Anna from attending the seminar, but still I felt like a truancy officer.

There is a lot of dust in the village, and it affects my allergies. Sometimes I take a pill to keep my nose from running, but it can dry me out too much and I end up with a nose bleed. Back at the house, I got a nose bleed and it made my hosts very nervous. There were three or four women hovering over me like I was on my deathbed... which I knew was exactly where I'd be if Nelly knew there were three or four women hovering over me! They told me nosebleeds can come from being overheated, and so they poured icy-cold water over my head. I am the world's worst patient, and I hate being fussed over. But somehow I survived. Step aside, apostle Paul, and make way for a real missionary.

It really is peculiar how time and again I find myself on a mission in the rural outskirts of a third-world country. I abhor being hot. Dust and grasses make me sneeze. A mosquito bite swells up on my arm like a balloon. The sound of insects buzzing in my ears, or the sight of a cloud of them swarming over my head takes me to the brink of madness. Just a drop of the fresh milk of Matebete (which tastes wonderful) makes me break out in an itchy rash. I don't know... maybe the Lord just doesn't like me very much.

(Come to think of it, except for the problem with the milk, all those things beset me here in Louisiana as well! Something is not right!)

Each evening around 8, the moon dipped below the horizon, and the sky was painted with stars. It was breathtaking. All kidding aside and despite my struggles, I LOVE being in Matebete!

Tuesday, April 21

On Tuesday I started losing my voice, another downside of my allergies. Fortunately, the only person who really needed to hear me was Irene since the students were all listening to her interpretation. Today's lesson was Part Two: the Witness in Judaea and Samaria.

After class I was invited to lunch at the home of Meshack Kurubai. I stayed with Meshack's family during my first visit to Matebete in 2004, and I consider him a very good friend. He is fluent in English, which is nice for me, but he stays very busy with his cattle and so I don't see him very often. After lunch we sat under the trees to talk, and he and a few other men asked me many questions about life in America. When I told him that Evan Pyle's daughter was soon to be married, they were shocked to hear that there was no bride price, and appalled that the father of the bride was expected to pay for the wedding. (You PAY the man to take your daughter??) They found it incongruous that in America, having two wives is illegal but same-sex marriage is not. But more than anything else, they were put off by America's fixation on individualism. In Maasai society, the family comes first. You and I can hardly imagine what it would be like to spend your entire life – from infancy to old age – in the daily company of brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, grandparents and grandchildren, in-laws, and cousins innummerable. The Maasai cannot imagine life without it.

Back at China's house, we had another wonderful after-dinner conversation, this time about the changes taking place in Maasai society. I asked him if he thought his generation would be the last to cut holes in their ears, and he said yes. Evidently other Africans say it makes the Maasai look... unsophisticated. Hillbilly. I told him I liked the way it looks (on them, mind you, not on others), but I understood their decision.

Wednesday, April 22

Today I began Part Three of the seminar: the Witness to the Ends of the Earth. I taught on Paul's first missionary journey, and the Jerusalem Council. I realized I need to study more on the elders' instruction to the new Gentile converts to Christianity:

Acts 15:28-29:
28: For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;
29: That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.

For many years, I gave no more time to these verses than the few seconds it took to read them. I never dreamed that issues like blood and things strangled would ever be pertinent to me. But the Maasai of Matebete still drink blood, and they kill the goats they eat by strangulation. They are also polygamists, which some people classify as fornication. What should I tell them?

In dealing with a culture that is so foreign to me, I have done my utmost to lay upon them no greater burden than the necessary things. There is a lot in what you and I call Christian tradition that is only Western tradition. For example, some missionaries have told the Maasai that after they become Christians, they should dress in western style clothing and stop speaking Maa. I find such logic ridiculous. If our clothes and language make us more Christian, we should all dress in robes like Jesus and speak the language he spoke. Other missionaries have instructed the Maasai men to abandon all but their first wife and her children, condemning the other wives and children as whores and bastards, and leaving them to fend for themselves without cattle or land. How can this be viewed as a godly solution? What would they have said to Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel?

There is a big difference between what is unfamiliar and what is wrong. Before I tell people to abandon their culture, I want to be sure I am standing on solid biblical ground. The book of Acts is more a book of history than of Christian doctrine. Anyway, I told them I would study further on this matter. I feel confident that the answer to Acts 15 will be found in Paul's letters to the Corinthians.

After class we had lunch at the home of Patrick Kinana. Never before had I been invited into so many homes to share a meal. It was wonderful. Afterwards we met with a builder who looked over the Center, heard the things we wanted done, and promised to give us an estimate.

There was a big rainstorm today, but thankfully the downpour came while we were having dinner at the home of Ikoneti Ole Kimaya and his wife, Mary Kurubai. (In the Maasai culture, the women retain their father's name even after marriage.) After we ate, Ikoneti went into a back room and came out with a mysterious package that he carefully unwrapped. He took out a set of arrows dipped in a poison that he said was so deadly that one scratch was enough to kill a man. Then he showed me a long scar on his forearm that he got when fighting a lion. "Not too many men in the world can say that!" I said, and he laughed. I told him I had a scar on my own arm from Nelly digging her nails into me when she was sitting next to me on a plane and we went through turbulence. He only laughed after I explained that I was joking.

Thursday, April 23

Today's lessons covered Paul's second and third missionary trips. While I taught, I sipped ginger and lemon tea to help my voice.

On our late afternoon walk we went down to an area I guess you could call the wetlands. We watched two Nile monitor lizards making their way into the marsh. Head to tail, I'd guess they were at least five feet long. We saw a green mamba snake hanging out on a tree stalking birds. I was told that during sunset in the dry season, this is a favorite watering hole for elephants, gazelles, and other wildlife. I would love to see that - from a safe distance, of course!

Friday, April 24

My Acts seminar ended with Paul's trip to Rome. All in all, I do not think I've ever had a better time teaching a class. Acts is an exciting story, but what made it even more exciting was its relevance to our work in Tanzania.

After the lesson, we returned to our discussion about our future plans and mission work. I see our work as two-fold: 1) to give the Maasai in other villages the opportunity to hear the gospel, and 2) to offer instruction to those Maasai who are already Christians, but want to know the way of God more perfectly. The first work ensues from Matebete, the second brings people into Matebete. (This is why it is so important that we finish the teaching center.) The burden of the first work is primarily on ITO; the burden of the second work is currently mine to bear, but eventually I hope to turn that over to ITO as well.

After lunch, Freda Kisota, Irene, and I visited George Ole Oripu's Friday Bible fellowship. George is one of the Directors of ITO, and he translated one of my books into Swahili. He and his wife began evangelizing in the "unseemly" part of the village where people congregate to get stoned on the local brew. Now George pastors a small group of Christians there, meeting in a mud hut that was once used as a pub.

From there, we returned to the village meeting tree for the closing ceremonies of this mission. Irene was honored for her services as my interpreter, and for all she contributed to the success of this mission. I was given a special gift signifying that I was no longer a guest in Matebete, but a village elder.

After the ceremonies we met with a second builder to get his estimate on completing the work on the center.

Saturday, April 25

This morning I did a teaching only for women, something I've never done before. I invited the women's prayer group to the Center and taught the book of Esther. Once again I loved how relevant the Bible is to Maasai culture. Esther was queen, but she lived in a man's world. Her triumph came through faith in God, and not in trying to exert her personal power.

During a question and answer period after the teaching, we talked about the changes in secular society that are being forced upon the church throughout the world. But when the discussion shifted to safe methods of birth control, I promised to bring my sister Kei with me the next time, and leave such questions to her.

That night I had another nosebleed back in my room. It was pitch dark and I was trying to keep my nose elevated while I stumbled around the room feeling for a tissue. I sat down on my glasses and broke the frame. Immediately I realized I didn't bring a back-up pair. Whatever lofty ideas I might have been storing up about myself as missionary extraordinaire came crashing down, and all I could hear was the voice of Napoleon Dynamite from a far away movie: "You idiot!" At least I think it was Napoleon Dynamite. I hope it wasn't the Lord.

Sunday, April 26

This morning we went to services at the Lutheran Church. This building is special to me since I taught out of it for many years. I always make a point to visit the grave of Pastor Yohana Ole Ngekee that is behind the church. I know the dead cannot hear us, but I couldn't help but ask him if he thought I was doing a good job with the work he entrusted to me.

Monday and Tuesday, April 27 to 28

These were my traveling days, flying back to Dar and then starting off on the long journey home. While waiting to board the flight to Amsterdam, I got a message from home about a terrible storm that tore up Baton Rouge. Thankfully, the worse had already passed, and I was able to board the plane in peace.

A delay at JFK caused me to miss my Atlanta connection, and then that plane was delayed as well. I finally got into Baton Rouge around 11:30 PM, tired by happy.

For all that was accomplished and for the great times of fellowship, this was undoubtedly the best mission of my life. Thank you all for your support and prayers.

(I hope the jokes I made in this writing did not offend you. I am very serious about the Lord's work, but I find amusement in my struggles along the way.)

In the service of His Majesty, the King of kings,

Tim Sullivan
May 5, 2015

Click HERE to see my photos from the trip (not all 500, I promise!)

 


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