The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
The desert shall rejoice and blossom;
Like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
And rejoice with joy and singing.
Isaiah 35: 1-2a
Advent Season in central Tanzania is a time of great hope for the greening of the dry barren earth which has not had rain since last December. And, indeed, in the three weeks since our move from Kenya to Tanzania, the above verses describe the nearly overnight transformation that occurs when the rainy season comes. The desert blooming in central Tanzania means that it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. And indeed, everywhere you go, one sees families energetically hoeing the red sandy soil for the planting of maize, millet, peanuts, and beans. While in the darkness of the northern hemisphere, Advent is a time of preparing for the coming of The Light into a dark world, in this part of the southern hemisphere Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of The Living Water to a dry land.
A lot has happened since our last communication in September when we requested your prayers about our future work in Africa. We have been back to the states, Sandra has been ordained to the diaconate, and we have moved from Maseno, Kenya, to Dodoma, Tanzania. Our time at home was blessed in countless ways. The ordination was St. Thomas-grand and glorious, something none of our family will ever forget. The leave taking from our home at St. Philip’s was sad, with many tears shed in the parting from the students and staff. It had been a great seven months, but the pull to Dodoma that had begun on our first visit last March had not abated. After a return visit in early September, we made our decision. We left Kenya on Thanksgiving Day, hiring a driver to bring our belongings to the border town of Namanga. The next day we negotiated customs and coped with the late arrival of the driver from Tanzania. We crossed into Tanzania and made it only as far as Arusha before nightfall. Arusha is a “western city” for Tanzania, as it is both near Mt. Kilimanjaro and the jumping off point for the tourist trade to the Northern Safari Circuit, including Serengeti National Park. The following morning we began the long trek to our new home near Dodoma. The first 110 kilometers were paved; the next 300 or so were not. Fortunately, it did not rain hard, and we bumped along for the next eight hours, arriving at Msalato Theological College in the late afternoon. Msalato is 10 kilometers north of Dodoma.
Dodoma is located in the center of the country and is the nominal capital. This is the warmest time of year with daytime temperatures in the 90s, although often cooling to the 70s at night. This central plateau region is very dry, and the rainy season is desperately needed to start the main crops of corn and millet. Every prayer here includes a prayer for rain in the right amount and at the right time. Rain is literally the difference between life and death in this area. This is the driest region of Tanzania with only one rainy season, so if the rains do not come at the right times and in the right amounts, there is famine.
Our new abode on the grounds of the college is a comfortable prefabricated duplex, brought here about thirty years ago by some Australian missionaries. It looks like an old, double-wide mobile home. A couple from New Zealand will arrive in January to live in
the other side. Although we do not have the green grass and lovely trees of Kenya (or the monkeys), we do have much more space than in our cottage there. We also have running cold water. We heat water for bathing in one of those camping sun water bags. We need just about everything for the house, including refrigerator and stove, but little by little all will be purchased and in place. Furniture is made here, so one just does not go to town, buy it, and have it delivered. The few pieces of living room furniture which have been left behind through the years are well-used, not to mention nearly impossible to sit upon.
The staff of the college has been wonderful in welcoming us to the new environment. All but one of the nine fulltime tutors live on the grounds. On each of our first eight evenings here, we went to a different house for dinner. It has been a great way to get to know the staff, as well as their families. We have been impressed with their many moves for education, then to parishes, and then repeatedly back and forth to Msalato for various periods of teaching. Msalato Theological College is where Sandra will teach. It has 96 students from five countries in Africa with one-half from the central regions of Tanzania. Nearly 50 of the students are in a three year diploma program which is taught in English. The principal, Dickson Chilongani, recently received a PhD from Trinity College in Bristol, England. The bishop of this Diocese of Central Tanganyika, the Right Reverend Mdimi Mhogolo, is committed to educating clergy. Plans are underway to launch a degree program in August, 2005, equivalent to a BA degree in the states.
The college is currently in recess for the rainy season and resumes on February 18th. This long break is so that the students and staff can work their fields during the rainy season. Sandra will teach three courses during the next quarter: Introduction to the Letters of Paul for the first year class, Spirituality in Ministry for the third years, and An Overview of the Bible to the students studying English in preparation for admission to the three year program. Martin is working to establish a histopathology laboratory at the health clinic in Mackay House, the Anglican Center, in Dodoma. There is much ground work and paper work to be done. During January and February we will both return to language school in Morogoro (three hours east of here) to finish the course we began last February and March. In Kenya one can get by in English as it is one of the two national languages, but in Tanzania, Kiswahili is the only national language. The Tanzanian people are very proud of this language, and it is the medium of schooling up until high school. Since there are no public high schools, all secondary education is private and therefore expensive. This leaves many Tanzanians with little knowledge of English, so speaking Kiswahili is more necessary here than in Kenya.
In conclusion, we were strained by the move, but the welcome here has been invigorating. We think we have the opportunity to do good work for the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Central Tanganyika. Many of you have asked how you can help us. As you probably realize, the needs are almost overwhelming, so as we get our feet wet here, we will be thinking of where we should concentrate our energies. We do not want to be Santa Clauses, but partners and good stewards, so it will take some time to decide where best to combine our efforts and resources. We do ask for your continued prayers, and along with the psalmist we pray that each of you will be kept as the apple of His eye, hidden in the shadow of His wings.
God rest ye merry….Sandy and Martin McCann