In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…and from his fullness have we all received grace upon grace.
(John 1: 1-18 in the Daily Office readings for February 7)
Tangu (since) mwanzo (beginning) Neno (Word) alikuwa na (was with) Mungu (God). Now that we have returned to language school the Word is with Kiswahili! You might recall that we were here in Morogoro for ten weeks last year. Since moving in November from Kenya back to Tanzania, we decided to do an additional six weeks of study. Sandra is in the throes of translating the Anglican Kiswahili prayer book, while Martin is attacking medical terminology. Our feelings for the most part are summed up in this poem by Audrey Patterson:
Future Imperfect Language Training
My mouth contorts
the word mashes through
and drops dead at my feet
mangled beyound recognition.
With hopeful eyes
I beseach my listeners.
Then, with the care of forensic linguists
they gingerly examine
my apparent attempt at communication
and solemnly offer their
astute guesses as to what
I might have been trying to say.
Today Sandra did feel somewhat less depressed about the difficulties of learning another language when her teacher, Paulo, a scholarly third year Lutheran seminarian, said that he had never seen or heard of at least four of the Kiswahili words used in the Anglican service for ordination of a priest! Although, we are finding the second time around at language school to be less intimidating, fluency still seems a long way off. Because we read the Daily Office in a parallel version of Kiswahili and English, we are able to read and comprehend the Bible fairly well. However, it is an entirely different matter to hear an unfamiliar passage read aloud and to comprehend it! So as we come to the end of our time here, we find ourselves asking, What have we learned and what do we have to show for all our hard work?
To begin, we have learned that it is hard and humbling to learn another language, but that it is vitally important if we are ever to be genuine partners in mission. After a year in Africa, we know on a much deeper level that whatever good news we share will be more in the relationships we form than in the work we do. We have also learned that it will continue to be a lot of hard work for months to come to get to a level of proficiency with which we can comfortably communicate with those who only speak Kiswahili. And
we have learned how very important it is that we continue the struggle. Our feeblest attempts are deeply appreciated. The Kiswahili language is beloved by the Tanzanian people, because it has been the unifying force between the 120 tribes here. Tanzania is one of the few countries in Africa where there is peace between the different peoples.
In studying Kiswahili, we have also learned much about African thinking. The first work book we used here was entitled Mtu ni Watu, which translates to A Person is a People. The community (not the anti-Christian, yet widely praised concept of the self-made man) is the defining unit of this culture. For instance, there is no word in Kiswahili to translate the English word to have, as in I have a book. People do not have a book, they go with a book. I do not have a guest; the home (the entire family within it) goes with a guest. For the traditional Maasai, being part of the community means even the sharing of wives and children. When Sandra asked one of our Maasai teachers if that meant he might not be his father’s child, he said, Yes, but it doesn’t matter, because every child in the village is my father’s child! This is a new twist on Hilary’s It Takes a Village!
A woman who has had children in Tanzania is addressed as Mama, including Sandra. She is often called Mama Elizabeth, as that is the name of our firstborn child. The men are called Baba, and even Martin may be addressed as Baba Elizabeth. Older men and women are all called Babu (grandfather) and Bibi (grandmother). So every old man is grandfather to all who are younger in the community, and with the title he also assumes the responsibility. We hate to admit that we have been addressed as Bibi and Babu more than once. These are salutations of deep respect and courtesy. An elder is highly honored and considered wise. A man who does not marry and have children is considered to be immature and lazy.
On another subject, we are thrilled beyond measure to learn that our African bishop, Mdimi Mhogolo, will be visiting the Atlanta Diocese in April, and that our sending bishop from Atlanta, Neil Alexander, will be coming here in late June and early July. Bishop Alexander will do many things while here, including diocesan council as well as my ordination to the priesthood on July 3rd. But what will mark Bishop Alexander’s time here will be the relationships he makes. We can think of no better way to express the deep desire of ECUSA to dialogue with our African brothers and sisters than for Bishop Alexander to come here. Traveling to Africa in itself is hard work, not to mention expensive and often uncomfortable, so our admiration for Bishop Alexander’s willingness to come overfloweth! The side of our car says DCT (Diocese of Central Tanganyika) and ECUSA (Episcopal Church USA), PARTNERS IN MISSION. These visits will embody our mission to be companions in transformation.
What is in the future for us? On February 18th, we leave this beautiful area alongside the Uluguru Mountains to go back to our new home, Dodoma. We will miss seeing the huge green fields of sisal, used for making ropes and burlap bags. We will miss worshipping with the students here, and Sandra will miss preaching in the Lutheran Church (the language school is on a Lutheran campus.) We will miss Lutheran Pastor Herb Hafermann who has taken us to worship in prisons and Maasai villages. We will
miss the international friendships, as there are currently 12 Danes, 5 Finns, 2 Norwegians, 5 Italians, 1 German, 1 Brit, 1 Korean Presbyterian minister, 1 Polish RC priest, 4 RC Nuns (3 from India and 1 from Indonesia), along with 12 Americans. In this group there are a host of children, including babies and toddlers. One Danish priest has 4 little towheads under 8. We are the only Episcopalians and we have done our best to represent you and us well.
We invite you to visit our new website, www.mccannmission.org, made for us by a talented young man from our home parish, Nathan Boyd. You can find our newsletters there as well as our latest pictures from the language school and two Maasai churches, one having a “building” and one “open-air.” Nearly fifty were baptized at each service. We promise that you won’t find pictures like these in any tour book. If you are able to visit the website, sign in and write us a note or two. Also, please do email us with any tidbit of news or encouragement. We do request that you don’t send a lot of pictures or any large attachments, but we do want all your news. We also request that you continue to hold us before that great throne of grace, asking that we may more clearly see into what areas we should sink our energies and resources.
We now look forward to this coming Monday, the 21st, when Sandra begins teaching at Msalato Theological College. She will be teaching seniors in the diploma course, Spirituality and Ministry. A course for first year students will be An Overview of Paul’s letters and for students admitted and improving their English, Introduction to the Bible. Martin will continue to set up a histopathology laboratory at Mackay House. The benches are in place, ready for the basic equipment to be installed. This has been a cooperative venture with the Diocese of Central Tanganyika doing the renovations. Martin plans to informally survey area hospitals as he looks for opportunities to offer surgical pathology and cytology services. There will no doubt be problems of transporting specimens, communication, and of course funding for such procedures. The time spent last year in Maseno Hospital was a valuable learning experience in trying a new venture.
So in summary after the Word……we finish with the last part of the reading….and from his fullness we have received grace upon grace.
With much love and joy,
Sandy and Martin