Conference Conundrums!

Barazani town

Barazani, with a dried-up Lake Eyasi behind

Barazani: the town reminded me of an old wild-west movie set, although with a lot more poverty.  A number of ramshackled shops lined the rough-roaded street and the one main café in the town consisted of a small plastic-covered shed and a couple of charcoal stoves.  Youths hung about in the ‘pool hall’, many of them with glazed eyes and looking decidedly bored, a sure sign of unemployment in a town which is known for its seasonal onion farming!  The words on the gate of my accommodation read ‘Florida Guesthouse’ and outside loitered a couple of stray dogs.  I knew in that instance that I was not in for a luxurious stay and that this was anything but Florida!  Maybe the room rate of £2.80 per night should also have raised an eyebrow, but alas, this was indeed the best that Barazani had to offer.  Thus began the IBM conference season back in early May!  I’ll let my diary entry for that night set the scene:

The Florida Guesthouse

“My room is 3×3 metres.  There’s no desk, no chair, no cupboard; just a bed with a multi-coloured chequered sheet on it!  There is electricity; it’s been in the town for a couple of years now.  There’s also running water, even when the shower is turned off!  Drip, drip, drip – onto the tiles.  The remedy is to pop next door and turn off the water supply to all of the rooms!  There is a window – but less than a metre away there’s a brick wall, so the view isn’t exactly ‘lake district’!  There’s no mirror in the small bathroom, so shaving should be fun, and to get to the squatty potty, I have to pass under the leaking shower!  Four glorious nights of this!  If I’m honest, I’m not relishing it and would rather be elsewhere, but I am here to do a job, and the job will be done.  I feel woefully inadequate going into this and, being as this is the first of the year, I am not sure how things will go.  How will the pastors respond to nine sessions of my Swahili teaching this week!?  Father God, I need your strengthening hand on me this week.  Please fill me with your Holy Spirit, enable me to teach your Word, and grant me fluency beyond the natural.”

Well, the conference did go very well and the pastors seemed keen to tackle the subject: “Show me a leader with integrity.”  In fact it was a hot topic that grabbed their attention and the questions and head-nodding (in agreement, not sleep!) revealed that this was definitely a timely subject that needed expounding.  On the final afternoon we were also able to encourage the local AIC pastor by visiting his small unfinished church building and praying for him and his family.  Their story, accompanied by tears, revealed that they were going through some very tough times and I left the church astounded, wondering how this guy has been able to cope in this isolated northern outpost.  His house made the Florida Guesthouse seem like the Ritz – or at least like a Travelodge!  As I lay in bed that night listening to the call of a distant hyena, and trying not to itch my 120+ bed-bug bites, I couldn’t help but wonder what it was I had to be grumpy about!

The house where trees live, Lindi

Whilst the Barazani conference is our most northerly venue, the second conference of the year took place in our southern-most venue: the town of Lindi, not too far from the Mozambique border.  One of my guidebooks describes Lindi as follows: “With one eye closed, you can even imagine that the main beach served as a resort of sorts, but today the beachfront benches are all broken and they probably go for weeks at a stretch without being perched on by a tourist.  In the town centre numerous colonial-era buildings are ruined or heading that way, whilst the old derelict German Boma has nothing in it except trees”!  The conference, although small in number (12), went well, but the humid coastal temps meant that, at one point, we had to move out of the tin-roofed church and under some nearby trees to get some much needed breeze!  Whilst some relief was found, the nearby wailing minarets seemed to become a tad louder!  The only issue to report was that, on one morning just before we were due to start, I was summoned to present my passport at the local immigration office and told that I had committed a crime by staying in the town without obtaining prior permission!  Whilst my Tanzanian colleague graciously asked if he could pray for the very officious Muslim official, I sat in the corner biting my tongue and zipping my mouth for fear of a longer confinement!

Our most recent conference (July) was actually on home turf, as we decided to hold the Pwani event at Sanga Sanga, instead of Dar.  Thankfully, with Sanga only being 12 miles up the road from our house, there’s little to report on the travails of travel!  The only drawbacks in trying to hold people’s attention at this venue were the nesting sparrows overhead and the stunning views of the Uluguru mountains!  We had to position the seating so that the pastors wouldn’t be mesmerised all of the time!  We met in the main upper room of the new conference centre, which as yet doesn’t have windows fitted, but the sparrows, the views and the breeze certainly made it memorable.  There was also some great singing during the three days, and it thrilled the soul to hear those African voices, especially as there wasn’t a keyboard or an amplifier in sight!!

The seminar room with a view!

The one thing that did stand out for me personally was how tough the first day was.  I taught three sessions but it felt as though I was wading through treacle for much of it!  I was aware of a lack of inner enthusiasm; the ummpphh was missing, and I stepped away from my homemade lectern a bit dejected.  Was it simply an off day, or was cultural fatigue showing through?  It could indeed be a bit of both, but my team leader Tony helpfully reminded me that what we’re doing at IBM and the subject that we’re teaching is bound to rattle the cage of Satan.  He is very much opposed to seeing teaching on integrity in the Church and, as we know, he comes to steal, disrupt and discourage us in our work.  Thankfully, days 2 and 2 went much better.  The ummpphh was back and I felt that I was more expressive in my Swahili teaching than I had been before!

Mum & Dad Lancs ‘gift-wrapped’ – literally!

Parental Visit!  The very next day Ruth and I headed to Dar to pick up my parents who had flown in for a two-week holiday.  One of the first things to be unwrapped from their luggage was…… a pork pie!  It’s strange what you long for when away from your home culture.  Following the Lancaster tradition, our holiday did not consist of much ‘sit-at-home’ time, and we packed a lot into our time.  We swam in, or rather were battered about by the eight-foot waves of the Indian Ocean!  We spotted scorpions, sea-snakes and storks – literally thousands of them!  In fact the bird list was certainly added to as we toured the National Parks of Tarangire, Manyara, Arusha and Mikumi.  We also spent some time in Tabora with a pastor and his wife who run an orphans and widows project, and came away humbled at the welcome we received by people who literally had next to nothing.  Another sobering moment came as we travelled back from Tabora and observed a disabled women crawling across a busy main road on her hands and knees.  Other more amusing journey sightings included a goat standing on the top of a speeding petrol tanker, and a man walking down the street with a pig on his shoulders!  We also gave a lift to a man who told us he had been walking for three days because he couldn’t afford the bus fare of £1.70 to get to his home town.  We had just driven his ‘three days’ in a little over three hours!  Never a dull moment on the roads of Africa!

Life in Ruth’s Lane!  Every year AIM’s female missionaries in Tanzania get together for a time of retreat.  This year’s retreat was held in May on the coast south of Dar es Salaam.  Kathy Larkman, our pastor’s wife from Corsham Baptist, came to speak on ‘Christ’s Love Compels Us’.  It was a special time of relaxation, catching up with friends, praying with each other and having a few laughs too.  Unfortunately I had again been suffering from a few boils, and a large abscess on my side distracted me somewhat from the retreat.  I was able to have a small surgical procedure at a clinic in Dar before we headed home to Morogoro.  Thank you to everyone who prayed for me during this time – it has healed up nicely now and added to my collection of scars!

We’ve had lots of visitors at Sanga Sanga over the last few months, including two large AICT children’s camps.  We converted the pump house into a temporary dorm to add to our capacity!  It was lovely seeing the children enjoying the fresh air, space and their Sunday School lessons.

One of the highlights of the year so far was the visit of a work team from our church in Corsham who came to help build a shower block on the campsite.  Nine folks came and joined with our local team to lay bricks, mix cement and plaster walls.  Some of the nine were returnees from last year’s group but some were new and had never visited Africa before.  They coped really well in the unfamiliar environment and even picked up a few words of Swahili.  They were very focused on their task and at the end of the trip the roof was on – a great achievement!  We are so thankful to our church for sending them and for raising the funds to build these much-needed facilities.

I had a few days of holiday at the end of May when my friend Rachel from Tearfund/Oak Hall days came to visit.  We had 3 nights on Zanzibar and a day on safari.  It was her first time to Tanzania so it was lovely to show her our ministry and home life here.

Cookery course students

One part of my role that I very much enjoy is spending time with the staff at the Retreat House.  Francisca, the housekeeper and cook, is a bright spark who has all sorts of ideas about generating funds for the Institute.  One of them was to hold a cookery course for Tanzanians who work in western households in Morogoro.  She already knew how to cook a few western dishes but we had great fun one afternoon when I was able to teach her how to cook chilli con carne, spicy chicken and guacamole, among others.  It means we are able to offer a more varied menu to our guests at Sanga Sanga.  The cookery course itself was a big success and we have plans to hold more in the future.

Diary Dates & Prayer Requests:

1-5 Aug:               Ifakara IBM pastors’ conference (Steve)
16-30 Aug:           Hosting, speaking and leading on Oak Hall’s first Tanzania trip!
20 Aug:                Ruth’s birthday!
5-9 Sept:              Magambua IBM pastors’ conference
18-22 Sept:          Ruth teaching an English course at Sanga Sanga
25-30 Sept:          Mbeya IBM pastors’ conference
12-17 Oct:            AIM Tanzania conference in Dar es Salaam

There’s always room for one more bag!

We’re praising God for a busy few months at Sanga, for safety on the roads, for plans that have come to fruition, for teaching that’s gone well, and for a great holiday with Mum & Dad.

We’re also thankful for our home church and band of faithful supporters who have enabled us to be here for four years now!  Yes, it really is that long!  On 11th July we celebrated our four year anniversary here in Tanzania.  Thank you to those who support us through prayer and finance.  We couldn’t do what we’re doing without your support.

Please pray for Steve as he continues to teach at the IBM conferences on the subject of Biblical leadership and moral integrity.  The next one starts on 2nd August.

Please pray for Ruth as she handles bookings at Sanga and manages the Retreat House staff.  Pray that we would be able to move forward into completing the conference centre build.  Things are certainly happening but on a slower basis, although we’re now in a position where we can use some of the rooms.

Please pray for us both as we host and lead the first ever Oak Hall Tanzania trip in August!  Obviously, we’d love for this trip to be a success and for the guests to go away having had a real taste of Africa and a taste of mission.

Please pray for us both (and our team mate Cath Swanson) as we continue to plan for the AIM Tanzania Conference in October.  We’re looking forward to welcoming a certain Bob Hunt as our speaker, and we’ve now got a children’s team all lined up!

As always, Dad needs help with his phone!

Visits from family and friends are wonderful but also tend to make us long for home—we sometimes wish we were going with them as we wave them off at the airport.  Pray that we will be fully focused on our calling to Morogoro and that our hearts and minds will be guarded by the One who called us.

Many thanks.

Steve & Ruth

6 thoughts on “Conference Conundrums!

  1. Hi Babylita! Sorry for the delayed reply. So glad you enjoyed the blog. I hope you and Antoon are both well?

  2. Thanks Natalie! We appreciate your prayers and support. Martin & Jo have worked like Trojans to get the shower block ready for the Oak Hall group. I took my first shower in it yesterday evening – fabulous! xx

  3. As always, loved reading your updates Steve and Ruth! It’s been extra fun this time seeing as I can recognise bits u speak about! Thank u for taking the time to write the blog. Lots of love and prayers, Natalie xx

  4. Really wonderful and exciting highlights. Preach the Word young man and preach it again in and out of season!

    Thank you very much

  5. Hi Steve.
    Brilliant to read this latest update and to hear all the stories of how you and Ruth are being used out there.
    God bless you both.
    Take care my friend.

    The Buryboy.

  6. I did enjoy reading the whole lot and to look at pictures I wished I also had taken myself. Thank you both for sharing your experiences. So glad I personally know who you are.

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