Friday, March 10, 2017

International Women's Day

I am so grateful to be back in the US with my family. I am excited about this time for us to do some of the work that we need to do as a family to prepare for a return to ministry later this year.

I am also excited to watch, even from afar, as International Women's Day is celebrated by the Emmanuel Center for Women and Children. When we started three years ago the dream of changing how a village viewed and treated the women and children that make up such a large part of the population and did not make up a proportionate amount of the leaders and decisions makers on a family or community level seemed so far fetched. We started small by building relationships, starting small income generating projects, and proving ourselves trustworthy in the eyes of the village. Now, almost three years on, the Emmanuel Center took the opportunity afforded by International Women's Day to start the community wide education that we have wanted to do for so long. The discussion and education on women's rights, female circumcision, gender based violence, marriage rape, child marriage, and many other issues that affect women all around Gamasara that was long awaited started today.

 T-shirt says, "Women, stand up for your rights"

And the best part is that I wasn't even there. I wish I was. I wish that I could have seen it, this small, yet incomparably important step. I wish I could share with you the taste, smell, and feeling of such an important day, to stir you up through my writing to the same level of excitement that I myself feel, yet I can't. I am not there. And yet one of the most exciting parts of the day is that I am not there. This event, planned, organized, hosted, and run by the Emmanuel Center was planned, organized, hosted, and run by local leaders in Gamasara, women standing up in their own community and saying that we have an important voice that needs to be heard. I am personally not a fan of the concept of being a 'voice for the voiceless.' I much prefer to work to give the voiceless their own voice and move them past feeling like they have no voice worth listening to. That has happened today. Women planning and creating their own platform in order to talk about their own issues, and over 80 people showed up. Not bad in a village that doesn't exceed 2000 people.

Now, if I had to guess I would say the day was probably not flawless. Simply the fact that the request for approval for funds to be withdrawn in order to purchase t-shirts for the event came less than 12 hours before the start of the event itself gives a small pictures of how the overall day went. However, it still happened. The community still showed up. And women who were once considered to hold unimportant opinions where today able to speak on their own issues in a public forum. It may be a small forum and I am sure there are some things to work out before we do it again next year. Yet any progress we see in the future would have built on this first day and I could not be prouder of the women involved in the Emmanuel Center than I am today.

Many blessings to them and all women celebrating their worth and importance today.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Forrest City FUMC Team

This week we have been blessed with a great team from Forrest City FUMC along with a great addition from a neighboring CME church who was a true blessing. The team has exemplified the saying, “Blessed are the flexible for they will not break.” Despite the inevitable challenges and last minute changes that are a part of any mission trip they have smiled, laughed, encouraged, and served their way through this week.

They made it just in time for the opening of Wesley College on Friday, followed by two days
of great worship at Nyagesi UMC and P.P.F. UMC. Worship was a great chance to connect to the churches, share a meal, and start to learn about the ministries of local churches here in Tanzania. The
team showed their hearts early on when they spent more time talking about what they learned and how they wanted to take back some of what they saw in worship in Tanzania, than they did about things that they felt like needed changing here.

The team leader, Bro. Bill, who also happens to be Liz’s dad did an amazing job of setting the tone for the first term of Wesley College. Monday of this past week was opening day and he spend the first three days in the morning talking about the foundation that spiritual formation provides a pastor in service to the church, community, and God. I cannot think of a better way to start these students’ theological education than that.

The rest of the team, Hank, Maurica, and Evelyn, spent their morning teaching and loving on the children from Lumala UMC. The children were taught new songs for church (in Swahili), and learned more about the love of God. At the end of the week as we sat reflecting they were recalling the names of some of their favorite children. It was a great reminder to see how love and attention can cross language barriers.

The afternoon was spent with church leaders from almost all of our churches in Mwanza learning about the fruit of the spirit. It led to many great discussions and questions as the team and the church leaders learned from each other. Some of the questions where ones I had not heard much about before and it was good that the team created a place to discuss and dig into what the Bible says about spiritual matters, prayers, and the importance of using Biblical metrics, not worldly ones, to measure our maturity in faith.

The last day of work ended with the team getting to experience dagaa for the first time, the videos are worth viewing, and dinner back at the house with some of the friends they had made through the week. Nothing warms my heart more than to see a diverse group around the dinner table with the commonality of faith and shared humanity to bring them together as friends.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Welcome Davis!!!


We have a guest blogger who will be joining us from time to time. Davis Rhodes is a recent Auburn University graduate who is currently with us in Mwanza as a volunteer. He will be working with our economic development programs around the Lake Zone. Here below are some introductory thoughts from him as he gets into his time here in Tanzania and I am sure that more will follow.

My name is Davis Rhodes, and I feel pretty thankful that Liz and Eric have given me the opportunity to serve with them. I have been in Tanzania for 6 weeks now, and have met far too few Tanzanians, due to my limited Swahili, and indeed, the desire to meet more Tanzanians has been the fuel to my fire to learn Swahili as fast as possible. All the same, the highlights so far have been the few Tanzanians that I have met. Parmao is a Tanzanian who also does development work with Eric and Liz. His smile always makes you want to smile, and he does not grow weary of trying to communicate with me, having perpetual patience with my slow, stumbling Swahili. When I went to the youth retreat at Gamasara, I was also thankful to meet the mothers who provided the food. They thoroughly enjoyed helping me learn to dance, and saw no reason that having a baby on one’s back should hinder the movement of one’s feet!
The first six weeks have also prompted some new everyday questions that don’t have an easy answers:
There is a scene in my favorite movie, Gandhi, where a British friend asks how he can help. Gandhi declines the offer, saying, “I have to be sure, they have to be sure, that what we do can be done by Indians alone.”(Gandhi, 1982) At the same time, it seems obviously unloving not to help those who are having a hard time, especially if they specifically ask for your help. Well, that question itself is nothing new. The new question is about my role as I begin working with these communities in the next few weeks. It would be best to give the church and community as much responsibility as possible. What does “as much responsibility as possible” look like in the mess of momentary decisions though? When do I say something, when should I be silent? How often should I meet with them? Surely I shouldn’t correct everything that seems like a mistake to me. At what point does hands-off become negligence though?
I have had two different conversations with Tanzanians who suggested that they ought to seek God as a means to receiving material blessings. I have always told people that this should not be our motive for seeking God, and that we will be disappointed if we do seek God as a means to improving our material well-being. I’ve never had a second thought about it. In these two conversations, I haven’t known what to say though.  It’s pretty awkward that the one with far less to be worried about in the realm of material provision is also the one who is comfortable saying that we should not seek God as a means to material provision. 
Even as I struggle with these questions I am hoping that as I leave language lessons and start work over the next few weeks that I will make more friends and find a few more questions. 
Gandhi. Dir. Richard Attenborough. Perf. Ben Kingsley. Columbia, 1982. DVD.