Nenda Pamoja

When I first visited Tanzania in 2015–before I knew that I would ever live there–I remember being impressed with one man who acted like a father to the homeless youth who we were visiting with.

When I came to live in Tanzania, though, I was even more impressed. I learned that the dominant narrative around homeless youth is that they are bad children… “watoto wabaya”, as so many people would tell me. Rebellious and ungrateful, they had run to the streets and become thieves. Therefore, even churches refuse to help them. Why help the watoto wabaya? They just need to change their ways and return home. Churches don’t even want to be associated with them, for fear of tarnishing their image.

My mind went back to the man–named Mwita Baita–who acted like a father to the homeless youth, and I wondered why he was different. As I began to work with him more, I cynically started looking for financial incentives. As I looked more and more, and got to know him better, I slowly realized that he helped the homeless youth even when it was against his financial interests to do so.

Mwita with a young man who he helped to return home

I remember him telling me his worries about paying for his home expenses, and how he needed to be spending more time making money. A few days later, I learned that he had spent half of the day helping a homeless young man who had developed a terrible skin disease. “Can you afford to be spending your time on that?” was my immediate reaction. I wish I hadn’t thought that way, and I was in awe of him, wanting to learn from him.

And Mwita felt safe, and I was lonely in Tanzania. So I asked if I could move in with him and his family. He warmly agreed, and the following eleven months were something of a school in learning to be a more humble person.

Mwita and his son Nyamhanga welcoming Bishop Graves to their house
Visiting Mwita’s extended family
Mwita playfully teaching his daughter about phones
Most of Mwita’s family, together with my high school history teacher, Rev. Ron McCants
Mwita hanging out with the homeless youth

Okay, now come with me to David Goolsby’s office (director of the Auburn Wesley Foundation), talking about this idea of an intentional Christian community in Tarime, Tanzania.

“A cross-cultural intentional community?” David asked.

“Yes.”

“In Tanzania? Am I hearing you right?”

“For sure.”

“Davis, you’re gonna need a Tanzanian co-leader. I wouldn’t advise trying to do this on your own.”

“You need local representation”, he said. “And how does Jesus always send them out? Does he ever send them out alone?”

I remember doing an internal eye-roll and thinking, “David… yeah that would be great, but you don’t know what you’re talking about. We won’t find someone like that in Tanzania.” 

I didn’t tell him how unlikely I thought this was. We moved onto other things, and we finished the meeting with his usual playful phrase, “Alright ‘Merican. Get-outta-ma-office.”

Then, in February of this year, I was talking with a friend about how leading this community seemed like more than I could really handle. 

“I’ve learned a lot about intentional community from living at the Bonhoeffer House. But now, I don’t know if I can lead one. It seems to require some strengths that I don’t have.”

“I’m not sure anyone has all the strengths needed to lead an intentional community”, she replied. “What would it look like to find a partner, someone who is good with the things that you aren’t as good with?”

I went back to the eye-roll, but then stopped. Maybe… instead of dismissing… I can look for ways that this could work.

Most Tarime leaders are married with children, I thought. They can’t live in the community.

Sure. But couldn’t someone nearby still help me with leading the community? Especially if they were hired full-time?

Hmm. Maybe. They would need to be trustworthy. Let’s see, who do I trust in Tarime…

Oh wait. What about Mwita? He’s available these days, right? We’ve worked together, lived together, we complement each other well… wow, yeah, that would be perfect…

As things continued to fall in place for our 2021 launch, I finally brought the idea to Mwita. What about being the co-leader of this intentional community? I wasn’t sure if he would understand the idea, intentional Christian community being such a foreign concept in Tanzania, but he did. He surprised me with how excited he was.

The title means “Go Together”, meant as the end of the famous African proverb,

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

2 thoughts on “Nenda Pamoja

  1. I love reading this. I love witnessing this (in words). I love that I’ve been granted the opportunity to share in this. This is how Gospel looks. This is the fruit Gospel bears.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s