What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? What does it mean to make disciples of Jesus?
Living as a mission team in Tarime- 4 Tanzanian young adults, 3 American young adults, and 1 Mexican young adult- living like Jesus, serving like Jesus, and making disciples of Jesus, these are two hard questions that we have been trying to answer each day.
A disciple is someone who practices a teacher’s way of living or way of thought. So at first brush, the answer seems simple… practice Jesus’s way of life and thought.
But then, of course, we are made with a lovely variety of personalities, shaped by our equally unique backgrounds, and we don’t live in 1st-century Palestine. What does it mean for me, being who I am, to live in the way of Jesus in the place where I am?
And then making disciples… it becomes more complex when we start to meet our neighbors where they are and invite them into this way of living. How can I know what this way of living will look like for my neighbor? And in some sense, isn’t it God’s place to communicate that to them?
I’d love to hear your advice on this story of what the five of us have been doing so far.
We agreed that we would meet with God every morning and evening in prayer, and that we would live as equals in service to each other. Everyone shares the work of cooking, cleaning, and everyone has an equal voice when it comes to decision-making. Every Monday we study the life of Jesus and we talk about how we can apply it, and then on Thursday we break into smaller groups of two or three for self-examination and accountability. “Am I doing my best to live like Jesus, given who I am and where I am?”, we ask each other.
We go out to the nearby churches and church projects and ask for the foot-washing work… the work that is essential, but that everyone is reluctant to do.
And then for our neighbors… we agreed that we would visit our neighbors, get to know them, and live life alongside them. And as we live together, we try to show them where we found bread. We try to show them an incarnated gospel… that through a life of sacrifice, service, giving and receiving love, we have found a greater freedom and joy than in our previous lives of ego, grasping, trying to make ourselves larger. We extend this same love to our neighbors, and we tell them about the good news of Jesus Christ. That there is a better way to live, that Jesus loves you dearly, that the prosperity gospel you’ve been hearing is a sick caricature of what life with Jesus can be. And so at the end of every evening prayer meeting, we sing “Tembea na Yesu” (walk with Jesus).
We set a goal of visiting 32 families in the first 11 weeks. The visits were a rich, though often heavy, time for both us and the neighbors. We began to feel loved and accepted by our neighbors, and our neighbors felt honored that we wanted to come to their homes, and they wanted to tell us about what life was like for them. Many of the stories were heart-breaking, and we did our best to listen with grace. We heard many stories of children dying, miscarriage, domestic violence, infertility, and husbands who had abandoned their wives and children to destitute poverty, and we are still struggling to understand how our neighbors keep finding new hope.
And at the end of 11 weeks, we had visited 38 families.
The idea hadn’t even occurred to me, but our Tanzanian members almost immediately started inviting our neighbors to our evening prayer time, at 9 pm each day. It’s a simple, short time… just a few songs, a time of all praying for each other aloud, and then singing Tembea na Yesu, but our neighbors really jumped at the opportunity, especially the children. Originally, we would pray in our worship room, but after a few weeks, we had to move outside because so many neighbor were coming. It’s so nice to be together with them each evening, singing and talking with God as we seek to help each other to be disciples.
(We’ve chosen not to invest in a high-quality camera. Maybe think of the following evening prayer photos as an impressionist rendering.)
And then after 11 weeks of visiting neighbors, we had a time of prayer and fasting. What do we do now, we asked? How do we help them to encourage each other to be disciples of Jesus?
After a time of fasting, praying, and listening for God’s voice, we came back together to discuss what we might be hearing from God.
We went around the room, and several members offered their thoughts.
“I’m seeing Deborah, Mama Esta, and Mama Baraka”, I began. “We know that they are suffering from various forms of grief and abuse. I keep asking God about specific steps for how to help them, but the thought keeps bouncing back. ‘You’re trying to move ahead too fast. The really crucial thing is just to make sure they get help.’ So I don’t know. Maybe we could start with a Bible study group, and then if that is solid, they could also begin to help each other economically somehow.”
Megan followed with, “Yeah, I’m not sure what exactly, but I’m just really feeling that we need to do something for women”.
Gilbert was next… “I really agree with Davis’s ideas. And I kept thinking about Mama Samweli as I prayed. I know that she has been a disagreeable woman in the past, but I keep thinking of the story of Saul and Paul. He changed so much, it would have been really unfair to judge Paul for Saul’s behavior.”
And then Dinnah, “I believe that we should help them start a group for helping each other through grief. Like what Megan suggested this morning. And I’m really seeing Mama Omuga. She has suffered so much and she needs healing.”
And Veronica spoke last. “Like Megan said… I don’t know what, but we need to do something for women. And I’m seeing Mama Emma, but we may not be the right ones to reach out to her. Maybe we could empower someone who is close with her to reach out to her, someone like Mama Baraka.”
The discussion that followed was short… what about helping the women in our neighborhood who had passed through so much tragedy and abuse to start a Bible study group? A Bible study group focused on healing and helping each other through grief? The first one could be on Mondays at 3, and if they showed interest, we could help them to start other groups on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, or Saturday. We agreed that the group should be easy to lead and easy to multiply, so that these women could continue coming to Jesus together and help their friends and neighbors to do the same. And since many of these women were reading the Bible for the first time, Megan and Veronica designed a bookmark to direct them to passages that might help them to heal:
We all thought it would be a slower development, but on the following Monday, two women came to the group with Dinnah, Megan, and Veronica.
One week later, the group met outside of our house for the first time
One week later, the group met outside of our house, and one of the neighbors led. The women also started to become very honest with each other during this meeting
As time went on, and the members continued to take ownership of the group, it expanded to about 20 members. They settled on a regular meeting structure (I’ve translated it to English here).
And in addition to listening to each other, they began to show love to each other in concrete ways.
When Mama Mwita had her second child, they all visited her in the hospital, and contributed to the hospital bills.
When Mama Baraka’s younger brother and sister-in-law died, they all came to the funeral, and then, on a different day, they made a visit to Mama Baraka’s house.
When Mama Juni’s baby died almost immediately after birth, they took up money to pay the hospital bills, and all went to visit her one week.
Almost a year after it was started, the group continues to meet every Friday at 4 pm.
We hope that our neighbors continue to find the freedom and healing that living with Jesus has to offer, and that we continue to learn from them.
The title means “Walking with Jesus together”.