On February 27th, 2021 we launched a missional community here in Tarime, Tanzania. Three Tanzanian young adults and two American young adults living together, serving together, and making disciples… and becoming disciples through the process.
QuadW Missional Skunkworks Tarime site, hosted by Wesley College’s servant leadership program. We call the house “Wesley House”.
In most cases where white people live in Tanzania, they live in gated compounds with a security guard, in a part of town that is isolated and is supposed to be a bit safer than the rest. This is for safety, as white people are assumed to be wealthy and are often targets for thieves.
But for the mission and vision of our community, it was clear that this wouldn’t work. We are here to serve our neighbors and live life with them. We are here to meet with them regularly and show them what it looks like to be a disciple of Jesus, and then to learn from them about how to be a disciple of Jesus. And this couldn’t just be the wealthy… it needed to also include the last, the lost, the least of these.
Fortunately, in 2018, Mwita Baita and I (and his family of 8) lived together for about 11 months, in the same town where we were planning to launch the missional community. So in May of 2020, I asked Mwita,
“Is this really possible? Am I doing something unsafe, too risky? It seems risky, but then, I lived with you for 11 months, and we never had any break-ins or safety issues. Why did it go so well? Could we do the same thing at our community?”
“It is possible, it is possible”, he replied. “What you need is a good plan for safety and good relationships with your neighbors. It is true, Tarime can be a dangerous place. But you saw at our house, we don’t have any gate, and we never had any problems. But you saw, I am a friend, very much, of the community. You always see me always greeting everybody, I know everybody… these issues are helping very much with the issue of safety.”
We ended up hiring Mwita as Assistant Site Director, and made him the safety officer for our community,
and we found a house with a typical gate, no wall, located in a normal part of town, where normal Tarime life happens.
Mwita put together a safety plan including:
- Close relationships with the neighbors living around our house
- Close relationships with the Neighborhood Chairman (this is a government position a bit smaller and more local than anything you see in the U.S… roughly, imagine if each neighborhood/subdivision had it’s own elected official)
- Close relationships with the Tarime police
- A little dog (who we named Loki) who would bark if there were any issues
- Living at the same level as our neighbors and abstaining from buying any expensive, high-demand electronics
As soon as we moved in, we began visiting our neighbors, and within the first 3 months, we had visited 38 families around our house. These visits were very rich, and showed us what life was like for our neighbors in this community, as well as offering opportunities to encourage our neighbors in their faith. We started inviting our neighbors to pray with us every evening at 8:30, and now 30-50 neighbors show up and pray with us every evening. It’s so nice to be a part of the community here.
One evening in April, our neighbors showed up for prayer and we tried to begin the first song. As we began, though, one of our closest neighbors, Mama Esta, walked into our prayer room and interrupted us,
“Before other things! Before other things! Today, one young man was talking with a big voice saying that he had a plan to steal from here! He said, ‘I’ve already spied them out, I am ready, you will see!’ “
“Oh, whoa. Thank you so much for the information, mama”, Gilbert said.
We went ahead with our evening prayer meeting, and then the 5 of us met in the kitchen. We decided to contact Mwita, and to be ready. We agreed that it was unlikely to happen tonight, and we talked about steps to take. One member mentioned that we had had 30 or so children over to play the previous Sunday. Maybe one of them had been a spy, sent to check out our place. Maybe we should stop having children over?
Then we talked about trying to be disciples of Jesus, to model how Jesus might live in this community. We agreed that we couldn’t see children as enemies, and so we let that suggestion go. We agreed to take a few minutes, just the 5 of us, and pray for those who persecute us… to pray specifically for this young man, that he might begin to have a better life.
The next day, Mwita and I met with Mama Esta and another neighborhood friend, Mama Jaki. We thanked them for being such good neighbors and caring for us, and we learned that the young man is the son of one of Mwita’s friends. Mwita went to visit his father, with the goal of setting up a meeting between us and the young man. Not a meeting to bring him to the authorities, but just a meeting to let him know that we are his friend and we love him.
Later that day, the 5 of us met with Mwita and he reviewed our break-in procedures, and we had a neighborhood prayer meeting that evening specifically focused on loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us.
Finally, Mwita reminded me about our meeting with the police back in February. They had promised to come inspect the safety of our house, but what if we turned that into a dinner invitation and cooked a nice dinner for them?
(Above are various pictures from our life in community together)
So what happened?
Mwita had a good talk with Mzee Mchina, the young man’s father. His father said that the young man (like most young thieves) rarely comes home and doesn’t have one place where he consistently stays, so it would be hard to find him. Mwita kept trying, but after a week of looking for him, Mwita learned that he had moved to a different part of town.
And the police agreed to come over on a Saturday night. The Assistant Police Chief, the police representative at the Tarime District Court, and five police officers all came together, and we invited the Neighborhood Chairman and our landlord as well. We prepared rice, fish, meat, cabbage, sodas, and watermelon for them, and we had a good time together. Mwita gave a speech to the officers about how he appreciated their protection, and that a big part of our community’s mission was showing new ideas and new ways of looking at the world. Why can’t people build friendship with the police? Why can’t we show them that we are together? Why do we have to be separate? The Assistant Police Chief replied that he had been doing this job for years, but that this was the first time that any Tarime citizen had had him over for dinner, just as friends, to get to know him better. He really appreciated it.
During the meeting with the police, we didn’t mention the young man or the threat. We just enjoyed being together. And to this day, we are thankful that we haven’t had any more safety threats.
The title means “to break down walls”.