Good morning, friends.
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?
This is what we have been trying:
Every evening, we pray and sing together for about 30 minutes, from 9 until 9:30 pm. To our surprise, this has been very popular with our neighbors. 30-40 of them show up each evening. It’s a happy, holy time, as everyone enjoys singing to God together. According to one of our team members, “The neighbors really like to pray at evening, because it makes them feel safe for the night. They feel like they will be protected from any witchcraft or demons for the whole night, from any evil forces that might try to come through their dreams.”
We wanted to see if any of these neighbors might want to enter more deeply into day-in, day-out discipleship; changing their everyday actions, and opening their hearts to be changed by God. So we announced that we were starting two groups, one for women, and one for young men.
In each group, we come together and read a story from Jesus’s life, and we talk about what we learned from it.
Then, everyone makes 2 promises:
#1 Something that we will do differently during the coming week to live more like Jesus
#2 Someone who we will meet with and encourage to live like Jesus
The following week, we ask each person if they fulfilled their promises, we study the life of Jesus again, and make new promises.
Many people come once and then do not come back. Living like Jesus is a hard change for someone to make, and we continue to show patient and persistent love to the folks who weren’t quite ready.
When we do see someone steadily attending for 3 weeks, we give them a Swahili recording of the New Testament on a memory card, which they can listen to on a cheap radio or a small phone. Most folks do not enjoy reading, or cannot read, and we want them to have a full picture of who Jesus was and how he lived, so they can discern what it would look like for them to live like Jesus, in their circumstances.
Samweli has been taking steps to live like Jesus, and encouraging others to live like Jesus, week after week. Recently, he got a better work opportunity in the neighboring town of Sirari. We met with him and decided to start another group for young men, there in Sirari. It’s been going for 3 weeks now.
Manchale has been taking steps to live like Jesus, and encouraging others to live like Jesus, week after week. Living like Jesus has helped him to realize that he should start helping his wife around the house. For the first time in his life, he is getting water from the well, washing clothes, and walking his children to school.
Sabato has been taking steps to live like Jesus, and encouraging others to live like Jesus, week after week. He has realized that he should do his best to help people who have handicaps, and people who have recently lost a loved one. He spent all day helping his neighbors to dig graves, when two children (from different families) died within 24 hours of each other a few weeks ago.
I’ll refer to one woman as “Robina”. This is not her real name, and I will not share any pictures of her. Robina has been taking steps to live like Jesus, and encouraging others to live like Jesus, week after week. Her husband has no such faith, and believes that he has the right to dominate her, and he continues to appeal to his ancestors and the powers of darkness for power. Her decision has not been easy, but she continues to become more firmly committed.
At first, going to a woman’s disciple group and making commitments each week didn’t make too many waves.
A few weeks later, though, they noticed that their one child was no longer nursing, or eating. Hadn’t been, for a while now. Robina suggested that they take her to the doctor, and to the church next-door to pray for her. Her husband said they should take her out to a certain rural, remote location; he knew a good witch-doctor out there.
After a few weeks of fighting, the man inevitably won, and he took the child out to the remote village. The witch-doctor forced the 15-month-old to drink a brown herb soup, 3 cups per day, and they appealed to their ancestors each day for healing. As the situation worsened, Robina finally got desperate and asked us at QuadW Tarime to intervene. This was brave and risky; it is a big no-no in Kuria culture to ask for outsiders to intervene, against the will of your husband.
We visited them in the rural village, and were shocked to see that the child was no longer walking, or even opening her eyes. Fearing that the child could die of malnutrition, we pleaded with Robina’s husband to allow us to take the child to the Regional Referral Hospital. He told us that he didn’t think it would help, since something had gone wrong with the ancestors, but if we wanted to pay for it, he would let us do it.
We got the child to the major hospital within 24 hours, and one of the QuadW Tarime members (Gilbert) decided to stay at the hospital to help the mother with caring for the child and advocating for her in front of the doctors.
As far as I understand, the child was suffering from acute vitamin A deficiency. As they gave her IVs and fed her a type nutrient-rich milk, she slowly began to come back to health. The next day, the eye doctor came and said that the child would almost certainly never be able to see. As I understand it, vitamin A deficiency had caused xeropthalmia and major cornea damage. He told us that this normally happens shortly before death, and if we had waited a few more days, we probably would have lost the child.
This was crushing news for Robina, and made much worse by the way her husband reacted.
After returning, we realized that her husband believed that it was his wife’s mismanagement that had caused her child to lose her sight, and he saw that she was unsubmissive and unfit as a wife, due to her decision to ask for outside help. He set a plan in motion to send his wife and child to the village, and to look for someone who, in his view, would be a “better” wife.
At this point, Robina had a decision to make; to continue following Jesus, or to give up.
The prosperity gospel, so prevalent in Tanzania, would have her believe that these trials were evidence that she was not favored by God, and that she was wasting her time by following Jesus.
But after a few months as a disciple, she was beginning to learn that God wasn’t like that. She didn’t understand where exactly all of this suffering had come from, but she chose to believe that it wasn’t God, and she chose to keep following Jesus.
In fact, she doubled down on her commitment. In addition to our women’s disciple group, she joined the nearby Pentecostal church, joined the choir, and began to meet with the pastor regularly.
Instead of giving up on her husband and submitting to his tyranny, she began to pray for him each day. And slowly, she realized that he had a soft spot. If she could talk to him respectfully, softly, and clearly, he would listen to her. She shouldn’t have had to do this. But she saw it was a way forward in her marriage, and she chose it. Day by day, she would carefully communicate with him, and slowly, he began to see that she was a good, loving wife. He abandoned his previous plans to send her back and find a new wife, and a brittle sapling of love began to grow up between them.
Brittle, because he still sent the child back to the village for further treatment by the witch-doctor.
Brittle, because he chose to have a large ceremony where they killed a goat and appealed to their ancestors and the dark powers to stop interfering with his daughter.
But she stuck with it.
9 months later, their marriage is not great, but it is better than it has ever been.
The child still cannot see, but she has learned to walk, and to talk, in spite of the continued treatments from the witch-doctor.
Robina has taken a leadership role in the women’s disciple group, which eventually matured into a house church.
And recently, Robina came and visited us and said that she finally had the courage to ask her husband for permission to bring the child back from the village. He had agreed, but said that he couldn’t guarantee that his mother would also agree to it. Robina is still at the village, hoping to be allowed to come back with her daughter. If you get a chance to pray for her, she would really appreciate it.