To Help One Lost Boy

(These events happened within 18 hours, and we didn’t happen to take any pictures during that time. But to help you visualize, I’ve included a few pictures of the places and people involved.)

Since 2017, I have been working with Our Father’s House, a ministry that unites homeless youth with families. They are a great ministry and do effective work.

And in 2021, we launched QuadW Tarime, a Christian community of young adults from Tanzania and the U.S. who live together, pray together, work together, cook together, love our neighbors and make disciples together. It is also a great ministry that does effective work.

But we saw the full potential of both ministries on July 4th, 2021 when the two ministries were able to do their best work, together.

Every evening at QuadW Tarime, Dinnah Sylvester would go out and invite our neighbors to come over for evening prayer at 8:30 pm. This was very popular with the children, and a large crew would always come through our doors laughing and running.

Our community house

On July 3rd, Dinnah was making her rounds as usual and a few young men showed up early. They were all between 10 and 13 years old.

One of them was named Chacha*. We had never met him before. He said nothing, but the other boys told his story.

Chacha didn’t live here; he lived about 10 miles away in a rural farming village. He had gotten in a fight at school that morning and had run away. He didn’t know where he would sleep that night, and he didn’t know how to face his parents when he returned home.

This is common. Children run away from home to avoid punishment, or just to try hanging out on the streets of town. Being children, they normally don’t think farther than that.

Once they have been away from home for a few days, a cruel reality sets in.

The thrill is over, and they are tired of being on the streets. They want to return home.

But then they realize that if they return home, they will be mercilessly beaten by their parents for running away from home.

So they stay on the streets, trapped. They don’t know what to do.

To survive on the streets, they have to learn how to steal scrap metal and small electronics. After a while they inevitably get caught and put in jail, where adults and youth are not separated.

Stealing becomes a way of life, and of course, they don’t go to school. What started as a childish plan to run away and try life on the streets turns out to take so much away from their future.

Our Father’s House exists to combat this cycle. We learned early on that if you can return a child home within 1 month, you greatly improve their chances of a smooth re-entry and staying home. After more than 1 month on the streets, they get used to life on the streets and returning home becomes much more difficult, or, in many cases, impossible.

Chacha had run away and made it to Tarime. And the other kids had pointed him to our Christian community, QuadW Tarime.

4 of the 5 members of QuadW Tarime: Dinnah, Veronica, Davis, and Megan. The fifth member, Gilbert, took the photo.

We went ahead with our evening prayer, and then afterwards, we had a community meeting. If Jesus Christ were living here in this neighborhood, what might he do?

We made a few decisions. 

Veronica heated up some rice and beans for Chacha to eat. 

Gilbert gave one of his shirts to Chacha (permanently), and gave up his bed for the night, so he would have a place to sleep.

Dinnah and Megan washed Chacha’s shirt, dirty from the fight he had been in that day at school.

But how to help him get back home?

We reached out to the seasoned family counselors, Moses Nyamhanga and Mwita Baita, at Our Father’s House. Having returned dozens of children home, they know how to talk to angry parents, calm them down, and persuade them to forgive their runaway child, instead of punishing him.

“Sure. We will return him home. You got him early, so it will be easy. It’s hard if they sit on the streets for a long time and get used to life on the streets. But after just one day, this will be easy work”, Mwita said.

“Just bring him with you to Tarime UMC tomorrow. We’ll all meet together after worship.” Moses said

Moses Nyamhanga

Mwita Baita

Tarime UMC church building

And that’s what we did. After worship, Chacha, Mwita, and Moses all had a meeting together. They quickly realized Chacha spoke very little Swahili (the unifying, national language of Tanzania). Mwita and Moses are both fluent in the area’s tribal language, Kuria, so they switched the conversation to the language that Chacha understood. Happy to have some friendly advocates in front of his parents, he agreed to return home. 

Mwita and I hopped on one motorcycle, Chacha and Mwita hopped on the other, and we headed out into rural Tanzania.

We spent the better part of an hour traversing a beautiful landscape of hills, valleys, corn, and mud huts before we finally came to Chacha’s house. His parents were not home. We could have left him there, but this would leave Chacha back in the same situation; the really critical thing was to meet his father. 

So we started wandering up and down the dirt roads of this village area. We met Chacha’s aunt, we passed by his school, and then finally we saw a man walking down one of the dirt roads. Chacha told us that was his father.

We stopped our motorcycles, introduced ourselves in Kuria, and then Mwita, the older of the two family counselors, softly took hold of the man’s hand and began to talk to him in Kuria.

I don’t know what they said. I know the discussion lasted about 15 minutes. At the beginning, Chacha’s father was visibly angry. As the conversation progressed, he calmed down, and at the end, he was laughing. He took his son back and put a big arm around his little shoulders.  

We said happy goodbyes, and Mwita and I hopped back on our motorcycle. Then I asked Mwita,

“What happened?”

“He agreed to take him back. And he really thanks us for returning his son to him.”

“You don’t think he will beat him?”

Mwita laughed. “No, he can’t, he can’t”

“Ahh. How do you know?”

“Everything is by discussion. I discussed with him well, I helped him to decrease his anger. I talked with him about how this is his child, and the rights of a child that every one knows. I reminded him that his responsibility as a father is to take care of him. He agreed, and this helped him to calm down. You saw how he was laughing by the end of our discussion. He can’t beat him now. But what I am happy about is we have gotten a friend. This father is our friend now. If we come to this village again, we will always have a friend here.”

I am thankful for Our Father’s House. I am thankful for QuadW Tarime. And I am so thankful that we could work together on July 4th, 2021. Chacha easily could have gotten stuck and grown up on the streets, but because of a few followers of Jesus working together, he was returned home and the relationship with his father was repaired within 18 hours.

You can make more of this happen by donating in whichever way is easiest:

QuadW Tarime: https://www.wesleycollegetzfoundation.com/get-involved

Our Father’s House: https://advance.umcmission.org/p-1816-our-fathers-house.aspx

Venmo: @DavisRhodes
PayPal: daviswarrenrhodesjr@gmail.com
Zelle: daviswarrenrhodesjr@gmail.com

*child’s name changed for child protection

Help Expand Our Community in 2022

Friends, you helped to launch something new this last year. 3 Tanzanian young adults and 2 American young adults living and working together in Christian community, making disciples who make disciples. The 5 of us prayed together, cooked together, ate together, worked together, loved our neighbors, and helped them to become disciples.

It surpassed my wildest dreams.

All 5 residents’ lives were transformed (see more here: Resident Transformation ).

We helped many of our neighbors to understand that the prosperity gospel is false, and therefore, the hardships of their lives do not mean that God does not favor them. This brought new hope to many, and they returned to God.

2 neighbors decided to follow Jesus for the first time and were baptized.

After a lot of trial and error, we started a house church. They continue to meet every Friday at 4 pm.

Kikundi cha Faraja House Church

After our trial phase ended, one of the residents chose to continue living in the same area, so that she could continue loving her neighbors and pastoring the house church.

And on June 21st, we found a way to save a precious 15-month-old girl who was at death’s door, due to malnutrition.

Its amazing to see how serious God is about making this world new.

In 2022, we are building on this success by increasing the number of community members from 5 to 10. The 2022 community will have 5 members from Tanzania, 4 members from the United States, and 1 member from Mexico.

(2 of these members will be joining us in September and we are still looking for them. Therefore only 8 pictured above)

Instead of the temporary, “trial phase” community that we launched last year, this community will be permanent and year-round, with all community members committing to 12 months of living in community.

Davis and Veronica fell in love during their time as residents of QuadW Tarime 2021 (see their love story here: Nakupenda) and will be married on February 5th, here in Tanzania. Together, they will be site directors for the 2022 community.

We will build on what we learned in 2021 about starting a house church, and we will start several more in 2022. Our goal is for every house church to in turn plant new house churches as more and more of our neighbors find new hope in Jesus.

We need your help with this expansion. I’m hoping to raise $5,000 by the end of this year to help us to start off on firm footing in 2022. I’m asking you for a donation of any size to help us towards this.

Feel free to donate in whichever way is easiest for you.


Official Donation Page: https://www.wesleycollegetzfoundation.com/quiet-heroes
Venmo: @DavisRhodes
PayPal: daviswarrenrhodesjr@gmail.com
Zelle: daviswarrenrhodesjr@gmail.com

If you would prefer to send a check, you can mail it to:
Wesley College Foundation
ATTN:  John C. West, CPA
1872 Lake Ridge Road
Birmingham, AL 35216

Write “Tanzania Christian Community” on the memo line

After you donate, I will contact you immediately with a confirmation that it was received, and I will let you know how close we are towards our $5,000 goal.

Thank you for helping to make this a reality, friends. I’m looking forward to what God will use us to do in 2022.

P.S. Veronica and I are trying to put together a simple, inexpensive honeymoon. To give to it, you can click here: https://www.travelersjoy.com/davisandveronica/

Mioyo Mpya

We were so thankful for the way that God worked in the hearts of all of the 5 community members at QuadW Tarime this last year. Each of our stories is personal and precious, so I’ve chosen to only share a summary of how each of us changed, but I hope that this gives you a general picture of how QuadW Tarime provided a liminal space for God to change our hearts.

First, what was QuadW Tarime 2021?

  • Five young adults living together in Christian community for six months. Three Tanzanians, two Americans. 
  • Praying together every morning and every evening, as well as cooking, cleaning, and eating together
  • Volunteering for nearby churches, doing the work that no one wants to do 
  • Visiting our neighbors house-to-house and making disciples
Tarime marked with location marker, within larger East African context

The Residents and Their Personal Transformation

Dinnah Sylvester

Dinnah caring for her neighbor’s blind daughter, named Annes

Dinnah came into QuadW Tarime filled with self-doubt and unsure if God had given her any gifts (as is common for Tanzanian women). She discovered that God had given her the gift of meeting people quickly, loving them deeply, and helping them to be closer to God. She ended up leading us in our house-to-house evangelism effort and in our evening prayer and worship.

She has chosen to continue living in the same neighborhood so that she can shepherd the house church and continue to disciple her neighbors.

Gilbert Bagaya

Gilbert taking a selfie at the baptism of Elias Chacha

Gilbert came into QuadW Tarime with incredible gifts for worship leading and preaching but unaware of the meaning of Christian service or house-to-house evangelism. Although it was a bit of a shock for him to learn that these are a part of being a disciple, he eventually became consistent and enthusiastic about dishwashing and cleaning bathrooms, even doing these chores before being asked. After he learned how to visit neighbors in their houses and to encourage them to be closer with God, he also became enthusiastic about this work, even visiting neighbors on his own rest time and days off.

Megan Swanson

Megan came into QuadW Tarime hoping to learn Swahili quickly and to be able to communicate with her neighbors. When some things outside of her control made this much harder than she had hoped, she began asking God about why He had led her here. From this, God taught her to be more present to the people around her than she ever had been before. From this, she discovered that God had given her gifts of listening, making people feel safe, and giving them space to open up and understand themselves better.

Veronica Marwa

Veronica opens our Bible study by washing Dinnah’s feet

Veronica came into QuadW Tarime knowing that God had called her to help African women to know that God loves them just as much as men. She was less sure about how exactly to do this, and how to choose her battles, given the ubiquitous mistreatment of women in Tanzania.

She learned to start and lead a house church, and to lead that house church to help women to heal each other from what they had suffered. She learned to focus her voice and energy on cases where women are being either physically abused or unfairly blamed by their husbands, and she was even able to help one of our neighbors to save their marriage.

Davis Rhodes

Davis cooking porridge for breakfast

Davis came into QuadW Tarime afraid of failure and overly obsessed with his own performance. This generally led to self-doubt, indecisiveness, and lack of confidence. 

He learned to find more joy in spending time in God’s presence and to be less concerned about his own success and reputation. This gave him the inner peace that he needed to be more confident, and to step into the leadership gift that God has given him. He learned to lead a Christian community to love their neighbors day after day, to share Jesus’s love, and to make disciples, through all of the inevitable joys and discouragements.

Nakupenda

Veronica Marwa and I have decided to get married.

She’s a good one ❤


About a year ago, I was talking to a friend.
“I can tell that I keep expecting too much of romantic love. Idolizing it. I know that a happy life is to come more in love with God each day, through each thing in my life. But even though I know that, I keep looking for romantic love to make me happy.”

Pause

“Hmm. What if marriage could be one more way of coming in love with God? Instead of me continuing to put it above God? What if I could help her to come closer with God, and she could help me to come closer with God each day?”

Friend: “Wow. That sounds like a good direction to go. There may be a lot of wisdom there. But how would that happen, I mean, what helps you to come more in love with God?”

Me: “I’m not sure. I know that I come closer with God when I become more humble. But I don’t know why I become more humble sometimes, and more arrogant, self-obsessed at other times. Maybe I’ll start praying about that each morning and get back to you.”

I prayed about it each morning, and also went back and reviewed the last few years of my life. The patterns I saw weren’t what I had expected.

The times when I was most humble, and found it easiest to believe and remember that God loves me, were not times when I spent more time in prayer each morning, or times when I read the Bible more, or times when I engaged regularly in deep conversations of philosophy or theology. They weren’t correlated with great books I had read, or even with times when I had worked hardest at having mercy on my impoverished neighbors.

The times when I was most humble were the times when I was surrounded by genuine, loving community.

Those seasons, growing up, when I actually chose to engage with my loving parents and three younger siblings. The times at Auburn University when I chose to spend more time with my dear friends who I met at the Auburn Wesley Foundation. July and August of 2019, when I first moved into the Bonhoeffer House, before I got busy.

And the times when I was most arrogant, self-centered were the times when I was most lonely. The semester I took too many classes. Times serving in Tanzania when I couldn’t find any friends. Times when I bound myself to lofty goals with hard deadlines that required me to work around the clock.

A couple weeks later I talked to the same friend about what I had found.

“I’m shocked. And when it comes to romance, I’ve never once looked for someone who loves me well, who makes me feel loved. It’s never even been on my radar as something to look for. It’s like I normally look for affirmation- affirmation that I’m better than others- rather than love.”

Shortly after returning to Tanzania in January, I asked a friend about this. She agreed, and gave me some very good, and very needed advice for dating Tanzanian women. And a couple days later, she called me.

“Mambo. Hey come to NK Restaurant at 3 pm on Friday wearing something nice. And make sure you shower.”

“Okay… what’s going on?”

“Haven’t you ever heard of a blind date? Just be at NK on Friday. I think you will like her.”

It turns out I did. She had a lovely smile that showed her polished top teeth, she laughed easily, and was passionate about her calling- to help African women know that God loves them just as much as men.

As the weeks went by, and I tried to love her, I was surprised to notice that she didn’t make me feel like I was better than other people. But she did make me feel loved.

She listened to me. Very few friends in Tanzania listen to me. Not because they don’t care, but just because it’s a foreign concept here. The closest Swahili word to “listen”- kusikiliza- means something like, “to hear someone explain their problem and then do something about it”. But Veronica didn’t just “kusikiliza”… she attentively listened to me talk about what was on my mind, like she was really interested, and then she asked questions. It was like I was an open book to her.

I asked if we could pray together every day. She didn’t act like this was strange, or too much to commit to. We started praying together every day, and the prayers made both of us feel so loved, and helped us to learn new things about each other, and each others’ spiritual lives. We’ve continued to this day. I don’t understand why she doesn’t get tired of praying with me every day, but I’m just thankful.

One day she ironed my clothes. I never knew that I wanted anyone to iron my clothes. I didn’t especially need my clothes ironed… but the personal attention was so nice.

As with all relationships, things weren’t perfect. I can be arrogant and stubborn, and she has her own growing edges. But this time, everything was oriented differently. We weren’t expecting each other to save us or fulfill us or satisfy us. It was just one more way of coming closer with God. And with things oriented there, we knew what was really important to us, and what growing edges to accept and bear with in the other person.

As we were both members of the QuadW missional community here in Tarime, we got to know each other pretty quickly through living and working together every day. And as our 6-month trial run of QuadW Tarime drew to a close in August, we agreed that we didn’t want our life together to end; rather, we wanted to make our two lives into one, and to live one life together for as long as we both shall live.

Then she said, “You’ll have to meet my family, you know. And I’m Kuria tribe, so they’ll probably ask you for cows before they approve of you marrying me.”

Me: “There’s so many things I don’t understand about Tanzania. And I don’t understand this one, babe. You can’t put a price on you. You’re worth more than a million cows to me. But if that’s what it takes for them to approve, we can do that.”

It turns out they did ask for cows. 22 cows, to be exact. My good friend Mwita Baita, who I’ve talked about some before, helped bargain them down to 9. We gave them the money to buy 9 cows, and her family gave us their blessing.

The title means “I love you”. I’ve never been this happy before, and I’ve never been so close to God before. I can’t wait for our wedding, or for us to live out our callings together here at QuadW Tarime, or to see her again in a couple hours. I don’t know what I ever could have done to deserve this.

*We are getting married in Tanzania on February 5th. We are trying to put together a simple, inexpensive honeymoon. To give to it, you can click here: https://www.travelersjoy.com/davisandveronica/

Hakuja ili Kutumikiwe; Alikuja ili Awatumikie

“So when I say that we are going to be doing service work, what are your expectations?” I began.

“Ah, yes. My expectations are that we will be leading worship, preaching, teaching, leading choirs at the different churches in the Tarime area. Maybe doing training at different times and places as well.”

… as I was preparing our community, speaking to one of the potential Tanzanian members, I began to kick myself. How did I communicate so badly?

I had said we would be doing service work… let’s see, specifically I used the work “huduma”… that was my mistake. Wrong word. But what word should I have used?

“Huduma” is the normal Swahili word for “service”. In fact, waitresses and waiters are called “Wahudumu”.

But when I used “huduma” to refer to work in a church context, my friend, a theology graduate, had interpreted me to be saying that we would be doing up-front leadership work.

I couldn’t think of a different Swahili word that would have been better. And maybe it wasn’t my fault, nor my friend’s fault. It is just a fact that in many churches, the work on cleaning, cooking, washing dishes, digging and moving dirt is never done by the leaders… it is done by uneducated women, by children, and by paid manual laborers. So when I had used “huduma” to suggest that we would be doing this type of work, the possibility didn’t occur to my friend. It was simply beyond their frame of reference.

When I clarified what I had meant by “huduma”, my friend was shocked. We talked for a while, and then I went over several examples of Jesus doing this type of work in the gospels.

It’s the perennial human misjudgment as we try to become disciples of Jesus. “Hmm. Jesus did that. Said that. That was weird. Well, I don’t get it… surely he didn’t mean that.”

As we live in community, trying to live in the way of Jesus, it is these misjudgments that we are asking God to correct in us. We are working together and helping each other to understand how Jesus really lived and how we emulate that in our context. It is also why we insist on being a cross-cultural community; each of our cultures has taken hold of certain parts of Jesus’s example and ignored other parts. In community, we show each other the things that we are missing.

We see each other and think, “Wow. I didn’t know you could really live like that… Do that… Love like that.”

So when we went out to Gamasara to do this service work for the first time, I was nervous. What would happen? What kind of resistance would we meet? Would bad attitudes show up? Would this be interpreted as one of Davis’s crazy ideas?

We swept the Gamasara UMC floor. No complaining.

Then we scrubbed the floor by hand. Again, no complaining. Everyone worked hard, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

As I was finishing my corner of the church, I asked, “Hey, where did Gilbert go?”

“Anasafisha pale chooni”

“?? The bathrooms?” I said

“Yeah, we are cleaning those, too.”

“Oh, yeah, yeah, for sure, for sure” I said, trying to pretend it had been my plan all along.

But the fact was, it hadn’t even occurred to me. And as Gamasara UMC doubled as a preschool, the bathrooms were filthy.

The only thing to do was to grab a broom and thank God for working in our community, for making us into disciples, servant leaders.

The title means, “He did not come to be served; he came to serve”.

Tembea na Yesu Pamoja

What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? What does it mean to make disciples of Jesus?

Living as a missional community in Tarime- 3 Tanzanian young adults and 2 American young adults- 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 Dinnah, Gilbert, and Veronica almost immediately started inviting our neighbors to our evening prayer time, at 8:30 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? We will only be here until the first week of September, but our neighbors lives will go on. How do we help them to encourage each other to be disciples of Jesus? So that they continue in this new life once we are gone?

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,

“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, May 17th, two women came to the group with Dinnah, Megan, and Veronica.

On the 24th, the group met outside of our house for the first time

On the 31st, 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

And on June 7th, the group met outside of our house, on its own, without any member of our community being present.

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”.

Kubomoa Ukuta

Well, on February 27th we launched our missional community here in Tarime (what’s a missional community?) 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.

In most cases where white people live in Tanzania, we 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 together with our neighbors. 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. 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”.

Yesu

Hello friends,

Well, it was 29 months ago that we decided to act on the vision we were seeing.

An intentional Christian community of Tanzanian and American young adults

Working with the people of Tanzania to develop servant leaders, for the benefit of the people of Tanzania

Making disciples who make disciples who make disciples

I say “we”, but back when we decided to act on it, there were only three of us who were seeing the vision. As we brought the vision to you though, you listened, you asked thoughtful questions, you suggested modifications here and there, and then chose to believe as well. You offered your support- financial, advice, training, an opportunity to live in community, and a listening ear when things were hard. We came together. And just over three weeks ago, I walked back down the rocky path to my friend Mwita’s house. His children saw the mzungu from afar and sprinted up the road to meet me, then recoiled and tried to hide their shy smiles once they made it to me. It was precious. Mwita and I shared a hearty embrace and then he broke into a prayer of gratitude.

It has brought me deep joy to see everyone again after 29 months apart. One unexpected meeting came yesterday as I was hurrying along the side of the road, preoccupied. A moto-taxi driver tried to flag me down, and I assumed he was asking if I needed a ride. I declined and walked on, then heard “DAVI!” I turned around and saw one of the young men who I had been working with in 2017 and 2018, one of the young men who had been living on the streets, who we had been teaching to make bricks. He had new, clean clothes and was clean shaven and showered. We smiled at each other and I held his hand for a while, before he invited me to the house he is renting. I’m going today.

Making tea
Making chapati

Mwita’s youngest, Eliya, was born just a few months before I left in 2018
Mwita’s cat has kittens

Getting back to the vision…

When it comes to making disciples who are true servant leaders, Tanzanian young adults and American young adults have so much to learn from each other. But we won’t learn as much if we are looking at each other per se. Rather, we’ll learn more if we are looking to the great servant leader, hoping to become a little more like him. As we look to him in community, we will really begin to learn from each other.

But this presents a problem. It’s an unfortunate leftover from the colonial days that many Tanzanians have an inferiority complex, thinking that folks in the West are better than them. And most Tanzanians firmly believe that Jesus was white.

Well, obviously we don’t want to be strengthening the inferiority complex by telling Tanzanian young adults that they should try to be like a white person.

Of course, we’ll explain that Jesus was Arabic, not European, and go over this again and again as we soak ourselves in the four gospels, but pictures can be stronger than what we learn verbally. It seems like every other house I visit in Tanzania has a picture of a white Jesus on the wall.

So I was pretty thankful when I saw this picture floating around on facebook:

Turns out it was the work of James C. Lewis, and it wasn’t at all hard to get a print of it. Just last week, our friend Marwa Kituo made a beautiful wooden frame for it, and it will hang in our common room in a few weeks. Hoping that as we look to Jesus and seek to become like him, it will be clear that this has nothing to do with being white or Western, but rather, has to do with

sacrifice

no one who can’t be made new

(even me)

the least of these

not counting rank as something to be grasped

community rather than lone rangers

healing

new life

life to the full

bringing the outsider inside

tearing the veil

good news for all people

We’ve incorporated your thoughts at every stage of the development of this community, and I would love to hear them again.

Thank you, friends.

QuadW Missional Skunkworks: Tarime, Tanzania

Well, a lot has happened recently, and so many of you have helped to make it happen.

I have a return date and a plane ticket.

Thank you Tony and Jennifer Barnes, and Bill and Ramona Holley, for your generosity which made this possible. Thank you also to Conrad Barnes. We miss you. May you rest in peace.

We have a house, Nyumba Wesley, where we will live in intentional Christian community for six months.

Thank you to Mwita Baita, Cynthia Ombuo, Cyndi and Charles Strasburg, and Grace Methodist Church Dallas, for finding this house and helping with the payment to hold the house for us.

Who will be living here?

We have 4 potential Tanzanian members of the community:

Dinna Sylvester, from Gamasara, Tanzania

Dinna’s father died when she was 14 and her mother left at the same time. Life was very hard living in a mud hut with her grandmother, who often could not afford the basics. Then one day she was introduced to Gamasara Methodist Church, and from Gamasara Methodist, she was introduced to Wesley College, where she received her diploma in theology on Nov. 7th.

Dinna says “It used to be that I did not know God, I did not know that God cared about me or my family, I did not know that God wanted to use me in his work. But God has made so much of my life. He has taken me to Wesley College so I could study theology and has shown me that he wants to use me and make something of my life. Now I just want to tell everyone I meet about this, if anyone will listen I just start talking about it.”

Gilbert Bagaya, from Karagwe, Tanzania

On Nov. 7th, Gilbert graduated from Wesley College with his diploma in theology. In his words, “When I was 16… no, wait, 15, my parents decided I should start supporting myself so I left home. This was a hard time, so I started to get involved in church. I enjoyed music so I started helping with leading worship. It was through leading worship that I really started to know God and God’s love for me. And through this, I started to hear God calling me to share him with more and more people.”

Raphael Musa from Nyagisia, Tanzania

On Nov. 7th, Raphael graduated from Wesley College with his diploma in theology. In his words, “My father had 3 wives. This made home somehow difficult, there could be a lot of quarreling. But I remember that life got better when I started going to Gamasara Methodist Church. Then I started to know God and started helping other children who were in the hard life like I had been in. Now I just want to do this more and more.”

Veronica Marwa, from Gamasara, Tanzania

On Nov. 7th, Veronica Marwa graduated from Wesley College with her diploma in theology. She says,
“Over the last three years, I have learned so much about who God is and God’s love for everyone. Most surprising was that God loves women just as much as men and wants to use them to bring everyone the good news. After these last three years, I now have such a heart to share this same news with other women, whether young or old, that God cares about them, loves them, and wants to empower them.”

Thank you to Noel Chomola, Eric Soard, Damson Maganga, Bonface Wanyama, and many others who helped to connect us with these recent graduates.

And a big thank-you to Wesley College in Mwanza, Tanzania for connecting us with their recent graduates, and for all they are doing on the ground to make this community possible. Learn more about Wesley College here: https://www.wesleycollegetzfoundation.com/

… And three overseas members who will be living in the community:

Brina Simmons, from Madison, Alabama

It’s been great getting to know Brina. Who knew you could enjoy an interview so much? She has a powerful story of how she has come so much closer to God through some painful challenges and suffering, and in 2019 she was surprised to find just how much she loved children when she gave a summer to serve children at a QuadW mission site in Anniston, Alabama. This new passion is driving her to become a neonatal nurse, and she wants to give a few months to serve in Tanzania to learn more about what it looks like to serve children as a part of God’s mission.

Megan Swanson, from Huntsville, Alabama

Megan had the opportunity to work in Tanzania with a team from the Auburn Wesley Foundation in 2017. That was a truly life-defining experience for her and since then, she has completed her undergrad degree in Natural Resources Management and her graduate degree in Conservation Leadership, during which she and several colleagues lived in Rwanda for four months to research women’s access to water.

While Megan is currently enjoying her work in fundraising for nonprofits, she is so excited to have the chance to go back to Tanzania and to continue to learn, grow, and share with this intentional living community and the people of Tanzania.

Davis Rhodes

Photo by Evey McKellar

Not sure who this guy is, but as the community leader, he is hoping to empower this community to know God’s love through sharing their very different stories with each other, and to empower them to pass this same love on to their neighbors.

Thank you to Rev. Dan Kim, Global Community Methodist Church of Columbus, Ohio, Deborah Shim, Linda MacCarthy, Helen Park, Roland MacCarthy, Kadijah, Paola Orduna, Joshua Shepherd, and others who helped so much with discernment and interviews.

What’s Next?

I will be in Tanzania during January and February, working with Mwita Baita (Assistant Site Director) to get things set up, and then on March 14th, everyone will move in and we will begin to meet our neighbors. For the next six months, we will pray together, learn from each other, do service work for the nearby Methodist churches, share the good news of God’s love with our physically immediate neighbors, and train them to do the same.

When Willie Tichenor passed away from osteosarcoma at 19 years old, his family and friends founded the QuadW Foundation. Four “W”s: What Would Willie Want? (Meet Willie here: http://www.quadw.org/meet-willie)

One of the things they knew Willie would want would be for other young adults to have transformative mission experiences, like the mission experience that transformed Willie’s life.

Thanks to Willie, these young adults will have that kind of transformative mission experience in 2021 at QuadW’s first international site, QuadW Missional Skunkworks: Tarime, Tanzania. (https://quadwmi.org/tarime)

Kwa Kuamsha Moyo Wangu

Hello friends,

Many of you received my prayer postcards this last week. If you didn’t receive one, but would like one, please let me know. I would love to send one to you.

Here is a map of every church and every city where someone is praying for our intentional Christian community.

As you can see, so many of us, all over, are praying together. And wouldn’t it be great to add even more?

Sometimes people ask me what prayer means. If we are already doing something that God endorses, then why ask God for help? Why ask God to do what God already wants to do?

And if God doesn’t endorse it, then why are we doing it? Surely we aren’t trying to change God’s mind?

It’s the same question that Polly puts to Fledge in The Magician’s Nephew,

“But we can’t eat grass,” said Digory.

“H’m, h’m,” said Fledge, speaking with his mouth full. “Well—h’m—don’t know quite what you’ll do then. Very good grass too.”

Polly and Digory stared at one another in dismay.

“Well, I do think someone might have arranged about our meals,” said Digory.

“I’m sure Aslan would have, if you’d asked him,” said Fledge.

“Wouldn’t he know without being asked?” said Polly.

“I’ve no doubt he would,” said the Horse (still with his mouth full). “But I’ve a sort of idea he likes to be asked.”

St. Teresa of Avila gives us an equally helpful perspective,

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

As I understand it, God wants to do this work with us. God wants to do this work through us.

And in working through us, God has chosen not to bypass the desires of our hearts. God wants us to love this world and to remake it, and to do that because we want to.

And often we don’t want to. Not that we dis-want to, so to speak, but the fire in our hearts is often cold, burning low. What is God’s way of awakening that desire in us?

So what does prayer mean? Well, I don’t know yet, but I can share the way that I look at it and experience it.

I talk to God and I start by saying something like, “God, I want the people of Tanzania to be more in love with you”, and we go from there.

And maybe God intervenes directly to make that happen. And maybe new, creative thoughts occur to me in this meditative conversation. And maybe God tells me new ideas or directions to take–even directions that don’t make sense at the time. But most likely of all, in the honesty, as I start by saying what I feel like I am supposed to say

and then realize the futility of saying to God what I am supposed to say

And then start to talk about what I actually want

And as we sort through the ugly stuff and the flame of desire that I have for people to be more alive and happy and able to love

our conversation fans the flames in my heart–the prayer fans my desire to see a new world. The rest of the day is different for me. God and I are together in this work, and I care more.

The title means “to awaken my heart”. This is just the way that I look at it–I don’t mean to say that it is the way to look at it. If it confuses or offends, send a note, or make a note, and I would love to talk about it when we see each other again.