“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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
no one who can’t be made new
the least of these
not counting rank as something to be grasped
community rather than lone rangers
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
“In Tanzania? Am I hearing you right?”
“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.
Several recent posts have been about a guilt trap that I have often found myself in during the last few years of living with folks who are on the margins of survival.
Well, one of those friends saw these posts and replied. My dear friend Glenna Gillilan commented to let me know that she understands my need to say no sometimes. Since she’s a writer herself, I invited her to write a guest blog and explain a bit more about what this is like for her. To be in need… even homeless at times… and to still have to respect a friend’s boundaries. Here she is:
And here is what she has to say:
On July 14th I read and commented on Davis’s post “Freedom From the Guilt Trap”.
I met Davis a couple of years ago when he was visiting the Bonhoeffer House, and again last year in Asheville, NC, during the Missional Wisdom Foundation’s National Gathering. We’ve become good friends since he came to live at Bonhoeffer a year ago, so I was more than happy to accept when he asked me to write my perspective on setting, and just as importantly, respecting boundaries.
I’ve had my own experiences with the “guilt trap”. It can be hard to set boundaries and say no to people, especially people who you want to like you. You think, “If I say no to this person, maybe they won’t want to be my friend.” So even if I don’t want to (or can’t, for whatever reason) do what they ask, I still find myself saying yes — and becoming resentful because of it. (An emotion Davis admitted that he also feels.) But what I need to remember — and I’m still learning this — is that anyone who won’t respect my “no” (and thus will disrespect me) is probably someone I don’t want as a friend anyway.
I have also been on the other side of that equation — I was the one who disrespected boundaries, disrespected a friend’s “no” — and was told that I wasn’t being a good friend. Not that I wasn’t a good person, just that I wasn’t being a good friend in that moment. So I had to learn to respect the other person’s right to say no, even when I felt my request was for something I really wanted or needed and therefore justified.
Over the years I’ve had to learn that everyone has the right to say “no”, and that their “no” needs to be respected. As I mentioned in my comment on Davis’s post, saying “no” can be a form of self-love and self-care — and it can also be a way of showing love to the other person, by not giving them what they think they want or need in that moment.
Also, it’s okay to say maybe. If you need a little time to consider a request, you can absolutely take it without giving a hard “yes” or “no”. But there is nothing wrong or selfish… no reason to feel guilty… about needing to put your own needs ahead of another person’s sometimes.
I wish there was more to update y’all on. We are steadily moving forward on our goal of launching the community on February 1st of 2021, but for the past few weeks, the work has been hard to write much of an update on…
Sent in most of what is required for my work permit
Studied some about how the church helps people to grow, and how it grows itself… a branch of theology called missional ecclesiology
Communicated with the QuadW Foundation about what our site in Tarime will look like and how they would like to partner with us
Finalized our budget
Spent a lot of time helping the East African refugee families through my part-time job here
Spent a lot of time with my dear homeless friend Kevin Prouix, here at the Bonhoeffer House
One more interesting step is that I have finalized the plans for our initial devotional rhythms.
I say “initial” because I will invite the other five member of the community to modify them, and I don’t expect them to last more than three weeks. On the other hand, our opening devotional rhythms will be crucial for setting the tone for our devotional life. They keep telling me a first impression is a lasting impression.
So what are devotional rhythms that help Tanzanian young adults and American young adults to be intimate with God? What would help each culture to learn from the other culture’s way of connecting with God?
These aren’t easy questions, but I feel good about what we’ve put together:
Sifa (One song)
Sifa is a type of African worship where dancing is just as important as the singing. Short lines are repeated, so as to make the songs easy to remember- therefore no need for books, so we can focus on the dancing. (To see our refugee choir in Dallas do a few sifa tunes click here: Sifa)
2. Each person says a short prayer for the person to their left
3. End with the Swahili closing song “Tembea na Yesu”. This catchy Swahili song just means “walk with Jesus”, and will transition us to think about walking with Jesus as we go about the rest of our day.
Center with the 3-step Welcoming Meditation
Breathe. Feel what you are feeling as a sensation in your own body
After a couple minutes, welcome that sensation. If the sensation is anger, for example… “Welcome, anger. Welcome, anger. Welcome, anger…”
Think of your emotions as important, essential parts of you, all seated around a table. Address the emotion that is screaming for you attention, “I value you anger, and I invite you to take your place at the table.” Or more simply, “I have heard you, anger, and now I let you go.”
2. Go around the circle. Each person answers the question, “What is on your mind today?” We connect with God through connecting with each other.
3. All pray aloud, simultaneously.
Will this help the Tanzanian young adults to grow closer to God? What about the Americans? Will it help them to learn from each other? Will it set the tone for us to share ideas to improve on this and develop our own devotional life in the weeks to come?
It’s my best shot, and I know it doesn’t have to be perfect… at the end of the day, the more important fact is that God wants to connect with us. The title means “God who pursues us, hear our prayer.”
Before I shared about the guilt trap a few weeks back, I sent what I had written to the members of the Bonhoeffer House. My dear friend Evey shared her view on it, and how she had learned to break this cycle. She focused on ways that we are confused about what a “kind and generous person” really is, and I wanted y’all to hear, in her own voice, what this was like for her.
Evey McKellar, ladies and gentlemen:
Simply naming it “guilt” doesn’t dissect it enough.
Sometimes it can be false guilt or shame that we don’t need to carry.
Sometimes the guilt is a wise teacher helping us stretch ourselves.
In the case of the stories we tell ourselves, we can tell ourselves we are kind and generous people, and then have a story attached to what that means. In your case, and in mine, we often determine if we are being kind and generous on the grounds of whether someone else is happy. You and I have learned to understand that this can more often than not be codependent rather than healthy, and I no longer want to define “kind and generous” by the whimsical happiness of others. I want to pursue health and live into virtues that I know are more trustworthy and more deeply rooted.
Furthermore, the programming of “codependency” has infected theology and practice of ministry. I can hear the narrative: “I’m not being a good minister unless I’m spent and weary and small and resent myself.” I don’t think this is who Jesus asks us to be, flogging ourselves for the sake of being sacrificed for others. It leaves us miserable, it abuses our God-created selves, and it certainly dis-empowers the person asking for connection with us who is devouring us, perhaps by no intention of their own.
But we humans will often push until a boundary is found, instead of protecting it as we pursue. We are often looking for someone else to inform us on what the boundaries are. “How far can I go?” is a normal question, and not necessarily a malicious one. A child seeks to learn this from parents. It doesn’t mean someone is being cruel or conniving. Rather, thirst will naturally seek to be quenched. And if the well doesn’t run dry, why would we look anywhere else?
We can dis-empower people from learning their own inner well resources… or from learning to drink from many sources, so as to not dry any one source.
Much of what we discerned together as a community was not only learning that we each had different boundaries. It was also a collective discernment towards health:
What boundaries were actually healthy?
For an individual?
As well as for a community learning to give and take?
Remember that time that someone came in who used foul language, offensive jokes and offensive speech? When Kevin protected the community and called him on it, the man angrily pushed back about his freedoms. I replied that in community, part of the work of learning to live together was recognizing that we would land in different spots (some more offended by his language than others), but that we compromised for the sake of finding a space where ALL felt safe, loved, and whole.
It takes constant negotiation. It will continue to evolve. We will “find it” in one circumstance and then keep needing to “find it” in the next. But it’s meant to be improvisation, because to “find it” and be done would mean we’d stop showing up to learn about each other, and ourselves. We’d stop doing the work.
So when we encounter guilt, it’s important to sit with the question:
Does this guilt speak a narrative that is moving towards health?
Or is this a narrative that needs to be released, because it doesn’t move towards values like health, mutuality, and sustainability?
Do we give this person money?
Or not, because it would drain the whole communal fund?
Do we let these folks sleep on our porch?
Where do our personal discomforts and safety and need for ‘not being on’ come in and
where do we need to reclaim some space?
It would be easier if it was either/or. But it’s nuanced, complex, and there are often shades to the various questions that are brought up.
We co-create new models each time, and each change in the system will have ripple effects that will need to be addressed and may cause some re-adjustment. Some days will have more capacity than others.
It’s the nuance of that guilt
that it isn’t always the wise guilt that invites us to grow,
but sometimes that growth means reminding ourselves that our boundary is okay,
and that for our health and the health of the asker,
we need to strengthen our ‘no’ so they can learn more of their wholeness