The Guilt Trap

At the Bonhoeffer House, one of the things that we did was to create community with our neighbors. Rather than selectively hanging out with only other college graduates who were similar in age, interests, and socioeconomic status, we tried to get to know everyone who would come to our place. We invited everyone we saw to our big family-style dinner on Wednesday nights. Since we saw those who lived nearby more often, we invited them more often. And in Old East Dallas, a 15-minute walk from downtown, many of these folks happened to be homeless.

How do we be genuine friends to folks who have so many needs? It was the same question that I had tried to answer, through my actions, in Tanzania. This time, we were a community, together, trying to answer this question through our actions. As we attempted this over and over, we saw a vicious thought pattern that made this particularly hard for us:

  1. I think of myself as a basically kind and generous person. My standards here are unrealistic and confused, but I’m not aware of this at the time.
  2. A friend asks something of me. I decide that they are asking too much. I say no, and I call this “setting a boundary”.
  3. Soon after, I decide that the boundary I set was not a boundary that a basically kind and generous person would set. So I feel guilty. Now the important thing at this step is that I feel guilty. The guilt may be unfounded, or it may be founded, but regardless, it weighs on me. And before I have gotten to the bottom of this…
  4. I receive another request that appears to be too much. Mentally, I return to the boundary that I had set, but then I remember that I felt guilty about that boundary.
  5. EITHER I give in to this request (due to the guilt about last time)
  6. OR I stick to my boundary and say no again, which increases the guilt, since I am still not okay with the boundary I set.

And of course, giving in leads to more requests (who can blame them?)… and increasing guilt leads to burnout and bitterness towards my friends.

Things get worse when members of the community disagree about whether certain boundaries are kind and generous… we add to each other’s guilt. Looking back, I hate that I did this to my dear friends.

Of course, the cycle can be broken and the damage healed, and some of this did happen in our house. But it must be addressed; this isn’t the sort of thing that is arbitrarily fixed by time and “getting used to it”.

I know I am not the only one who has felt this, and it doesn’t only result from trying to be a friend to folks who are homeless; this kind of thing can pop up with co-workers, spouses, family members, etc. I would love to hear y’all’s perspective on it.

Bonhoeffer porch
At the Bonhoeffer House, our beautiful front porch is one of the most common causes of this boundary confusion. It’s an ambiguous space, neither in nor out, and a great place for shade, getting out of the rain, and sleeping.

Watu wa Kweli

Our plan is to start an intentional Christian community in Tarime, Tanzania. Around this time last year, I figured I should live in an intentional community before starting one, and that’s how I wound up at the Bonhoeffer House here in Dallas.

I thought this would be an easy few months, and that I would leave a lasting positive impact on this community, since I was “already so good at this”.

As it turned out, I was not to be the change-er, but the change-ee. In my short life, I have never grown so fast in a nine-month period.

Over the next few weeks I will be sharing what I learned about myself, what I learned about intentional community, and what I learned about sharing the good news of God’s kingdom through word and deed, together with a whole motley crue of folks, attempting to keep company as diverse and disreputable as Jesus himself did.

After I had been here for about six months, I was talking with another member who lived in the house (on this stretch of sidewalk, actually):

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Friend: I feel like we haven’t been helping you with preparing for Tanzania. I mean, it’s looking like you can’t go back in February, right?

Me: Well, yes, but that is because I have learned that I am not yet ready to lead an intentional community. And I really appreciate y’all helping me to see that.

Friend: Ah. Why do you say that?

Me: Um… it’s like… well, when I moved in here, I thought I was ready to lead my own community… like, I had this picture in my head of the people who I would be leading. And I was ready to lead them. Then, I moved into community with three real people, not the fake people in my head. And man, community is a lot harder with three real people than it was with the fake people in my head. I’m really glad I learned that from y’all, rather than trying to lead a community when I wasn’t ready yet.

Friend: Hahahahaha yeah. Everything is harder with the real people than with the fake people.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some of what I learned about doing community with real people; the title means “real people”. I hope that some of what I say will be valuable to y’all too. Your feedback is welcome.

 

Siwezi Kukata Tamaa

Hey folks.

I don’t have any excuse for my silence over the last nine months. There are reasons, contributing factors… but they don’t excuse it. I have been working a part-time job and also living in an intentional Christian community. The two of those things took a lot of my time each week, and then living in an intentional community brought up some new rough edges that I hadn’t noticed in myself. In response, I’ve devoted a lot more time to daily prayer, journaling, and meditation, hoping to work through some of this and to grow closer to God.

While none of these are bad things, I should have kept you updated as well. I apologize that I didn’t do a better job of balancing all of this.

I was not able to stick with our plan and return to Tanzania in February to launch the community in August. Intentional Christian community is harder than I had expected. A few months ago I realized that I need more experience with this; I wouldn’t be ready to lead a community by February 2019.

I am deeply grateful that the church next-door has hired me as their youth minister. This youth group is made up entirely of the children of refugees from East Africa, and their parents all speak Swahili. I can’t tell you what a pleasant surprise it has been to continue speaking Swahili and growing in my knowledge of East African culture through my part-time job here in Dallas.

Eric Soard and the folks in Tarime, Tanzania are planning on me returning in late 2020 or early 2021 to get the community started. I’ve written out a more detailed timeline here:

Updated Tarime Timeline

As I continue pressing toward this goal despite this very necessary setback, I am reminded of this almost poetic passage from a favorite book:

“It’s like this when you live a story: The first part happens fast. You throw yourself into the narrative, and you’re finally out in the water; the shore is pushing off behind you and the trees are getting smaller. The distant shore doesn’t seem so far, and you can feel the resolution coming, the feeling of getting out of your boat and walking the distant beach. You think the thing is going to happen fast, that you’ll paddle for a bit and arrive on the other side by lunch. But the truth is, it isn’t going to be over soon.

… the work is harder than you imagined… at some point the shore behind you stops getting smaller, and you paddle and wonder why the same strokes that used to move you now only rock the boat.

… the shore you left is just as distant, and there’s no going back; there is only the decision to paddle in place or stop, slide out of the hatch, and sink into the sea…

It’s like this with every crossing, and every story, too. You paddle until you no longer believe you can go any farther. And then suddenly, well after you thought it would happen, the other shore starts to grow, and it grows fast. The trees get taller and you can make out the crags in the cliffs, and then the shore reaches out to you, to welcome you home, almost pulling your boat onto the sand”

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At White Rock Lake in Dallas, TX

The title is a Swahili expression meaning, “Giving up is not an option for me.”

Thank you, friends.

Davis

(Excerpt from A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald Miller)

Amani

Part of the reason that my return to Tanzania and the intentional living community has been delayed is that I have struggled a lot with productivity. Of course, this is nothing new, but it has become more of an issue when I am working on a project this big.

On January 21st, Eric Soard and I talked for a couple hours about how to become more productive. Since then, I have been making a consistent effort at this. One of the most important lessons from this time has been that productivity is less a matter of getting more done, and more a matter of getting the right things done. It’s about making wise decisions about which things are most important and being willing to let the others fall by the wayside.

So now, before I start work each day, I decide 3 essential things that I need to do on this day (thanks to Michael Hyatt & Co. for this tip). Those normally aren’t the only 3 things I will do, but this focus forces me to make the hard decisions each day about which things are actually most important.

Before I choose the 3 things for each day, I read the following meditation from Henri Nouwen:

You are very concerned with making the right choices about your work. You have so many options that you are constantly overwhelmed by the question “What should I do and what should I not do?” You are asked to respond to many concrete needs. There are people to visit, people to receive, people to simply be with. There are issues that beg for attention, books it seems important to read, and works of art to be seen. But what of all this truly deserves your time?

Start by not allowing these people and issues to possess you. As long as you think that you need them to be yourself, you are not really free. Much of their urgency comes from your own need to be accepted and affirmed. You have to keep going back to the source: God’s love for you.

In many ways, you still want to set your own agenda. You act as if you have to choose among many things, which all seem equally important. But you have not fully surrendered yourself to God’s guidance. You keep fighting with God over who is in control.

Try to give your agenda to God. Keep saying, “Your will be done, not mine.” Give every part of your heart and your time to God and let God tell you what to do, where to go, when and how to respond. God does not want you to destroy yourself. Exhaustion, burnout, and depression are not signs that you are doing God’s will. God is gently and loving. God desires to give you a deep sense of safety in God’s love. Once you have allowed yourself to experience that love fully, you will be better able to discern who you are being sent to in God’s name.

It is not easy to give your agenda to God. But the more you do so, the more “clock time” becomes “God’s time,” and God’s time is always the fullness of time.

The title of the blog means “peace”. It’s hard to let some of these things fall by the wayside, but inner peace has been the result.

Asanteni Sana, Jamani

When I returned to the U.S. in September,  I was excited about starting a cross-cultural intentional Christian community in Tarime, Tanzania.

It was an exciting idea. Three American young adults and three Tanzanian young adults committing to living together for a year, locating ourselves in an especially impoverished and unreached part of Tarime. It would be a great opportunity to reach out to our neighbors, as well as a great opportunity for African young adults and American young adults to learn from each other.

As September and October became November and December, though, doubt began to take the place of excitement. I was spending more and more hours working my part-time jobs to pay my living expenses and was finding very little time to work on the community. And although many people who know me well had affirmed me, saying that intentional community work really matches my skills and gifts, I started to realize how hard this might be, and I started to feel a need for further training, as well as several months of experience living in intentional community. Where was I going to find that? I was having a hard enough time just paying my bills. The questions kept coming, and they hurt.

Is this ever going to get off the ground?

Am I really qualified?

Can I really become qualified?

Things started to look up, though, when Rev. Ceciliah Igweta was kind enough to take an interest in our project. She invited me to come out and visit the folks at the Missional Wisdom Foundation. They do training on starting intentional Christian communities, as well as overseeing several of their own intentional communities.

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Rev. Ceciliah Igweta

They were very kind to me during my visit and agreed to let me join as a student in their training program (called Launch and Lead) even though I had technically missed the deadline to enroll.

They also let me stay for 3 days at the Bonhoeffer House, an intentional community that they supervise. It was great to see firsthand what intentional community looks like for a few days.

In April, they invited me to come live there, and I moved in on June 23rd. I’ll be here for the next seven months, learning what it is like to live in intentional community and to get to know our neighbors.

Around the time that I went out to visit Missional Wisdom, I met with someone else who wanted to help me make this community a reality. Rev. Don Woolley, director of the QuadW Missional Internship, let me know that they were interested in starting an intentional community in Tanzania, as an international site of QuadW. We were excited to learn that we saw the same vision for the community, and he (along with Eric Soard, Fred Otieno, Emmanuel Pius, Frank Karoli, and Leah Wilfred) helped me with the process of turning this vision into concrete plans and budgets.

Screenshot 2019-05-25 at 06.06.57

Program Overview

Evangelism plan

MC Community Formation plan

On May 23rd, we presented these plans to the QuadW Missional Internship Board of Directors, and they unanimously approved. I will return to Tarime, Tanzania during February of 2020 to get things set up and then we will launch during August of 2020.

QuadW board
QuadW Missional Internship Board

I still have a lot more to learn about intentional community, as well as more money to raise, but it feels so good to be moving forward. Thank you to all of you who have carried me from

uncertainty about whether this would actually happen

to

concrete plans and a start date.

The title? “Asanteni sana” just means “Thank you all so much”. “Jamani” is a Swahili interjection that you can put after something to add emphasis.

Thank you to each of you who have donated to help cover the costs of my training program and my move out to the Bonhoeffer House.

Thank you to every Church who has laid hands on me and prayed for me in Church. Those are special times for me. I don’t forget them.

Thank you to the folks at the Bonhoeffer House for being so incredibly kind to me over the last week and welcoming me into your community.

Thank you to Rev. Eric Soard for being such a faithful, consistent mentor and providing me with opportunities to love the people of Tarime, Tanzania.

Tarime streets
Tarime, Tanzania

Tuinue Kipato Chetu, Tuboreshe Maisha Yetu

Hello, friends.

I am a little late with this update on the savings and loan groups, I wish I had sent it to you earlier.

A quick recap: from 2010 to present, 13 new Methodist Churches have been born in Northern Tanzania. Most of these were in areas of extreme poverty, and we wanted to help these new churches to meet the physical needs of their congregations. “Pamoja” is a curriculum for doing savings and loan groups together with asset-based community development. It had a pretty good track record with other churches in this part of Tanzania, so we started helping these new Methodist Churches to start Pamoja groups.

A group normally has between 15 and 25 members. Most are church members, but they invite neighbors from outside of the church as well. The groups go through a series of Bible studies about being created in God’s image, the fall, how poverty came out of this, the poverty trap, how God can redeem us and how part of that is redeeming the part of us that keeps us in the poverty trap. Then, the groups start meeting each week and saving small amounts of money, normally between 50 cents and $5. This builds up, and after awhile, the group can make loans to group members from these savings.

These communities generally do not have any good options for safe places to save or places to access loans from. This financial flexibility is the reason that the groups are so helpful to them. I wrote a much longer post about this 3 years ago, you can click here to read it.

I appreciate that so many of you trusted us, that you invested in this work at the beginning by donating to pay my travel, living, and work expenses.

The work was pretty difficult for awhile there. We were able to get 4 groups going though, and a few Tanzanian folks started to take leadership roles and improve their lives. UMCOR took notice and invited us to apply for a grant.

With this grant, we trained and hired those Tanzanian folks who had been taking leadership roles, and we entrusted them with the work that we had been doing. We also bought 4 motorcycles for these new Tanzanian staff members. Here they are:

Mwita3
Mwita Baita, Mara Regional Coordinator
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Steven Baruani, Mwanza Regional Coordinator
PastorJosefBoniface
Pastor Josef Tanganyika, Geita Regional Coordinator

I failed to get a good picture of Pastor Stefano Mulungu, Dodoma Regional Coordinator. He has done great work though.

All 4 of these guys have. They were far more successful than I or Eric (the missionary I volunteer for) ever was at starting these Pamoja groups. They explained the idea in terms that the churches could understand, and soon, we had many churches wanting to start more than one group. Methodist Churches beyond the 13 that we had originally been working with wanted to start groups.

This grant also enabled us to do more rigorous monitoring and evaluation of our results. On February 15th, 2019, our program manager, Miliary Parmao, sent us a detailed statistical report. Some highlights:

39 Pamoja groups are operating now, based out of 23 United Methodist Churches

807 total members within these groups

$21,229.91 saved within these groups. That goes a long way in Tanzania (For comparison, I can eat for $1/day in Tanzania)

You can view the report on Google Sheets here: Pamoja Results Google Sheets

Or as an Excel file here: Pamoja Results Excel

These stars represent (roughly) where these new groups are located.

Screenshot 2019-05-15 at 00.43.40

And here are some of the folks whose lives have improved:

 

It’s been exciting to see new Methodist Churches meeting the material needs of their impoverished communities. About a month ago, UMCOR awarded us a second grant to extend the program and to expand it even further.

The title is the Pamoja motto. It means, “Let’s raise our incomes, let’s improve our lives.”

Tuende Wapi Sasa?

Hello friends,

I apologize that it’s been so long since I updated you. I should have written this sooner.

You may remember that I have been working on:

  • Developing a brick business that serves as a job and skills training for homeless youth over the age of 15
  • Overseeing the monitoring and evaluation of the Pamoja savings groups grant

Thank you, friends, for caring enough about the people of Tanzania and trusting me enough to help me succeed in this work. The brick business is in place and hires five youth who were living on the streets (though most of them are now able to rent a room), and I have handed over the leadership of this project to a Tanzanian development professional named Moses Nyamhanga (pictured below) and Yusufu, one of the youth who was living on the streets.

Moses7 - Edited

For monitoring and evaluation of the savings groups, we hired and trained this Tanzanian research professional named Enock Kawira. I am still available if he has questions, but he is the one running the show.

Enock

Now that I have turned this work over to Tanzanian leadership, what next? (The title means, “Where do we go now?”) So many of you helped me to make a good decision about this. There is nothing I could have done to deserve your help- I just thank you for your kindness. Although I am in the U.S. for now, I have decided to continue working in Tanzania long-term.

Under Eric Soard’s guidance, I will be starting a missional community that will live and work together in Tarime, Tanzania. (What’s a missional community? Click here to learn more.)  It will be composed of between six and twelve members. Half will be Tanzanians, and half will be overseas volunteers. They will commit to at least a year of living together. We will help each other to grow closer to God, and we will be a service corps for the budding United Methodist Church in the Mara Region of Tanzania.

I am thankful that the Tanzania Annual Conference Development Office is working more and more these days with an African development professional named Fred Otieno. He has a great record of helping organizations and churches to grow, as well as helping Tanzanians to leave poverty (See Fred on the right below, with his family).

FredandLeisha

When I asked him what he thought about this idea, he asked me to take it a step further.

Me: One of my biggest hesitations about this community is that I don’t see how it will help the many suffering people in Tanzania. It will be valuable for the members of the community, sure, but how does it help Tanzania?

Fred: A problem here is that college graduates do not value service. Consider the Western culture. Isn’t it common in your country to see college graduates waiting tables if they haven’t yet found a job in their field?

Me: Yeah, for sure.

Fred: They won’t do that in Tanzania. If someone graduates from college and doesn’t get a job, they will just sit at home. If you ask them why, they will say, “There are no jobs”. They will never go out and work as a waiter. Since they have studied, they have this idea now of making a lot of money, being driven by chauffeurs, being given free breakfast and things like that. It’s a big problem that they do not value service.

Me: That’s terrible. I see how that would lead to a lot of suffering for the majority of the people of Tanzania.

Fred: Oh yeah, it is a big problem. With this community, the way that you can really help Tanzania is to teach the value of service to these college graduates.

Me: Wow. So you mean that when the Tanzanian graduates go on to hold jobs in the country, they will be more likely to serve the people, less likely to just serve themselves?

Fred: Yeah, yeah, that’s right. The graduates and the overseas volunteers should do service work for the United Methodist Church. They should do it together. They should do things that Tanzanian college graduates normally wouldn’t do, like making mud bricks, digging, building, different kinds of manual labor.

Me: Do you think it will be difficult to find Tanzanian graduates who are willing to join our community?

Fred: No, it is possible. You will have to visit the Christian student unions at different universities, but you will find them.

It was a pretty short conversation, but it changed things. I have known for awhile that reforming unjust systems is necessary for helping the suffering people in Tanzania, and I had hoped to address this. It’s tricky, though, to address unjust systems without also communicating the (false) message that Tanzanians are responsible for their suffering. It might obscure the fact that African nations also suffer at the hands of unjust international trade policies. And really, as an outsider, what would I do? For these reasons, I have stayed away from attempting this sort of systemic change.

After hearing this requested by an African who I respect so much, though, we have decided to make this the final purpose of the community. With Fred’s help, our community will teach the value of service to Tanzanian college graduates.

When will the community start? It’s hard to tell. For now, all I know is that it will start as soon as we have done all of the prep work necessary to do a good job; no earlier, no later. For now, I am finalizing the basic concept of the community. If anyone has experience with communities of this sort, or knows anyone who has worked with missional communities, I would love to talk with you.

Missional Community

A Missional Community (also known as an “intentional community”) is a group of people, (normally between six and fifteen people) who live together, work together, and help each other to grow closer to God. Missional Communities are often referred to as “New Monasticism”, since they are built on much of the wisdom of the monastic movement. A few key differences between a traditional monastic community and a missional community like the one we will be starting:

  • People normally commit to living in a missional community for a specified amount of time. This may be six months, a year, two years, etc.
  • Missional communities normally locate themselves in places marked by suffering and poverty and seek to know and love the hurting community in which they are located.
  • Members of a missional community normally do not take the traditional vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

One of the most well-known missional communities is The Simple Way in Philadelphia, founded by six university graduates (one of whom was Shane Claiborne). Here is their description of their community: http://www.thesimpleway.org/about/.

See also The Simple Way’s Twelve Marks of New Monasticism.

Kwetu

The Our Father’s House ministry in Tarime, Tanzania reunites children on the streets with families. This may be their own family, through family counseling and fixing the issues that forced them to the streets in the first place. If that won’t work, then they unite the child with a foster family.

This has worked remarkably well. Over the last five years, they’ve reunited over forty children and youth with families.

Unfortunately, there was a group of youth who they have had trouble helping. These young men were older- between thirteen and sixteen- and felt that they were too old to return and live with their family, or to enter into a new family. “Tutaishije nao?”- “How will we live with them?”- they would often say.

The situations were often a bit more complicated. In one case, for example, two brothers had been reunited with their mother. A few years later though, she died, and they returned to the streets. At this point, one was fourteen, and the other sixteen, and they weren’t interested in a new family. In another case, a young man had been united with four different foster families, but each time, he had left after no more than two months.

The discouraged Our Father’s House volunteers would sometimes ask if we could build a house for these older folks to sleep at. We finally decided against it though. Reuniting children with families needs to be our priority, and this house would take a lot of our budget and focus off of the family reunification. Also, a place like that will make running to the streets more attractive for children in difficult homes. Were we really able to handle a huge influx of kids running to the streets? And was this really the best option for them? Finally, a house would need to be maintained for years. Was that really sustainable, given the size of our organization? We decided it wasn’t.

I would often see these older youth hanging out in this run-down lot in the middle of town, and I would know that this was where they were going to sleep, their feet in gunnysacks, doing their best to cover themselves with packing cloth. “What do they do if it rains?”, I once asked an Our Father’s House volunteer. He didn’t have an answer.

MamaBhoke1

MamaBhoke2

Once we started the brick project, we were able to start paying three of these older youth. The first time we paid them, we heard them talking about renting a place to sleep, but we weren’t sure if they had.

A few months later, though, they started to speak more definitely and consistently about “Kwetu”, swahili for, “Our place”.

Me: “Rafi*, where is Saimoni today?”

Rafi: “When I left him, he was still at kwetu, cooking. He’ll be here soon.”

Or we would hear them talking to each other.

Saimoni: “Chacha, where is your shirt? You said I could wear it today.”

Chacha: “You don’t remember? I gave it to you when we were still at kwetu.”

Saimoni: “Stop it, man.”

And we started to hear even better news. We would talk with some of these older youth who weren’t working with the brick project, and we would learn that those who had paid to rent were allowing others to stay with them. One short conversation I remember very distinctly,

Mwita, an Our Father’s House volunteer: “Where are you sleeping these days?”

Daudi: “Kwetu, the place that Rafi and Saimoni and Chacha rented. I always sleep there.”

I had been pretty disappointed in our inability to help Daudi, but this news made me happy.

Of course, it would have been better if these children were still with their birth families. It would have been better if we could have reunited them with families. But given the facts that both of those were no longer options and that these young men had remained on the streets, we are pretty thankful to have finally helped them to find a safe place to sleep.

In these pictures are four of the five youth who are staying here.

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All names changed for client protection.