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/.
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.
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.
He’s also fond of working hard, and over the last seven months, we’ve seen him take more and more leadership in the Our Father’s House Brick Project.
We’ve been thankful to see a young man who lived several years on the streets and missed out on his schooling take so much initiative and work to move his life forward.
On Thursday night, he was clipped by a semi truck. The driver did not stop. We are deeply thankful that he was clipped, instead of run over. Had the truck veered a few more inches to the left, things would have been different.
He was discharged from the Tarime District Hospital this morning, but he still has trouble with dizziness, balance, head pain, drowsiness, and eyesight focus. The x-ray of his head detected nothing abnormal, but the doctor wants him to go to a better hospital, four hours away, to get a CT Scan, and for “further examination and management”.
The costs have already been much higher than we had budgeted for health expenses for Yusufu for the year, and will get higher with the CT scan, and transport and lodging for his stay in Mwanza, possibly reaching $500. If you want to send a gift to help us cover these costs, that would be great.
I appreciated my Dad talking to me on skype yesterday. I talked about how we have given the youth the job of making 2500 bricks. The job is in a rural area, so we found a place for them to live out there, and they are to manage themselves until the job is done.
“Dad, it’s exhausting going out there everyday. They are having a hard time managing themselves, and when they have trouble, it normally falls on me to solve it. I’m not the person for that. I don’t really know how Tanzanians think, but it’s especially difficult with youth that have lived on the streets. I don’t know what it’s like to live on the streets. How do they think? What do they care about? What motivates them? How do I solve a disagreement they have? And I just feel that we are so far away from them running the business on their own.”
Dad: “Every bit of that is true, but that’s not what you need to be focusing on.”
Me: “I know. I agree. It’s just on my mind a lot right now. Yeah, let’s talk about what I should focus on.”
Dad: “Okay, explain to me what these boys are trying to do.”
Me: “They’re making 2500 bricks in 3 weeks. It’s too far away from town for them to travel everyday, so they are living there until the job is done. This is normal for brick-makers. They need to be taking more and more of the responsibility each day, but they’re having trouble managing themselves.”
Dad: “I’m kind of impressed.”
Dad: “Let me ask you a question. When was the last time any of these young men had major responsibilities every day?”
Me: “Wow. Um. I guess it’s been years. If… if they have ever had them. Actually, I guess most or all have never had major responsibilities.”
Dad: “Well, I know they have had to work.”
Me: “Sure, they used to steal or collect scrap metal everyday to get food. And at our normal brick site they come, make bricks for a few hours, and then go back to the streets or their home. But to wake up each day and have major responsibilities that take a lot of thought to execute… I guess that’s entirely new to them.”
Dad: “Okay, another question… are these youth used to spending long periods of time doing nothing?”
Me: “Yeah, absolutely. If I go to where they hang out in the middle of the day, they’re always playing cards or this little gambling game with rocks. They do it for hours.”
Dad: “This is a really new thing for them to do. I’m impressed that they are doing it. I’m impressed that they have made it this far.”
Me: “You’re right. I guess I’ve just been comparing their progress with what other brick-makers would be doing. I hadn’t thought to compare their progress with what they’ve been doing everyday for the last five years of their life. It is impressive that they are doing this well.”
They have learned to ask neighbors to get water for them, and keep track of how much everyone brought, so that everyone gets paid correctly. They’ve also learned to write receipts for this.
We now give them the money for water, and we’ve been able to trust them.
We gave them a large amount of money last Sunday (about $45) , to buy flour, a stove, a plastic dish, blankets and mats. They used they money they needed, got receipts for everything, and returned the change. For folks who once lived by stealing, that’s a big step.
They’ve made 1170 bricks, and have stepped up the quality. Here are a few of them.
On Friday, Tanzanians celebrated Eid al-Fitr. On Thursday, four of the five youth came to me saying, “Hey, we’ve made a lot of bricks. We want our pay now, so we can go to town and celebrate Eid. Bring other workers to finish the job.”
I tried to explain that if you agree to do a job, and then stop in the middle, that hurts your reputation. It will be difficult to find work if you do this. They reluctantly agreed, but I went home anxious, worried they would demand more intensely when I returned the next morning- the morning of Eid.
When I arrived at 7:15 the next morning though, there was no mention of Eid or returning to town. They were already awake, watering the bricks, mixing sand, getting neighbors to bring water. I was relieved and asked Yusufu what had happened.
“We talked yesterday, Davis. We agreed that we can’t quit in the middle of our job and go eat Eid. I convinced them to keep working, and to even get up early for work today. But I have one request.”
“It is welcome. Tell me.”
“We want to have own little Eid, out here. We want to use some of our food money to buy spaghetti and sugar tonight, instead of just sweet potatoes. We know it will cost more, but we want to eat Eid like everyone else.”
“That’s a great idea, Yusufu. You can have it for sure. How much does spaghetti cost…
The title means, “It’s a long journey, but we’re moving ahead.”
(Two more pictures, which they asked me to share with you.)
A friend of mine (different friend from the one in the prev blog, “Best Way to Eat Easter”) was one of the original youth who Tarime UMC worked with when they started their outreach for children and youth living on the streets (called Our Father’s House), in 2012. After a few months of getting to know him, the Church started to do family counseling so that he might return home, advised him to stop stealing phones and scrap metal, and tried to get him to return to school, even being ready to buy school uniforms. They made a little progress with him- he started living with his mother for short periods- but on the whole, he wasn’t interested. He kept stealing, and refused to return to school.
After a few years of this, the Our Father’s House staff saw that they were investing a lot of time in my friend, while ignoring other youth. Since he refused their help, they decided to focus on the other youth on the streets, who were headed down the same bleak path.
One day last November, five of the Our Father’s House youth started working with the brick business. On the next day though, only three of the five returned. I asked Mwita (Our Father’s House director at the time) what happened, and he told me that folks were telling them not to work there, because stealing scrap metal paid better. It turned out that one of the folks giving this advice was my friend.
We found two youth to take the place of those who had followed my friend’s advice, and they worked steadily until mid-March, when one of the youth, Marwa, injured his arm. Until Marwa healed, I wanted to give his spot to a young man who had asked earlier if he could join the project, but he was in jail. It was late, and to our surprise, my friend requested the spot. We gave him the job for one day, and told him we would find someone else tomorrow.
We were shocked when my friend worked harder than everyone else. Yusufu, the youth who had taken the role as supervisor, begged us to keep him on, at least until Marwa was healthy. We reluctantly agreed, and my friend kept up the same above-and-beyond performance (the title roughly means “He/she is working hard”).
We still intended to ask him to leave the project once Marwa’s arm healed. One day, though, we needed the youth to help stack up the bricks they had made. They were supposed to be doing this all along and had neglected it, so they had to do it without pay. By this time, Marwa had healed, but he refused to help, as did all of the other youth- except Josef Marwa, and my friend. My friend worked at his usual intense pace, surprising us all.
On May 11th, Mwita and I held a meeting with the youth. We discussed several different things, and one of them was whether to keep my friend on. We all agreed that he was working incredibly hard, and proving to us that he wanted a job, instead of continuing with his scrap metal theft. We all agreed to give him a spot.
I don’t want to give you the impression that this is the end of a beautiful story. We have seen some of these young folks on the streets change for a time, and then return to the life they left. We have a long way to go with my friend, but this is encouraging news for now.
Finally, if anyone wants to sponsor one of these young folks as we either reunite them with a family, or to help them get a job and learn work skills through the brick project, you can let me know. Sponsorship is $40/month, and we could certainly do more and better work if we had more sponsors.
I have a friend here in Tanzania whose mother is a prostitute*. This is the reason he has been living on the streets for years, and missed out on his education, and cannot read. He just finds it too challenging to live with her.
I don’t know how my friend feels about the fact that his mother hasn’t taken better care of him. I just assume that whatever he feels, he’s not real happy about it.
Our brick business has provided him with a job and skills training, and on March 26th, he asked to take out his savings after six days of brick-making. Moses, director of Our Father’s House, asked him what for. “To celebrate Easter”, he said. Normally, Tanzanians celebrate Easter by buying new clothes and shoes, so Moses agreed.
A week or so later I was in Tarime with Mwita, a volunteer who knows these youth better than anyone else does. We ran into my friend, and their conversation went something like,
Mwita: What news of Easter? I heard you travelled.
My friend: Yeah, I travelled.
Mwita: You went to Nyamongo?
My friend: Yeah, I went to my mother.
Mwita: To celebrate Easter together?
My friend: Yeah. On Saturday, I got some white potatoes and cooking bananas at the bus stand and got a car to Nyamongo.
Mwita: O wow! She was happy?
My friend: Yeah, she was happy.
Mwita: So you ate Easter with her? (This is a common Swahili expression, just means “enjoyed Easter…”)
My friend: Yeah, she cooked the potatoes and bananas and we ate Easter together.
Mwita: How long did you stay?
My friend: I returned to Tarime Monday morning.
I was thankful for the brick business, so that my friend could do this for his mother without stealing a phone or scrap metal. I was more thankful, though, for my friend’s heart. After all the trouble that he has had with his mother, he still loves her. It reminded me of another story, one that starts with “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…”
* I don’t know his mother’s story, and I’m not wanting to paint her as black-hearted here. It’s an awful fact of life in Tanzania that many (at least 1 out of 50) females find themselves being forced into prostitute-type behavior from a young age. Some of you may have heard this story, but in posting it on social media, I wanted to keep his name out of it. That is why I simply refer to him as my friend.
I am thankful that the Our Father’s House brick business has given a job to five youth who have a bleak future due to missing out on their education. Our plan, though, is for these youth to supervise and make the everyday decisions of the project, not just to work for it, and this transition will be made by September 1st. This is a long way for these youth to go, so I was delighted by a certain conversation that we had back in March when I was meeting with Mwita (a volunteer who has worked with these youth for years) and Kagose (a professional builder who works with the project).
Davis: So, what if two youth worked each day, as in Sam and Marwa one day, Josef and Yusufu one day, until we finish the last 200 bricks?
Mwita: Aaahhh, yes, that is a good idea. We’ll pay 10,000/day, and we’ll be able to finish the 200 bricks with the last 30,000.
Kagose: Yes, this is a good idea, but one thing; two youth can make 80 bricks in a day if Yusufu is there, but if he isn’t there, it will be difficult.
Davis: Oh, so Yusufu has more strength?
Kagose: Well, he does have more strength, but the main reason they can make more bricks when he is there is because he takes the work more seriously and gets them to stop playing around so much.
Davis: Oh. Well that’s really good news.
Kagose: Yeah, I think what we could do is to have Yusufu and Sam one day, Yusufu and Marwa the next day, and then Yusufu and Josef the third day. That way, we’ll finish the last 200 bricks. They’ll only need to make 40 bricks on the third day.
This plan worked as Kagose predicted, so I suggested that Yusufu take over as site supervisor starting April 1st. Kagose agreed that he should be able to do this, so we asked Yusufu if we could have a quick meeting with him.
As all four of the project leaders pulled up chairs to talk to him, Yusufu tried to look cool as always, but it was clear that he was nervous.
“Yusufu”, I began, “Kagose told me that you put your heart into your work, more than the other youth. When you work hard like this, the other youth also work harder. Kagose also said you get them to take the work seriously. We intend for this project to be in the youth’s hands, so we are going to be giving all of you responsibility little by little. Do you think you will be able to start doing the work of site supervisor on April 1st? Since this is a increase in your responsibility, we will increase your pay. I know this is a lot of responsibility, so how do you see all this?”
Yusufu softly, but confidently, replied, “Naweza” (I am able), and smiled.
I never saw myself on the management side of a strike. When I came to Tanzania to serve people who are suffering, I thought that I had moved about as far away from that as possible.
But that’s where I found myself on March 10, 2018.
The young men who work for the brick project had shown up for work on the day before, but had decided that the work was too much. They wanted to return to the previous pay scale, where they were paid a flat rate. They had quit working and returned to the streets.
It was a strange feeling to have worked so hard to help these five young men, and then have them complain that we were treating them unfairly. These five folks are just as real as me though, and if all five of them see the world differently from me, then that’s good evidence that I’m missing something.
So I talked to the Tanzanians who are supervising the project, and we decided to listen to the youth. We met in the Church, the youth sitting across from us in plastic chairs, the four of us on wooden benches.
“The work is hard, and the money is small”, they began. Why couldn’t they return to the previous pay scale, instead of being paid per-brick? Could they have gum boots and gloves? And carrying that heavy machine back into the shed each day gets old. Can they save money by cooking for themselves instead of us paying a cook?
Mwita, a volunteer who has worked with these youth since 2012, took the lead in replying. He explained that this project had been started with a grant from a Church, but the project was meant to be a self-sustaining business. They had been paid a flat rate from the grant during the training phase, as they learned how to use the machine. This rate had often been greater than the market value of the bricks they were making. That was fine in the training phase, but now that they have learned make the bricks, we can’t keep doing that, or the business will run at a loss and die.
Mwita also knew that these young men were suspicious that we were going to be making a killing off of them. So he proceeded to show them how much the bricks sold for, and exactly where every shilling was going, so they would see why we cannot afford to increase their pay right now. A couple of us lent our phones so that 2 of the better-educated youth could run the simple calculations themselves.
We embraced the idea of them cooking for themselves, and showed them how much more they would be making with this change. We also explained to them that their pay would be going up next month, as they learned to supervise themselves and our current supervisor’s paid position became unnecessary.
At the end of the meeting, everyone was happy, including me. I was thankful that we had decided to listen to them and respond to their concerns.
Since then, they have steadily increased from making 120 bricks in a day to 200 in a day. On two of the last three days of work, they worked well without supervision. After the cooking change and the production increase, the money they make in a day has nearly doubled. On Monday the 26th, they were pretty excited to use the money they had saved to buy new clothes, shoes, and food.
Hello friends! I crossed the border into Tanzania on February 16th, and I have been thankful to be back to work for the last three weeks.
I have also been thankful that the United Methodist Committee on Relief has sponsored a major scale-up of our savings and loan groups. We had been working on starting them at five Churches in the Mwanza region and seven Churches in the Mara region. Since receiving the grant on January 15th, we have expanded our work to seven Churches in the Geita region and eight in the Dodoma region as well. I couldn’t find them all, but this should give you a general picture of where we are working:
(Yellow markers= Churches we are working with)
As I have tried to start these groups over the last eighteen months, the Churches have resisted, reluctant to participate in a program where they don’t receive money, Church buildings, or other resources that they expect missionaries to bring. Once the groups are started, they have expected me to make a large contribution. We have managed to get four groups started, but it has been rough going. We’ve compared our rocky start with the more successful savings group programs of other Churches in the area, and have seen how valuable it would be if we could hire Tanzanians to do the on the ground work that I have been doing. Good news- this grant has done that (the title means, “Let’s get Tanzanians to empower Tanzanians”). My role in the savings groups is now only to supervise the monitoring, and supervise the statistical evaluation of the groups’ success.
You may remember Mzee Steven Baruani from previous updates. He really took advantage of our program and expanded his hair dressing business. Upon seeing that he had really learned to focus on the resources he had, (instead of what he didn’t have), we hired him a few times to do some on the ground work. With the grant, we have now been able to hire him as coordinator for all five Churches in the Mwanza region. It’s been encouraging to see him go all the way through the program, from mired in the dependency mindset, to leading others into a new way of thinking.
Quick update on the brick project- while I was away, the Tanzanians I left in charge were able to sell 300 of the 350 bricks that we had made, for 400,000 TSH ($176). More customers were interested, but we did not yet have enough bricks to meet their demand- a good problem for a business to have. Over the last three weeks, we’ve been working on getting up to the speed necessary to meet this new demand and make more sales.
Thank you for your kindness to the people of Tanzania, friends.
I’m pretty happy that the brick project is underway. We haven’t sold any yet, but I am happy that we are making bricks, so we can be ready to sell, cover our costs, build up profit, and use the profit to subsidize bricks for Church construction.
I am even more happy to be providing a hope and a future to five young folks who missed their education due to living on the streets. (The title means, “hope for the later life”. Sounds strange translated directly, but this is how to express “hope for the future” in Swahili.) You can meet them here. These pictures were taken at their request, and they were insistent that I include their self-given, English nicknames.
Sam, Uncle Boy
Mwita (Mwita directs our efforts to reunite children and youth living on the streets with their families) met Sam on the streets during February of this year, and quickly learned that Sam lives with his father. They get along quite well, so Sam only goes to the streets when his father cannot provide for him. Unfortunately, these times are pretty common. Given their poverty, school uniforms are out of the question, which is why Sam has long stopped attending school.
Yusufu, Super The One Baby.
Mwita met Yusufu on the streets four years ago. Over time, Mwita helped Yusufu to learn to live with his elderly grandmother and leave the streets. Unfortunately, Yusufu hasn’t been to school in four years, and is too far behind to return now, so we are thankful to him a job and skills with the brick project.
Marwa, For the Business
After years of a difficult relationship with his mother, Marwa decided life would be better on the streets. When Mwita got involved in the life of Marwa and his mother, he wondered if a little bit of communication could go a long way, and advised Marwa’s mother to simply communicate with Marwa each day. Mwita also advised Marwa to seek communication with his mother, to push her on it, instead of just running to the streets when he got fed up. This has been working surprisingly well- Marwa has been back living with his mother for several months now. As with the others though, this challenging situation took several of Marwa’s school years, and he is now too far behind to return to school.
Mwita met Matiko on the streets four years ago. At the time, Matiko’s father was working in Nyamongo, a gold mine town 15 miles away from Tarime. His mother was buying fruit in bulk and selling it, and his older sister was unable to leave the house, due to frequent seizures. Matiko had left because he didn’t get along with the family. Mwita started meeting with Matiko, Matiko’s father, and his mother. After awhile, they all agreed that if they would work at communicating with each other more, the situation would really improve. And it did- Matiko has been living at home for the last two years. A pretty rough tragedy came to their family when his older sister drowned three weeks ago. Mwita and I attended the funeral, and we are hoping that this project can give Matiko something positive to focus on during this awful time.
Josef Marwa, Star Boy
Mwita met Josef on the streets 3 years ago. Josef’s mother doesn’t do much to care for him, so Mwita tried to unite Josef with his grandmother. It turned out that the grandmother wasn’t able to provide for him, and didn’t even have a place for him to sleep, so he has returned to the streets. It was beautiful though, when, a few days ago, Josef visited Mwita to tell him that his mother is sick and he wants to go to Nyamongo to visit her. I’m hoping he will be able to make the trip.
Finally, I’m also thankful that we have been able to provide Mama Eppy with some employment. We use a portion of the youth’s daily pay to pay her to cook for them. (I know it looks like I rudely took this photo while she was eating. I promise it was posed, and that she specifically requested that I take a picture of her holding some ugali.)
Thank you for what you have done to love these people.