A visit from a good friend
As a guest of the Rt Rev Given Gaula, Rev Lillian, and Peter & Chris Akester, I offer my deep appreciation for making their home, my home also. Bishop Given and I were students at St Johns College together until he was consecrated the Bishop of Kondoa. Kondoa is where my colleagues Iri and Kate Mato served until their recent retirement and return to Aotearoa, New Zealand. Mission in the Tanzanian field is far beyond our western understanding so it has been both humbling and exciting to experience first-hand, where Iri and Kate lived, prayed, worked, and played. We in Aotearoa are thankful for their service and mission work throughout the Kondoa region.
The Maori people in Aotearoa can only imagine how the fiery setting sun and the rhythmic beat of village drums is what the people of Tanzania represent. And even then, it would be very difficult to fully conceive what it was like to be amongst its people and fellow Christians. Nestled in the wilderness is that busy town of Kondoa and getting there meant having to cope with miles of hot, dusty, mostly unsealed, and deeply corrugated roads. Seeing the villagers transporting firewood, 20 gallon containers of water, and large sacks of maize, upon their heads or bicycles, was an insight into normal activity. Herds of cows and goats being led, by their loving carers, to drinking water and what little grazing there was on offer was very heartening.
Being in the midst of this busy, diverse, 96% Muslim town, in particular at the Kondoa Bible College, gave me an insight into the challenges the Diocese faces with its smaller Christian communities. Having a college geared up to train and theologically educate ordinands and existing pastors is a blessing indeed. It was such a privilege to spend time with many of the students, staff, pastors, and also Mother’s Union. The opportunity to preach, inspire, motivate, and share my ministry stories was a chance to help them understand the challenges we have here in Aotearoa also. At times I felt I was a bit of a novelty because of being a female pastor in leadership. It seemed as if our different cultures offered some good discussions which led to moments of respectful understanding.
Topics of particular interest included human sexuality, women in ministry, marriage, leadership, technology, and support systems. There was a good deal of attentiveness to find out more about my being unmarried and without children. Women without husbands and children is unusual and although I offered an explanation it was still mystifying to them. At one point, a student asked, “What is wrong with you then, that you are not married?” I could not contain my initial amusement but answered the question seriously by sharing stories about the violent behaviour of some of my brothers toward their wives and children. Another person inquired about my sexuality and polygamy. They wanted to know if Aotearoa was for or against the act of homosexuality. With General Synod 2016 yet to meet, I could not offer the ‘yes or no’ answer they were looking for. As a woman pastor in leadership I was extremely honoured to be asked by Bishop Given to inspire and encourage Tanzanian women to ministry and ordination. This was well received however, women will need the full support of their husbands for this to happen. This is a direct challenge from me to all the men in the Diocese of Kondoa!
To simply say that the villages I have visited in the Diocese were an eye-opener would be an understatement. Wherever I went there was an overwhelming warmth of hospitality, singing, praise, prayer, and colour. At times I was moved to tears of joy. I visited the villages of Kidoka, Wekense, and two small mission stations along the way. Locals were busy making ‘bricks’ to build a school. They were also putting up a well to get water from underground.
It was such a pleasure to see Bishop Given being with his own people. His ministry has been a great source of inspiration to me. Bishop revealed a natural ability to be a loving Shepherd, a caring Pastor to the pastors, a steady motivator, a bold leader, and a courageous visionary. God has certainly gifted him with a loving ministry that teaches us all the virtues of faith and hope. In a dry parched region that suffers from poverty, disease, lack of medical assistance and very few schools it is critical to have a leader that points us to the light of Christ and love of God. Every time I listen to the video recordings, I made during my visit, I am able to relive the times we spent with each other being inspired by Bishop Given’s leadership. To God be the glory.
It was also heart-warming to bring good news from Te Hui Amorangi o Te Tai Tokerau who have recommitted to a further five years financial support. This commitment will help the Diocese complete some of their current projects as well as contribute towards the many aspirations that are on the horizon. Also, Te Hui Amorangi o Te Tai Tokerau will send a representative each year to continue our relationships and strengthen the bonds we value already.
I will forever remember my journey to Tanzania, in particular Kondoa, and the warmth and generosity of its people. Those village drums, singers, and dancers will carry the song of Aotearoa, “ka nukunuku, ka nekeneke” well into the future. Likewise, Kondoa will forever beat in my heart and the experiences I have had will be honoured through my ministry formation and mission. Thank you Kondoa and may God’s blessings be upon you and your loving people for ever more.
"Return to your house and describe what great things God has done for you."