I just came back from visiting one of our churches in the village. Whenever I go to the village, I go prepared for anything. Not wanting to be a burden to my brethren in the village, I carry everything that I need. In the old days of the charismatic gospel, preachers were taught to expect to be ministered to by their hosts in everything. Not anymore. When the gospel of the cross came into our church, it threw that bossy attitude out.
The only thing I do not carry when I go to the village is food. I never carry any kind of food. I desire to share what the villagers have. In the first place, I love the indigenous cuisine. It is not wide in variety; much of the time it is just maize or millet meal with indigenous greens. But there is also milk and honey, two delicacies that are close to my heart (or, more appropriately, my stomach).
The other reason why I don’t carry food to the villages is because I do not want to bring up the image that I am special species of human being. Even if I am not absolutely ecstatic about the food that my hosts sometimes put before me, yet the Bible says that the Kingdom of God is not food and drink. With me, it is more important to mesh in with my brethren in the Lord than to cater to my refined tastes. The Bible says that was what Moses did (Heb. 11:24-26).
I go prepared for everything and anything. Sometimes I sleep on a mat because there is no mattress. One thing I have never found in the village is a pillow. But for me that is no problem; I use my Giorgio Armani coat for a pillow. (That coat was given to me by a friend and I often wonder how he would feel if he knew the uses that I put it to. That’s the same coat you will find me wearing back in town. Whenever I am invited to a wedding or any other high-class functions, I take the coat to the drycleaners; and no one at those parties has a clue that the coat that I am wearing is the same one that I use for a pillow in the villages. I can attest to the fact that Giorgio Armani are the best in the world. I have used (and misused) this coat for years, and it still looks brand new!)
And then there are the snakes, bugs, bats, rats, ants… I remember I once slept in this man’s house, and unfortunately the man had built his house right on top of a ‘safari’ ant colony. It was raining, and the ants came up at night and encircled me. The whole room was filled with them, right up to the roof! The modus operandi of these fellows is that once they have besieged an enemy and covered him from head to toe, they initiate a signal at which they begin biting all at once. And their bite is extremely toxic and painful. But I woke up, asked the hosts for some fire and fought them off – after which I went right back to sleep. For the next two days, the same thing happened; but for me, rather than it being an inconvenience, it was an adventure.
My first encounter with bedbugs, however, left me wondering whether I was ready to continue with this ‘apostolic’ job. Bedbugs are my worst nightmare, and my body began twitching uncontrollably the minute I realized that I was going to sleep in that bed. But that was some years back. Today it is a completely different story. I am used to every kind of situation. Nowadays, if I am woken up by a bedbug biting or crawling over my body, I just swat it away and go back to sleep. Much of the time, though, I am blissfully unaware of their presence since the minute I hit the sack I pass out, never to return till morning.
In the villages, we walk, at times tens of kilometres in a day. Homesteads are far and apart, and there is virtually no form of transport save for the occasional motorcycle taxi which we hardly ever take since we cannot afford it. The village folks are used to walking and the longest distance you can walk hardly fazes them. But for we townsfolk, by the time you arrive back home you are in a near-vegetative state.
But, despite these hardships, the village is the place where I love to be. It is the place I enjoy life to the extreme. The fresh air, the beautiful scenery, the open sky are things I cannot resist. Memories of childhood adventures in the semi-wild environment and the hint of danger at every turn… The freedom and the thrill that a stint in the village affords me is priceless. Here, I have not a care in the world.
But village life has taught me many valuable lessons too. One of those lessons relates to the love of God. The soil in central Tanzania is particularly hard to farm and the people live a hard and thrifty life. But God has given these people many provisions by which to live, things that you cannot notice if you are just passing by. They have honey, they have milk; and they have indigenous vegetables and fruits. The “mpama”, which grows only in central Tanzania, is the sweetest fruit I have ever tasted.
And then, of course, there is the local lore – stories of long ago. I have learned, for example, that the Nyaturu people, among whom I work, are migrants from Ethiopia. Indeed, their language is distinctly different from the Bantu dialects of their neighbors.
There are all kinds of ‘incidents’ in the villages. A while back, I heard one that left me speechless…
[Your bed and mattress, all in one]