A quick Swahili primer. In Swahili, every vowel has only one sound and is never silent. It’s like Spanish in that way.
English, on the other hand, has two sounds per vowel (long and short) plus additional sounds based on surrounding letters and vowels are often silent. Take the word “banana.” In English, the first and last a’s sounds like “uh,” the second like the a in “an.” None of these a’s sound like either the long or short a sounds. Very confusing to learn to pronounce! And that’s just one word.
In Swahili, every a in banana sounds the same—short a, like “aah.” Baahnaahnaah. Simple. The only hard part is unlearning wacky English vowels!
Here’s a Swahili vowel pronunciation guide.
a = short a, like “aah”
e = long a, like in “way” or “eh”
i = long e, like in “key”
o = long o, like in “whoa”
u = long u, like in “you” or “boo”
For example, Kirangare is pronounced Key Rahn Gah Ray.
Why this Swahili language introduction? Because without it, you will mispronounce both the Counseling Foundation and the name of its founder.
Nahana Mathias is pronounced Nah Ha Nah. Mah Tee Aahs. (No time for a primer on consonants! Trust me on the ‘th’.)
Same is pronounced Sah May.
Same (sah may) is a town, sometimes called Same Town, where the Pare (pah ray) Diocese has its offices. The Same Counseling Foundation offices are located in the same building as the Pare Diocese offices. Maybe because the Pare Diocese Bishop Charles Mjema (mm jay mah) is married to the Foundation’s founder, Pastor Nahana Mathias (nah ha nah, ma tee aahs).
Thank you very much—Asante sana (aah sahn tay, sah nah). Now we can begin.
We returned to the Pare Diocese offices a second time because Same was on the way from Kirangare to Arusha, our safari staging point. And also because the Bishop wasn’t there the first time we stopped. But as it was, the wife of a Pare Diocese pastor died and the bishop was called a way for the funeral. So when we arrived at the Diocese office a second time, he, understandably, was not there.
But Pastor Nahana Mathias was, and we sat with her for some time in the Same Counseling Foundation offices. We got to know her and her work.
The Pare Diocese ordains women. Not all do in Tanzania. Pastor Nahana Mathias was the third woman ordained in the Pare Diocese. (For a sense of when that was, she and Pastor Fue graduated seminary at the same time. Pastor Fue was ordained in 2006, the same year I was.) So from the first congregation she served in Hedaru (head are ooh), she was learning to love people who didn’t love her, or at least who didn’t want her to be their pastor.
“Don’t fight them,” she recalled her father telling her. “God will fight for you.”
So she invited a male pastor to worship each week to serve communion with her. “Receive communion from me or him,” she told the congregation. And without bitterness, she let them be free to choose. It wasn’t easy, but by the end of her tenure in Hedaru, she had totally won the congregation over.
The scope of her work with the Same Counseling Foundation is, I’m sure, broader than I’m about to describe. But the heart of our conversation seemed to also be the heart of that work—providing counseling and support for women and girls who survived rape, incest, forced marriage, and domestic abuse…and for the men who abused them and the parents who either approved or neglected their daughters.
Both parts of the work are very hard.
One woman, early in the Foundation’s work, ran through town crying and came to the door of Pastor Mathias’s home completely naked. Pastor Mathias’s husband answered the door. In shame, he ran away. Her young daughter came to the door next and ran away too. Then Pastor Mathias came to clothe and console the woman, but the unintentional shaming of these initial reactions still hurt her.
This convinced Pastor Mathias that the Foundation needed its own Safe House, where women could come and be received in complete love. The Safe House is now a place where women and girls come and stay and begin to recover, through counseling and relationship with healed survivors, and with legal help and vocational training.
All these various expressions of love, including with abusers and parents, are evident in the case of one young girl.
At twelve years old, she was forced to marry a man of 49. This is illegal in Tanzania but still happens. The man paid the parents a bride price, which they used to buy land. So when, nine months later, the girl escaped to the Same Counseling Foundation, everyone except the girl was mad at Pastor Nahana Mathias.
Of course, her focus was on the girl and her well being. The Foundation surrounded the girl with love, protecting her; feeding, clothing, and housing her; providing counseling; and bringing her legal case to court.
And soon after, the work of loving enemies began. The Foundation provided counseling and education to the girl's parents. And after he was prosecuted and sent to prison, to the man as well.
How easy to summarize and how hard to live, day by day! "We need your encouragement!" Pastor Mathias said. "We need your prayers! The work pulls us down. We need you to lift us back up again."
In the end, the girl and her parents were reconciled. They were remorseful after they came to see how harmful their actions had been. The man also repented. And as she would have, God willing, with or without their repentance, the girl came to a new wholeness.
The woman who came to Pastor Mathias's home naked also found healing with the Same Counseling Foundation. She became a teacher, thanks to the vocational training that the Foundation provided. And she works with the Foundation now as a healer, instead of one seeking healing. She met and built a supportive relationship with the girl. And she looks for opportunities to answer the call to be a healer through teaching and loving her students.
When Angelina, the Foundation Coordinator invited us to become members, I agreed. "Pastor Fue had me preach yesterday on 'Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.' so I better practice what I preached," I joked.
But honestly, Sara, my wife, primed me. She visited the Same Counseling Foundation a few years ago and came home from Tanzania singing Pastor Mathias's praises. I was grateful Sara sent me with a special note and gift to give to help lift them up. And gladly, I filled out the membership form and paid my 50,000 shillings—roughly $20 to $25 US which I otherwise would've just spent on souvenirs.
In a country of 64 million people, there is only one other counseling center like this one. And in a country with almost 8 million Lutherans (2.5 times the number in the US!), there are also only five other female pastors, with 10 more soon to graduate and be ordained. Nahana Mathias Mjema is not afraid to blaze trails.
Nahana means, "No debt" or "Someone paid for me." And she definitely lives freer than most people to love herself, her neighbors, and her enemies.
So some of my heart remains with Same Counseling Foundation, and the woman and girl, and Pastor Nahana Mathias and Angelina. Because that's how Jesus said it works—treasure first, then heart follows.
Thank God for their gentle, prophetic, trailblazing ministry.
And by the way, Bishop Mjema arrived just as we were leaving. He had hurried back from the funeral because he was eager to see us. He greeted us on behalf of the Pare Diocese. I greeted him on behalf of Bishop Amy Current and the Synod, and I gave him a Southeastern Iowa shirt. He showed us a picture from his and his wife, Nahana's visit to Iowa and our Synod Center for Ministry several years ago.
Bishop Mjema is eager to strengthen a relationship with Bishop Current and renew the Diocese Companionship Covenantwith our Synod.
We hope to see him again later today, while we're back in Mwanga with Pastor Fue and his family after our safari. I forgot to give him the picture of Zion!