Today I baptized two baby girls, Happiness and Irene.
This happened in Makasa Lutheran Church, the mother church to Kirangare. Pastor Fue was appointed to both, and even though Zion had companionship with Kirangare, not Makasa, the people of Makasa insisted that Joseph and I come.
We walked there, Pastor Fue, Jasper, Joseph and I, over the ridge to the other side of the mountain. It was a longer walk than to Idaru and longer than tomorrow's walk to Mpare. We went pole, pole. Slowly, slowly.
On the way out of Kirangare, we passed Pastor Fue's mother's house, which is where he lives now. And we passed the place he was raised. The place he herded cows. The place he went to primary school. The place he was baptized. And in Makasa, our destination, Pastor Fue has family. This is very deeply home territory for him.
But his family lives far away, in Mwanga. Home is where his wife and children are.
As we walked and talked, I learned that the economics and geography of ministry in the U.S. and Tanzania are not so different. For example, the bishop assigned Pastor Fue to Kirangare and Makasa because Kirangare alone could not pay him adequately. And even the two together are below standard.
This is common enough in the U.S., in both rural and center city congregations.More, Pastor Fue's family cannot move to Kirangare. His wife, Navotha is a teacher at Mwanga School for the Deaf. She is a specialist, and there is no such school here. I commuted to Clinton for the same reasons, my wife Sara's work could not move.
These challenges together mean many pastors do not want to be assigned here. But this is home for Pastor Fue, which is maybe why the bishop assigned him. He serves without resentment, even though he and his family feel the burden. Perhaps his grandfathers advice still strengthens him: “If they need you, do not refuse.”
Makasa's welcome was different. A dozen people met us at the bottom of the hill and sang us up to the church building, which sat in the middle of the concrete bones of a new church building that's being built around the old, pole pole.
Makasa's evangelist, Imannueli Mkele, met us and greeted us warmly.
But instead of going directly inside, we went behind it to the pastor's office to wait. I didn't ask why. I was glad to withdraw a bit. I caught good cell service and was free to upload photos to my messages from yesterday and earlier this morning. After an emotional day yesterday and a partially sleepless night processing and writing the story and thinking about a future trip to Kirangare, I was glad to simply scroll photos on my phone and not be the center of attention.
Also, our hosts gave us sweet, sweet sugar cane.
Here they cultivate many crops: corn, bananas, beans, potatoes, yams, ginger, mangos, oranges, watermelon, cucumbers, spinach, Guatemala grass for cow feed, trees for electric poles and firewood, and, of course, sugar cane. They till the land by hand, with hoes, in terraced plots on the mountainside. Now it is early summer, here south of the equator. In a few weeks it will be rainy season. So maybe half the cultivated land stands empty, tilled and waiting for the rains and planting. (You can see this in the picture of Pastor Fue's mother's house above.)
Last evening, while chasing a cell signal with Joseph and Jasper, we saw children chewing sugar cane. Joseph said he used to do the same thing as a child in Georgia. I said I'd never had it. Jasper brightened. He said, "Tomorrow they will cut sugar cane for you in Makasa! They have softer ones. You can't chew these."
But as I write, I remember it's not true. I've had mojitos with sugar cane. Let's agree that doesn't count.
Joseph and I ate our first bites at the same time. He chewed it and then spit out the pulp. I was embarrassed to do the same, and I did not believe him when he said I should. So I chewed and drank the sweet juice and I chewed and chewed and chewed and then swallowed. When Pastor Fue came back, he looked at me with alarm and asked, "Where is your pulp?" I said I swallowed it. "Oh no! You can't swallow it!"
On the walk home, it was a good joke for all the evangelists.
When the choir arrived, we were called inside for the greeting and the baptisms. We lined up with them and we processed Tazanian style into the church building, with short, staccato matching steps and arms swaying to the beat of our feet.
Inside the choir sang and sang again. Then Makasa's leaders greeted us and gave us gifts. They wrapped Joseph and I in Maasi shuka, the traditional cloth outer wrapping or cloak of the Maasi people. They said they clothe us as a gift of love, showing we have a place in their house.
In my new Maasi shuka, I baptized Happiness and Irene as their parents held them over a basin. I spoke these familiar words in English. I laid hands on their heads and blessed them in English. The rest, Pastor Fue and the parents spoke in Swahili.
After the baptism, I greeted the people of Makasa on your behalf. And I shared our gift of love, the photograph I took of us in worship a couple weeks ago. I'm giving this wherever I go—Idaru, the Kivatiro's, Makasa, tomorrow to Mpare, and later to Mirindi, the members of the Companionship Committee, to Sara and Rachel who serve us, to the Bishop of the Pare Diocese, and frankly to anyone else I can think of. I brought 32 of them.
Today's baptisms were a great honor for me. My only regret is I did not get to hold the babies. I wanted to ask after it was done but I didn't. Everyone knows this is the best part of baptizing babies. Holding them. Even the squirmy, cranky ones.
So now I have to come back, and maybe with you, to see how these beautiful daughters of God are growing. And maybe to give them a squeeze.