Today we walked to Idaru. Before we left, Jasper, the chair of the Companionship Committee, explained that Kirangare is the center. A handful of villages are around it. Several villages have primary schools. Kirangare has a primary school too and the only secondary school.
So also with the church. Kirangare Lutheran Parish is more than a congregation, because it includes other villages. It is the center. Other villages host preaching points: Mpare, Mirindi, and Idaru.
To go to Idaru, we walked along a dusty road. We had to mind motorbikes speeding by in both directions, loaded with cargo or passengers. Once or twice a car passed us. They call them cars but they are like Range Rovers, except Toyotas, because the roads are rough and up the mountain it is steep. But the road from the Center—Kirangare Church building—is easy. And we took it easy.
"Pole, pole," Jasper said. (Like "Poe-lay, Poe-lay.") Slowly, slowly. So we walked slowly and talked together. Joseph and I, Pastor Fue, Jasper, and another man.
No one wanted us to carry our own backpacks. Such is their way of hospitality. In fact, later on the way back, a woman of at least 70 years, a full head shorter than I am, insisted on carrying my bag. She leapt ditches like a gazelle. She turned and asked me, "Do you need to rest?"
I will tell you later who she is.
The Lutherans of Idaru welcomed us like we were welcomed the day before in Kirangare. With branches and purple flowers and dancing and singing. They were only 30 people, mostly women, and just as joyful.
One of the leaders of the welcome was Evangelist Rombo. The church appoints evangelists to serve the preaching points, men who live in the villages. Evangelist Wilson, on the Companionship Committee, is an evangelist. "How often do you visit Idaru?” I asked Pastor Fue. "Once every two months," he said. That's because of evangelists. The evangelist in Idaru is Elisante Morombo or simply, Rombo. Rombo wears a read windbreaker and is quick to laugh and to give two thumbs up.
Rombo and the woman in the purple dress taking video with the Samsung tablet and all the rest led us inside their church building and gave us places of honor. We exchanged greetings. Then we left, planning to return for lunch after other visits.
First we went to the Idaru clinic where Pastor Fue and Jasper were born and where they received their vaccinations. But the buildings were empty. The clinic was closed.
The clinic buildings sit down the hill, below the road. Above the road, stands the building of the Roman Catholic Church of Idaru. While we were outside the old clinic buildings, the Roman Catholic pastor, Pastor Peter Joseph Mvungi, came to greet us. He and Pastor Fue are very good friends. They work together to serve all the people of Idaru, not only the 85 Lutherans and 78 Catholics.
Pastor Mvungi explained, the government closed the Idaru clinic for financial reasons. Idaru could not pay enough for the services, medicines and vaccines and other supplies they needed. The Catholic bishop is even now negotiating with the authorities to find a way to reopen the clinic. But so far no success.
Meanwhile, people in Idaru in need of a clinic must travel to Kirangare, some five kilometers or three miles away. Either they walk or they pay a fare to ride a motorbike. For pregnant women this is especially difficult. The walk is not steep or dangerous but it is long. By motorbike, it's rough and winding. When I asked Pastor Mvungi what was the consequence for the people of Idaru he said immediately, "Maternal death." For want of a local clinic, women die.
Tanzania is a peaceful country. There is political stability and little violence. Instead, the danger to Joseph and I in traveling here is injury and illness. I asked many travel questions of a friend of mine in Davenport who used to work for Empower Tanzania. She traveled here more than once. When I asked her about travel insurance, she said, "Get enough to pay for a flight home if you need medical care." That by the way was relatively inexpensive by our standards, some $50.
This lack of access to medical care may make us worry or even choose not to travel to Tazania. But consider the point of view of a woman of Idaru expecting a child and her family. Or even Pastor Fue's mother, who had to leave home and has to stay in Dar Es Salaam for medical care. So the church here puts its trust in Jesus who is a healer and counts seeking access to care as Christ's own ministry of love.
We made an unplanned but welcome visit to the home of the Catholic pastor. He was quite honored to host us and wished us to stay for lunch or come for dinner. And Pastor Fue had to say, maybe later but not today. Before parting, I agreed to help the Idaru Catholic Church seek a companionship congregation in the Quad Cities, by delivering a letter to our local Catholic community.
After this, we visited the Idaru primary school. This would be like a K-6 elementary school, with students from age 5 or 6 to 12 or 13. Some 100 students greeted us eagerly: Lutherans, Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists, and even a few Muslims. One young person rang the bell to announce our arrival, with all the wild boyish strength he could muster. The students sang for us: the Eastern African Anthem, then the Tanzanian National Anthem. While I greeted them and Pastor Fue translated, Joseph passed his camera around so the kids—with delight or serious responsibility—took video.
Then we returned to the Lutherans, who wanted nothing more than to spend time with us and feed us generously. But first, a surprise. Remember the elder woman who called my bag and asked me if I needed to rest? Pastor Fue introduced her and her husband to us.
They are Upendo and Pastor Kivatiro.
For many Zion people, they need no introduction. For the rest of us, they are the ones who helped establish our companionship over 20 years ago, who hosted our previous Zion visitors, and who visited Zion and stayed for at least three weeks in Davenport.
We had the great honor of eating together and sharing many warm greetings. Then they said, "We have a gifts for you." And they stood is in the middle of the room and held fabric up to us and said, "We will make you shirts from this fabric. We've already called the tailor. He will measure you now." And he did. When he was done, they said, "We will give you these shirts before you leave, and when you return, you will wear them on the airplane. And everyone will know you visited us."
After this, Pastor Kivatiro and Upendo shared a dream and an invitation to Zion, but more on that later. Now, The highlight of the day: our visit to their home. They were insistent and refused to take Pastor Fue's no for an answer. Because 16 years ago, Joseph hosted Pastor Kivatiro and Upendo in his home for a full week. They wanted to return the hospitality to Joseph.
So they served us tea—which is basically another meal, not 90 minutes after lunch. Upendo served us chai tea in two special mugs, one picturing a pig and corn above the word "Iowa" and the other, a vintage Southeastern Iowa Synod mug which I've seen forgotten in Zion's cupboards.
Can I express what this meant—to them, to Joseph, to Zion and Kirangare, to the idea of Imani Moja, One Faith in Christ? In reading what I've written, I see I cannot, but I try.
Part of it is the history between us, the individual friendships and how we represent two communities impossibly far apart who have been, by a legitimate miracle of God, united in love and purpose.
Part of it is their generosity of spirit and tenacity in honoring us with their very best.
Part of it is sitting in their brick home, made with their hands and feet of the very red earth we walked miles on, a home smaller than Zion's lounge and maybe the size of my garage, surrounded by banana trees. Sitting there as if seeing the gospel story of the Widow's Mite come life—the one where Jesus shows the distracted disciples the widow who gave two pennies and thus gave more than all the rich put together. And knowing that I am receiving this gift, which is too much. I who am like those rich and in one sense, I have no need of two more pennies (or of another cup of tea and plate of food) but in another sense I very much need these pennies and cups of tea as much as salvation itself, because they are full of a Love that heals what nothing else can.
And even more, part of it is knowing that to them, Joseph and I with you who sent us, are that same gift in return. Our very presence, two pennies. So little and yet so much. Humbling in how clearly honored they are by our simple being here. Because we showed up just to be with them. And not just them but also the sisters and brothers who welcomed us with purple flowers; the women who diligently serve us; the students with their anthems; the Catholic pastor with an invitation we could not accept; daycare children with their waves (who I haven't even told you about yet!); and every stranger we meet on the road, not Lutheran, but honored nonetheless that we are here. And who are we? And why and how?
But pole, pole. Slowly, slowly. This is only our first full day!
No human person can hold this holy mystery for long. Easier and frankly necessary to viel this great light with logistics, in chasing a cell signal, in the weighty calculations of how much to put on my plate when I'm already full, as my eager hosts are watching.
Otherwise it would be too much. It is too much. I need your help to bear it.