Good Friday morning ... It's January and that means time for studying, planning and setting the dates and itinerary for my next TEAM to Tanzania. In a little more than six months, I will leave the comfortable environment of my home and begin a trek to the small village of Loolera in eastern Tanzania. Loolera is a place that is about as insignificant as can be, located in a no-place region of the Maasai Steppe. There are no markings of either roads or villages on the map. A single petrol station shows up on an east-west minor paved road on the Kitwei Plain that may be 40 kilometers (about 24 miles) from Loolera. I first visited the area last May and the excitement to return is building. Accompanying me will be a team of 14 other youth and adults of varying ages who will comprise TEAM TANZNIA 2018 and who will work with me on a church building for a small group of Christians and will teach VBS-type lessons to the children of that area. For several weeks we will live among, work with and witness to the local Maasai.
With the reality of this impending trip comes the pangs of uncertainty. I fear uncertainty ... the unknown ... the questions that CANNOT be answered now. In my ministry, I dealt with these uncertainties every day ... but there is something VERY unique about dealing with them thousands of miles from home ... in a strange culture ... and with a TEAM of people who have little or no Third World experience. But that is the challenge I seem to love so much. There is something very enticing to me about gathering a TEAM of different ages (12 to 75), educational backgrounds (middle school to PhD), levels of experience (none to well-traveled), emotional makeups, lifestyles, and personalities ... and attempting to blend them all together into a workable TEAM. Though each team member has been vetted and considered to be capable of handling the experience ... uncertainties abound. Nothing is known for sure ... until you arrive ... until you step foot into the village ... until you meet the village chairman and receive his blessing ... until you survey the site and talk to the locals. It is then that certainty begins to take shape and it is then that the real challenge begins for me as team leader. The challenge is making use of every TEAM member, regardless of gender, age, size, abilities or fears ... helping each adjust to strange foods, abnormal living conditions and an unusual language ... teaching them to do things they've never done before with inferior tools and materials and under adverse conditions. Within all that lies a huge challenge and as it all unfolds, it will bring me a wonderful joy to again see how the grace of God works to bring it to fruition! There will be lots of tears, anxiety and doubt ... but they will be filtered with laughter (sometimes loud and raucous), with small and large successes, with the thrill of accomplishment ... and with a mix of every emotion in the book.
Some will miss home terribly ... unable to communicate with anyone or hear the reassuring voices of family and friends. Some will get sick ... feeling the brunt of a corn maize, bean and rice diet or failing to use caution when drinking water. Some will tire of not being able to take a shower or wash their hair with warm water ... of constantly waving away the annoying, ever-present flies ... of treating every drop of water consumed ... of sleeping on the ground ... of the rugged starkness and loneliness of our temporary Third World home. Some will grow weary of the unusual dust, the pathetically dry ground, and the plethora of thorns. Some will be numbed by the constant press of well-meaning people ... wanting to get close to American strangers, to befriend, perhaps to touch white skin or blond hair ... and perhaps ultimately wanting to receive a gift. There will be some who cry ... sometimes openly and brazenly ... but mostly through quiet weeping at night. Some will become irritable, tired, plain give-out, exhausted. At some time ... most will want to catch the next "matatu" to go somewhere ... anywhere but Loolera. And then ... there will be times when we will laugh so hard together that we cry.
Herein lies the challenge ... to work together as a TEAM ... to live together as a family ... to share faith together as a body. To make our home for several weeks among a new and strange people who are loved dearly by the same God who loves us. To eat with them ... play with them ... worship with them ... make friends with them ... and, in all we do and say, bring the love of Jesus to them. At some point ... I never know when it will happen ... we will all come to relax and enjoy each other and we will reach the point where we appreciate the traditions and the struggles of our native hosts. We will savor morning sunrises and the rush of an evening that falls so quickly over the African landscape. There will be times when we can't wait to see a newly-made friend to share an experience. At some time, we will all "turn the corner" and become like the Maasai are ... at peace and unafraid.
We will cross the bridge to accept the struggles, the tensions, the uncertainty of a lifestyle so foreign to ours. And when it comes time to say goodbye to our brief home ... we will cry tears of sadness for those new friends whom we will probably never see again. And we will weep and sense a deep loss to leave them and to leave our home of so few days. But even now, knowing all of this, I prepare to go with confidence ... because all the uncertainty and all the unknowns and all the unanswered questions are really not my concern ... not when I go with God! For I will once again see the hand of God at work and I will marvel anew at how He manifests His power and His Spirit to meet the challenge. My verse ... already chosen ... for our day of departure is: "Keep me safe, O Lord, for in You I take refuge." [Psalm 16:1] Please pray for our TEAM ... for funding ... for safe traveling to and from Africa ... for good health ... for new friends ... for blending of personalities ... for every-day enthusiasm in a difficult environment ... for stomachs to handle new and different foods ... for a great spiritual experience learning to trust God and letting Him touch our lives in a special way. THANK YOU for those prayers. How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” [Isaiah 52:7] Have a blessed weekend in the Lord ... PR