I went to Kenya, Rwanda, Nigeria, and Ethiopia. I traveled via a book I read, Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan.
It wasn't a particularly pleasant journey.
In Kenya, I met a family living together in a makeshift shanty. It is Christmas time, and the family was scrambling to find any scraps they could give as gifts. Prostitution was their teenage daughter's means of supporting them all.
In Rwanda, a young girl's family attempted to maintain a facade of normality amid unspeakable acts. A brother and sister were dealing with their uncle's attempt to sell them into slavery, for a shiny motorcycle and a false promise of riches. The brother escapes; the sister does not.
I met a busload of refugees fleeing from the religious persecution of Christians in the north of Nigeria, learning during the treacherous ride that the south was no better, and so they were enduring the horrible trip for nothing.
The most poignant story was that of childhood friends in Ethiopia and the Christian-Muslim conflict that forces them apart, though they don't understand why. Forbidden by their parents to see each other because of their differing religions, they develop a secret language that requires no words. They merely stand at their apartment windows which face each other, give themselves a squeeze with both arms and mouth the words, hugzee, hugzee: in this way, giving each other a hug.
Our Book Group discussed this book at last week's session. We all agreed that while it was a depressing book, it was worth reading for the eye-opening experience that it was. We talked about child slavery amidst the cocoa bean fields, and how rampant this and other crimes against children are, yet they are seldom talked about.
They are also most often cloaked in religion. Religious differences are at the core of the hatred in these countries, and they justify their heinous acts through religion.
Then on Sunday at church, I traveled, at least for an hour, to Tanzania, Africa. What a relief!
It was Tanzanian Sunday : a day set aside to honor and celebrate our mission partnership with Mtera Church in Iringa, Tanzania. How wonderful, after reading of the region's poverty and religious conflicts, to travel to Iringa during that hour and feel at one with them. They are a delightful, gracious and spiritual people from whom we can learn much.
During the service, the Mtera congregation sent their greetings to us. A Swahili Bible was presented to us from them, along with a beautiful wrap-around robe for our own Pastor Mona from Pastor Lufygila at Mtera; and a "talking stick" (the person holding it is allowed to talk; it is then passed to the next person who wishes to speak). Music was played all through our service from a concert recorded by the Iringa choir when they toured here a few years ago.
We closed the service with the Lord's Prayer in Swahili and English:
Baba Yetu, uliye mbinguni
Our Father, who art in heaven.
Jina lako litukuzwe
Hallowed be thy name.
Ulfalme wako uje, mapenzi yatimizwe
Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done,
Hapa duniani kama mbinguni
On earth as it is in heaven.
Utupe leo riziki yetu
Give us this day our daily bread.
Utusamehe makosa yetu, kama sisi tunavyowasamehe waliotukosea
Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Usitutie majaribuni, lakini utuokoe nayule mwovu
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Kwa kuwa ufalme ni wako, na nguvu, na utukufu hata milele. Amen.
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
On many occasions during a service in Mtera, offerings of food, baking or garden produce are given. These are auctioned at the end of the service.
So we followed this custom and bid for jars of homemade jam, butternut squash, cookies, an African basket, a beaded purse, and so on. I had so much fun with this, I would like to see it repeated on a regular basis. The proceeds, of course, went to our Mtera ministry.
There are bad things in the world. There is ongoing religious persecution. But there is much more good.
People joined together in love and spirit.
It does make the world go 'round.