Running with perseverance…

This post by Steve and Ruth Lancaster was originally published at Life in the Lancs Lane

The past two months have mainly involved four aspects for us: preparation, planning, perseverance …… and teaching!  I’ve been preparing IBM conference talks as well as preparing for a half marathon; Ruth has been teaching her second English course to the staff at Sanga Sanga; we’ve both been helping to plan developments at Sanga, and we’ve both been learning to persevere through church, the hot season, accounts and frequent power cuts!

Everywhere right of the line is in the
Pwani (Coastal) Diocese!

Conference Season Preparation: As most of you will now be aware IBM (Institute of Bible & Ministry) is a theological programme designed to enable, mobilise and inspire the pastors and evangelists of the Africa Inland Church in Eastern Tanzania.  We want them to grow in their walk with God and be effective in their ministries as they serve their congregations and seek to reach out to those who haven’t heard the gospel before. That’s what we’re here for and that’s our main focus for being in Tanzania.  Every year we run 7-8 conferences in various locations in the AIC Pwani (Coastal) Diocese, which covers over half the country and includes 14 different regions.  In fact the diocese covers just over 347,000 square miles which is 7 times the size of England!  So now you can see why we often have to build in a full day’s travel either side of each conference, and request prayer for safety as we travel! 

The first four months of every year are set aside for organisation and the preparation of teaching material, as well as raising the necessary funds to hold the events.  The conference season begins in May and ends in December.  I’ve been tasked with preparing teaching material on the Holy Spirit and so for the last two months I’ve been reading, writing, prepping and praying my way through seven teaching sessions on that subject.  The topic of the Holy Spirit often sparks a lot of interest but, sadly, it’s often surrounded by much confusion and controversy.  In my reading I came across a quote by the former president of the Proclamation Trust, David Jackman, which sums up how I’ve been feeling about the issue over the last few years.  “For many Christians the great and glorious biblical truths about the Holy Spirit have been lost in the cross-fire of argument and counter argument, so that the whole subject has become a ground of contention and dispute, rather than of enlightenment and joy.  There is a place for a simple restatement of the great doctrines of the Spirit’s person and work for a new generation of Christians, many of whom have been forced to adopt positions and take sides in arguments, perhaps without fully realising the foundation principles on which such discussions are based.”

So, this is what I’m hoping to cover as I very simply restate the great doctrines of the Holy Spirit: what does the Bible say about the Holy Spirit?  What are the important tasks he carries out?  What are his roles in the life of the Christian and the Church?  Where does he fit into the Trinity?  What about the spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit gives?  What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit?  What about the gift of speaking in tongues and baptism in the Spirit? And hopefully – all of this within eight three-day conferences!  I’ll be honest, although it’s been hard going getting down to study at times, it’s also been a privilege to take a more in-depth look at this vital subject and to wrestle with some of the issues involved.  I’ll quote the American evangelist of yesteryear, DL Moody, as I think he sums up how I feel getting to the end of this study period: “If you ask, do I understand what is thus revealed in the Scriptures about the Holy Spirit, I say ‘no’. But my faith bows down before the inspired Word and I unhesitatingly believe the great things of God when even reason is blinded and the intellect confused.”  I look forward with excitement and trepidation to the start of our conference season and to the teaching of His Word! 

Waiting for the start of the Kili Half Marathon

Running a half-marathon: a new African experience!  It’s 7am on the 1st March and I’m on the starting line with thousands of other runners waiting for the starter’s orders.  A number of questions come to mind as I wait for the start of the Kilimanjaro Half Marathon to begin: will my legs endure the 13 mile run around the town of Moshi? Will my asthmatic lungs cope with running at 3000ft? Will it be too hot and humid? What will the organisation of the race be like?  Will there be enough water stations on the way round?  The sun is on its way up and in the distance the snow covered peak of Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro, looms out of the early morning haze.  As I glance around it’s easy to spot the seasoned runners, a few of whom possibly fancy their chances of claiming the £710 first prize.  Incidentally, the first prize for the winner of the full marathon is £1420; compare that with the £36,000 that the London Marathon winner got last year!  

We’re off!  It’s a slow shuffle at first as I jog/walk across the start line doing my best to avoid treading on the heels of those in front.  The first 5 miles of the route are all uphill on a tarred road and it’s hard to get into a rhythm, although the sights and sounds of other runners distract me from the uphill effort.  A Tanzanian guy passes me with a pair of black slip-on shoes on his feet (later to be discarded for a bare-foot race); another guy is wearing Crocs, and still another, a pair of over-sized work-boots!  And here I was concerned as to whether my four-year old trainers would cushion my feet!  A number of messages on the backs of various T-shirts catch my eye: “Excellence in Service” and “One elephant killed every 15 minutes in Africa”. We run past many shed-shops selling bananas and phone vouchers, and groups of people stop to stare, many in silent wonderment at why one would choose to do what we’re doing.  A group of children, some of them bare-foot, are standing on the edge of one of the coffee plantations which cover the lower slopes of Kili, and some of them are collecting the discarded plastic water cups for later use. 

As I begin the downhill section a couple of men stand on the back of a pick-up truck spraying water over the runners with a leaky hosepipe and some nearby loudspeakers rattle the eardrums as I pass by.  There are no half measures when it comes to volume and loudspeakers here in Tanzania!  The halfway point is passed and I continue to keep a steady pace, aiming to keep running for as long as I can.  Police sirens can be heard behind me and soon a group of Tanzanian/Kenyan runners glide effortlessly past me with their lanky long legs. These are the full marathon guys who have joined our route and are at their 18 mile mark!  I’m stunned by the length of their stride and the speed with which they are running.  My stubby legs are probably taking two strides for every one of theirs – no wonder I’ve no chance of taking that first prize!  The last few miles jar the knees but I know that the race is nearly run, and as I turn into the somewhat dishevelled ‘stadium’ for the last few hundred yards, I’m reminded of the great cloud of witnesses mentioned in Hebrews, and so l throw off the growing tiredness that hinders me, and I manage to increase the pace and run with determined perseverance the race track that is now clearly marked out in front of me. 

Congrats to our team-mate Cath Swanson for
completing her first half marathon

Rather unsurprisingly, the ribbon has already been broken and so I settle for a medal and a T-shirt; grab a bottle of water, and look for a place in the shade to rest my weary bones.  And as I sit there listening to the rather loud MC announcing the names of those crossing the finishing line I ponder the many similarities and parallels of a physical race and the spiritual race I’m involved in: encouragement, crowds, fatigue, endurance, finishing.  I’ve managed to finish this particular physical race in a very pleasing 2 hours and 16 minutes, which was better than I had hoped for, but obviously I’m still involved in running the more important race that the writer to the Hebrews mentions.  The beauty and wonderment of the spiritual race is that, because of Christ, everyone who crosses that finishing line gets to share in an eternal inheritance that is beyond all imagination!  Yes, there are ups and downs, there are trips and falls, there are times of fatigue and tiredness as well as times of elation and enjoyment.  There are even times when we might need to get rid of unsuitable footwear and get serious about “fitting our feet with the readiness that come from the gospel of peace”.  Wherever we are in that race, “let us run with perseverance the race that is marked out for us and let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:1-2). 

For the record – one of the long legged Tanzanians won the half marathon in a time of 1 hour 3 minutes (only 73 mins quicker than me!), and the guy who ran the full-marathon was a lanky-long-legged Kenyan who ran his 26 miles in 2 hours and 16 mins, the same time as I managed for my 13 miles!  So, as you can see, still some way to go, but maybe next year…..?! 

For those who PRAY: 

  • Thank God for continued good health for Ruth.
  • We are very thankful that Steve has managed to prepare his teaching material for this year’s conferences – at least in English! 
  • Praise God that He saw fit to bring a friendly accountant to Morogoro at just the right time to help Ruth with the IBM accounts.   
  • Please pray for Steve he begins the translation work for these talks.
  • Please pray for Steve as he prepares to take over unit leadership on 6th April .
  • As part of that process we will both be travelling to Arusha to take park in unit leadership training from 16th–19th March.  
  • Please pray for the work of the Institute and in particular the next phase of development as we look to start building a conference centre. 

Random photos of the month:

Never heard them called that before!

The wall came tumbling down!  Our lovely bougainvillea
was just too heavy for the wall.

Giant grasshopper!

Christmas Capers

This post by Steve and Ruth Lancaster was originally published at Life in the Lancs Lane

As I type the thunder is echoing off the hills behind us and the rain is drumming heavily on our tin roof, and all around is either verdant green or muddy red!  A week ago, as Tony and I attempted to tackle the fourth fairway of the local golf course, we were forced to abandon our game due to thunder, lightening and driving rain; in fact the rain seemed to be ‘driving’ with more effect than we were!  Needless to say we got an absolute soaking!  And then a few weeks ago, the New Year celebrations here in Morogoro were dampened as the outdoor market was deluged; the rickety old wooden shacks and stalls were marooned in waist-deep water!  It seems as though the rainy season is well under way although, with weather patterns across Africa becoming unpredictable, we’re not sure whether it’s the ‘long rains’ come early or the ‘short rains’ come late!

Celebrating with the Lancasters at New Year

As you know we celebrated Christmas and New Year in the UK with our families – and what a wonderful time of reunion/ blessing/fun/laughter it was, except for one night of hospitalisation for Ruth in Lincoln!  Under a general anaesthetic she had a minor operation to drain a large abscess, which had started off as a boil and developed into a nasty carbuncle – we’ll spare you the photos! Although it made a slight dent in our schedule, it was timely as we were able to use the services of the NHS rather than have it done in Tanzania.  Nearly four weeks after the operation the wound is more or less healed, and thankfully, Ruth hasn’t had another boil.

Despite the fact it was only a brief visit we managed to pack a lot in (travelling between Newark, Carlisle, Elgin, Nairn and Bicester), and yet our time didn’t feel too squashed.  We wandered the beaches of Nairn, revelled in the frost of Elgin on Christmas Day, meandered through the frozen forests of Culbin and then, in complete contrast, jostled our way through the crowded streets of London, watched The Hobbit in Bicester cinema – and ate rather a lot of food at various family gatherings!

Twins!  But which one is Ruth?

Did it feel strange to be back in the UK after being in Tanzania for the past 17 months?  In all honesty, not at all.  I think we expected to feel a bit strange given the many differences there are between the two cultures – but it all felt very normal, although we took a great deal of pleasure from some of the things we once took for granted.  It was so nice to eat chips from a chippie, to drink water straight from the tap, to wander around the spotlessly clean and varied aisles of Sainsbury’s (!), awesome to drive roads which weren’t littered with pot-holes and vehicle wrecks, relaxing to feel safe on those roads, and great to feel chilly when you first get into bed!

The machete sharpener!

But now – we’re back here in Tanzania.  All our flights were bang on time and we managed to fly in and out of Nairobi airport just a few hours before the runway closed after a plane belly-flopped onto the runway following landing-gear failure!  The airport was closed for six hours and all flights diverted to Mombasa!  I found myself pondering the many differences between the UK and Tanzania as I sat in the barbers the day after we returned.  Sat next to me in the no-frills shop were three Maasai men dressed in their traditional red attire.  The doors were wide open, the air was hot and humid, and the noisy generator was chugging away outside because the power was out once again – and the haircut cost me £1.50!  It’s back to sleeping under a mozzie net, watching the geckos hang off the ceiling and hearing the various minarets ‘singing’ out their calls to prayer.  It’s back to the land of whacky races, swerving to avoid pot-holes, people, bikes and mini-buses on the roads.  It’s back to the noises of the night – the cicadas, crickets and frogs; it’s back to being confronted with the poverty that many people here experience, as well as feeling tongue-tied as I grapple to find the right Swahili word!  It’s back to seeing children walking to school with machetes and brooms in their hands!

And as the New Year begins it’s also back to work, serving the pastors of the Africa Inland Church here in eastern Tanzania, and helping out at the home of the Institute of Bible & Ministry at Sanga Sanga.  And do you know what?  It’s amazing how normal it all feels!  And that’s because this is where we’re meant to be doing for this chapter of life.  That being said – it also feels rather daunting as we enter our second full year here in Morogoro as things are going to get busier and more involved.  I am trying to set aside Jan/Feb as study months for my teaching sessions for the year ahead.  I’ve been set the task of looking at the person and role of the Holy Spirit; both exciting and of course daunting! I’ve also been asked to preach in Swahili once a month (from March) at the ‘back-garden’ church featured in last months blog, and from April onwards I’ll also be taking on the role of unit leader for the northern part of eastern Tanzania (more info next time).  Ruth is planning her English classes for the next few months, wrestling with the accounts and working on how to raise funds for the next phase of construction at Sanga.

The site where the conference hall
will be built

The 13 acre site at Sanga currently has a number of agricultural plots and bandas, a pump house with a  container-style office, a campsite for passing travellers and the recently constructed Retreat House which has a small meeting room and sleeps 13 people.  The next stage is to build a 250-seat conference hall towards the top end of the site complete with a seminar room and a small library to aid visiting pastors in their studies. The site has been cleared and various test holes have been dug and the boys with the shovels are about to ‘break ground’, although the speed of progress will depend very much on what’s in the kitty from week to week!  Apart from an annual gift from AIC Tanz the development of IBM & Sanga relies on donations – so if you’re looking for a project to support in 2015, and believe in the ethos of IBM (which is to enable, mobilise and inspire pastors and evangelists to a deeper relationship with God and effectiveness in ministry) and want to contribute, then please consider giving to either the training/seminar project or the development/building project. For more info on IBM or to make a donation, please see the following websites: and

Praise & Prayer Points:

  • We’re praising God for a wonderful two weeks back in UK with family – loved it!
  • We’re thanking God that Ruth was able to get good medical care exactly when she needed it and we’re also grateful for a 7th wedding anniversary on 19th Jan! 
  • Please pray for Ruth as she continues to look for a language helper and as she prepares for new English classes (beginning 26th Jan);
  • Please pray for me as I knuckle down to preparing for my teaching on the Holy Spirit, firstly in English and then translating into Swahili.
  • And finally, please pray the words of Eph 1:17-19 for us as we head into this year, that “God would give us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that we may know Him better. Pray also that the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened in order that we may know the hope to which He has called us, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and His incomparably great power for us who believe.”

Many, many thanks. 

Steve & Ruth

Random photos of the month:

Guess what the nephew got for Christmas!


Waterholes and weddings!

This post by Steve and Ruth Lancaster was originally published at Life in the Lancs Lane

2014 is fast drawing to a close and this time next week (18th) we’ll be on a plane UK-bound for 2 weeks of holiday and catching up with family!  It’s been a year of adjusting and learning; a year of grappling with Tanzanian culture and a year of new experiences – most of them good ones!  

Meeting in the pump house at Sanga Sanga

Since our last newsletter we have attended two pastors’ conferences – one at Sanga Sanga and the other in Lindi, a 12 hour drive away in the south of the country.  The conference at Sanga Sanga was well attended with over 70 pastors and their wives coming from all over the diocese.  We all crammed into the very first building put up on the Sanga site, which is essentially the pump house!  We look forward to the day when our conference hall is built and we can welcome even bigger groups of pastors for Bible training, fellowship and respite – no pressure Matt Dixon!  More details about that next month.

The Lindi conference was the last of 8 this year.  As well as Tanzanian pastors and evangelists, it was good to meet up with some of our AIM colleagues who are based in various locations near Lindi, some on TIMO and post-TIMO teams.  Lindi is right on the coast and was picture-postcard pretty in some ways but boy, was it hot and sticky!  In future Steve will be following the example of the Tanzanians and taking a ‘preacher’s flannel’ with him to mop his dripping brow!  He taught three sessions in Swahili and was encouraged to receive good feedback on his pronunciation.  That seminar brought to a close his preaching this year on the subject of ‘Miraculous Movements’ and in the first few months of next year he’ll be preparing talks for the 2015 calendar of seminars.

The newlyweds shimmy down the aisle

In the last few weeks we’ve had a couple of interesting and very different cultural experiences; a baptism and a wedding.  Tanzanian weddings aren’t known to be brief affairs and we braced ourselves for a long day.  The service was due to start at 2pm and we were assured in advance by the pastor that it would start on time.  When we arrived at 2.30pm the church was still only a quarter full, the bridegroom was sitting outside in his car (making the most of the AC) and the bride had not yet arrived!  When things eventually got underway we were interested and slightly amused to see all the members of the wedding party dance down the aisle – the groom, his best man, the bridesmaids and the bride – imagine that in the UK!  The bride came in by herself, sashaying demurely halfway up the aisle where she waited for her groom to come and meet her, he looking rather self-conscious as he shimmied down towards her!  He lifted up her veil and the two of them continued up the aisle together.  There was a real atmosphere of celebration and of course the music and singing was full on!  Needless to say, at the end of the service the whole wedding party shimmied back down the aisle!