Impressions of Ifakara

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

Rachel and Ruth celebrating their birthdays

As many of you begin to prepare for the Autumn months we’re preparing for the onset of heat!  The last three months have been pleasant to say the least – mid to late 20’s (temperature not age!) and on the whole, some cloudy skies that have kept the temperatures down. September will see the thermometer rising and the humidity levels increasing as we begin the climb to a hot and sweaty Christmas!  Thank you to those who have been praying for us.  We’ve done a lot of travelling, but all without hitch and without a scratch to either bumper, although I won’t talk about the numerous and rather exasperating police checkpoints along the way!  Ruth has continued to manage the Retreat House at Sanga and oversee the staff accounts, along with the conference administration, marketing, fundraising etc… We enjoyed a holiday with Ruth’s twin sister and brother-in-law in August, and celebrated the birthday of those ‘tenacious twins’ on the beaches of Zanzibar!  It was great to be able to show them around, and to introduce them to some of the things that make Tanzania famous: snorkelling in the Indian ocean, listening to the night-time noises of the laughing hyenas, playing golf on the ‘browns’ of Morogoro golf course, and having our safari tent attacked by a lizard-eating Genet! 

Musings on the Ifakara Conference: To boldly go where few fear to tread! Well, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration but our travel guidebook did tell us that “few travellers ever make it to the Udzungwa National Park, and fewer still follow the road further south to Ifakara”!  And there’s a good reason for that!  The dirt road is bumpy and dusty for much of the way, and it’s a dead-end town unless you happen to be heading to the Kilombero swamps or the Selous National Park, which is a wilderness area twice the size of Belgium! 

Good to see so many smiling faces at the end of the conference

But it was here in Ifakara that our fourth conference of the year was held, and it turned out to be the best yet, and indeed the most encouraging!  From the start there seemed to be a good atmosphere amongst the 37 pastors and evangelists, some of them travelling over 100 miles to be there. As the conference kicked off and each pastor stood to introduce themselves, it sounded like a role call from the Old Testament!  Ezekiel, Daniel, Lamech, Shadrach, Hosea, Zephaniah, Samuel, Reuben, and Joseph were all present, and even Pastor Gabriel put in an appearance!  I felt a bit sorry for Leonard who I’m sure must have felt the odd one out!  It was also good to see a representative from the New Testament there in the form of Stephanos, which is of course an extremely fine name!  There was even a one-year old toddler called ‘Steve’ – and therein lies a story!  At last year’s Ifakara conference one of the ladies had been ‘carrying luggage’ (a polite Tanzanian way of saying she was pregnant!) and a month later had given birth to a baby boy, who she then decided to name after me! 

My eight teaching slots went well and I found that I was more relaxed and ‘at home’ in pronouncing and emphasising the content of my talks on the Holy Spirit.  The man who helped to lead the conference was a young pastor by the name of Tobotobo and, although it was his first time in leading an IBM conference, he did a top job and we worked well with each other.  He was obviously taking his role seriously, because on the third day he turned up wearing a second-hand Lufthansa pilot’s jacket!  It’s amazing what you can pick up on the street-stalls of Tanzania!  It was also encouraging to see the pastors send round the collection basket on a couple of occasions in support of their colleagues who were in need, and a few pastors even made a small contribution to the costs of the seminar. 

On our way home, Pastor Shadrach asked us to call in at his house because he wanted to give us a gift. We arrived in his village, and were ushered into a small room which was no bigger than your average garden shed, and which had a huge ‘Jesus’ picture stuck to the coarsely plastered wall. Even though it was only 10am we were then served a lunch of rice and beans, which had been cooked in a makeshift kitchen outside. Meanwhile, the children of the village had gathered excitedly around the car and were fascinated by their own reflections in the metallic paintwork; a sure sign that there weren’t too many mirrors hanging up in their homes!

Just before we left, Shadrach went into his store and pulled out a big bag of rice, which he then presented to us as a gift.  Talk about humbling! These AIC pastors and evangelists don’t get a regular salary but receive a percentage of the Sunday morning offering.  Whereas this might provide you with a reasonable income if you work at a large church, it’s a different matter if you happen to be pastoring a small church out in the sticks with only a handful of folks attending. Pastor Shadrach falls into the latter category and would probably count it a good week if the percentage he received from the offering enabled him to buy the equivalent of five or six 1st class stamps in UK!  And that’s the reason why you’ll see the likes of Shadrach wearing a ‘health & beauty’ T-shirt which he purchased at a second-hand clothes stall, but was probably a free promotional gift at a UK trade fair!  That’s also the reason why he’s only got a small house to live in and that the walls are left unpainted.  And you would think that would be a good enough reason to keep hold of a 10kg bag of rice!  Not at all.  This was the gift we were presented with as we got up to leave; a token of his thanks for the teaching that I had done during the week. Needless to say we felt humbled and blessed, but also found ourselves wondering if we would be as extravagantly generous if we owned so little.   

There was something else that I was impressed with at this particular conference and it relates to a couple of my favourite Bible passages; the well known foot-washing passage in John Ch 13, and the not-so-well-known passage in 2 Kings Ch 3.  Just hours before his arrest Jesus does something that isn’t associated with status or position: that of washing the feet of his disciples. In humility he considered others better than himself and stooped to serve his followers.  The latter passage involves the prophet Elisha who was known by one of the king’s officials as a man “who used to pour water on the hands of Elijah”.  What a wonderful statement!  Here was a man who had already been anointed as Elijah’s successor and yet he continued to serve Elijah by assisting him in his ministry. 

The Tanzanians are big on washing hands before meals!  Go to a Tanzanian home to eat, and out comes the washbasin and the soap, normally brought to you where you’re siting.  During the Ifakara conference we ate at the church where the meetings were held but before every meal, a long line of pastors formed, first of all to have their hands washed, and then to collect their rice, beans and ugali, which would often be eaten with the hands, and not with cutlery.  And on every occasion I observed the same pastor quietly standing with jug and soap in hand, offering to ‘pour water on the hands of’ his colleagues; offering to serve and therefore be the last in the queue for his meal.  Quite often the issue of servant leadership seems to be a hard one to grasp in the Tanzanian church, so it was encouraging to see this pastor selflessly serving, and putting others first, without drawing attention to himself; an example I need to heed particularly at a time (26 months in!) when the patience levels begin to wear thin and the annoyances seems to be magnified, and the last thing I feel like doing is serving others!  Let’s make it our aim, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to be a people who delight to pour water on the hands of others.   

Prayer & Praise: 

  • Praise God for safe travels and a good holiday.
  • Thank God for a top Ifakara conference, where the Swahili flowed and where people seemed hungry to learn.
  • Praise God for good progress on the construction of the conference centre. Still at the foundation stage but great to report savings made and no injuries to the 53 workers on site! 
  • Steve has been below par in terms of general health for the last few weeks, so would be grateful for prayer in terms of stamina and energy as we approach a busy two months of conferencing, the first of which starts on the 2nd Sept. Pray that God would use us both. 
  • Pray that the AIM Tanzania conference in October would be special!  That God would really use Eddie Larkman and the team from Corsham Baptist Church to speak into lives. 

Diary dates for Sept/Oct: 

1st Sept:            Travel to Iringa
2nd-4th:             Teaching at Pastors’ conference
5th:                    Return to Morogoro
13th:                  Preaching at the Shed Church, Dakawa
22nd:                 Travel to Magambua 
23rd-25th:          Teaching at Pastors’ conference 
26th:                  Return to Morogoro
14th-19th Oct:    AIM Tanzania Conference in Dar 
19th-22nd:         Our Corsham Baptist pastor and his wife staying with us
30th/31st:          Bible teaching at Church weekend conference in Iringa

Random photos of the month:

Can’t see this labelling taking off in a UK supermarket!

Maybe this is where the Army got it’s camouflage idea from?
One of the children playing outside
the Ifakara church