Never say never!

  Filed under: Overseas Mission 

Picture of Steve and Ruth
Mission partners with AIM

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

Back in 2010, in my role as an AIM mobiliser I made a brief visit to Morogoro to stay with an AIM missionary couple (the Swansons), little knowing that three years later we’d be joining them in the work at Sanga Sanga.  Towards the end of that trip, Ruth flew out from the UK to join me for some holiday.  It was Ruth’s first visit to sub-Saharan Africa and she can vividly remember walking down one of the bustling Morogoro streets thinking to herself, “I could never live here!”  Well, I wonder if God had a little chuckle at that point, knowing that His plan was for us to live and work here for 7.5 years?!  We often joke that, in God’s economy, it’s dangerous to say the word ‘never’, but obviously in Ruth’s case, the thought was just as dangerous!  God has a habit of using people in places and situations where they could never have imagined living, doing what they never thought they’d be doing.  And yet He always follows that ‘never-never’ call by equipping His servants to carry out what He’s called them to do in never-never land! 

We can both testify to that.  Ruth can testify to the fact that God has equipped her to manage the finances at Sanga, alongside many other tasks and roles she would never have imagined doing before she came here (building maintenance!).  Although I’m not a fantastic linguist God has enabled me to preach and teach in Swahili on 229 occasions, despite the fact that I would often find myself thinking (whilst preaching) ‘What on earth am I doing standing up here preaching in another language?!’  He has proven the words of a phrase I heard at Bible College 18 years ago: “God often doesn’t call the qualified but he always qualifies the called.”  The verse that we chose for our third term prayer card highlights this issue of God equipping His servants for a role: “There is nothing in us that allows us to claim that we are capable of doing this work.  The capacity we have comes only from God.” (2 Cor 3:4)

Being equipped by God to do what He has called you to do does not, however, guarantee that the road ahead is going to be straightforward!  I think our 7.5 years of living in Morogoro can be compared to the state of the roads in Tanzania!  There are sections where the tarmac is new and smooth, where the road is straight for many a mile – but there are also sections where the roads are rough, twisty, potholed and yet another rumble strip shudders through the car, testing your shock absorbers to the limit!  There are also quite a few unpainted humps in the road which are invisible until you’re on them!  Likewise, that’s how life can be for us all at various times. 

Certainly, in the last couple of years, there have been more potholes and humps than we would have chosen on this journey, but despite them, God has enabled us to do what we came to do, and this part of the journey is nearly journeyed!  And we’re realising (rather slowly!) that God uses the humps and bumps more than the ‘straight and the smooth’.  In fact it would seem from the pages of Scripture, that there are times when God leads us purposefully down into some potholes in order to accomplish His purposes in our lives.  And more often than not, at the time we haven’t got a clue why!  
Although it doesn’t use potholes as an analogy, I’m reminded of a poem I came across years ago called The Weaver.  My guess is that I’ll look back over time and wish I hadn’t complained so much about all those humps and bumps!

Surviving the Seminar Season!  A few weeks ago we were able to wrap up the IBM conference season with a four day seminar for AICT Evangelists at Sanga Sanga, with over 120 people in attendance.  This was concluded with another goodbye ceremony and yet more yards of coloured cloth being wrapped around Ruth.  The presentation of an African shirt provided many minutes of comedy as I struggled to get the thing over my head, whilst silently vowing never to wear it again! 

No, these aren’t snow goggle marks – they’re
tribal tattoos.  A conference attendee.
Steve’s very last Swahili session!

The Evangelists’ conference provided a real contrast to the last of our regional seminars, held in Iringa back in October.  The church building we met in was a challenging venue as it was situated at the top of a steep road leading into the city.  The sound of labouring lorries struggling up the hill in first gear was never far away!  Added to that was the constant sound of pan-clattering as the adjoining corridor was used as a makeshift kitchen.  Strangely enough, I never did see the hygiene certificate on the wall, although in defence of the cooks, the food was good and we didn’t get dodgy stomachs! It was a challenging week in many ways and brought added meaning to the scripture where Paul says, “Preach the Word, being prepared in season and out of season.”  In other words, be prepared to preach when it’s convenient and when it’s not; when it’s noisy and when it’s quiet; when it’s well-attended and when it’s not!  So concluded the teaching series on Mark’s gospel, after which we headed straight off to our annual AIM retreat (also in Iringa) where I was involved in teaching, this time from John’s gospel.  I know for sure that any ministry back in the UK might not be as ‘colourful’ as it is here in Africa!            

Project Pack-down!  With our goodbye ceremonies complete and handovers all but done, we’re now preparing for our Tanzanian departure on 20th Dec.  This week is definitely where the pack-down gets serious as we sell off our household goods and aim to squeeze our worldly belongings into six suitcases!  We leave Morogoro on Tuesday 15th and head to the coast for five days, where we’ll take in the last of the African sun and enjoy the last few days of mask-freedom!  Arriving back in the UK on 21st Dec is going to be a shock to the system in terms of climate and Covid!  We’ll quarantine over Christmas in Cumbria and then plan on heading down south to Wiltshire in early January.  The first two months of 2021 will see us on home assignment, and then come 1st March, our term of service with AIM will come to a close.  At this point, we’re still not sure what the next chapter looks like and the canvas is looking fairly blank!  However, we believe that the Artist in charge of the next tapestry will reveal the pattern according to His timing and purpose.  Please pray that we’ll remain patient as we watch, wait, and listen! 

Saying farewell to the staff at Sanga Sanga

We hope to be in touch with a final newsletter sometime in February but for now we’ll sign off from Tanzania and wish you all a very happy and healthy Christmas.  Many thanks to those of you who have supported us on this journey, whether that be through prayer or pounds, or both!  We’ve been blessed with faithful, loyal and loving support along the route – and for that we are extremely grateful.  We could not have done this without you.  To those who have supported us financially, we’ll be in contact in the New Year to let you know about the ‘shutting down’ process!  For now, it’s ‘kwa heri’ from Tanzania, knowing that it will soon be time for ‘hello’ in the UK!  

Prayer Points: 

  • We’re thanking God for the completion of this year’s conferences, and praying the teaching goes on to bear much fruit.  
  • We’re thanking God for good farewells and a sense of closure to our time in Tanzania. 
  • We’re thanking God for His protection and blessing during the last 7.5 years.  
  • We’re praying for guidance with regard to the next chapter; that we’d be open to His leading; that God would show us clearly what the next step is; for wisdom as we plan our home assignment including where we should live!
  • Please continue to pray for Pastor Batano, John Enock and the staff at Sanga Sanga as they continue with the ministry in our absence.   

Every blessing

Steve & Ruth

PS. For the Corshamites among you, here’s a weird connection with our newsletter title!  Did you know that the first time the phrase “never say never” first appeared in print was back in 1837?  Charles Dickens used it in his novel ‘The Pickwick Papers’ – which was apparently written in Pickwick, Corsham! 

Ruth just about managed to cram John’s head
with as much information as he needs!
The flamboyant trees are in full bloom at this
time of year, Tanzania’s own Christmas trees!
Who’s pinched the arch?
Bird of the month: Brown-hooded Kingfisher,
a frequent visitor to our garden in Morogoro