“Take me home, pot-holed roads, to the place I belong”!

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

Very nearly the words of a famous John Denver song from yesteryear!  It’s hard to believe that in less than four weeks time our first term here in Tanzania will come to a close and we’ll be touching down on the soggy soil of England!  Where has the last 2.7 years gone?!  For us, as we prepare for our home assignment, it’s a time of excitement and anticipation, but also a time of reflection as we ponder the happenings of our time here.  Has it been what we expected?  Could we have done anything differently and more effectively?  Has language learning been as hard as we thought it would be?  Have we settled down as well as we could?  Have we represented Christ well in our team, in our home and amongst the pastors we’re here to serve?  And, in one of my ‘glass half empty’ moments, has what I’ve done really made any impact?!  So many questions and evaluations as we prepare to head home on 7th March.

Last month we celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary – and to mark the occasion we spent a day in the African wilderness getting nibbled by tsetse flies!  We put our trusty car through its paces and bumped our way around the back of the Uluguru mountains to the Selous Game reserve.  It was only 115 miles away but it took us 5.5 hours to get there due to the fact that, for much of the time, we were doing less than 10 mph on a stony dirt track!  We had a top day on safari, seeing over sixty species of bird, and hundreds of hippos and crocodiles on the Rufiji River.  The one sobering aspect of our day was the lack of elephants.  The Selous used to be famous for its large elephant population (109,000 in 1976) but, during the last 40 years, 88% of its elephants have fallen to the poacher, a sad trend that continues across Tanzania.

For the rest of Jan/Feb it’s beenbusiness as usual, as we’ve continued in our various roles and made some preparations to hand over some of our responsibilities.  For Ruth, it’s been about the management and accounting work for IBM and Sanga Sanga, and for me, translation and preaching, as well as member care for some of the missionaries in the unit.

So, what exactly is this thing called “home-assignment”?!

Is it just a big long holiday for missionaries?  Is it like a sabbatical?  Is it secret code for a ‘fundraising trip’?  Do missionaries go on home assignment when they get so fed up with their host culture that they need a break?  Well, there’s probably an element of truth in all of these – but as definitions go they don’t paint the full picture, so let me try and explain.  In former years, within missionary circles the word’ furlough’ was used to describe such an activity.  The dictionary definition is this: “A period of time where a soldier is allowed to be absent from service, especially to return temporarily to their own town or country.”  I also found another definition, although I’m not so sure it’s too helpful….. “Work furlough is a correctional programme which allows prison inmates to leave an institution for the purpose of regular employment but returning to confinement at nights and weekends’ – hmmmm!  Let’s go with the first – although it does have its limitations because it suggests a time of getting away from active service.

Construction work at Sanga Sanga continues apace

Today, mission organisations prefer to use the term ‘home assignment’ because they want to emphasise that missionaries who are back in their home countries are still on active service, working and doing ministry, but just in a different venue.  And so that is why I’ll still be involved in preaching, and why we’ll both be out and about speaking at various AIM events and prayer groups, raising awareness of what AIM is doing in Africa, as well as informing people of what we’ve been doing during the last 2.7 years.  In fact, one of the main purposes of our HA is to reconnect with our sending church and report back to them.  It is our church that we are primarily responsible to, and it is our church, in partnership with AIM, that commissioned and sent us to Tanzania back in July 2013.  And so we need to spend time with them, along with other supporters, to inform and hopefully inspire, as well as to say a big ‘thank you’ to those who have supported us financially and prayerfully.

Home assignments—they’re biblical you know!

This is how it was right at the very beginning of the missionary era.  At the end of Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas are coming to the end of their first missionary journey, and after four years on the road they returned to their ‘sending church’ in Antioch.  “They gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them….. and they stayed there a long time with the disciples”.  That, however, is where any comparison between the Lancs and Paul and Barnabas stops!  They travelled on foot everywhere; they planted church after church, and they also had to endure beatings, imprisonments and a lot of opposition from religious leaders and government officials!

Home assignment also provides opportunities for spending time with family and friends.  Besides grappling with a new language and trying to adapt to living in a new culture, I think the hardest part about being overseas is the separation from family.  We’re so thankful for the modern conveniences of email and skype that the missionary of yesteryear could only dream of, but nothing beats face-to-face quality time with those who are nearest and dearest.  There’s also a need to take time out from a ‘field assignment’ and spend time in a home culture where things are familiar and relaxed, because after a while some of the cultural norms here can begin to wear you down.  I (Steve) have noticed this especially in the last six months where my grace and patience levels are low, my tolerance and compassion reserves are sometimes depleted, and my spiritual tank is in need of topping up!  In short, one can become rather tetchy and grumpy when things don’t happen as they would at home, and where you get fed up with certain aspects of a culture!  We’re certainly looking forward to a change of environment and temperature, doing some holidaying, and to recharging the batteries on a number of levels!

Twenty things we’re looking forward to on HA!

Not sweating, good internet connection, going to Israel, being at Corsham Baptist Church, exercising normally, spending quality time with family and friends, no mosquitoes, watching Carlisle United play, not battling with Swahili, eating pork pie and celery, not having power-cuts, long light evenings, driving on smooth roads where most people adhere to the highway code, being cold, meeting new nephews and nieces, playing golf on greens, preaching in English, skiing, climbing a mountain or two, and going to the chippie!

Livingstone and his first ‘home assignment’!  

Sorry folks, but I couldn’t finish our first term without referring once more to the good doctor!  David Livingstone set out for Africa in December 1840, and arrived back in England 16 years later in December 1856 for his first home assignment!  And even then, he nearly didn’t make it!  Twenty months before heading home he meandered his way across the continent of Africa, trekking from Luanda (in Angola) on the west coast, to Quillimane (in Mozambique) on the east coast, exploring the land and looking for ideal sites on which to set up mission stations.  He covered the 2230 miles by foot and on ox-back, only to arrive on the Mozambican coast, ravaged by malarial fever, to find that the ship which had been sent to pick him up, had run aground on a sandbar!

He then waited a further six weeks for another ship to come, and during the long journey home aboard the not-so- aptly named HMS Frolic, one of his African attendants, who had never seen the sea before, jumped overboard due to insanity!  The ship was then nearly wrecked on an island near the Bay of Tunis due to a snapped engine shaft, only to be saved at the last moment by a providential wind which carried them away from the rocks!  And finally, to add insult to many an injury, after five months at sea, the boat docked in Dover whilst his wife and friends formed a welcoming party for him….. in Southampton!!  Needless to say, we’re hoping that our journey home won’t take quite as long, and won’t be quite as eventful!

Ruth founds this beast, a Huntsman Spider, sitting on the
back seat of the car when she got home one day.  If she’d 
seen it during the journey, who knows what ditch this 
arachnaphobe would have driven into!

Thank you so much to those who have helped make this first term in Tanzania possible.  To those who support us financially and pray for us regularly – we want to say thank you for your partnership and backing.  And we hope you’ve enjoyed following our tentative steps into Tanzanian ministry and reading about some of our adventures and misadventures along the way!  Our aim has been to keep you informed about the ministries we’re involved in, but also to give you a glimpse of what life in Tanzania is like.  We’re not exactly sure when we’ll next be in touch via newsletter or blog, but we look forward to meeting up with many of you over the next 6 months, and we’ll certainly be in touch before we head back to Tanzania in September, God willing.

Malachite Kingfisher

Many blessings,

Steve and Ruth

Prayer Points:

  • That we would finish our term well and do what we need to do before we leave on 7th March.

  • We’re praising God for what we’ve been able to do through Him during our time here, thanking Him for safety and protection, and for His continued blessing on our lives.

  • Please pray that we’ll plan wisely for our HA and that we would also be a blessing and encouragement to those we meet.

  • Please continue to pray for the work of IBM – for Tony as he heads up the seminar programme, and for Matt as he continues to supervise the building of the conference centre.

  • Please pray for spiritual refreshment during our HA – and for re-charged batteries!

Postal address in UK (from 24th March – 7th Sept): West Sevington Farm, Yatton Keynell, Chippenham, Wiltshire SN14 7LE.

How’s that for a big-nosed moth!

Now he just needs some passengers!