Tanzania 2022 – July 11 – The red hat tale

In our excursions in Tanzania, we were all impressed with the kindness and friendliness of the Tanzanian people. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the tale of the red hat.

On Sunday the 10th, after attending a church service in Majengo, we arrived at a venue for lunch and a report from some members of ODS, “Open Door for Development Strategies.” This was a group begun by Lameck Sylvester, who was our guide and host while we were in Mtwara district.

The purpose of this group is to train Tanzanians, who are generally very poor and living on about $2 a day, in the mentality and skills necessary to develop sustaining businesses. They have seen many successes. As one of our guides said, “local problems need local solutions.” This is a great example of that. All in the name of Christ.

So, back to the red hat.

After we left the venue, it became apparent to me that I had left my hat behind. Now, I’ve had this hat for over 20 years and carried it with me on numerous trips, wadded up in my suitcase or pack. It’s been on many a hike, keeping the rain and sun off my head. So, I was a little disappointed but resigned to the idea that I would never see my faithful hat again.

A bajaj (ba-ZHAZH)

The next day, our group loaded into bajajes (a three-wheeled motorcycle with a body) to be carried to our next stop. We generally hired these drivers for the day, and they would hang around while we toured whatever we were seeing that day.

This particular morning, I was riding with Lameck. I noticed we were heading in the general direction of the venue where I had left my hat.

“Lameck,” I said, “Are we going to be near The Old Boma (the venue)?” He said we were not. I explained that I’d left my hat there, but no big deal if I couldn’t get it back.

By the time we arrived at our destination, a thought occurred to me. I went to David, one of our group leaders who knows the most among us about Tanzania.

I asked David if he thought it would be alright if I hired one of the bajaj drivers to go to The Old Boma to retrieve my hat. He said he didn’t see why not.

And then something wonderful happened.

Lameck overheard me asking that of David and said, “It’s already been taken care of.”

On his own, he’d asked one of our drivers to go to La Boma and rescue the lost, red hat. Shortly thereafter, I had my headgear back.

Lameck Sylvester

Time and again, we remarked at the friendliness and kindness of the Tanzanian people. There is a selflessness among the believers that is pleasant and “adorns the doctrine of God our Savior” (Titus 2:10). Often ready with a smile, they never seem put out by inconvenience or the kinds of things that would make me lose my patience. This was just another example of that.

I continue to carry those memories.

My trip to Tanzania took place in July 2022.

Tanzania 2022 – July 10 – No longer a face on the refrigerator

Yesterday brought us to a school in Majengo. After a brief welcoming ceremony, which included singing children and tribal dancers, I got to meet the child my wife and I have sponsored for several years.

During all this time, various photos of Talik Dalusi have adorned the side our our refrigerator, chronicling his growth over the years. Often not thought of or prayed for as often as he should be. Perfunctory monthly support and monetary gifts at Christmastime.

All of that ordinariness melted away in one quick moment as I came face to face with Talik’s mother, Paulina, and moments later when I was introduced to a shy little boy. Suddenly, he was no longer a picture on the refrigerator.

I gave them some pictures of my wife and me, our dog Roscoe, and our son and his family. Talik smiled and laughed as I gave him two harmonicas and played an impromptu duet with him. A ball and a Frisbee were a big hit as we played catch.

Later, Paulina asked (through an interpreter) if I wanted to see their house. Of course! So we made a short walk to their home where they invited me inside. I felt like an honored guest.

Then came the greatest surprise of all. She escorted me to a place where they had laid a foundation for a new, larger house. “We are building this with the money you send at Christmas.”

Speechless.

Other of my friends said that similar things were reported to them. “This chicken coop…” “These goats…”

It’s beyond comprehension that what to us is a small gift could make such a large difference. That the Lord could continue his five-loaves-two-fish work and that I could have a part in it literally brought me to tears.

Later on, as they were serving us lunch, Talik joined a couple of friends in a contingent helping us wash our hands. As I stood in line, one of his buddies nudged him and nodded over toward me, as if to say, “Look, there’s your man.” Normally pretty shy and reticent, Talik offered me a huge grin with white teeth.

Talik – #30

This boy on the fridge has now found a place in my heart.

Finally, the day had to end. We reluctantly pulled ourselves from throngs of happy, appreciative children.

It was encouraging to see the center that is supported by so many in my church having a real impact on the real lives of people. Where once children were taught under two large trees, they now have a well and several buildings. A foundation for a larger church building has been laid.

One of my party noted that it’s easy in America to think that the church is in decline. But all across the world, the gospel is advancing. It was thrilling to see evidence of that first-hand.

Tanzania 2022 – July 9 – Travel, travel, travel

I believe we have lost all sense of size and space. Technology has put the world instantaneously at our fingertips, and in just over 24 hours, we can travel across the planet. And then, using our tech, we can call loved ones back home and talk like it’s no big deal.

No. Big. Deal.

But it is kind of a big deal. I’m now in Tanzania, having made all the necessary connections with no flight interruptions, all my bags intact. (Too bad I can’t say that of all my party.)

To this point it’s been all about travel. On Wednesday/Thursday, we flew from Charlotte to DC to Qatar to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Friday brought a quick trip to the mall for SIM cards and cash exchange. Then a short flight to Mtwara on the southern coast, where we will be for the next 3 days.

Today we begin the actual activities of our trip. We’ll be visiting a school, where some of us, including myself, will get to meet children we’ve sponsored. The world is getting smaller.

We’ll also see some agricultural projects and the results of a savings group that is enabling people to develop sustaining economic activities. As one has said, “We first were looking to survive; now we look to see how we can help others.”

I’m sure I’ll have much more to say about that once I see it. As well as some pictures of Taliki, my Compassion child. Should be a fun day.

Tanzania 2022 – What is the mission?

And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.”

Acts 15:36

I leave tomorrow for an 11-day trip to Tanzania, going with a group from my church.

Rather than going to “help them out” or to do for them what they cannot do for themselves, we are going mainly to observe what God is doing.

My church has had an ongoing relationship with the believers in TZ, having made two previous trips there. This is my first, but others have gone before. We have encouraged the saints there with medical service, instruction in church planting, support for entrepreneurial endeavors, and sponsorship of two Compassion International centers.

After our church’s last trip, Richard and Verena, a Tanzanian couple came to Asheville. They operate the Tanzanian Disciple Making Movements, a support group for local entrepreneurial work. They help local Tanzanians to be more productive in business and farming as a part of making disciples. Their goal is to see self-sustaining industries rise that will lift people out of poverty.

While they were in Asheville, I had the opportunity to sit with them and talk about business from a Christian perspective. I shared with them some of the principles that made Chick-fil-A (where I worked) such a success. We parted hoping to continue the conversation in Tanzania someday.

That day was supposed to come in 2020, but we all know what happened. All the support I’d raised was put on hold for a future visit. I appreciate the patience those who’ve supported me have shown. And now we get to go.

Our purpose is to observe. To see what God has been doing in another part of the world. To “see how they are” in the words of Paul (Acts 15:36).

I will also have the special privilege of meeting Talik, a child we have sponsored for several years through Compassion International. That should be a highlight of the trip.

If I am allowed by the sovereign design of God to be able to contribute some thoughts to the believers there, it will not be because I am greater. Rather I hope for mutual encouragement as we all – mmarekani and mtanzania – are “mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Rom. 1:12).

Finally, Tanzania bound!

In the summer of 2020, I was making plans for a trip to Tanzania with a group of people from my church. We were going to encourage the saints that we have come to know, visit a couple of Compassion International centers (and perhaps meet our sponsored children!), and help Christian entrepreneurs develop the skills necessary for self-sustaining business.

An itinerary was set, tickets were purchases, a Visa was secured, funds were raised.

Then COVID happened.

Like so many other endeavors, our plans had to be scrapped. But not without hope.

Like Paul and his desire to visit the Roman church, I felt that I could say of my friends in Tanzania, “Without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you – that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Romans 1:9b-12).

I like how Paul adds that last thought, that of mutual encouragement. For I was not thinking in a morally superior sense that I had anything to impart, but judging from past interactions with some of these African saints, I knew that we would strengthen each other.

Fast forward two years, and it looks like prayers are being answered. We now have tickets, an itinerary has been made, and all those funds raised two years ago will be put to use this year. We will be heading to Tanzania in July 2022!

Back in 2019, Richard and Verana Okech, a husband and wife from TZ met with me at a Chick-fil-A in Asheville. In Tanzania, they work with local entrepreneurs, hoping to train them to become self-sustaining in business. They wanted to “pick my brain” on some of the business practices that have made Chick-fil-A such a success. (If you aren’t aware, I have worked for my local Chick-fil-A for 9+ years in leadership development and guest experiences.)

We spent three wonderful hours together, showing them some of the systems that we employ, as well as some of the “theory” behind what we do. Richard and Verena took turns furiously writing in their notebook, passing it back and forth. It was a time of mutual encouragement.

Later, Richard emailed David and me (David is a local man in my church who is heading up this trip) saying, “It is our prayer that the Lord will keep us connected in our journey of doing business and creating the movement to many in disciple making who are doing business.” In a subsequent email, as we were planning the 2020 trip, Richard said, “Most who heard the stories we shared with them about the things we learned from you asked, ‘Can he [Mark] come and talk with us?’ My response has been, ‘let’s pray for that opportunity.'”

It has been exciting and eye-opening seeing how God is working through people like Richard. Instead of coordinating the receiving of a never-ending stream of financial support (which he sees often goes to corrupt officials), Richard and others are working toward ways that Tanzanians can grow their own businesses to support themselves and others. What I have seen work at Chick-fil-A, both before and during the pandemic, I believe is transferable in some way to other settings and cultures.

I truly feel that this is one of those Macedonian calls – Come and help us. I am humbled that I might have even a small part in building up the believers toward discipleship and sustainable business growth. But I know that at the end of it all, it will be of mutual benefit as I see our Sovereign God at work on a global mission, to the ends of the earth.

Additionally, I may be able to actually meet one or both of the children we sponsor through Compassion International. What a privilege!

So, I urge you, my friends and contacts to pray. Pray that the global situation with not prevent our travel. Pray that we remain healthy enough to travel. Pray for my companions and their fundraising efforts. As for my funding, I still have the funds I raised two years ago. I may still need a little more, so if you are inclined, you can contact me, and I’ll let you know how to give financial support.