Today was a very good day. At 7 a.m. Peter Kawageme, the Chairman, the Treasurer, the Principal, the Dean, and a couple of other people from the church met me at the Conference Center. It was raining. Peter was wearing a checked coat with velvet patches on the collar and elbows. The Chairman was in a blue suit and teased his former teacher mercilessly, which made Peter laugh. He has one of the most engaging laughs I have ever heard and is clearly loved throughout the province. We crowded into the Land Cruiser and set out for the Kisumba congregation in the country. All day long the men in the back would break into laughter. I think that sound, more than anything else, is what I will remember and cherish from my visit. The pastors prayed in the car at the start of the journey and again each time we stopped.
After a few miles the highway ended and we were on dirt roads. Women were carrying large buckets of water from the creeks to their homes. In some places people were clearly on their way to church. Gradually the road became very muddy, but our driver was good and we did not get stuck. After an hour we left behind the villages and were driving through wetlands filled with birds. And then through forest and the roads became rougher and rougher. In places they were so washed out that it was nearly impossible to pass, but slowly we made our way. It was exciting for me to be outside the city and into traditional Africa, but I was surprised that there was no wildlife. Not even small mammals. Just birds. We talked some in the car, but mainly the Tanzanians talked among themselves. Frequently they were on their phones. Cell phones have transformed many parts of the world, and once we passed a tall cellular tower in the middle of the forest.
We reached the Kisumba village about 10:30. The brick huts have grass roofs. As I watched the people milling around and looked at the village I realized that the sermon I had brought with me would not be good. I had preached it in a large urban congregation in Jamaica with many educated people, but these were people who lived by subsistence farming. I decided to preach without notes, and so I left my computer in the car. The pastor is a young man who welcomed us into his house where chairs were prepared. Food was brought in. Fried bread similar to tortillas. Tasty. Before eating the pastor brought a pitcher and basin to wash my hands and the hands of the others in order of status. After eating we washed again. And they led me to the church.
It is a brick church, somewhat traditional in architecture, but with a soundboard and large speakers. The Principal presided over the service, dressed in white robe with green stole. I was in clerical collar and blue blazer. Peter translated what he was able to, but some of the music was in the language of that tribe. There are over 120 languages in Tanzania. Swahili is for most people a second language. The service was a beautiful blend of traditional liturgy with African music. There were four choirs, mainly youth and women’s choirs. The youth choir danced while they sang, and some of the women gave ululation. I enjoyed it greatly. I preached on Colossians 3:1-15, a favorite text of mine and Peter translated. I talked about the need to die to our old life and old ways and live the new life of Christ. I used myself as an example, telling them I grew up in a racist society and that my parents taught me to fear black people. But I was in Africa because Christ showed me a better way and showed my country a better. I spoke mainly about clothing ourselves in compassion as the outer garment that we should wear each day. People seemed to be engaged in the sermon and Peter told me later that it was very good. It is the first time that I have received ululation after preaching!
The church is trying to raise money for glass windows and there was a special “exercise” to dramatize the need for money. The Chairperson made a point of giving. I gave a little myself. People come forward to put their money in the money chest. Some people brought agricultural products that were auctioned after church. When the service was over everyone greeted me on the way out of church. Many of them gave a three-fold handshake, which means Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. People did not leave the yard immediately. The choir continued singing, and then the auction began. Someone bought charcoal and then gave it an elderly woman who received it joyfully. When all was over, the pastors went back to the house for lunch. Again hands were washed and food was brought in by the women. They ate in the kitchen with the children. There was rice, of course, cooked greens, and dried fish prepared in broth. After lunch there were farewells. One toddler looked at me and screamed. She was frightened by the white man. Her mother was embarrassed, but I was not.
Then it was time to climb back into the car for the long journey to Kalambo Falls. We were talking much more freely now. I think I had passed a test in worship and at lunch, and I was treated more as a companion than a visitor. The Treasurer is a young man with good English and he often explained things to me. From time to time we had to stop and “check the tires”, which was a euphemism for biological needs. We eventually made it to the last village in Tanzania. Across the river is Zambia. It was another village with brick huts with grass roofs and so many children! As the Project Director explained to me later, the rural people in Tanzania have not adopted the government’s program of family planning. The children crowded around the car to look at the mzunga or white person. One knew enough English to ask for money, but I had none to give and did not think it wise anyway.
Finally an elder came to open the gate and we drove down to the stair that leads to the falls. The falls are amazing. They are not wide, but are very powerful. It is a single free waterfall that is over 700 ft high. Some authorities say it is the second highest in Africa, others the second highest in Tanzania. Over the millennia the river has carved a deep gorge. The Zambian side is a shear cliff. The Tanzanian side is steep, but has more vegetation and tumbled rocks. About halfway down the gorge the vegetation becomes very thick and green. It is truly one of the most awesome and beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Everyone was amused that I was sweating so much from the exertion of the hike, especially the final climb of the stairs. They teased me about running the Kilimanjaro marathon next year.
Our next destination was Lake Tanganyika, another place that has lived in my imagination since I was a child. It was a long drive to Kasanga Port, and on the way we stopped at a village to visit the pastor and his wife. I heard an exorcism going on in the church. Loud screaming, but that is a normal form of pastoral care. Visitations involve frequent ritual phrases that are like a litany or chant. I caught a few phrases, like Our Lamb has conquered, let us follow him and Christ have mercy. Back in the car we drank sodas. The Treasurer introduced me to Stoney, a ginger soda that I liked a lot. And we had cookies and we laughed often. No one calls me Craig, except for Peter. I am always Professor or Pastor. And I use their titles as well. It is an interesting blend of formality with easy laughter and much teasing.
When the car rounded a turn coming down from the highlands I saw Tanganyika for the first time. The green hills come right down to the blue water. It is beautiful. It is like the ideal lakes that I pictured when I was boy. Actually it is like the image I had of heaven one day in church when I was seven or eight. We drove down to the port and got out of the car. It is a small port with a single cargo ship on the southern end of the lake. The lake itself is one of the longest, largest, and deepest in the world. It is really an inland sea. The water was so calm it was like glass. There were just a couple of fishing canoes on the water and nothing else to disturb it. Near the lake is a fishing village where the Moravians have a church, one of the oldest in the Rukwa Province. Tanganyika, you may remember was where the sainted David Livingstone established his hospital and where the horrible Henry Stanley eventually discovered him after a long rampage through Central Africa.
The Treasurer explained that Kasanga had been the headquarters of the German colonial authority in Africa and was named for Bismarck. There is still a German ship under the water from World War I. Across the lake I could see Zambia and Congo. If we sailed the length of the lake we would come to Burundi and Rwanda. We went up the hill to a little resort area and bought some lake fish. One of them was about three feet long and had been gutted and hung in a tree. The driver tied the fish to the top of the Land Cruiser and we drove off as the sun was setting. Our only dinner that evening was cookies and more soda. We drove the same difficult roads again, but this time in pitch dark in the rain. Twice we startled owls on the road who flew off in a blaze of white in the glare of the headlamps. Beautiful. So much beauty in this world to see if we keep our eyes open, but despite the rough roads I dozed in my seat, exhausted from preaching, from talking, from laughing, from hiking, and from being overwhelmed with the beauty of this place and its people.