Bishop Martyn’s blog from Tanzania – a reminder of God’s blessing
It’s rainy season in Tanzania. My first night in our partner diocese of Mount Kilimanjaro was punctuated by thunder and lightning and I awoke to a small river running down the path outside my room. But people here have been praying for rain after a long dry summer and so even as I get soaked walking from my bedroom to the breakfast room, I’m reminded that for local people, this is a sign of God’s blessing being showered from heaven.
Breakfast is shared with five other bishops including Guli, Bishop of Loughborough, and others from Tanzania, India and the USA. We’ve each brought two or three people from our dioceses and so even as we drink our coffee, we talk of our hopes for this week as we seek to learn from one another and explore what it means to be one church with all our different cultural expressions.
As so often, the first thing we notice is our differences. In England, we very rarely get the tropical downpours that are normal for rainy season in Tanzania. Neither do we get the baking hot sun which, when it breaks through the clouds, immediately burns my skin. The Indian delegation went to the market on the first day to buy ingredients to make their own chapatis (they’re clearly not overly impressed with Tanzanian food!), and the American delegation are still adjusting to the time difference and working out how they can Skype relatives at home. The differences are obvious and stark and always the first thing we notice.
But as we gather for our first church service, so we start to get a sense of what we share in common. Again, the style of worship is very different – much singing and dancing here – but our Bible reading reminds us of our shared Easter hope and our prayers are focused on the same human needs and concerns. Once again, I find myself quite emotional as I reflect on the privilege of being part of a global church where each person’s culture is respected and valued while also being subtly challenged by others who see things in a very different way.
Still dripping wet from the tropical downpour, the conference delegates gather in our guesthouse. Our conversation is all in English, a reminder that I come from a very privileged culture – our colonial past dictating that it is our language which others must learn. But as I speak – trying to enunciate my words clearly for those who struggle with this as their second or third language – I realise that communicating in this shared language is fraught with difficulties. We may use the same words, but do they carry the same meaning?
And so, I am reminded that my own culture has been impoverished in many ways. An African delegate speaks of a recent ‘visit’ to a village. A Western delegate asks what the purpose of the ‘visit’ was, only for the African to be left struggling to answer. I see him trying to compute, why does a ‘visit’ need a purpose? He was going to meet people, to enjoy their company, give them the gift of his time and receive the gift of their community. He wasn’t going with any other purpose than this. There was no business to transact, just a desire to be with people.
So perhaps the rain is showering God’s blessing on me in an unexpected way. The cultural differences can make me feel uncomfortable and challenge my assumptions and all that I think it means to be English and to be a Christian. But perhaps this is the only way to learn and to grow and to develop as a person. So even as I once again get soaked in the tropical rain, I will pray for myself and my country, that we will recognise God’s blessing being showered on us in unexpected ways.