image courtesy of synthtopia.com
The letter was addressed to “the Father and Mother of this house” (that’s Christie and I). It was delivered to our gate while I was in town. Christie received the letter and assured the messenger she’d pass it on to me. [Despite being addressed to "Father AND Mother," letters are meant to be read, and decisions made, by "Father" -- and independent of "Mother."] When I got home I put the letter on the desk, saying I’d have a look another day; it was no doubt another request for moneys or funding.
[This post is one installment of a somewhat (okay, extremely) irregular feature of my blog called Missionary Predicaments. Occasionally I attempt to explain some recent (or ongoing) dilemma having to do with being a missionary and development worker in Tanzania. And then I ask what you think the proper Christian missionary response would be. Then I do whatever you said. Well… maybe not. But I do welcome all advice — especially if you’re over 50 years old and have grey hair. In the case of this particular "predicament," I realize I've probably not given you enough background and culture to make a firm decision; rather I've simply asked some questions of the situation -- which I intend to answer as best as I can in coming days.]
A couple of days passed, and I’d not yet reviewed the letter (we were busy trying to get work done before heading to Mwanza for Baylor to receive another vaccination). The pastor of a local church “hodied” at our gate,* and I went out to receive him. He asked if “mama” had given me his letter, and I answered in the affirmative, though I told him I’d not yet been able to read it. I could tell he wanted to discuss the matter there at that time (which kind of defeats the purpose of writing a letter), but we had visitors. So after he told me the letter was a request for funding to allow his church to buy several musical instruments, I told him I’d read the letter soon and get back to him. He was not satisfied with that answer, but it is the answer I gave. [Little did he know that the less time I was given to consider his request, the less likely I would be to grant it.] The pastor walked away, expressing that he was looking forward to my answer (he was very optimistic, I might add).
Two or three days passed again, and we (and several others) ran out of water at our house. The pastor visited our home again on that day (while Carson and I were in the middle of our 7-hour water-procuring party) and spoke with Christie. He very indirectly and politely (as much as is possible) called my wife a liar when she told him she had indeed given me the letter. He continued suggesting to her that it would be better if she would give me the request, so that I could consider it (and answer in the positive). She continued telling him that I had already received the request and that it was sitting in a stack of papers to be reviewed on my desk. Eventually, tired of trying to persuade Christie to ‘fess up to her wicked dealings, the pastor left, again to await my answer.
I have now answered the pastor in written form, but have not yet received his response to my response. But I thought I’d share with you a bit of his letter, which was handwritten in English. I have not altered it in any way:
“…we are requesting a great assistance from your family so as you can enable us to purchase Church’s music instrumental which will be used to preach the Gospel of the Lord. By doing that from your heart God will bless you indeed. For more vivid evidence, read MALACHI 3:10. From this book of the Bible God promised to bless all people who will up raise his work from their money and properties. We give thanks before and we are looking forward to be helped from your family. Amen.”
This letter raises a lot of questions for me:
- What does it mean to “preach the Gospel of the Lord,” and will musical instruments help in that process?
- Should I have any say in how a local Tanzanian church spends their money? What about how they spend my money?
- If I disagree with how (and why) they spend their money, should I decline to help them? Should I offer an explanation of my disagreement, or simply decline?
- Does Malachi 3:10 really address me helping a local church by purchasing musical instruments?
- Perhaps most importantly, what does this letter and the entire process of its delivery teach me about the beliefs and worldview of this local church (and probably others in the area)?
* Hodi = Swahili word that announces the presence of a visitor at a door or gate. I’m guessing this practice developed over the knock because of the general lack of doors on which one could knock. And a single “hodi” will not, under any circumstance, suffice. The visitor is required to “hodi” constantly until the door is opened or (in some cases) someone from inside answers with “nakuja,” a familiar way of saying, “I’m coming.” However, one must continue yelling “nakuja” until one has actually opened the door, lest the “hodi”ing begin again. It seems the general rule is that there can be no time of quiet, however brief, between the arrival of a visitor and the actual opening of the door. I’ve on several occasions thought about doing the same sort of thing while waiting for my food at a restaurant or while waiting to be helped at the hardware store — constantly repeating my order until I actually have the item in my hand. It truly is sad that a word announcing a guest (something which is quite an honor in this context) can come to mean about the same thing as nails screeching on a chalkboard.