I mentioned last week a men’s retreat in Kenya. About 30 male missionaries joined together from Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda, for two full days and three nights (I’d love to have had an extra day) at a conference center called Rondo. Below are some of the highlights:
- We sang a lot, and it was actually good. When you get a bunch of guys together to sing, good is not usually what you get. Just ask past soccer teams I’ve coached — or better yet, ask my mother who would hear those teams’ devotional times while on retreat in Florida. I dated a country girl once who described her singing as sounding like a cow peeing on a flat rock; these guys sounded like 20 cows peeing on flat rocks. But there were no flat rocks at Rondo. You know it’s funny, though, those same 20 soccer players, if singing with girls, had beautiful voices. Anyway, our time of worship in song at Rondo was great.
- We played a lot of sports. One of the things I miss the most while living in Tanzania is team sports. I don’t get the chance to play much of anything here, so my time spent in athletics is reduced to running or riding a bike (which I also enjoy, but it’s just not the same). I haven’t yet found a group to play soccer with in Geita. At Rondo, I got to play frisbee, soccer (small sides), and several hours of volleyball. We also had a retreat-wide game of wiffle ball, which, although I generally dislike baseball, softball, and the like, I actually enjoyed. But playing all those sports meant we had to “skip” some portion of the retreat. I know all my former college professors are assuming I skipped the classes, but in fact I did not. I simply forfeited my “tea time.”
- There was way too much “tea time.” What is this about?! It’s a MEN’S retreat. We had tea like four or five times a day. Rondo Retreat Center is quite colonial in all they do, and a little too proper for me. All the buildings are decorated like my grandmother’s house — which is nice, but incredibly breakable. [Grandmother, I like your house and all that’s in it. It’s just that it’s much nicer than I need for a men’s retreat. Bigdaddy’s barn would do much better for that.] And yes, my grandmother reads my blog. So the buildings at Rondo are all gussied up with antiques and furniture that I was afraid to sit in for fear of getting it sweaty. We had to wear long trousers to dinner, which always started with a soup. There were at least six different utensils in my place setting — I figured 30 missionary guys should be able to get by with six utensils between all of us. But then with what would the prissy ones have stirred their tea?
- My favorite quote during our time together was along these same lines. A few of us were playing volleyball, and some others had said they might come after their afternoon tea. I was wondering out loud why guys that can play team sports only once or twice a year would choose instead to drink tea, which they can do anytime they please in their own homes. Theron Hutton, one of my new favorite missionaries in East Africa, said, “They like to talk. They call it ‘visiting,’ but really they’re just talking.”
- We had a time (during tea one afternoon) they called “swap shop.” If any missionary wants to report on their work or share new ideas, technologies, programs, etc, with the the others, this time is for that. Of course, we do this sort of thing throughout our time together, though it is a tad bit more formal during “swap shop.” My favorite “swap shop” item was Mark Long, of Uganda, sharing a video showing the construction of a “sandbag home.” He built a two-story, dome-shaped house almost entirely of dirt in bags. In the end it proved to be quite strong and incredibly affordable. He didn’t yet have a final cost, but it seems like you could do it for under $3000 pretty easy — electricity and all.
- The best advice I got during the conference came from volleyball star and Uganda missionary Theron Hutton. We were discussing agriculture development and the use of Socratic teaching methods, and he offered the following on getting started (I’m going to put this in quotation marks as if he said these exact words, though I’m sure it’s actually more of a summary): “When you first start going into some of these villages, walk around with the guys and ask them what they’re proud of. Don’t ask them what farming problems they have — everybody else does that, and the locals are quick to tell their problems, so you’ll solve them. Instead ask them what they’re proud of, what do they do well, what parts of their farming program do they want their descendants to know. They need to appreciate and remember what they do well in agriculture.” I don’t know how many of you are involved in rural development, but this has got to be some of the best advice you could ever receive.
So the retreat was great. I intend to post a few pictures later, and I will also devote an entire post at some point to our Bible study time in the book of Matthew (led by Mark Long of Rochester College). But for now, I’m off for a spot of tea… with crumpets.