Exactly one month before the end of the spring term I was able to accompany Marney Patterson, founder of Invitation to Live Ministries, and former Wycliffe grad, on a trip to the Anglican Diocese of the Rift Valley in Tanzania. Even with exams and term papers looming over the horizon this was too much of an amazing opportunity to miss! We landed in Dar Es Salaam as the sun was rising Easter morning. We then spent a day and a half adjusting to the heat and jetlag. Imagine jumping from -8°C in Toronto to +38°C with humidity in Dar Es Salaam, with an eight hour time difference thrown in.
We then began the ten hour drive inland to Kilimatinde where we would be doing the bulk of our teaching. Tanzania is an absolutely beautiful country. Mountain ranges are juxtaposed with lush plains and rolling hills. I spent the entire journey glued to the car window. We arrived late in the evening and were greeted by our hosts with eager hospitality. One of our hosts was a former Wycliffe grad, Benjemin Mbago. It was wonderful to see a familiar Wycliffe face half way across the world.
Our first conference was with the Anglican seminary and secondary school. There were 18 seminary students and 350 secondary students attending the conference. For each day of the three day conference it was my task to lead the morning exposition on the topic of evangelism in various passages in the book of Acts. This was a great experience. It was also the first time I had ever spoken with a translator. I count my friendship with my translator, Joseph, to be one of the highlights of my trip. I was also responsible for teaching the secondary school students while Dr. Patterson focused on the seminary students. All of the students were so eager to learn all that Dr. Patterson and I were teaching them.
I think one of my favorite memories from this conference was teaching the secondary students in the afternoons. Since it was so hot inside the church in the afternoons, I taught the secondary school students outside under the trees in the grass across from the church. Imagine standing under large trees with the warm breeze around you and looking at 350 high school students waiting to be encouraged and equipped in the faith. I was especially impressed with their questions and their obvious thoughtfulness concerning their spiritual lives.
It was also a blessing to be able to play the guitar during my time in Tanzania. One week before I left, I had a strong sense that I should bring a guitar with me. I had planned to go to a local second-hand shop and buy a used guitar that I could leave at the school. Two days before my flight, a fellow Wycliffe student greeting me after the Wednesday Eucharist said to me “When are you leaving for Tanzania? Are you taking a guitar with you?” I told him of my plans to buy a second-hand guitar and with a pensive look he said: “Don’t do that. I have a guitar at home that I never use. Take it.” It was perfect! It was a joy to use it to sing and teach some of the students. It was also exciting to see the enthusiasm in the faces of the students when I announced that the guitar was to be donated to the school. It’s exciting to see how God works!
The second conference we led was for all of the diocesan “evangelists”. This group consisted of about 150 Anglicans living in places that do not have an established Anglican Church. This group could essentially be considered as church planters. Working with them was an amazing experience. Here were people with very little theological education, with crops to sow and land to farm. They had come from all over the diocese for their first ever gathering as a group. It was an historic event. Since the formation of the diocese in 1991 these people have never met as a group for training or encouragement.
For two days Dr Patterson taught them as much as time would allow. I was amazed at his stamina and endurance. I was also given the opportunity to teach from the book of Acts again. Here were church leaders on the front lines, with only their Bibles for a textbook and decades worth of questions about church leadership. It was an honor to be with such a group of people who were risking so much for the sake of their faith. To join with them in singing to God was an experience I will never forget. It has encouraged me deeply.
As I look back on the trip I am also thankful for the time I was able to spend with Dr. Patterson. There were many days where we had hours to travel between appointments and I used that opportunity to ask him as many questions as possible. We talked about our time at Wycliffe, the challenges facing the Church and his stories of ministry from around the world. We shared many of these conversations with our host, Benjamin. It was a regular Wycliffe alumni meeting. I am proud to be graduating from a college that has so clearly produced people for spreading the Gospel around the world. As I prepare to embark on my own journey in ordained ministry, I am extremely thankful that Wycliffe has given me this opportunity to witness Dr. Patterson’s ministry and the ministry of those amazing people serving in Tanzania.