This month marks 10 years since God first led us into full time Christian mission overseas when we visited Tanzania for three weeks. Prior to that time we had never thought of serving God outside of the UK and we weren't looking to rock the boat. In '97 we had a very nice life and for the first time we actually had some money and were able to enjoy a few luxuries that previously had been out of our reach. However, God has a funny way of shaking things up and now 10 years on we wouldn't want to give up the adventure He's given us. We own no property, have a minimal monthly income and yet we've never been hungry or homeless and our financial needs are always met through God's amazing faithfulness. Our hope and prayer is that the adventure with God will continue for many more years and we'll continue to be stunned by His world and people in it.
Here are some of the highs and lows of the adventure so far..
The best experience was having a day in the Serengeti. We used to live 30 minutes from the Western gate but only managed one proper trip into the park in our year in Tanzania. We went with Dan Tanner a crazy American who was the best ever game guide! Dan seemed to have an innate sense of where the animals would be and when they would be there and he wasn't wrong once! Two abiding memories of Dan on that trip were when he got a lone bull elephant to charge the car, very frightening and when he got out and chased a herd of buffalo, crazy but it made for some great photos. We only spent 12 hours in the Serengeti, but got to see more game in that one day than we've seen in any other game drive since, and we've done lots of game drives.
The worst experience also comes from our time in Tanzania, we were having real problems with two of the boys we were caring for and after some months of great difficulty we were forced to act. The villagers were alleging that one of the boys had sexually assaulted a girl in the village and they were preparing to deal with it. After a team meeting we agreed that we had to return him to Mwanza, so Dean got the job of returning a child to the streets. This was by far the hardest thing we've ever done! We liaised with the local streetkid project who looked out for the lad and cared for him. The only positive was that the other boy completely transformed and became like a son to us. We still miss him.
The funniest incident probably goes to a day trip we organised in Harare whilst we were at the Just Children street kid centre. We all went to a park in Harare which had a small canal around it. All the staff and kids went into the small canoes and before long utter chaos ensued. We managed to sink every canoe and we all went home saturated. We got many strange looks from passersby in the city as we squelched our way back to the centre!
Our most amazing God moment occurred on our way home from Tanzania. Having resigned in the field and been treated pretty shabbily by the organisation we found ourselves at the Mayflower guest house in Nairobi contemplating the future. We were convinced God had called us to Tanzania but here we were on our way home. We were confused, dazed and a bit angry. We had dinner at the Mayflower and sat with an elderly couple who spoke straight into our lives. They helped us understand that God had called us to serve Him rather than having called us to a specific project or country. This understanding still underpins our basic approach to making ourselves available to serve God. In the evening we went to say goodbye to the couple but couldn't find them so we asked at the reception but they had no record of such a couple. After asking a few other guests, none of whom had seen this elderly couple we realised we'd had a very privileged encounter with angels. a truly stunning God moment!
It is amazing to see how things have changed over 10 years, now email and the internet are common place, back when we started, fax was the preferred method of communicating quickly with the UK. Email was around but so few people had it that it wasn't worth using. In our early days we had to use the available local transport networks, now we wouldn't dream of putting ourselves at such risk, particularly in South Africa. Not all change is for the better, in Tanzania we only knew a handful of other expats so our main friendships were drawn from local people. Here in South Africa it's much harder to develop deep friendships across the very wide cultural divides. We try hard and have seen some fruit as we have a few very dear friends in Chris Nissen, but this is exceptional here, definitely not the norm!
Church experiences have always been very interesting in the last 10 years. In Tanzania we were supposed to worship as part of a church in the village, but invariably we would travel to Kahangala Catholic seminary to worship there. In Zim' we worshipped as part of the Newfrontiers family of churches, with some highly motivated and driven leaders. This was great but exhausting. Now we live in paradise but find church life very tough.
Lessons learnt: Not all aid agencies and NGO's are there to help so don't look to them or wait for them to get things started, It ain't gonna happen! We were truly appalled by the World Food Program, having attended some of their meetings in Zim' we would actively seek to avoid working with them again. Such organisations provide great talking shops and very little action! We've also been disgusted with some of the bigger (secular) aid and development agencies. Please don't give them your money without strict guarantees that it won't be wasted on fancy 4X4s and swanky business cards. Whilst Christians are often attacked and vilified for 'prosletysing' it is invariably the Christians and local churches who have their sleeves rolled up and are getting on with the job at the coal face. For that we should never apologise nor attempt to justify our actions and motivations!
Some things that have happened: crashed a motorbike into a 6ft ditch 30 miles from home, drilled palm of hand, removed a ring from a man's hand using an angle grinder, been robbed at knife point by 4 men, watched 2 lionesses finishing off a wildebeest for breakfast, seen the wildebeest queuing in the Serengeti to cross the Grumeti river,had malaria 6 times, dysentery twice, worms twice and a variety of other pleasantries. watched the police shoot an unarmed suspect, rescued a suspected rapist from mob justice, spent 27 hours in Harare police cells. We've been heavily involved in planting 2 new churches, overseen the distribution of several hundred tonnes of food aid and watched the 98 World Cup in French with a Frenchman in Tanzania. Allegedly learnt three new languages, gave up drinking tea and learnt to drink lager (but not instead of tea!). We've towed a police Land Rover out of a river, provided them with pen & paper so they could record a crime. We've ignored Home Office advice over travel arrangements, sacked a doctor from his job, resigned from a post whilst 4000 miles from home, drunk beer in a catholic seminary with the priests in charge and sat by a watering hole whilst the 300+ strong presidential herd of elephants wandered past. Goats have been slaughtered in our honour and children have been named after us. We've been to Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Zambia, South Africa, Malawi & Lesotho as well as several trips home to Blighty. But without question the best thing we've ever done is meet some truly amazing people along the way, many of whom remain really good friends!
We serve a truly AWESOME God without whom we would never have done any of the above! At all times we've sought merely to serve Him and glorify His name. what an honour it is to serve Him!
This was mostly Dean's perspective, Paula might try and write something soon.