Whilst getting busy with the scanner recently I came across a load of forgotten photos from our time in Tanzania. We loved our year there and were really sad that we ended up resigning from the project just a year into our two year stint. However it was at this time that we really got to know the amazing folk in this photo and had our views on Catholics radically challenged.
Let me start by telling you a bit about these guys...
Just 20km's from where we were based these guys were the White Fathers and students of the Kahangala Catholic Seminary. Whilst the names of the students escape me I well remember Patrick (the older guy left of centre in the back row), a father from France with whom I shared many a beer whilst watching a video of the '98 World Cup. Two to the right is Richard from Ghana. He was one of the most educated and gentlest men I've ever met! Finally, I also have very fond memories of Bernard (far right in front row) who was from Canada, a Paul Simon nut with whom I spent many a long hour talking music with a cold beer! These guys made us very welcome and about once a month we would go and stay with them for the weekend as we took a break from the full on life of the project.
As we got to know these guys and spend time with them I particularly had my views of Catholics smashed to pieces and rebuilt. If I'm honest I didn't believe that Catholics were Christians, but how wrong could I have been?! I'm still deeply skeptical of Catholicism but have come to realise that many Catholics, especially those involved in mission are deeply genuine people seeking little more than to make changes in the lives of some of the poorest folk on the planet with no eye on personal reward for themselves. These guys at Kahangala were doing just that. Despite the fact that they were running a training seminary they were heavily involved in the life of the community and were having an amazingly positive impact on it.
One other aspect of what they were doing also really appealed to me and I've subsequently seen similar stuff in other Catholic groups around Africa. I'm a big believer in making the gospel relevant to people as we seek to meet them where they are at. I really see little if any value of having a static building on the street corner if we're not rolling our sleeves up and getting stuck into life in our communities and making the life and love of Jesus real in an everyday context. At bible college this was often dismissed as syncretism and seen as a bad thing. Quite why I'm not too sure when the Anglican church was built on it. Others (myself included) would argue for inculturation. Whichever view you take you'd have been hard pressed to find much wrong with what these guys were doing. One of the outworkings of this that I particularly liked was how they drummed the word of God (the bible) into church. Traditionally in the Sukuma culture the king would have been drummed into a public gathering as a mark of respect for him. So in the same way the seminary drummed in the bible as a mark of respect for Jesus. Cool! To be there, to see it happening, to feel the vibe and to join in the dancing was a fantastic experience.
We grew to love and value these guys but had no idea just how much we valued them until we resigned and had to leave the project. When we resigned we sat with the folk who had come out from Blighty and we'd negotiated a planned exit over a couple of weeks so as to allow time to say goodbye to the children and staff who had become dear friends. Sadly the next day we were give just a few hours to pack and get off site. Dazed and confused we went to the seminary and spent time chatting and praying with Patrick, Bernard & Richard. At a time of confusion, hurt, etc. these guys stood with us and fought for us. They did things we would never have expected them to and they went out of their way to ensure that we were well cared for. Without them we're not sure how we would have coped or how we would have got back to Blighty but we thank God for these amazing brothers in Christ, true heroes of the faith.