During January term this year, my husband Daniel (final-year MDiv student) and I traveled with a group of seven people from Wartburg Seminary to Tanzania. Our goal on the trip was to witness the work God is doing there, and we spent an incredible two and a half weeks visiting a wide variety of ministries of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT) including multiple churches, primary and secondary schools, a university and a vocational training school, a rehabilitation center for people with physical and mental disabilities, a hospital, an orphanage, and even a coffee cooperative. We also experienced the tremendous beauty of God’s creation during safari tours through two different national parks, a definite highlight of the trip!
For me, the most meaningful part of the trip was getting to meet Naomi, the young girl I sponsor through Compassion International, a Christian child sponsorship organization whose mission is releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name. After traveling almost 10 hours from where we were staying in Arusha to the capital city of Dodoma, I finally came face-to-face with this girl I’ve been sponsoring for almost seven years.
While there, we had a chance to visit the Compassion center and the church Naomi attends. I learned from the site director that I was only the second sponsor to ever make it to that site for a visit, so everyone was very excited to see us. Naomi was fairly shy and a bit overwhelmed by the whole situation, and I’m sure the fact that we didn’t speak the same language didn’t help much (though we did have a translator there to assist). That being said, she became a little more comfortable and relaxed throughout the day, and she and I were able to share a beautiful moment as we sat and looked through the collections of letters and photos we had exchanged over the years.
After our tour of the site, we walked to a local shop where our Compassion host helped me to purchase items like flour, rice, beans, and cooking oil to present as gifts for Naomi’s family. Then we had the opportunity to walk to Naomi’s home and meet her family.
Her house is very modest, consisting only of 1-2 small rooms with clay walls and a dirt floor. There is no electricity in the house and the only furniture was a few wooden stools and a mat on the floor where the family sleeps. However, we were warmly greeted by the entire family and graciously welcomed inside. Naomi lives with her parents and 3 siblings, but we also met her grandparents and multiple aunts, uncles, and cousins whom we suspect also live in the house or nearby.
After being introduced to everyone, I presented the gifts of food as well as a backpack I had brought along packed full of toys, school supplies, hygiene products, candy, etc. Daniel and I also received gifts from the family: a shawl and several clay cooking bowls for me and a ceremonial bow and arrow set for Daniel. We also exchanged words of thanks and prayed for one another, and of course, took lots of pictures. It was an incredible blessing to witness the work of Compassion first-hand, and it’s a day I’m sure I’ll remember and treasure forever!
In addition to visiting Naomi and tour her Compassion site, we also happened to visit two additional Compassion sites located at ELCT churches as well as the main Compassion office in Tanzania. We witnessed again and again the work of this amazing ministry and the real difference it makes in the lives of children. We learned there are about 75,000 children in Tanzania who receive assistance from Compassion and have sponsors just like me. My family has been a supporter of Compassion for many years now, and it’s a commitment that Daniel and I knew we wanted to continue when we got married. Daniel and I have even volunteered at several Christian concerts to help find sponsors for Compassion children.
However, it’s one thing to hear the talks, watch the promotional videos, and hold the child packets, and another thing to actually get to see those faces in person, to hug the girl that you send letters and money to each month, and to meet the incredible people who make sure that money actually helps to make a real difference in the lives of those children.
Through all of these experiences we witnessed the amazing work God is doing through the Lutheran church in Tanzania. We experienced generous hospitality from so many wonderful people who are passionate about proclaiming the love and salvation of Jesus through worship, education, and service. We learned about the challenges of ministering in a nation where the average person lives on about $200 a year. We were reminded of the many things we take for granted here in the U.S such as reliable electricity, paved roads, access to affordable education and quality healthcare, and clean drinking water.
But most of all, I was reminded of the simple yet profound truth that God is God no matter where you go. God’s church in Tanzania is not all that different from God’s church in the U.S., and while we may look different, dress or eat differently, or face different challenges in life, God is still God, and God is still good!