In early 2000, we moved to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania from Bujumbura, Burundi where we had planted our first church. We had handed our church in Bujumbura over to a son in the faith and were excited to see a new church born. The process of planting a church from scratch is daunting enough but we had seen God’s favor in Burundi and were sure that we would see another wildly successful church born. We had seen it before! God was on our side! What could possibly go wrong?
In Burundi we struggled to get government permission to open the church and, after 9 months of waiting and struggle, we received news that our file had been approved. A few short months later, we held our first service. The church stood strong through times of serious civil unrest and war. Today, our first church has planted 4 additional churches since our departure. All of the difficulty we faced fades into nothing knowing the work has moved forward.
However, we had a totally different experience in Tanzania. From the moment we arrived, it seemed the odds were definitely not in our favor. We had applied for approval to start the work and despite having all indications we were approved, we spun in circles from day to day for a year and a half trying to get our certificate of registration. It became very expensive as we had to purchase visas for our 5 member family monthly at a cost of $400 per passport. In the end, after spending nearly all we had, we moved on to Lusaka, Zambia and registered the work there in a matter of weeks.
Yet, the “Tanzania effect” followed me for quite some time.
Everyone has moments in life when hopes and dreams not only don’t come true, but it seems they are shattered into millions of pieces so small that there’s no way to put them back together. For me, Tanzania was my first experience with such a disappointment.
I had supposed that I knew how things worked since I had seen it happen before; in Tanzania I faced the harsh reality that each step we take has its own set of rules attached to it. My mind battled with the questions of, “How could we have been so wrong?” and “How could we have made such a mistake?”
For years afterwards, I avoided the subject of Tanzania. The work continued and other difficult moments ensued, but none that hurt as deeply as Tanzania. With the years passing, my attitude changed from “How could we have been so wrong?” to “What was that all about?”
Periodically, as it goes here in Africa, we would get news of those we had ministered to during our short stay in Tanzania. One brother’s news in particular helped me see things differently. This man had told us years ago that he wanted to reach his tribe, the Maasai, who are notoriously difficult to reach. “Out of the blue” as it were we received news he had actually gone back to his people and was a pastor of a church.
A smile crosses my face, now nearly 17 years later, as I realize what never was meant to be for us, happened in the life of another. What we sowed into him has carried on and that is amazing. When we say, “One soul is all that matters.” God will test us on our word, not because He needs to find out for he knows our hearts, but to show us what is in the depths of our hearts.
It took years, but I was finally able to come to a place of peace and left the unknown and unanswered questions about that time to God. I have had more “Tanzania effect” moments in the years since we left, and they have hurt me as well, but none effected me as deeply as my season in Tanzania.
Then, earlier this year, we received an email from some connections in Arusha, Tanzania, inviting my husband to speak at a conference. Two days ago I stepped onto a plane and made the long journey to Arusha from our home in Blantyre, Malawi, with my husband and daughter. I’ve not been back to Tanzania since 2001, and I wondered what “effect” this journey would have on me.
The conference begins this morning and as I look out my window and wonder what this week holds, I know one thing: God is faithful. He loves us so much that He puts us exactly where we need to be at any given moment. Had our journey in Tanzania taken more or less time, everything we have seen in its wake could have turned out differently. Would the churches have been born that we’ve seen born? Would our adopted daughter in Malawi have come into our lives? I can’t bear to think of that! I thank Tanzania for pushing me forward, so much has come to pass in the years since.
Romans 8:28 NLT “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”
Take a breath, the pain will pass, and one day you’ll find yourself on the other side of that experience. The reasons you endured what you’ve endured may not be understood in this lifetime, but that really doesn’t matter. They will work to get you to where you need to go.