The following is a narrative account of the time Ross and I spent with the Langi church in Mwanza, Tanzania. The Langi church is a mature group of believers that is a part of the Kanisa La Kristo (Church of Christ) movement in Sukuma land. Because a Tanzanian must invite a foreigner into the country with a formal letter that is submitted to the government in order for the foreigner to obtain a work permit, the Makonde team asked the Langi church to sponsor our work visas and sign our invitation letter. Our thanks to the Mwanza team for hosting us in their homes, for providing transportation to the Langi church, for translating, and for introducing us to the Langi church. Their support during our team’s transition to Africa has been invaluable. Andrew and Sarah were also on this trip, but unfortunately they were unable to make it out to Langi village because Andrew was sick with malaria.
They poured warm water over my hands into a basin in preparation for the meal. They brought us steaming brown mounds of brown ugali made of millet and maize along with piping hot samaki (fish). The tender white fish meat was so moist that it fell off of the bones as we pinched bits to eat with each handful of ugali. When I was full, and I thought that the meal was done, the women of the church produced several trays the size of shields piled high with fluffy white rice and red beans. They dished me a serving that overflowed a large bowl. After that came cassava and white sweet potatoes that had been boiled. The final course was steaming sweet chai, sweeter that I have ever tasted in Africa. This sumptuous feast, this offering of the church’s best, took place under shade trees on small tables.
I have been offered extravagant displays of hospitality many times throughout my travels in Africa, but for some reason, this experience was different. Like a doting grandparent, Mama Lupimo, wife of an Elder of the Langi church, repeatedly and delightedly offered handfuls of ugali and bits of tender fish to three year-old Faith, a child of the Baileys, missionaries who brought us to Langi village. Faith hardly had time to swallow; her cheeks were constantly full of samaki and ugali. The food was so abundant, and the chai was so sweet.
After the meal, the formal ceremony began. The Langi church greeted us warmly and invited us to return again. Each person present introduced himself. There were five elders present along with their wives, a church minister, and some other church members. After the men introduced themselves, they asked the women present to introduce themselves. Mama Lupimo stood and introduced herself as a “Mama” in the church who led a women’s group that met to encourage each other in the faith weekly. Mama Lupimo carried herself with dignity and confidence. Next, another elder’s wife introduced her self. She had on a purple dressed wrapped in a blue and yellow kanga. She told us that she had nine children with her husband and that she had been married for many years. “This marriage,” she said, “Is the real thing.”
Ross and I introduced our selves in stuttering Swahili and then Jason Miller (missionary to the Sukuma) translated as Ross spoke in English. We told our story, from the beginning—the ministries in Kenya of the parents (some of whom the church leaders of Rangi knew) of our teammates— through the spiritual journey of the Downtown church related to the Makonde mission. After we explained who we were and what our team intended to do in Makonde land, we asked if there were any questions.
Mama Lupimo stood up, “Are there any churches in Makonde land now?” she asked thoughtfully. Other questions were, “How will the future churches choose their leadership,” and “Will these planted churches be churches of Christ?” The answer and question time was followed by the presentation of a formal letter that Jason Miller had written in Kiswahili in which the Langi church invited our team to work in the Mtwara area. This letter would be submitted to the government for approval.
The Elders and their wives gathered around, carefully reading the letter. They discussed the legal implications of sponsoring our team. I could tell that they were taking their responsibility and their future relationship with our team very seriously. After consensus, they all signed the letter and with parental warmth stated, “We are glad to do this. Our church is here because people like you came to Sucuma land. We will come see you in Mtwara in two years to see how you are doing.” I grinned and smiled, “Karibuni” (you all are welcome).