Last weekend, Ross and I visited a Catholic abby here that is 106 years-old. Fortunately for us, this abbey is only two hours from us on a paved road, and it is at a higher elevation and a little cooler than where we live now.
Additionally, it is powered very reliably with hydro-electric power, and there is a large spring that supplies the whole Catholic compound with fresh water which can even be drunk from the tap. The abbey has German roots, so we were served sausage, ham, fresh butter, homemade bread, sour kraut, etc. in meals. We even got to eat lettuce during our stay. About half of the monks there are German and in their 80’s, and the other half are Tanzanians. There is also a beautiful, fresh water pond that we hiked to and got to swim in.
Awkwardly, when we arrived, about four ancient monks in swim-trunks were slowly easing themselves into the water. I didn’t know if there were rules about women swimming with monks, so I thought maybe I would refrain even though I really wanted to swim. But of course Ross told me, “We’ll just ask.”
“Hey there!” Shouted Ross across the clear pond to the monks who were slowly making their way to the other side. They reminded me of a special on swimming sloths that I saw on National Geographic TV one time. “Can we swim?”
“Well, I don’t know if you can, but I wouldn’t try if you can’t,” Grumbled one in a thick German accent. Ross and I laughed nervously,
“Can my wife swim?”
“We’re not accustomed to being bombarded by foreigners at our pool!” said the same guy. Another monk, trying to smooth over his brother’s brusqueness, assured us,
“Of course, come on in.” Ross became deeply engaged in a theological conversation with one monk while dog paddling beside him across the pond, and we found out that this particular man had lived in TZ since 1960.
The Abbey supports a large church, a monestary, two nunneries, a 300+ bed hospital and dental clinic, a vocational college, and dairy, and more. Needless to say, they are deeply blessing the surrounding population. But our interest was in finding out what the Catholics were doing in regards to disciple-making.
One night, we lingered over supper, and the cook who served us all weekend sat down at the table with us to rest his feet. When Ross introduced himself as a person who is sent to TZ to share the words of Jesus (in Kiswahili), this mzee (old-man, a title) cook lit up. “I love the words of Jesus!” He said.
“Oh,” We said, “Are you a Christian?”
“No, I am deciding.”
“How do you know about the words of Jesus?”
“I was in Dar one day, and I heard a Church service. I liked the words so much that I stayed for six hours and then came back the next day.”
“If you would like, tomorrow at lunch, I will bring you some of the words of Jesus for you to read,” replied Ross.
The next day, before lunch, we had a two-hour interview with the Abbot. During this time, we learned about the Catholic method for sending out catechists, who give catechism to bring people into the church, etc. According to the Abbot, everyone in TZ has chosen their religion, and we would have to go to Mozambique to find people who need services like those the Church of Christ specializes in (disciple making, church planting). This was sobering, and we went to lunch a little confused. You see, the Catholics have been doing such a good job in this area that it made us question, “Are our services really needed? Why have we come?” Ross prayed the night before that God would reveal our place in Tanzania if we were indeed needed.
We brought a colorful book with lots of pictures about the life of Jesus (brought at the abbey bookstore) like we promised for the cook. When Ross gave the book to him, he clutched it in both hands, held it to his chest, and bowed low, like a Japanese bow. This was very surprising because I have never been bowed to by an old man in Africa before. Old men are the ones who deserve the respect in this culture (you stand when they enter the room). He almost skipped around refectory inserting “asante”s whenever he took up a used plate or spoon.
The refectory where the cook worked daily is in a building that is attached to the church. The monks pass the cook every day as they go in and out. And the Abbot told us one room over from where the cook was setting out our lunch out that all people here had decided on their religion. But this cook was thirsting for Jesus’ words. He himself said that he wasn’t decided. God had answered our prayer.