Archive for September, 2007

generalizations

Reading back through my post from a few days ago, I realize I made some very sweeping generalizations about an entire continent based on two weeks’ experience in one small land block.  I apologize for this.  As some of you said, lack of “forward thinking” and fatalism are obviously not the same everywhere in Africa.

I also didn’t mean to imply that Western missions hasn’t done good things in Africa.  Indeed, many of the advances on the continent have come as a result of missions and missionaries.  And for me to make generalizations about the state of the church in Africa is also probably a little journalistically sloppy, as I haven’t personally surveyed a cross-section of the continent’s Christian communities.  My information simply comes from those who have lived or traveled in a number of African countries.  Even so, as a journalist, this is sloppy and I apologize.

Third, reading back through the reflection, I realize it implies that our time in Tanzania was mostly negative.  Allow me to put to rest that thought immediately.  We had an amazing time in a nation with so much heart … beauty … spirit … and with smiles so white and so wide.   That said, we were told that we got close to “the real Tanzania experience” — the waiting around, the transportation mishaps, the getting ripped off, the slightly less-than-the-West customer service.  For this we were thankful — not disappointed.  If these kinds of things make up a large part of the lives of those who live in Tanzania (and who are “mzungu,” like our friends), then we were glad we weren’t spared from that reality.  The reality may be different in other countries in Africa, though, and this is where my generalization got me in trouble.  So I’ll just keep it to what I observed in TZ.

Over the next few days, I hope to paint a few vignettes of our time in Africa, all of them extremely formative.  Thanks so much for your readership and your comments, even when we here at harvestboston.net are negative and unclear.  =)

reflections on life

In a number of ways, life “post-Tanzania” will not be the same as life “pre-Tanzania.”

For one, today is my first day working from home as a freelance writer rather.  That reality is both exciting and terrifying.  How do I begin?  What if I fail, and I don’t get paid enough?  Will I be able to manage my time in a responsible way?  I am entrusting these questions — along with the innumerable others — to God, who holds my life in the palm of his hand.  He is in control.  He will be my guide and provider.

Today is also the day I begin my work as the recreation coordinator at a local youth center.  Again, this both excites and terrifies me.  Will the kids like me?  Will my presence have any noticeable impact on them at all?  Will the activities I help plan connect with them in the least?  Will my lack of Spanish fluency hurt my influence in that place?  Again, these are out of my hands at this point. (except maybe the Spanish part … gotta get down to Central America for some language school!)

Third, I think we both have a slightly different outlook having visited Africa.  Those who have visited Africa know that it has consistently gotten screwed in its long history — crusaders and occupiers, corrupt leadership and government handouts, damaging missions and unhelpful Non-Government Organizations, to name a few.  The continent seems to be reeling from all this, and everyone seems to be out to take care of themselves.  Who can blame them, really?  Things just don’t work as smoothly, efficiently — read: “well” — in Africa.  Forward thinking is almost non-existent, and when it is there it is almost always self-serving.  In short, it is an all-around frustrating place for a person from the West to visit, let alone live.

Tanzania is the 11th poorest nation in the world.  We saw some incredible poverty.  Naked, dirty babies; crippled beggars; run-down shacks; mountains of rank garbage — the works.  How can we live the way we’ve been living with the knowledge — and the photos to prove — that this level of poverty exists?  How is sending a check to corrupt African governments actually improving the lives of the babies, the beggars, the single mothers?  (Answer: it’s not)  Are the Christian communities on the continent making any noticeable difference in addressing these issues?  From our experience and conversations with friends who live in Africa, I think the answer is again a general “no.”

The first Sunday we were with our friends in Moshi, TZ, we attended a local church.  The service started off extremely refreshing — joyful, loud praise music in Swahili.  Then the American got up to speak.  He spoke of his desire for the congregation to become “less African” because the gospel erases all racial divisions.  He spoke of the financial abundance that is triggered when a person writes a check for more money than they can give and brings it to the pastor.  He spoke excitedly about a church in Zimbabwe — one of Africa’s poorest countries — that had recently built a $10 million building to house its more than 12,000 members, saying that this church’s “success” came as a result of sacrificial tithing.  He asserted that the way of Jesus was one of power … of loudly voicing one’s beliefs … of “taking nations for Christ” — by force.

The whole sermon, which lasted far too long than it should have, made me extremely uncomfortable.  It was as if he was speaking an unintelligible language.  He was preaching an Americanized, charismatic prosperity message in a context that is so far from that it’s not even funny.  What if these people never leave poverty?  What if they don’t build a $10 million building or grow to 12,000 members?  Does that mean God hasn’t blessed them?  Did they not pray hard enough?  Is it OK for these sweet Tanzanians to be — get this — both “poor” and “blessed?”  I was pretty much sickened by the cultural insensitivity of this preacher and message, but luckily, I’m not sure it took.  In other words, I think he may have been just a little too “out there” to have any lasting impact on this little community of believers.  Thank God.

There’s no telling the damage that the West has done on Africa with its brand of Christianity.  Our friends there say with confidence that in all their travels on the continent, they’ve never visited an authentically African church.  Why is that?  Is it because the westerners can’t keep their grubby hands off of it long enough for it to be culturally appropriate?  Is it because Africans are made to believe that the Western faith is the ONLY faith, and those who don’t accept this aren’t appointed as leaders?  Is it a fear of syncretism with the local folk beliefs?  Might many of those in the mix not know any better?  I’m not sure exactly, but I would guess it’s a combination of these and more factors.

I’m thankful that our good friends in Tanzania are looking to break this trend.  More on how they are doing this in a later blog post.

———————

This is late news, of course, but many of you will be happy to know that my brother’s band, Homer Hiccolm and the Rocketboys, won the Sound and Jury contest and played at last weekend’s Austin City Limits music festival!  They beat out 300 bands who entered the contest and were voted on by fans and a celebrity panel of judges to earn the spot.   This was indeed an amazing honor, but these guys are good for it — they’ve worked hard in the 2 1/2 years of being a band.  Go check out these great ACL 4-minute features about HHRB leading up to the finale, and go listen to their tunes if you haven’t.  Oh, and buy their new EP — “Sing, Bird, Sing” — from their mySpace page when it’s released on September 27th.

TZ photo essay

Now that the jet-lag has worn off (a little), we thought we’d share some of our favorite captured memories (photos) from our Tanzanian adventure. These are just our faves. (you may view these on Flickr by clicking here).

Captions (top to bottom): Chameleon on a stick in Lushoto, Tanzania; Children at the Church of Christ pre-school in Tanga are fascinated with my camera;A bull elephant at the game reserve on Lake Manyara; A hand-made dow (fishing boat) just off the coast of Zanzibar, Tanzania; The Holts, the Frys and Tanzanian friend Maggie enjoy the waterfall part-way up Mt. Kilimanjaro; The sun rises and the tide recedes on the east coast of Zanzibar as a woman collects seaweed from the beach.

To browse all 854 photos from our trip, click here.  We’ll likely be reflecting on our Africa experience frequently on this blog, so stay tuned over the next days and weeks. For now, it’s good to be back in the States. Peace.

checking in…

We’re currently in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s capital city.  We ate dinner under the stars last night at an AMAZING Ethiopian restaurant called Addis in Dar, where we sat around a knee-level basket and ate things like lamb, lentils, potatoes, beef, and other delicacies communally out of this “bread bowl” (closest comparison). Little did we remember, this month is the Ethiopian “New Milennium,” so they burned this big sculpture in celebration…  They serve authentic Ethiopian coffee afterwards (did you know that coffee was first discovered and brewed in Ethiopia?), which is actually roasted right in front of you!  I could go on, but it was amazing…  If you’re ever in Dar or Cape Town, S. Africa, eat at Addis.

We’re getting ready to catch a ferry to the island of Zanzibar, just off the coast of Tanzania.  We’ll stay there for four relaxing nights before returning to Dar to catch our flight home on Sunday night.  Our time thus far has been surreal.  I can honestly say we’ve gotten the authentic “Africa experience,” complete with horrible roads, driving mishaps, car trouble, misquitos, and waiting … waiting … waiting … and, did I mention waiting?  We’ve been so encouraged spending time with our friends Travis & Cara, with whom I feel so much closer than when we came.  Trucking across Africa will do that to friends (I guess it could do the opposite, too, but not in this case!).  They are connecting in some exciting ways with people in their town of Moshi, and we got to experience life in their world for the better part of a week.  We climbed on Mt. Kilimanjaro … took a safari (details and pics to come) … walked through a rainforest to a sublime waterfall … visited remote mountain villages … experienced a coffee plantation … and ate better than we’ve eaten in a long time.

Anyway, I could go on, but I’m being summoned.  I may check in again, but possibly not.  Continue to pray for our safety and enjoyment.  Love and miss you all!

made it

We arrived in Moshi, Tanzania, safely on Saturday night but are only getting to an Internet cafe today.  Right off the plane in Moshi, we were met with quite the “African experience”: being pulled aside because of two crates of goods we were bringing our friends, told that the normal duties on such an import are $200, then paying off the customs official just to get him out of our hair.  (it was 8 pm and we were coming off 17 hours of travel time)  Par for the course, I suppose.  =)

Our time with our friends, Travis & Cara, has been amazing so far, reminding us of just why we’re friends and why we came in the first place.  We’ve been able to do a lot in a short amount of time, mostly errands with T&C, which is sort of the “back-lot tour” of Moshi.  It’s really a neat perspective.

T&C have a lot of things planned for us over the next 14 or so days, including (but not limited to):

– a huge second-hand market
– hiking in a nearby forest
– a safari
– trip to tropical Zanzibar, the island off the coast of TZ
– some time in Dar es Salaam, the capital city
– lots of good eating! (we’ve had a lot so far)

Well, we’ll reflect more for sure in the coming days, and at length (I’m sure) when we return to the States.  Internet is just so slow and inconvenient here, which is actually quite refreshing.  Oh, and I haven’t worn a watch since I stepped off the plane … time just creeps along a little slower down here.  Again, quite refreshing. =)

We love you all and appreciate your thoughts and prayers.