Between Kijima and Misasi there was a river called the Ng’wami (or Mwami). It held water in spots year round; in a good season of rains it flooded over a wide area. It demarcated a sort-of boundary between the so-called “church” (Kijima area) and the non-church area. This wasn’t really so but Sukuma conversation tended along those lines. “Oh, you are from Kijima. You must be God’s people”.
While at Kijima I had a large crew of men working for me – road construction; station church completion and repairs; middle-school teacher’s quarters construction, etc. There seemed to be no end of things to do! Many of my work crew came from “across the river”, from villages in the so-called “non-church” area. And, most of them were not Christians and lived according to all the Sukuma cultural customs.
Every morning, before work, we had a short Bible message with the assembled workers. It made no difference if you were from the “church” or “non-church” area. If you wanted to work, you had to be on time for the Bible message.
One day I heard a group of the workers having a bit of too much fun as they worked. I went over to make sure they were performing their tasks. I heard one of the men from on the other side of the river say, “When we come over here (to this side), we are “banhu bang’wa Mulungu (God’s people). But when we go back home (to the other side) after work, we can be real people, and enjoy ourselves in our cultural living”. (Actually, he said, “We can go back to our beer-drinking and promiscuity”.)
This brought home to me the wide gulf that separated “church-area” people and “non-church area” people. Though the Kijima church had existed for 40+ years, there were still many who had not yet understood or experienced God’s Word in its fullness. And this was true in both of the so-called “areas”.
After speaking with the station church evangelist, who was my works foreman and handled much of the morning Bible messages, together we made a special effort to draw those from “the other side of the river” to our Lord. And, as an outcome, the church leadership and fellowship itself began a special outreach ministry, especially to those living “on the other side”. The Lord has many ways of challenging us – individually and as a fellowship of believers – to the job of witnessing of Him and His Word. May this challenge continue to be foremost in the life of His church in Tanzania.