Stage experience in Tanzania

First visit to Mwandoya, Tanzania

tanzania-sma-team-2010

The SMA team in Tanzania, taken in 2010

Julien Esse is from Togo. He is completing his second year studying Theology at the SMA Formation House in Nairobi, Kenya.

In preparation for our future mission life, the SMA Theology students are sent to Tanzania or Kenya for mission experience and to deepen our missionary vocation. During the 2009 Christmas period I went to Ng’wandoya parish which is part of Shinyanga diocese in Tanzania. Fr PJ Kelly SMA (Lawrencetown, Co Galway) was the Parish priest overseeing our two week programme. In this short time, we were able to experience many realities of mission in that part of Tanzania. Fr PJ was open to sharing about his experience and answering our questions. There are more than 30 outstations (villages) which Fr PJ cares for. We visited several of them spending the entire day with the people who came for the Mass.

Normally we left the Main Mission before 9am, returning after 6pm. On arrival at a particular outstation we waited for the people to arrive. The 10am Mass might not begin until 12 noon because the people might have other things to do or long distances to travel to reach us. Despite this, they were always all present at the mass. Fr PJ often reminded us: “never be in a hurry”. Every place I went I found the Chapels always full. I was amazed to see people coming huge distances for Mass, on foot or bicycle. They entered the Chapel with big smiles because the priest was present. A difference I found from my own country was that here in Tanzania you spend an entire day with one group of people.

This was new for me. I was used to working in parishes where the priest was visiting more than one outstation per day. I asked Fr PJ about this style of mission. For him a missionary should give time to the people. As he put it: a missionary is the one “sitting with people until he gets holes at the back of his trousers.” Indeed, we were sitting for a long time with the people eating and chatting. Communication with people was difficult for me because of the language. Children came to greet me in Kiswahili and I did not know how to answer. Without Kiswahili, very few can communicate with you. That really limited my actions. Even to introduce myself I had to learn by heart a few Kiswahili words.

People were surprised that I could not speak their language. One day a small boy asked me why Fr PJ, a white man, could speak Kiswahili and I, an African, could not? Despite this the people made many efforts to relate to us and helped us to understand their language. We picked up some words in our interaction with them. Very few speak English. Communities were well organized with large numbers of communicants led by a local catechist in each station.

It was interesting to see some outstations participating actively in the building of their Chapel. Most of the people are farmers. My short visit to Tanzania was a useful insight into a different way of doing mission. It gave me time to observe, learn, and relax.

Editor’s Note: Since this article was written Julien has continued his studies with the SMA. Fr Kelly is on a Sabbatical break and will be returning to Tanzania in July 2011 to continue his missionary work. We wish both of them continued blessings in their journey!