I have just returned from a conference at which over 200 clergy gathered in a university campus to worship, pray, discuss and enjoy fellowship around the theme of “Reconciliation” which has been a theme explored in depth by Bishop Brian, Bishop of Tonbridge. We learned that reconciliation is a theme which begins and ends the Bible, runs as a thread through it, and captures the essence of God’s mission – to reconcile all of creation to himself. We were also reminded that we are God’s ambassadors and he has trusted this ministry to us – his church. We were privileged to have two special guests with us: The Archbishop of Tanzania and Bishop of Mpapwa, Jacob Chimeledya, and the Bishop of Kondo, Given Gaula. A few years ago I led a small group on a visit to Bereko, Kondoa and was this week again reminded of the challenges they face in their daily living and the amazing approach they have to life as they seek to bring reconciliation to the people of Tanzania.
Tanzania as a country is financially growing slowly and remaining peaceful, but the poverty in the rural areas is a major challenge. The percentage of those living below the poverty line is the 15th or so worst in any country of the world. Bereko (which is 90% Muslim) is in the heart of the rural area with 95% of the people there living on the crops grown in the ground around their homes, which have no electricity or water. (I heard this week that electricity has now made it to the village at least.) Their town council and schools have plans for growth and expansion but are thwarted by the lack of resources. This affects their lives and wellbeing directly. For example, across Tanzania 5% of women die in childbirth whilst in Bereko is it as much as 20% – 1 in 5 women. A recent appeal from our Bishops highlighted the devastation that comes when the rains fail – this year the drought was so severe that even the animals were dying of thirst, and the crops had failed completely.
In spite of all that, the people we visited there gave us the warmest welcome and hospitality imaginable, sharing all that they had and more and I was impressed with their attitude and the deep faith and spirituality which runs through everything they do.
The Diocese of Rochester has established links with Mpapwa, Kondoa, Harare (Zimbabwe), and Estonia. The aim of these is to support and encourage each other in God’s mission; commit ourselves to learning about each other’s history, tradition and partnership; share our spiritual resources and our material ones; build strong and lasting friendships in order to advance the Kingdom of God within our Dioceses. The truth of the matter is that we can learn much from them and Bishops Jacob and Given are both humble and inspiring. As we celebrate our Harvest, take time to give thanks for all we have, to pray for the link dioceses, and take time to ponder how blessed we are to have them as partners. The conference learned a new Swahili prayer this week. Bwana Asifiwe! Praise the Lord!