Saturday, October 13, 2012

Thanksgiving service

About a month ago, we received an invitation from one the staff members at school, Mama Lucia. Her name is actually Generous, but here in Tanzania parents often go by the name of their first born child (i.e. Eric’s parents would be called “Mama Eric” and “Baba Eric.” My parents would be called “Mama Linda” and “Baba Linda”). She invited us to attend the Thanksgiving service at the Lutheran Church in Bigwa. Bigwa is about a 30 minute walk from our school.

Apparently every Lutheran church (and possibly other denominations as well) picks a Sunday, usually in October, to be their Thanksgiving Sunday. On this day, people will bring a special offering from their “harvest” to be used for the work of the church. It is a reminder that “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from above” (John 3:27).  In the case of the Lutheran Church in Bigwa, they have been gradually building their church structure since 2001. They currently have 3 walls and a roof. Thus, the special offering on Thanksgiving will go towards adding the next wall. For churches that are already fully built, the money collected might go towards other ministries and projects.

All of the Christian language students on campus left with one of our teachers at 9am for the walk to Bigwa. By the time we got there, we were all pretty sweaty, so it was nice to have a half hour to chat and cool off before the service began at 10ish. This time also gave us a chance to collect our Swahili thoughts, since we were pretty sure we would be asked to introduce ourselves. We were, and it went significantly better than the previous week :-) Several other ex-pats/former language students also attended.

At first, the service followed the traditional Lutheran liturgy in Swahili (call to worship, confession, absolution, readings, sermon, etc.) We did our best to follow along in the hymnals that we had borrowed from campus. We had previously asked if there was a place where we could buy hymnals, but we were told that only 500,000 of the new Kiswahili hymnals were printed. With 5.6 million Lutherans in Tanzania, they are few and far between! We were thankful to at least be able to borrow some.

Throughout the service, the choir sang various songs. We absolutely love the music in Tanzania! The harmonies are so beautiful.

At the end of the traditional service (about 2 hours later), they began the time of gift giving. It began with someone bringing forward a small cake. They explained that they would cut the cake, and then people would “sponsor” bites for each other. Each bite was 10,000 shillings (about $6). Talk about your fundraising mark up! However, it seemed like the event was more about the relationships than the actual cake—a chance to honor each other. Mama Lucia  wanted to give a bite to all the ex-pats she had invited, but could not afford it. Therefore, she brought up one man and one woman from among us to be our representatives. I (Linda) asked Stephanie how our bite tasted, and she said it was pretty good:-) We and the other ex-pats also decided we should sponsor some folks, so we picked children from the congregation. They were so sweet and shy when we brought them forward! By the end of the cake, the congregation had raised 840,000 shillings (about $525), more than twice what they were expecting from the cake!

Then people took turns giving monetary gifts. Each person came up and announced to the congregation what they were contributing and everyone clapped in thanksgiving (a little different than passing around the offering plate). All the ex-pats decided to pool our money and announced our contribution as a group.

Finally, the auction began. Because not everyone had cash resources, people brought what they had: bananas, chickens, grains, clothe, pigs, etc. One of the chickens had been sitting by us for a good share of the service:-) Pastor Tobias bought us a bunch of bananas since by this point it was 2pm, and we were all extremely hungry. My fibromyalgia pain was particularly high on Sunday (we later discovered it was because of impending rain), so by 2:30pm I had a raging headache. Mama Lucia took the two of us and Emily back to her house to rest before lunch. When the rest of the group (some of the pastors, church leaders, and ex-pat missionaries) later joined us for lunch at Mama Lucia’s house, we learned that the pastor had asked for us in the service (“Where are the 3 missionaries from the U.S.?”). Apparently they had wanted to offer a blessing for us. Oops!! We felt pretty badly about it, but having these awkward moments is one part of cross-cultural exchange.

Around 4pm, we returned to our dorm, full of the delicious foods that Mama Lucia and her family had prepared. We were exhausted, but full of gratitude to be included in the events of the day and in the community!

** Pictures of the event will soon be posted to Facebook. Even if you do not have a Facebook page, you can see them at

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