High on a mountain top in the distant land known as Tanzania, the Sunday School Leadership conference has officially begun, appropriately on Sunday. Two hundred men and women from various districts in the southern region have traveled to spend the next three days, listening, learning and sharing to hone their skills in teaching children.
The Bishop of the diocese thanked us for choosing his region for this year's seminar sponsored in part by Sunshine After Rain Ministries. It is a long way from just about everywhere else in the country, not to mention Texas. Although they are eager to host and to learn, they are aware of the distance and the difficulty it presents.
This is the fifth sponsored seminar for lay leadership and women's training in six years. We have covered a good deal of Tanzanian territory, but with this trip I can resoundly say we have covered a great deal more! In past years, there have been varied numbers traveling and teaching with me. This year, at the Lord's leading, I came alone. I thought it was because the organizer needed to see there are resources with the ELCT (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania) that she could draw upon for teachers and trainers. She really doesn't need our ministry to provide personnel. But today, (Lesson One), I also realized sometimes I need to learn the lessons I am responsible for teaching.
"I am slow of speech, and a slow tongue." Exodus 4:10
I have struggled with the differences I've encountered over the last few days (and that doesn't include the 24 hours of driving). Because I came alone, I stayed at the home of my host. I felt honored to be considered a friend and not just a foreigner; but even staying in another American friend's house has its challenges. We had more time to talk personally in a more intimate and unrestricted environment. Challenging questions and circumstances presented themselves.
A foreigner who lives here, was also asked to be a presenter. When we picked her up on the way the first day, I was intimidated by her Kisswahili language skills (she and her physician husband have been missionaries here off and on for over 20 years). Then, as she shared what she would be teaching on, it seemed almost the same thing I was teaching on. I felt "redundant." AND I would have to be translated, while she could freely and eloquently communicate all her thoughts and ideas.
"I've become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life." 1 Corinthians 9:23 The Message
I kept my cool (until the radiator blew) knowing without a doubt God had me here for His plan and purpose. Redundant or not, foreigner or not, irritated or not, I just needed to put my Big Girl panties on and get over it.
And so I did
And so I began Lesson One:
"The Author and Perfector"
I spoke to the group about knowing who you REALLY are, not who you think you are, or who the world says you are (YOU are probably catching on already). I talk about my name and never liking it when I was a child. Then I put on various name tags with descriptive words they could use to identify me: TALL - WHITE - STRANGE - AMERICAN - MOTHER - DIVORCED.
They laughed in the beginning, but when it came to the last one they were not laughing. This (the issue of divorce) was one of the challenging subjects that came up when I was staying at my host's house. For the first time in the eight years I have known and worked with her I learned this is something really unacceptable in their church culture. Pastors counsel horribly abused women to return to the home of their abuser - OVER being safe and DIVORCED! She said, "When we heard most of you women (teaching the seminars in past years) were divorced, we thought how could you teach us. But we learned differently. You did have something to say for us."
Well, that was news to me.
Today, I intentionally put myself out there for all two hundred potential judges. Then I turned the name tags over and showed the names God calls me: Beloved - treasured - adored - redeemed - and on the name tag that read "divorced" on the opposite side it read forgiven!
After the lesson, as I was walking to tea with my host, she said, "Charlynn, you are much smarter than I am. I would never have thought to use the name tags like this - with one word on the front and the other on the back. I have translated you talking about your name before, but this is new. You are so creative. I am not that clever."
I laughed and turned to her and said, "Sister, you are listening to what the enemy is saying about you. You are reading the name tag "Not that Clever," but on the other side what does it say?" She smiled, "Oh, I see now."
I shared the verse 1 John 4:17 "because as He IS, SO ARE WE." I asked, "is Jesus not that clever?" She laughed with me and said, "No, Jesus is the smart one. I AM the smart one."
And as I reflected this very cold dark African night on just what I wanted to communicate about the day - it was a "lesson one" - sometimes you learn what you teach while you teach!
"I did all this because of the Message. I didn't want to just talk about it, I wanted to be in on it!" 1 Corinthians 9:23
She learned - I AM the smart one
I learned - I AM NOT redundant!
And neither is Jesus!
Yes, I am smiling
Yes, I am in His service
For clarity in communication
For hearts to be changed
For GRACE to flow like a river!