Alpha and Omega

In Revelations, it is written that God is “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” I assumed that meant that God was also in the things in between. Having graduated from a university with an extensive Greek system, I am aware that there are more than two letters in the Greek alphabet. A recent trip I took to Mwanza has given me a new vision of Alpha and Omega.


I went to Mwanza for a funeral, while there, a baby was born. The funeral should have happened the day I arrived in Mwanza, an ending at the beginning of my trip. However, it did not happen till the night before I left. In fact, my trip was longer because I was waiting for the service.


Upon arrival, instead of being immersed in the stressful and heartbreaking preparations of a grieving family preparing their final goodbyes, I was enlisted to help with the stressful and heartbreaking preparations of a swiftly coming baby. Except the baby took its time, took too long. It is not always clear who knows most about giving birth. Is it the doctor? Is it the Mama to be? Is it the plethora of murmuring Mamas and Bibis that crowd and worry around the expectant mother?


Well the baby came finally, an end to waiting, a beginning of discovery and growth. But babies are so delicate, they are indeed life and lively, but death lingers for a while in the doorway, ready to slip in at the darkest part of the night. Baby is fine, and with each small intake of breath in this new world she is stronger. Would Mama be okay though? How does such a blessed beginning of a life change by the possibility of a different life ending? Mama’s life? How does it feel when the doctor, who should be the secure passage of new life into this world, also bears the dark shadow of death?


So we held our breath, we gathered experience and wisdom, we talked, we prayed. We prayed for the new life, we prayed to keep the life that lay drained and exhausted, fragile as her small child. I came to Mwanza for one funeral; I did not intend to go to two.


Mama and baby are both well and healthy, but I shouldn’t say that death did not touch the family, for death is in fear, and there was much fear. The funeral was sad, it was an end, and people carried on as people must. When the sound went out, the choir kept singing, food came from somewhere, an alley between houses became a sanctuary. There is worry and stress about the future, but the fear is past. I have yet to hear of a person who’s fear is vested in something already done, The fear comes with anticipation, with waiting. There are hard times for this mourning family, but the sting of death, like a mosquito bite, is faded. Where, O Death, is now thy sting?


I came to Mwanza for a funeral, while there, a baby was born. Each thread of life has a beginning and end. It is the weaving together, the patterns, the designs that lead us each from our beginning to our end. Karibu. Welcome.


In our end is our beginning,
in our time, infinity;
in our doubt there is believing,
in our life, eternity,
in our death, a resurrection,
at the last, a victory,
unrevealed until its season,
something God alone can see.

(Hymn of Promise, v. 3)



How to Cut Up a Pineapple

To cut up a pineapple you must first go and find a pineapple. So you and your roommate Cynthia go to the market, well, markets because you can’t just have pineapple for dinner you also need cabbage, onions, carrots, pili pili peppers, and tomatoes (kabati, vitunguu, carroti, pili pili, na nyanya). Oh and you need bread for breakfast. That is at least three different stops. So when you finally get to the kibanda with the good pineapples, you are already longing for the light sweet flavor. To pick a good one is easy, just run your hand along the bottom of each pineapple in the mound and find the one that is leaking. That is the one you will take home.


So you buy your leaking pineapple for elfu mbili tano (about $1.00), put it in your bag with the other foods for dinner and head home. When you get home you must lay out all of the buckets and sufurias you will need to cook dinner, and for the pineapple of course. You fill one bucket with tap water or rain water (it doesn’t have to be boiled because everything will be cooked or peeled. You throw all your veggies in the bucket to wash. You can also peel them over the water, keeping all the mess in the bucket and your knife clean. As the carrots, peppers, tomato, and onion are peeled and chopped you throw them in to another sufuria. The cabbage, which you bought already chopped in the market, is in another bowl soaking. While your roommate heats the oil to cook the veggies and cabbage, you set to work on the pineapple, it was your idea in the first place.


As if it knew the monstrous task ahead of you, the power shuts off just as you kneel down to make your first cut. So, you put down the knife and look for your flashlight; you then spend several minutes in debate with your roommate about what is the best angle to rest it so you can both see what you are doing. Compromise is tough when pineapples are involved. Eventually you settle on a position and resume the task of cutting. The good news is the woman who sold you the pineapple pulled the top off for you (with her bare hands!) so you don’t have to do that part. Now the tricky part is in the organization. You don’t have a cutting board, just a pot, a towel, and a knife. So to buy more time you wash it in the rainwater but then realize it is rainwater and have to find a way to dry it off quickly. It’s okay though, during the distraction you’ve figured out your plan. First you cut it into fourths, place three of them on the towel and peel the fourth in the bowl with the knife. You do the same to the other three.


After the second one, the power turns back on so you must wipe your hands and run to plug all of your electronics in so that they will be charged enough for the next time the power cuts out. After that you kneel down and peel the other two quarters. You dig around under the sink for a clean plate, when you find one, you slice the pineapple quarters long ways and let them fall into the bowl. Now your pineapple is cut, but you must put the pineapple debris in a bag and deposit it into the communal garbage can outside. Then return and wash your hands. Dinner will not be ready quite yet, and you do not have a refrigerator, so there is nothing stopping you from digging in! Oh, but you should probably share with your roommate, oh and the little girl next door would love some, and her mom. Do you think the neighbor across the courtyard wants some? He never cooks his own food.


So maybe in the end you only get one or two slices. But eating a whole pineapple in one night, filling up so you are about to bust and then rolling into bed, is maybe not as much fun as it sounds. The eating is just for a moment; the preparation is all night. Indeed if I just wanted to eat pineapple, the preparation would not be worth it. The preparation is as sweet as the fruit itself.


Come thou long expected Jesus

Born to set thy people free;

From our fears and sins release us;

Let us find our rest in thee.


Lord, let us not fear finding the Joy of Christ’s coming. Whether that means saving up to buy pecans and whiskey for fruitcakes to share, or taking on the task of cutting up a pineapple in Tanzania, let us push forward. Let us soak in the hardships, the awkward moments and the late nights of decorating and planning. When we find this Joy, help us to share it. A cup of coffee is never quite as satisfying as when taken with a friend, a loaf of bread is much sweeter when wrapped snugly in aluminum foil and hand delivered.


As we anticipate lighting the “Joy candle” on the advent wreath, let us remember that Christ is the light of the whole world, not just for Methodists, not just for our city, not just for us. This means that it is a long road, it is frustrating, it is dusty, we may not have all the tools we think we need to share this Joy. And how much sweeter is the Good News because of that?


At the time of writing this, I have been in Mwanza, Tanzania for nine whole days. Goodness has a lot and nothing happened. I am getting used to not understanding the people that walk by me. I am getting used to being stared at. I am getting used to being far from my wonderful family and support system. I am getting used to being a foreigner. It seems like I have been here forever, and hardly a day. Mwanza is not my final destination; I am taking a month’s stop here for some language lessons from the knowledgeable and terrifying Mama Salala, a robust German woman who has been here some thirty years.


I have a lesson for an hour a day and then I study and do the little work that I can still being away from my placement site. One of the things I have been forced to quickly adapt to in Mwanza is the transportation. When I must travel on my own there are three options: walking, piki piki, or dala dala. Dala dalas are vans that take you to various stops in the city. Fare is always Tsh 400 (Tanzanian Shillings) about 18 cents- that is also about what it costs for two bananas. Piki pikis are motorbikes, you sit behind the driver and it is like a cheaper taxi, they will take you as far as your Swahili will allow you to explain. I received many warnings against using them in the US, but here the motto is “check the tires, check the helmets.” However, walking is the mode of transport I have used most so far. I don’t have to pay for my legs.


As I am learning my way around Mwanza, I encounter many roads that do not seem to really be fit for driving or walking. However I must change my judgments there because I have seen some masterful feats of driving. I have also encountered some masterful feats of walking. Mwanza is a city that is expanding, and with that comes lots of roadwork. Fine, except there is just as much foot traffic as there is car traffic, and many a time I have come across some large pile of construction rubbish and thought, “now how will I get over this?” Well, each time I just have to take a minute and let my eyes adjust, and each time I find a worn footpath amidst the construction piles. Someone has always traveled through it before I have, and judging by how worn down the paths are, many have traveled before me.


As I endeavor to “start” my journey here in Tanzania I think I will do well to remember that while I sometimes feel singular in the things I do, there are always people who walk before me. Even if the path is obscure, I know that God is also walking beside me.

David and John F.

Sitting in the eye doctor’s office earlier this week, I was doing the things that you do when in a quiet waiting room, playing a game on my phone and hoping the advertisements that popped up were muted and would not start blaring the sounds of the Halloween themed movie preview. My vision fuzzy from already having removed my contacts in preparation for the eye exam, I was not feeling particularly observant. I suppose this is why I was startled when an elderly gentleman sat down next to me and struck up a conversation. “You remind me a lot of one of my granddaughters,” he said. “Are you in school?” I replied that I had just graduated from LSU and inquired about his grandchildren, not really prepared to launch into the long conversation about what I am doing now that I am out of school, I had a gut feeling that David (that was his name) was a talker.  The granddaughter that I reminded him of was still in school and his grandson was taking a year off before looking for a job. “He’s taking some time to travel the world,” he said, “have you ever been out of the country?” And it was with these gently sneaky questions that David coaxed me into talking about my upcoming plans to work in Tanzania.

He wanted to know about the United Methodist Church, were the Methodist Churches in Africa? How were my parents handling this transition? Did I speak another language? I did my best to answer all of his questions. Soon the nurse came into the waiting room to collect me. I shook David’s hand and felt something warm and metallic in his grip. I withdrew to find a large goldish coin with John Kennedy’s face, looking rather contemplative, weighing heavily in my palm. “That’s called a Pop Pop coin,” he said. “Oh,” I replied a little confused trying to recall a currency that used “Pop Pops.” “I’m Pop Pop to my grandkids, and I give them these coins, so they are called Pop Pop coins. I also give them out at my church. I’m Baptist, not Methodist, but every time I give out a coin this week I will tell the person about you and ask them to pray for you.”

The nurse was shifting politely but impatiently, so I made a quick reply of thanks and then hurriedly followed her into the next room. As I was walking away, David called out, “I gave you one with Kennedy on it cause most young people like Kennedy!”

Who would have thought a former president would be accompanying me on my international mission of peace and learning, and that there would be a Baptist praying for me! I wonder if I could enlist the crew of the Enterprise on this mission as well?