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First impressions: Tanzania

Captains Ian and Liz Gainsford in Tanzania.
Captains Liz and Ian Gainsford's reflect on their family's relocation to Africa.

Liz and I moved to Tanzania in mid-February. When we hit the ground in Dar es Salaam, we were struck by the heat, humidity, the chaos, the smells, the ever-present rubbish and dust, and streets crowded with people. There are salesmen at every intersection, and traffic that doesn’t even pretend to obey the road rules. And that was all in the 20-minute drive from the airport!

In one sense, the journey here took 34 hours from the time we left Auckland—or it took seven months from the time we were asked, said yes, and finally got permits to live here. But in a deeper sense, this journey began with the five months Liz spent working in Zambia 15 years ago—and with the desire God placed in our hearts to offer ourselves for work in Africa.

Called to serve overseas

Liz, an Australian, grew up in Tasmania, and I grew up all over New Zealand. Yet when we met and married, we found that both of us were called by God to full-time ministry—to seeking the lost, afraid, alone, hurting and broken, and offering them the hope of transformation. Offering them faith and eternity, as well as something better here and now. More than that, we found God had asked us to consider spending ourselves in service on the far side of the world. A work that is hard, confusing and wildly different, but richly rewarding.

We have had to make a lot of adjustments. Our daughter Sophie (9) has found it hard at times. She joined her new class half way through the school year and found that in some subjects she had a lot of catching up to do. She was also feeling the loss of friends and familiar surroundings. Malachi (7) has found things easier. He is fearless in putting himself out there, and not sharing a language hasn’t stopped him playing with anyone and everyone.

We’re eating differently. That’s because there’s much less variety available, but also because our budget is greatly reduced. That has a positive side effect; both of us have lost a lot of weight, to the extent that the uniform I had made in our first weeks here no longer fits me!

It’s hard not having friends we can hang out with where there isn’t some kind of cultural or linguistic barrier involved, and it can be a little lonely. It’s also hard not knowing how things work, or why things are done a certain way, or why there have to be six choirs taking part in every two-plus hour church service we go to.

But we are where God wants us to be!

Coming up to speed

Liz and I are making progress in understanding our roles and the people we work alongside. Work being done here is genuinely transformational. It is reshaping the world, bringing hope to the hopeless and life to the dying. So what if the 6 km drive to collect the kids from school can take well over an hour some days?

My role is Training Principal for The Salvation Army Tanzania Territory, working to train young leaders (cadets) as Salvation Army officers. This is a hard work: money is in chronically short supply and

the 13 cadets we can afford to train (actually, we can only afford 12, but we’re living by faith!) have educational backgrounds that range from some with degrees to others who never attended secondary school. Only half speak English, which presents additional challenges. The cadets’ children are not accommodated at the training college, remaining at home during their parents’ two years of training.

Three of us are on staff, and when Liz and I arrived—two weeks after the cadets, because of residence permit delays—I found that some lessons were missing and the curriculum itself had holes in it. As a result, I’ve been working with a group of local Salvation Army officers to review the curriculum, and will be making a proposal about its revision in coming weeks. This could mean a major change in the preparation of officers in this country, where it is widely acknowledged that there is an urgent need for both more officers, and better trained officers.

In addition, the college building itself requires renovations we can’t afford. The library is poorly stocked because of a shortage in funds and a relative lack of good textbooks translated into Kiswahili. In two weeks, the cadets head off on an evangelistic campaign to the north of the country—even this is only possible because of donations.

A grant from The Salvation Army in New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga has made a real difference, allowing us to redecorate all of the one-bedroom huts that cadets live in. Previously, many of these huts were in appalling condition, with tree roots growing through the walls, crumbling ceiling joists and bathroom sinks falling off the walls. We are so grateful for this assistance, which has been such a blessing to the cadets.

Liz, in the meantime, has been working as Education and Officer Development Secretary for Tanzania—assisting officers with ongoing training and education. She’s travelled to Mbeya in the south of Tanzania to administer entrance tests for the Officer Training College, and has just finished her first major seminar with officers who have completed five years’ service. This experience has reminded us—yet again—that things are just plain different here. Some of the issues discussed in Tanzania are a world apart from the things we grapple with in New Zealand.

Resources are needed

Neither Liz nor I have any desire to try to make officers here ‘more like’ they are in New Zealand. We want to produce quality African officers to minister in a country where witch doctors are commonplace, where tribal religions have a hold on many people’s hearts and where corruption is widespread. Tanzania is also a place where poverty on a scale Kiwis can barely begin to imagine isn’t just present; it is how most people live.

Tanzania has some top-quality people. I could tell you just how good my cadets are, how much promise they have, and how they could absolutely transform the work of The Salvation Army here …

if properly trained and resourced.

But therein lays the big problem: we lack resources. Property here is substandard. Power is sporadic—for the 15 per cent of the country that has it. Water needs treatment, even for communities that don’t have to walk three hours to get it. The Army’s programmes—good, important, life-saving and transforming programmes like rescuing girls from sex trafficking, offering micro-finance loans, educating children that no one else wants, and much more—are completely dependent on overseas money.

It’s not that people here are unwilling to give, but the average income in Tanzania is under NZ$40 a week, and the vast majority make much less. People can’t give what they don’t have, but those of us living in richer parts of the world can choose to deny ourselves, give generously and literally change this part of the world.

On the next page, you’ll read about the work of Captain Josephat Nyerere. I want you to know, first of all, that Josephat is an incredible man. He’s funny, smart and focused. He also has one of the biggest hearts I’ve encountered. I also want you to know that the work Josephat and so many others are doing here in Tanzania is transforming communities. They are building wells, creating income, and seeing many people turn to God. But this work cannot and will not happen without the generosity of people like you.

One of the two training corps (Salvation Army churches) where we teach our cadets about leading a corps meets in a building that is literally just a few planks and sheets of corrugated iron standing on a lean in a little field just outside a small country town. This won’t get better unless God stirs your heart to give. I have played with kids who have no legs, or whose faces have been burned off by fire, or whose parents cannot feed them—and it won’t get better unless God moves us to let them live free of fear and hunger.

Does The Salvation Army’s Self Denial Appeal really make a difference? More than you could imagine! Does the $1, $100 or $1000 you give change anything? It changes the world!

This is your opportunity this year: join an ordinary Aussie and Kiwi, and do your part to change the world.