P1060670“Meru changes you and calls you back”. An acquaintance in Seattle made this observation after a repeat visit to volunteer at Ailanga Junior Seminary in Meru, Tanzania. As we prepare for another visit, I have been thinking about how has it changed me? What is calling me back?

The people are calling me back. Last night an e-mail came welcoming our group from the Women’s minister of the Diocese, Mrs. Ndefisio Pallangyo. The first time I met Ndefisio, she was a guest in our home, on her very first visit to America. Her smile and her openness to all that was different from home crossed the bridges of time and place. When,a few years later, we made our first visit to Meru, she was there to greet us.  She has prepared a visit to a women’s group while we are there.  She has expanded the circle of her hospitality.

Tomorrow, a group of us from the Waukesha and Milwaukee area will travel to Meru. For many of us it will be our first experience in Meru. For others, it is a repeat visit. We will each have our own unique experience but we will all be changed. We will come back knowing much more about life in a developing country. We will have met new people and done some good work. We will experience radical hospitality. We will see a part of God’s creation with animals and vegetation so different from ours. Some will climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, a wonder of nature. These experiences cannot help but change us.

As I think about how my repeated visits have changed me, the most important changes have come through people. Our official Diocese hosts have worked with me to plan a full itinerary but the people who effect us most will not be just those who plan to be with us. We may find that the driver for safari connects with us in a special way. We may be moved by a child who sidles up to us when something else is going on. It may be a fellow traveler. It may be our own reaction to what we are seeing and doing.

My first trip, I thought I knew something about poverty and Tanzania is one of the world’s poorest countries. I learned that I didn’t know much about how to live daily in the richness of their culture while dealing with a material poverty that makes children malnourished and subsitence a day to day question of survival. I learned about generosity and hospitality, I learned that as a privileged American, I need the bottled water that they make sure we get. I need a driver and an interpreter. I am dependent, not my usual self-image.

The friendships we will make, with our partners in Tanzania and with each other will be powerful. Shane Claiborne put it this way, “We will not ‘Make Poverty History’ until we make poverty personal.” The problem with the divide between America and the developing world is not that we don’t care about each other, it is that we do not know each other. We don’t know the people who make our clothes or pick our coffee. On this trip we will get a glimpse of that and of our assumptions.

In a couple days, we will be met with warm smiles and cries of Karibuni, welcome. From time to time I will post something about those experiences so that you too can accompany us. God be praised for this opportunity to have our hearts and minds open.

Advertisements