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Tanzania - welcome group

I am not an adventurous person. Ash, my husband, had been to Tanzania once already, but I had quietly and conveniently told myself it would be out of the question for me to go with him next time. God had other ideas!

At the end of a guest sermon (Above Bar Church GlobalFest in 2016) I found myself saying, “I think we both need to go to Tanzania next Autumn!” Now we are just back from the trip, and my mind is buzzing with it all.

Grassroots Trust has been working in the Mbeya region of Tanzania for over 20 years, running a child sponsorship scheme in partnership with local churches. Malaria, AIDS, food insecurity and poverty threaten the health and wellbeing of many families. Sponsorship provides them with a weekly hot meal, school uniform and equipment, and medical care. A local team identifies those children most in need. Each autumn, a team from the UK goes out to help with the massive task of updating information on those already sponsored as well as taking on new children.

So it was that we, eleven Mzungus (white people) — some old hands, some complete newbies — joined the local volunteer translators and set about interviewing over 2,000 children in just over a week.

Tanzania - interviewing

We worked in tiny church buildings (corrugated metal roofs, no windows, some with new concrete replacing a mud floor) and a couple of schools (classrooms which were quite shocking to my privileged first-world eye). Sometimes we saw large numbers of children (where sponsorship has been running longer) but at other points it was less pressured.

In all cases it was important to give each child good attention, encourage eye-contact and connect with them, however briefly. As well as checking key information, we were to record an impression of the child’s personality and aspirations.

Tanzania - Ash interviews

Many of them were quiet and shy and tended to give fairly standard replies — hardly surprising in our strange company! But every so often a more outgoing child would come along, flash a cheeky smile, and produce an unexpected answer: “What do I like about school? Going to buy doughnuts!” These moments were a joy — we felt we had met the real child.

I lost count of how many I interviewed. We did this through translators who were more numerous and did some interviews on their own. Our job was to keep them on track and make sure nothing was lost in translation. It was pretty exhausting, especially when several siblings were arrayed before us, to be interviewed in turn.

Tanzania - remote location

It was our privilege to end each conversation with a prayer for the child (or children if several were sponsored from one home), asking them first what we might pray for. This made each interview a profound experience somehow. I may already have forgotten names and faces, but God knows and loves each one, and we were entrusting them to His ongoing care.

The gospel permeates everything that Grassroots does. We were there to partner with local Christians, to work alongside them and encourage them — they are the ones who make the scheme work on a day-to-day basis. They know the children, they cook and serve the meals for the feeding programme, hand out warm clothing and shoes, and call the doctor or take a child to hospital.

Tanzania - church location

The church services we attended at each end of our stay were a total culture shock (lengthy, vibrant and loud!) and on the first Sunday I felt very out of place, an alien in a strange land. But on the second Sunday, seeing many of the people I’d worked alongside and got to know during the week — as well as our young translators dancing, singing and praying and praising loudly and joyfully — I felt a connection, a sense of fellowship, which I really hadn’t expected. So much so that I find myself unable to rule out a return visit...

To find out more about Grassroots Trust, including how to sponsor a child, take a look at their website (www.grassroots.org.uk) or come and have a chat with us, Jo and Ashley James. We have so much more to tell!

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World mission

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