In 2007, at the age of 23, against my better judgment and the judgment of my friends and family, I decided to go to Tanzania, Africa as a missionary and teacher. Prior to this trip my international travel experience consisted of a weeklong church missions trip to Toronto and a weeklong cruise to the Bahamas (not exactly a world traveler!). Moreover, I was an introvert who took enjoyment from spending time alone; yet at the same time, I have always been a very dependent person, dependent on friends and family for everyday survival. Whether it was signing up for classes at college, or making sure I had money to pay rent at the end of the month, or figuring out how to take out for a school loan, I relied heavily on family and friends, especially my girlfriend Emily, for my daily existence in this much too complicated world. Furthermore, at this point in my life I was spiritually weak. Though I desired to read my Bible and pray every day and go to church every week, the reality of my life at 23 was I spent more time smoking than praying and more time reading the labels of beer bottles than reading the Bible, and if it weren’t for Emily my church attendance would have been nonexistent. In short, I was an inexperienced, reserved, needy young adult who struggled spiritually and on a whim decided to pick up and move to Tanzania, Africa for six months as a missionary teacher… What was I thinking?!
I don’t know what the quintessential missionary looks like (in fact, before arriving in Tanzania and meeting with my co-missionaries, I had already decided that I did not like them because what kind of young person would just pick up and go to Africa for 6 months or a year; certainly they would have to be extremely religious or have a few screws loose… of course it never occurred to me that I was in fact both extremely religious and I undoubtedly had (have?) more than a few screws loose), but I did know that I was about as far from what a missionary should look like as was possible. But I went anyway? Why?
At the time, I did not know the answer. And looking back it’s still all a bit foggy about what was going through my head. I know God wanted me to go to Africa, and I know I wanted to serve God… but why exactly Tanzania and why at this point in my life, I’m still not sure. However, no matter what the answer is to why I went (for often I think we spend too much time asking why and not enough time just doing) the important thing is I went. And the result was life changing. I lack the time and frankly the eloquence to elaborate on all of the things I learned during my six months in Africa. My views of money, death, child rearing, role of government, missionary work, needs vs. wants, and a myriad of other life issues were altered by my time in Africa. In fact, my views on so many aspects of life were altered to the point that I knew I could not marry someone who did not understand what I now understood. One day I hope to better articulate the profundity of living in a rural village in Tanzania, but being unable to even articulate this to my wife, I knew (and more importantly she knew!) that she too would have to go to Tanzania. Therefore, in 2010 I returned with Emily to Tanzania, different village, but same life changing experiences. (Much of our experiences can be read about in the archives of this blog.)
Now in 2016, older, wiser, but just as inadequate in so many areas of my life, God has called me and I have committed to go to Tanzania for a third time. This will be my shortest trip, just 2 months. And instead of teaching at a secondary school, this time around I will be teaching at a teacher’s college, training future Tanzanian teachers. I will be returning with the same organization, Village Schools International (VSI). I should dedicate a thousand other blog posts just to discussing VSI, and how they do missions work differently. But at the very least, you should do yourself a favor and go to their website and sign up to receive their newsletters and after you read a few updates from VSI founders Steve and Susan Vinton you will begin to see what I’m talking about.
Speaking of VSI founder Steve Vinton, let me wrap up this blog entry with a story I’ve heard him tell, and I think it best encapsulates why I have gone to Tanzania in the past and will continue to go in the future. Steve was reading a book that belonged to his grandfather and the author of this book had written, “A Christian is someone who cares”. And in the margins Steve’s grandfather scribbled, “… and does something about it”.