Easter Rains

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Easter has come and gone but the Lord is still alive! Here in Kondoa, there were no Easter eggs and no chocolate, but a church choir of 30 adults arrived by bus on Saturday morning, all the way from Dar es Salaam. They were very tired, and even more exhausted when they left on Monday, but the joy they brought when they burst into song was powerful. On the Saturday night they presented a drama spanning a time of a few days in history – the days that changed the world for ever. The church was packed, mostly with young people, and the message was clear: Jesus has broken the power of sin!  (On a lighter note … it always amuses me that big strong men love playing loud, rough Roman soldiers complete with helmet, sword and short red skirt!)

On the Sunday morning there were two services as usual, packed to the rafters and lasting 3-4 hours each. The first offering of the visiting choir was the Hallelujah Chorus (in Swahili), unaccompanied in four parts, beautifully sung and invigorating. I am sure that Handel would have heartily approved. Our two parish choirs also contributed to the service. Bishop Given preached simply and challengingly on Luke 24 (the walk to Emmaus).  His points:

Have you recognised Jesus? Have you invited him in? Have you told others about him?


Rains and Sickness

Many of you rejoiced with us about the abundant rain at the beginning of the year. Suddenly the rain stopped! What is God doing? We are now getting welcome bursts of rain, two to three days at a time, followed by another long bout of extremely hot weather. That is hard on the crops, so the harvests will be patchy. In our garden, we are harvesting peanuts right now and are very thankful for a good crop. Peter has worked hard in the garden (see the photo above).

These three day downpours have been causing problems too. In some parts, houses and crops have been swept away which leaves many families desolate with nowhere to go.  Last week the rains here brought a flash flood. The chocolate swirling waters of the river rose almost to the point of sweeping down to flood the Bible School, but the Lord protected us.

Cholera hit Kondoa town in March. Fresh food outlets were officially closed. People from surrounding villages were afraid to come to town for fear of infection. There were some deaths, but the local authorities kept it in control. The students at Bible School panicked a bit, but we are thankful to God that no-one on campus got ill with cholera.

Further updates from the Akesters will be shared next week.

Rains from Heaven

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“God did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” (Paul’s words at Lystra, recorded in Acts 14:17)

“Thank you LORD!”  That’s what the Christians of Kondoa have been exclaiming every day. Thank you,  every one of you who prayed for rain to fall in abundance. Almost every day we have a massive thunderstorm, with sheets of rain drenching you instantly if you get caught out. The bridge is still holding, while the chocolate waters swirl below. Crops are thriving. Peter has worked long and hard with hoe and slasher in our large garden area, while all who pass by give different advice on when the crops will be ready.  The roof of our house has sprung several leaks, and there are discussions whether the whole ceiling should be replaced.  We nod enthusiastically, as the roof is filled with bats, pigeons and lizards.

We have a small number of students at Kondoa Bible School this year. The girls’ sewing class has had to be postponed until June because of lack of sponsorship and new first year students for the Two year Bible course have been put on hold until August to align course starting times. That leaves 13 Three year course students (only one female!) and six Two Year course students who are halfway through their course. There is very little available money for maintenance of buildings and repairs of desks and chairs. However, the teaching staff is enthusiastic and the students are really happy to be back. Because of the bad roads caused by the rain, and sickness in some families, they are actually just dribbling back now.

We’ve had a break and we did get away to Dodoma for two days (!) for Christmas. It was so good to stay with Richard and Christine Kanungha, friends from long ago. Richard is now a Canon and in charge of a large church in Chamwino, Dodoma. The services were amazing – great music, preaching, and fellowship. Several of the older members of the congregation remembered us from Makole days in the 80’s and 90’s when Chamwino was part of our parish. While in Dodoma, we got the CMS vehicle sorted out with two new tyres and shock absorbers, so that was good.

During the holidays, Peter translated into Swahili a small book on Grief and has permission from the original publisher to print 200 copies here in Tanzania. Right now, a member of staff is proof-reading it. There are few practical books like that available in Swahili, and nothing on grief so please pray for the completion of this project. Chris enjoyed a research project on Music of the Bible, and did some song writing as well.

This year’s Bible School timetable includes Peter’s continuing teaching of ”Worship” and Chris’ teaching of English, as well as a new subject for KBS – that of “Kufundisha,” basically ‘how to teach.’ Chris (known here as Mama Pendo) is enjoying the challenge of that and learning heaps too – seeing how important it is throughout the Bible and relating that to our situation here.

Our lovely Bible School cook, Mama Tembo, woke up two days ago with no voice, but no other symptoms of a cold. Yesterday afternoon, four of us decided to pray for healing for her. After each of us had prayed, Mama Tembo started praising God, still in a whisper, then remembered and confessed that she had disobeyed God the day before her voice had disappeared. She had not done what God had asked of her and instead had been gossiping with others. As she repented before God, her voice slowly returned, just a crackle at first, but getter stronger and stronger.  Praise You, Lord! This was very meaningful for her, for she knows that God wants her to be a spokeswoman for him, and He has high standards!

This coming weekend, Peter and I have been invited to Kidoka village again. Peter will be preaching in the service which will include the commissioning of Sarah Mwaluko, one of last year’s graduates, to be the Catechist of the Parish. We look forward to that but not to the travel. The roads are in a shocking state, we hear. Students travelling back to Bible School have had to get off the bus with all the other passengers and push it out of big holes and up the hills. Others had to wade through some water where a bridge had been washed away and board another bus to reach Kondoa. Every day is an adventure here.

Please remember to pray for Peter (known as Mkuu – Chief!). There are so many decisions every day and problems that land in his lap. Pray for finance to become available for the Bible School, so we can get repairs done and also prepare for future plans for the School. Pray for all the teaching staff, for vital and Spirit-filled teaching. Pray too for safety on the roads, especially in the wet season. Even here in the town, we very nearly got swiped off the road and into the ditch by a screaming motorbike! But we sleep well and are in good health and are so thankful for that.

Finally, it is time to share this bit of news that has been mooted by Bishop Given for a couple of months now. He has asked that Peter be ordained, and after a lot of prayer and discussion, we agreed. It is certainly not something that Peter has sought, but after digging our toes in for a while, we realised that this is a door that God has opened and we should be ready to go through. The ordination is set for June 19, here in Kondoa.

More Digging

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Blue sky, white puffy clouds and brilliant golden sunshine. Green leaves of ancient baobab trees. Purples and reds of tropical flame trees and bougainvillea. Bright, multi-coloured garments of the women of Kondoa… and yet we are longing for grey?!

Yes – well – the rains came early after a year of drought. It was so exciting watching the dry old riverbed that we cross every day become swirling, surging, muddy waters, and a bit scary with overhead thunderstorms and fork lightning, especially when our house was the target. Grass springs up almost overnight, and two old tortoises, football size, found their way to nose around our garden. It was a good time to start a unit on weather in my English class – so much more variety than, “Today is sunny. Yesterday was s……. Tomorrow will be s……”

However, the rains have been in recess for over ten days now. It is hot and sticky while we look in vain for a build-up of grey/black cloud and the next outburst of those refreshing, thunderous rains. The Bible School students are itching to get home, to get out in the fields, hoe in hand, to prepare the ground for sowing. It is a critical time for them and their families, and since most of our students are young men with family responsibilities, we as a staff decided to close the Bible School early. This means that exams start tomorrow. One of my roles since we arrived has been as Registrar, and I will have a busy end-of-term keeping track of exam papers and marks. Six students only will graduate, having successfully completed their two-year course, and we will be celebrating this with a ‘sherehe,’ involving singing, dancing, prize giving and food. All six graduates will be heading back to their parishes to take up key roles in evangelism and teaching. Remaining students will continue with their two and three year courses from the beginning of February.

During the last busy days of term we’re expecting over 40 pastors to descend on us for a seminar to encourage them to trial new drought-resistant maize seeds. It looks like the students will have to give up their mattresses to accommodate them!

Recently we were invited to join in a wedding reception of two former students in a village near Chemba and this Sunday, Peter has been asked to preach at Kidoka village. A group of students join us on these expeditions. Most of this term we have been here in Kondoa, getting to grips with the challenges of the work here. We will have to drive to Dodoma, however, as soon as Bible School closes, as we need to secure our residence permits. Please pray that we will be successful in that.

Some of you have heard of the murky business of the overflowing cesspit, just at the time of a cholera outbreak in town. It was a huge project for Peter to have to sort out and very quickly. He involved all the students digging holes, deep and wide, others redirecting the offending waters using buckets, and local experts advising on the technical aspects and constructing large concrete covers for the pits. We are amazed and thankful to God that not one student got ill over those weeks.

Another project that is completed was the building of improved cooking facilities for Mama Tembo, the Bible School cook. The aim is to use much less charcoal, which is getting very expensive to buy.

Since I started writing this, more rain has fallen. Thank you, Lord. Right now, Peter is out in our garden with the hoe, and has planted beans and peanuts. It is very hot out there, which seems to be a hopeful sign that more rain is on its way. Certainly the clouds are building up again.

We know that in western countries, shops are full of things to buy for Christmas, but there is no sign of it here. Not that we mind! We don’t know how we will be celebrating Christmas this year, but the local Christians will be full of joy, and probably full of rice and meat too. We will be missing our own family in Rangiora, as well as our church family with all the beautiful Christmas music, but we praise God for all of you who are supporting us, in so many different ways. We couldn’t be here without you. The Lord bless each one of you.

Mucking in

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Having just finished our chapel service, the last thing I expected was to be taken to see the murky side of the Bible School. There before us was a broken lid to the sewerage pit with seething, dark liquid oozing everywhere!! After a lot of discussion and holding of noses we worked out a plan of action with the faithful few remaining to try to clear the blockage and then find a way to repair the area. A lucky strike on the pipe allowed a huge gush of the fluid to escape and flow into a ditch previously used for sawing wood, saving it from flowing into the dry river bed further on. Many bucketsful later we had removed the majority of the grime and started the repair work. New lids are now hardening up to cover the repaired pit and the crisis has eased.

A different Sunday morning in Kondoa

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We decided to go to the first service in Kondoa’s church one recent Sunday. We were enjoying the singing of one of the choirs after the reading of a passage from Ephesians and then the gospel reading. Next would come the sermon.

Looking across to the side of the church a man started crumpling and fortunately had a couple of men come to his rescue before he hit the floor. A few of us helped to escort him out of the church to a seat in the fresh air. Maybe because it was a 7.30 am service he had not eaten anything and was suffering from lack of food was one suggestion. But the way his feet dragged as he was escorted made me think it was more like a stroke so the order was given to rush him to the local hospital which we did.

Soon after that we saw a doctor who diagnosed that he had had a stroke and needed to be admitted to one of the wards with medicine to drastically reduce his blood pressure! After a lot of close care from a number of us, at 3.30pm I escaped to reunite with Chris and hear about the rest of the service. It was then I remembered a good rule for starting a day: always have some food and drink before leaving the house! I had broken that rule this morning and had my breakfast rather late!! The patient is recovering slowly.

Back to Africa

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It’s another hot morning in Kondoa.  Temperatures are rising but the evenings are pleasantly cool and breezy.

It is good to be here, where God has assigned us and we are very conscious of his provision and presence. Our long flight across the world to Africa was not arduous at all and we enjoyed several good movies en route. Although we had hoped our residence permits would be granted on arrival in Dar es Salaam, they were not quite ready, and we settled for tourist visas in the meantime. An overnight stay in Dar was followed by a light plane flight to Dodoma and a “free” taxi service into the town! We walked through familiar streets up to CAMS (Canon Andrea Mwaka School, where Chris taught in the 1980s and 90s). A NZ teacher there was looking after the CMS vehicle that has been left for us to use and we made the decision to head north to Kondoa that same day. Any driving in Tanzania is a challenge, but Peter has proved his worth negotiating its roads many a time before. We had hoped to enjoy a little more tarmac than we did, but nevertheless, after four hours of dust and bumps, we drove wearily over the bridge and into the Kondoa Diocesan compound. So, having left NZ late Monday afternoon (September 7) we arrived, unannounced, in Kondoa late Wednesday afternoon.

Someone recognised these two weary travellers, the Bible School students and staff were rallied and the welcome began with singing, dancing and speeches. Both Bishop Given and his wife Lilian were out of town and it was several days before we saw them, but we were well looked after, being invited to meals with several different families, as we tried to get our heads around what might be expected of us in days to come. We have really appreciated Rev. Moses Kasichi, a former student of ours, now a well respected leader (including being the Acting Principal of the Bible School).

We are happily based in a house across the river and up the hill, where Iri and Kate Mato had lived before. They had left for our use furniture and equipment  for which we are very thankful. The house is airy, spacious and welcoming.

Six days after arrival, we became co-hosts to a group of NZers: Andrew and Paul from Rangiora, Ian and Helen, Lindy and Ann from Whangaparoa, and Heather from Waitara. Peter and Moses had driven two vehicles to Arusha to collect them and their luggage. It was a long trip, up one day and back the next. Three of the team stayed with us, but all meals were provided at the Bishop’s house which was wonderful.

A very full and exciting time followed. The team held a three day seminar for the Bible School students, teaching them how to apply the gifts of the Holy Spirit and how to encourage others to use them too. They taught in English of course, which was translated phrase by phrase into Swahili, mostly by Peter. Then it was out onto the roads into the villages. Peter and Moses were once again the drivers – an exacting task on the rocky tracks. Colourful singing and dancing welcomed us everywhere, as well as an eagerness and expectancy to learn more from God’s Word. A huge number came forward to be prayed for and we witnessed amazing things: a blind man received sight, a deaf man could hear, the lame could walk. One very old lady had aches and pains all over her body. After 10 minutes of us praying through her list, she was dancing freely with a huge smile on her face, and her lips praising God.

An unexpected invitation to a Maasai home one evening was very special. The chief allows his five wives and their children to attend church regularly, but his main concern was his impressive herds of cattle and goats. He had asked the team to come and bless the animals that lay peacefully in their enclosures, as the big red sun sank behind the hills. The women were busy preparing sweet, milky chai and goat’s liver which we were served. They begged us to stay the night, with the promise of a cow-hide each to sleep on, but we were expected at another village hours previously so we had to decline. The chief was invited to the seminar at church the next day, and he came, listened intently, asked a lot of questions and was prayed for. Many people there were healed and released from evil spirits and the power of witch-craft. God is moving in the land. What a privilege to be part of it!

The NZ team has left now, the Bible School students are returning after a two week break, and classes begin on Monday. Please pray for Peter under the weight of the Principal’s hat! Availability of teachers is never certain, it seems. But God is with us, and he put us here. Of that we are sure!

An Akester Update

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Peter and Christine Akester are currently on deputation in the North Island. Last Wednesday, while in the Taranaki area, they were involved in a car accident. Thanks to God, they both only received some cuts and bruises and the driver of the other vehicle was unharmed. From what we’ve been told, had the car been an inch or two forward, we may have been reporting two deaths!

The police, an ambulance and a fire engine were called in as Peter and Christine needed to be cut out of the car. Peter had glass up his nose, in his eyelid and in his mouth. Miraculously they have sustained no long-term damage. They are feeling very sore, with bruises and abrasions but were given the all clear from the hospital the night of the accident. Amazingly, the next morning they continued as planned, speaking at a couple of gatherings – though they were pleased to have a day off on Friday!

Praise God that they were protected during the accident and that they are both doing well. Pray that God’s hand will be with them as they recover, physically but also mentally. And pray that God will continue to protect them as they travel around the country.

Iri’s final weeks

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It’s already June and the official start of winter. It started here in Gisborne some days ago and most probably where you are too. Hope it’s not a sign of a harsh winter ahead. Iri is going to get a shock when he lands back in New Zealand but the jackets and jerseys which had been stored in the container for ten years are now all freshly washed and hanging in the wardrobe waiting. The process of unpacking the container and turning an empty house into our home has been a good project for me and there aren’t many sleeps to go now!

Iri is busily tying up the ends to his time in Kondoa, setting up the final exam timetable, paying final visits to villages he loves, and having visitors come to see him there before he says his final goodbyes and leaves for the last time. He’s trying to get away without farewells but I don’t think that will happen! On a recent return trip to one village he found that the local Christians had made such a wonderful effort to build their own church that we sought funding for the last of the timber from faithful Auckland supporters who were able to help complete the building. The local congregation had hand made the bricks and built the church themselves, saved and purchased the iron sheets and transported them three at a time by bicycle from Kondoa town – a trip of three hours by car so probably all day on a bike.

Sacks of maize have been purchased to be sent home with village pastors, boxes of Bibles bought and distributed, the vehicle serviced and repainted and a household inventory made of goods to be kept by the Akesters.

Would you join with us to cover everything with prayer for Iri and the Akesters including

safe travel safe storage of the household goods and vehicle safe transport, distribution and storage of maize supplies safe sharing of emotions at the time of leaving and arriving

We love and honour you for sharing this special time with us. May the Lord bless you abundantly.

Back to Tanzania

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We’re delighted to introduce Peter and Christine Akester, who were recently accepted as NZCMS Mission Partners. The Akesters are no strangers to NZCMS, having served with us from 1979-1998 in Dodoma, Tanzania. During that time they adopted two Tanzanian girls (now in their late twenties) and returned to New Zealand when the girls were completing primary school. Since then, Peter and Chris have been living in Rangiora. Peter presently heads up a Christchurch pharmacy while Chris has been teaching music in local schools and to private pupils.

A parish mission trip to Kondoa last year rejuvenated their passion and vision, exciting them about the opportunities to serve God in the region. What’s more, Bishop Given Gaula has extended an invitation to Peter and Christine to work in this diocese. The plan is for them to depart for Tanzania early in September for two to three years. Peter will take over the role of Principal of the Kondoa Bible School from Iri Mato, focusing particularly on mentoring a local Tanzanian to eventually take charge. Christine will likely teach some Biblical subjects and English language at the Bible School as well as be involved with a women’s empowerment programme.

Rain, Drought and Dudus

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There’s only four months to go until Iri is back from Kondoa.

While we were Skyping recently he complained that the rain was so, so heavy that he could hardly hear me. Unfortunately that rain was isolated and too late as most of the crops have already died before reaching maturity. Iri says that the drought conditions are serious which means a poor harvest ahead and hungry people in the coming months. The maize which the Bible School had purchased earlier and held in store have been attacked by ‘dudus’ (insects) during the holidays, so in an effort to save it from total destruction by these bugs, the sacks were taken quickly to the grinding machine once the problem was discovered. Sadly less than half of the maize was able to be rescued. Please pray for the food situation in the Kondoa region.

Another prayer point is for permanent staff at the Bible School. Not many teachers want to live and work three and a half hours north of the capital, Dodoma, in an area where few share our beliefs. Iri is making do with three teachers who come from the Diocese of Central Tanganyika for a week at a time and teach block courses, returning the next month to pick up where they left off. Not the ideal learning situation but it was through the support of the new Bishop of DCT, Dr Dickson Chilongani, that this assistance was made possible. His predecessor, Bishop Mdimi, was most supportive of the Diocese of Kondoa so it is indeed a blessing to think that this support will continue.

The School reopened mid- February and new students were welcomed although they had come without fees or food. That they felt called to come and study and go out to serve the Lord is blessing enough. Some come with a shirt and a pair of trousers, shoes but no socks, a bucket and if possible, a Bible.