Orthodox Christian Mission Center’s Blog

January 31, 2011

Katie Wilcoxson’s Village Visits, Thanksgiving, and More

Furaha na Amani!

My family, friends, and support team: Without your prayers and gifts, I could not have fullfilled my lifelong dream to be a missionary nurse in Africa. I continue to feel at home; of course I miss my family, but I have been blessed to have a new family here in Tanzania!

My teammates and I arrived in Tanzania five months ago. We have yet to being our “work” that we came here to do, medical work. Some might say, “What is taking so long for you to start your ministry. Why can’t you just start working at the hospital and start the ‘exciting part’?” We understand that frustration because, in many ways, it doesn’t look like we are spreading the Gospel, and bringing people into the Church. But we have been doing this work since we walked off the airplane.

We work towards bringing people into the church many times in a day. We are constantly looked at and seen as outsiders. Lots of times we are judged, and our actions and words are looked at under a microscope. Because we are foreigners and because we are missionaries, we are expected to “act a certain” way. While walking down the street, meeting people in the hostel where we used to live, or waiting in a line at the post office, we are given the opportunity to tell people where we are from and what we are doing here. We have the opportunity to speak about the Church, and many times people actually listen.

Throughout history, Orthodox mission work has taken a long time. Saint Herman travelled from Finland, through Russia and across Siberia before getting to the native people Alaska. Saints Cyril and Methodius developed the Slavic language before even beginning their mission work. Saint Nicholas of Japan, who’s story I connect with, had the same frustration that I have with learning a new language. It is hard having people laugh at you because you mispronounce or mix up words. People sometimes laugh when you are speaking correctly. It is hard to hear all the laughing on certain days, after a long language lesson, especially.

So it just takes time, but I’m sure you would also like to know what we have been doing since we arrived in Bukoba.
Metropolitan Jeronymos is our boss, and he is a very busy man. He is constantly traveling to villages where parishes are already established and flourishing or where he feels there is one needed. To give you an idea of what that kind of travel is like, let me tell you about an experience I had. Not too long ago, I had the wonderful blessing to travel to Mibwera, a village about a 2 1/2 hour bus ride from Bukoba. This dala dala (bus) ride was a different experience from my other travels. Father Spyridon insisted that I sit in the front seat with the driver. I thought to myself, “I don’t want to be the muzugu (white person) that gets special treatment.” Boy, was I in for a surprise: no special treatment here! On this dala dala, which could be described as a workmen’s van, there were seats, but also people are required to “stand up” (bend down like they are stuck in a square box). Then in the front seat is where up to 5 +(not including the driver) people can sit in a bucket type seat. The front seat passengers are also required to hold, mainly in their laps, all of the fragile cargo the passengers traveling on the dala dala bring with them (ex: bread, valuables, and children). So that was me: one of the six people in the front row with an unidentifiable package and 3 loafs of bread in my lap.

Father Spyridon and I arrived just outside the village. We walked the rest of the way to the church, St. Demitiros, where Orthos was just about to wrap up. This was the parish’s feast day, and Metropolitan Jeronymos was present, so all of the secondary school children were preparing to put on a show for the celebration. A few years ago the secondary school was built by a group from Greece. This is the only Orthodox secondary school in Tanzania. Even though it is Orthodox, children from any type of background are allowed to attend.

The afternoon was filled with celebration for the parish’s feast day and for the presence of the Metropolitan. There was dancing and singing, and even some rapping by the children and adults. It was a wonderful show that was put on by the people of Mibwera. Then the Metropolitan asked me to travel back to Bukoba with him in his car. So we all scrunched into this land rover. Seminarians, from the diocese’s seminary in Kazikazi, were in the back. Three others and I were in the “back seat”, and the Metropolitan, Demtri (a driver for the diocese), and a man named Anastaios were in the front. Laughing and Kiswahili could be heard the whole way to Kazikazi. I was hoping to see Mama Maria, a woman I met when I first visited Tanzania eight years ago, when we dropped off the seminarians, but she wasn’t around. I still have a year and a half to reconnect with her. I did get to spend a little time with Fr, Geronimos, our host priest eight years ago in Kazikazi.

I arrived back home and told Michael and Felice about my exciting day. I was so tired; we had Vespers and I went to bed after returning a few more emails.

Finding a language teacher, or nurturer as the program we use calls them, is a hard process. The person has to speak and read English fairly well, have the availability to spend two to four hours with you five times a week, and be really, really patient. These are just a few of the qualities that one person needs to have for you to get the best language training possible. Glory to God, after many false starts on finding a nurturer, Felice Stewart, my fellow missionary teammate, and I found a nurturer that we can share!

Thanksgiving was figured out at the last moment. We wanted to invite our new friends and family. Since Thanksgiving isn’t celebrated here, many people were not available to celebrate with us. We had just hired our cook/housekeeper and guard/gardner, and James Hargrave, our fellow missionary teammate, arrived a few days earlier to help us restart our Kiswahili lessons. Since James lived in a remote village in Africa for many years of his childhood, unlike us, he knew how to cook from scratch. And, surprisingly, he loves to cook. So God, as always, had the perfect plan for our celebration of Thanksgiving. My name day fell on Thanksgiving Day this year. So the day was extra special for Papazia Katherine, Fr. Spyridon’s wife, and for myself. In celebration of both occasions, James cooked a chocolate cake from scratch! It was a wonderful day. We also had some unexpected guests which made the celebration bigger.

Again, I can’t say this enough: I could not have come to Africa to fulfill my lifelong dream without your prayers, my family, friends, and wonderful and generous support team.


1 Comment »

  1. Wonderful work you are doing. We work in Bukoba too. Please visit our website!www.shareinafrica.org

    Comment by Karen McNamara — February 1, 2011 @ 9:21 am

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