Yesterday, I observed that the opposite of dependence is not isolation but having something to offer. In our case, that means recognising that national church leaders are often far more effective in mission and ministry in their national context than missionaries. (We are expensive, for a start, and often have to un-do or re-learn much of what we know for a new context.)
This is one of the reasons we talk about doing ourselves out of a job. If Tanzanian student ministry, even just at one university, is run or propped up by Australian missionaries with no end in sight, it is likely to stagnate or become irrelevant. It’s also one of the reasons we’ve chosen to be here long term. We don’t want to do ‘hit and run’ mission, but to spend real time raising up leaders in a sustainable way.
The problem is, we may not be here long term, at least to a Tanzanian way of thinking. In a culture where history and relationship are currency, 10 years is nothing. It sounds too task focused – you come in, you do your job and then you leave. Did you ever really care about people? Was relationship with them just a means to an end?
I know how a bit of how this feels from our experiences in Adelaide. I think of the pastor who moves from the east coast with his wife and kids, but only stays 3 years, or ones who stay for a bit longer but all their supports are back east and they’re often flying back for conferences. It’s like they’ve always got one foot out the door. Now I find myself in a similar situation. It’s one of the reasons I feel uncomfortable about Home Assignment in Australia, though we only do it every 3 years.
The point is, what westerners see as dependence may be more like ‘authentic relationship’ to a Tanzanian. Mary Lederleitner tells a striking story of a national church that asked for a much larger loan after paying off a smaller one from an American church. The American pastor was astounded that they were asking for more; the national church was trying to show that they wanted an ongoing relationship and that they were willing to tie themselves to the American church long-term. For a national church, this kind of behaviour may not be about being incapable of continuing on their own, but about honouring those with whom they have relationship.
Tomorrow, some practicalities…
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.