We’ve been planning with student leaders for an upcoming ‘semina’, like a day conference. One of the issues that came up was whether we should have a ‘sadaka’, meaning ‘offering’ or ‘sacrifice’. This is a collection, taken up at the end of a meeting. It happens at just about every Christian event – church services, university commencement services, Bible studies, rallies, even camps where you’ve already paid your fees. Wherever there is a Christian event, there you will find sadaka. We have been caught out more than once where we forgot to bring money to an event!
As we threw around the idea of a sadaka, several points of theological reflection emerged:
- Sadaka is an opportunity to give back after you have received. This is not just about being thankful for an event you have benefited from; it is about being a servant. It’s an equaliser in some ways, an opportunity for everyone to make some kind of contribution. It is a spiritual exercise that is meant to create a servant heart.
- Sadaka is often not well understood because of the context in Tanzania of ministries that are centered on particular personalities. In these cases, the sadaka often goes to the preacher themselves; they pocket the money! For that reason, my friend Lizzy refuses to take up an offering at her personal ministry, Binti Sayuni, because she wants to avoid any appearance that she is benefiting from it. However, students felt this was less of a danger for our semina because it will be a St John’s event rather than our personal ministry.
- Sadaka does not cover the costs of an event. The students were very clear with us on this point. Sadaka can cover the costs of future ministries, so that it can continue, but if it is there to cover past events, it is too much like asking for money for yourself. Costs for an initial event are more likely to be covered by a benefactor or out of the generosity of those who put on the event.
Something that was really clear in this discussion is how contextual theology is. In my culture, offerings are almost entirely about covering the salary of the pastor (and/or other staff members). A verse like 1 Timothy 5:18 is important here. However, the way these students were talking sounded more like how Paul acted among the Corinthians, choosing to work rather than ask people to support him. At one point, one student explicitly said that they believe pastors should not benefit from their ministry, but rather should work to support themselves and do their ministry simply for the sake of seeing the Kingdom come. In the Tanzanian context, it’s not hard to see where they’re coming from!
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.