We ran our first semina at St John’s University last month. It’s a new initiative for the chaplaincy with two big aims: uniting the fellowships, and offering something relevant and engaging to students. When I say ‘we’, I mean Arthur and I initiated it and facilitated getting the fellowships together, but really they organised it. We learned a lot in that process and wrote several pages of things we were thankful to God for about it afterwards. One of those things was the students who taught us and reflected back with us. One even provided us with some Swahili corrections (thankfully not too many!).
As we plan for the second one, this month, those same students have told us that we are now ready for the next steps in our learning. Their input reminds us that no matter how much you think you’ve learned, there is always more!
Friday, not Saturday!
Something we learned from running the first semina was that the Friday night was twice as big as the Saturday. It’s quite the rev up, with lots of singing and dancing and hype. We (Arthur and I) weren’t too worried that there were only half the number of people there on the Saturday because those who were there on the Friday still participated in a combined event and benefited from a chaplaincy event. However, the student leaders felt that we should capitalise on Friday’s greater numbers by making that longer and holding the main content there. As we talked about this more, we discovered that students prefer a longer Friday night event (even if it goes all night) to a Saturday event. Saturdays are for homework and for resting but people expect to do things on Friday nights. Our assumption was that everyone is tired on a Friday night (we are!) but fresher on a Saturday. Not so for Tanzanian students. Needless to say, the next semina will be on a longer event on a Friday night without anything on the Saturday.
After the first semina, we wrote to our Australian partners that we saw the event as a culmination of the last year’s work of building relationships on multiple different levels: with the chaplains, with students, and with various mentors and other leaders. We had the contacts with students to pull off a combined event; they trusted us to do so; we knew the other people to pull in to help run it. These relationships were the fruit of nights out attending student fellowships, hours spent in awkward conversations in the chaplaincy office, a stack of smses to people asking them to catch up while not quite knowing the protocol for how to do that. And as we spoke to the students, we learned, this is just the beginning. They still want to see more of us; they suggest we should visit the university choirs as well and make an effort to greet and encourage them. There are layers to building relationships that we are only just seeing now.
These things were not pre-meditated by the leaders as things to teach us; they were simply things they all knew that we did not so they came up in discussion and they all agreed with one another. What really struck me about the way the students taught us these things was the grace with which they did it. They spoke about it as the ‘next step’, because we had made such a good first step. They were gentle with us, making ‘suggestions’ and explaining without making us feel stupid! They said they felt able to be frank with us, as if they were only able to mention these things because we already had a good relationship. It’s humbling to learn how much more you have to learn; it’s even more humbling to learn it in the context of such grace.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.