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On faith and power in Tanzania and the West

We in Tanzania have faith, but not power. People in Ulaya (the West) have power but not faith. But Luke says the good news is that God gives us faith and power.

These are the intriguing words of Canon George Chiteto, one of the chaplains at St John’s University, as he opened the second seminar of the past semester. It’s an intriguing analysis, not least because of how he defines power.

In a spiritual context, I tend of think of power as some kind of supernatural thing but that’s because I have an excluded middle: I don’t naturally see everyday things as God’s work in the world. But in Canon George’s words, power is about money, resources and strategy. It’s like he’s saying, ‘we Tanzanians have the desire, but not the ability.’ When a white person wants to do something, they can actually get it done.

This begs the question, what is his critique of the west? What does he mean when he says we have power (ability) but not faith? One of the things we’ve been struck by in our time in Tanzania is the level of entrepreneurship. If you’ve got a book, you publish it; if you’ve got a degree you start a business; if you’ve got a ministry idea, you get some people together and hold a conference on it. Sometimes the quality is shoddy or the initiative runs out of steam, but there’s no trouble starting things. People just do things. While to a westerner these things might seems doomed from the start from poor planning, to a Tanzanian, to not get on with it because you’re planning each detail comes across as not seeing what could be. Just like the ‘power’, the faith on view here isn’t supernatural (what we might call ‘faith in God’); in western terms it’s something more akin to ‘vision’.

When we read the Bible we can see passages in entirely different ways depending on our cultural lens. Where I’d be inclined to speak of Tanzanians as having ‘faith and power’ and westerners as having money and resources, for Canon Chiteto, money and resources are power. Likewise, for all our vision statements in the west, it’s vision that we lack.

Categories: Tanzania Tanzanian culture University ministry Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

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