Yesterday we visited a different church, to see our friends Eliud and Dorothea get officially engaged. The denomination was Evangelistic Assemblies of God Tanzania (our normal church is just run-of-the-mill Tanzania Assemblies of God), and this particular church was called ‘Kambi ya Waebrania’ — the camp of the Israelites. Up the front of the church was a mural depicting the landscape of the area, and in place of the church was a picture of an Old Testament-style camp, with sacrificial fire and tabernacle. I wish I’d got a photo of it.
The name of the church shows the immediacy of the link between the Old Testament people of God and God’s people today. It’s a theology with a strong sense of place and belonging, but it’s also one heavily identified with Jesus. Above the mural was Matthew 11:28:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Here in this place is where you will meet with Jesus and be unburdened. Just as the Israelites set up camp, meeting with and protected by God, so this is a holy place of rest in the presence of God.
On each of the side walls of the church there were Bible verses as well. The verses we choose to decorate our churches with say something about our predilections and preoccupations. Many Australian churches would choose John 3:16, for example.
On the left wall stretching from the back to the front was 1 Samuel 2:8:
He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes
and has them inherit a throne of honour.
This is part of Hannah’s song. Similar words are sung by other women in the Bible at key moments, most notably Mary when she visits Elizabeth. Jesus picks up on these in his ministry manifesto in Luke 4. Here is good news to the poor, and good news to those who are powerless: there is One who raises the lowly. In a fear-power context, it’s a promise of great hope. Power is on your side though you are lowly! There are better days ahead.
On the right wall was Isaiah 43:18:
Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
The first thing I wanted to ask when I read it were what the ‘former things’ are in their original context. The verse immediately after (which was not on the wall) speaks of God doing new things, of making a way in the wilderness. Yet it was not this verse that was chosen, but the one about not looking back. I suspect that this reflects the aspirational nature of Tanzanian theology which I have written about recently. The ‘new thing’ is on the opposite wall, so that bears no repeating. Here is the exhortation to let that new thing shape you. Look to that as your identity, not who you were as someone who was poor or lowly, but one who is an inheritor of a throne of honour, perhaps even one who can say, “I am rich.”
And in that knowledge there is rest and peace.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.