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What is logic in the face of a struggling friend?

“Maybe we should just go home next year,” Arthur said to me.

It was a question of how we can best use our resources. The money we raise for our family’s living expenses is maybe 90% of the entire national staff budget for TAFES. Nationally, there are about 20 staff. On this basis, we are about 18 times wealthier than our colleagues.

Does that shock you? It shocks me. It doesn’t feel like we live at all extravagantly, but our viewpoint is skewed because we come from the country with the greatest median wealth: what is normal to us is luxurious on a global scale. There are other factors too: the same standard of education you get for free in Australia costs thousands of dollars here, and our kids will one day have to fit into the Australian system; we could live in a less secure place like some of our friends and colleagues do, but our skin marks us out as a target so what is safe for them is not safe for us. Then there are our expectations of nutrition: we expect to eat fruit every day, for example. That drives up our grocery budget. And living cross-culturally means you need more outlets for stress: we have a holiday budget, for example, and an occasional eating out budget that accounts for the fact that white people food is easily five times the price of local food. When I stop and think about it logically, I can see that these things make sense, they’re what enable us to stay for the long term rather than staying for a bit, crashing and burning and making out time in Tanzania all about us.

But what is logic in the face of a friend who struggles to eat, or questions if they should get married, because of their low or unpredictable income? Everything within us wants to just fix it, either with our own resources or by using use our Australian connections to get others to donate.

There would be a rightness to that. Western countries have grown wealthy on the back of Africa; we continue to receive more wealth from Africa than we give in our ever-decreasing aid. Whether or not we are directly complicit in this kind of exploitation, we benefit from it. If things were fair, we would not be as wealthy, and our Tanzanian colleagues would not be as poor. If we were to give some of our acquired wealth back, it would be a micro justice even if we feel powerless at the macro level.

So Arthur said we should just go home. Get a good job – pretty much any job in Australia for people as educated as we are – and send that money over here. Encourage the people who support us to instead re-direct that money to TAFES. Not all of them would, but some might. It’s more complicated than that of course. Wages in Australia are higher because the cost of living and especially housing is higher, and even then lots of families struggle without a double income. But the point is, it wouldn’t be hard to fund TAFES from Australia. Lots of ministries and NGOs use this model of funding. The talent comes from Africa; the money comes from the west. And with the world more connected than ever, it seems kind of old-fashioned to insist that those connections ought not be put to use.

So why aren’t we packing up? Or why aren’t we suggesting this funding model? Two reasons.

First, there is money here. One of the guys Arthur coaches has been putting into practice some of the partnership creation principles he’s been learning, and has been floored that he now has 6 financial supporters. He’s never even had one before. He had never asked. There are all kinds of reasons for that, including cultural ones. But he has discovered that there are gospel-hearted people, with money, who are willing to donate to support him and his ministry. It is yet to be properly tested whether there are enough of them. Partnership creation takes time, and years building a partnership base are impractical when you need money to get on a bus to the office today. But it’s false to assume that the money has to come from the west.

Second, money is power. If money comes from Tanzania, it empowers Tanzanians to support their own ministries. That’s something they can be proud of. If money comes from the west, it may make them beholden to us, and westerners get Tanzanians wrong all the time. Even if you say the money comes with no strings attached, that might not be the cultural expectation on this end. You don’t escape historical colonial relationships that easily. Now, you can do the same thing with people, but people have the potential to equip others in such a way that they themselves are no longer needed.

So we offer ourselves – expensive though we are. We work collaboratively and over the long term on skills and mindsets to equip Tanzanians to create their own partnerships, in a way that works for them. We help in small ways like buying lunch for staff members when they haven’t got money, lending money, being generous at celebration events, and offering long-term hospitality in our home, but we do not make ourselves the solution. We have to restrain our impulses for quick fixes even though it rips at our hearts to see our friends anxious and in need. Our presence compromises us.

Categories: Tanzania Uncategorized Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

5 replies

  1. Thanks for the post. Helpful to be reminded of why we are here.

    I’ve been thinking about how expensive we are, recently in a different way, in terms of resources that are pumped into us. Whether these resources, such as our schooling in Australia, our family background or childhood experiences and how these things are shaped us, need to be owned by us. Not owned in a boasting way, but in a self-aware way that leads us to not expect more of those we are ministering to than we should. This is not to downplay the abilities of those in our host location. But maybe an example will help me explain. Some Khmer friends look at how I’ve picked up Khmer and then look at how slowly they are picking up English. There’s many reasons here; a history of learning languages, a schooling system that helped me to think critically and develop good studying skills, an organisation that is supportive in me taking good time to learn the language and not putting pressure on me to be doing other things. In a sense all these reasons, are resources that have been pumped into me, not really through any ability of my own, but just because of where I’ve come from. So when I see my ‘expensiveness’ I need to keep that as an adjustment for when I’m giving advice. So in the same way that you are being in Africa is expensive and that’s worth it despite perceived cost, so too an awareness of our expense better helps us as we seek to minister to or walk alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ in these new locations that we find ourselves in. What do you think? Lost?

    Random question to finish… I followed the ‘we are compromised’ link at the end. Interesting thought. Do you think we become more comprised living in developing countries than in the developed countries that we are from? Or are we just as much compromised but in different ways?

    1. When I was at uni, the expensiveness you’re referring to was called ‘capital’: educational capital, social capital, cultural capital, etc. And I agree, all those things need to be acknowledged and adjusted for.

      Regarding the link, I’m only just learning about moral injury myself. As I understand it’s about more than feeling like you have to compromise on your values, mainly in terms of scale and intensity. So, for example, I think we are all compromised by a world system that exploits the developing world to increase the wealth of wealthy nations and we are finding out more about that in the west especially in regards to things like fashion and clothes. However there’s greater injury to the self that comes from seeing it up close and living with it every day.

      1. So awareness or more firsthand experience of compromise leads to greater injury to ourselves?

        Capital. Helpful word.

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