Our Callum has recently been asking each member of the family what our favourite thing is about living in Tanzania.
I told him it’s the fashion – the prints and the designs and getting it made to fit specially for you. Arthur said his is the creatures, not just on safari but in our backyard – mongooses and orb weavers and giant snails and hedgehogs and all manner of odd bugs. There are any number of other things we could say, like the climate or the food or the more relational approach to life.
These are everyday things we love but you can answer the question in deeper ways as well. Another thing I love about Tanzania and Tanzanian theology is the purposeful effort behind building a theology of God’s power, action and care.
A strong theme in Tanzanian worship music is the power of God. Songs like “Wewe ni Mungu wetu, Mungu anayeweza” (You are our God, the God who is able) are an extension of the declaration that ‘Hakuna Mungu kama wewe‘ (There is no God like you), bringing God’s uniqueness and exclusivity to bear on the experience of the believer. There is power for living; it is possible.
As I’ve been interviewing TAFES women for my PhD research, it’s become clear to me that this message is one that is intentionally and purposefully created and curated. Life is hard, problems seem intractable and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or to think things are never going to change, to -kata tamaa (to give up). People don’t just need to believe that change is possible, they need to be enveloped in an environment where this rings true. Being surrounded by messages that tell you power is available, and being prompted to say and sing these things, helps you to believe them. I have found this spiritually nourishing.
In my theological background, we believe God can do anything but it’s not the animating theme of our worship. In reformed theology and worship, the sovereignty of God is emphasised, and the appropriate response is to bring our will into line with his. These are prescient messages in a western context where myths of individualism and control reign supreme! But my experience of them has been that they also dampen down a sense of God’s activity in the world, reinforcing that other western myth of the absence of God. We can struggle to pray, wanting to do so in line with God’s will but unsure what that is. Aussie evangelicals sometimes try to offset this with songs about God’s immanence but rarely songs about God’s able-ness. My point here is not that we don’t believe that God is able (we do!) but that our beliefs about God’s power are not necessarily the focal point of our emotional engagement with God. Songs like Waymaker make a splash because they’re so different to what we normally sing. But Waymaker is one of many African songs dwelling on a God who is able and who acts for his people.
So as I stand and sing over and over again, ‘You are our God, the God who is able’ and as the music swells, I begin to think that maybe problems are not so intractable, not because they are small but because of who God is. I feel helpless and hopeless in the face of climate change, abuse of women, cruelty to children, geopolitical conflicts that date back decades or even centuries; and they seem bigger and more complex than what God can handle. So to be enveloped in a Christian practice that centres the power of God rebukes me. And as we come to our final years in Tanzania and life in Australia seems ever blurrier and unappealing to me, I am comforted that God is able, that he has a future for us even there. It quiets my anxieties and puts my focus on who God is rather than on my fears. This is one of my favourite things about living in Tanzania.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.