Friendly smiles, squeezing hands, facial expressions, warm hugs—this was how I communicated with the village women. We didn’t speak the same language, but we managed to speak with our hearts.
My responsibilities at the Seventh-day Adventist Church world headquarters sometimes take me to places I’d otherwise never have a chance to go. Usually, I travel to urban areas, but on a recent trip to Tanzania, I had a unique opportunity to visit a remote Barabaig village about a three-hour drive from the large city of Arusha.
Mariam, one of our hosts, had been able to arrange this excursion for me and several other church workers because she is Barabaig.
We began our journey on the Great North Road, but the first turn off the main highway had us jostling back and forth as our driver navigated ruts and crevices. The road became narrower and all but disappeared as we rounded a bend and came upon a small lake. When we paused to take pictures, the district pastor pointed up the hill to a simple structure of several poles supporting a metal roof. “That’s a one-day church,” he said, “where one of my congregations meets to worship.”
As we continued our journey, we came upon a group of children playing in front of their homes. I wanted to meet them, but when I got out of the car, they ran and hid. I crouched down to make myself more approachable, and tentatively, they ventured back out. As Mariam introduced me, they stared at me quietly with beautiful eyes that looked like dark, deep pools of water. A hint of a smile played on their faces for a few moments, and then, suddenly, they were all giggles! I could have played with these children for hours, but if we were to get to the village, we had to keep moving.
Finally, our car stopped near an opening in a six-foot-high barrier made of long, thorny branches. As I stepped through the entrance, I saw a compound containing several huts and a community gathering area. I felt as though I had entered a different world, and I desperately wanted to absorb every sight, smell, sound, and texture to embed this experience in my memory forever.
Mariam’s friend Lilian, who lived nearby, introduced us to the village women, a group ranging from teenagers to 60- or 70-year olds. The young girls grinned at me shyly, but the older women looked at me with no expression from behind crossed arms. What did they think of our visit? I wondered. Were we interrupting them? Was I unwelcome company? Thankfully, the middle-aged women seemed pleased to have guests and excitedly discussed with Mariam and Lilian what to show us first.
I was led into a hut about five by eight feet. A stiff animal skin lay on the dirt floor, and a small fire smoldered at the other end. “This is the husband’s hut,” Mariam told me.
Next we entered a slightly larger hut, which was about six by twelve feet. “This is where one of the wives lives,” Mariam explained. “They need bigger huts so that they have space for a cooking fire and a separate area for sleeping with their children.”
Tanzania has 3 missionary families dedicated to sharing Christ and living out the gospel.
There are more than 20 Global Mission pioneers working across Tanzania.
Tanzania is home to more than 490,000 Seventh-day Adventists.
The smoke was thick in the hut with only a small circle above to escape. My eyes and nose burned, but I wanted to sear this memory into my consciousness. Hard empty gourds for eating and drinking were hung with twine on the branches that made up the room divider. A western-style red and white umbrella hung neatly in the corner and seemed oddly out of place. I was struck by how all their basic needs were met with just a few material belongings inside a small home.
To my delight, the women had a surprise for me when I stepped back into the glaring sunlight. They dressed me in a traditional cloth dress! The Barabaig do exquisite beadwork, and they helped me navigate the unfamiliar cut of the material, sharing a laugh with me about my uncertainty.
As our time to leave neared, we formed a circle with the women to express our gratitude for allowing us to visit. I struggled through the Barabaig pronunciation of “thank you” while handing each woman a bag of rice and giving her a hug. Even the older women of the tribe were pleased that I attempted to speak their language, and I felt their return embraces through the stiff skins of their dresses.
One of the pastors in our group closed our visit with a simple message: “We love you, and we serve a God whom we believe loves us all. We may not see you again here on Earth, but we would like to see you in heaven someday.” He invited them to visit the nearby church on the hill if they wanted to learn more about God. Then, with their consent, he prayed for their village and their families.
Even now, my heart fills with emotion, remembering how proud I was that day to be a Seventh-day Adventist Christian. I don’t know whether anyone from that village will go to the church on the hill, but I know that the pastor’s tender voice and loving words planted seeds there. His gentle approach to mission is part of an indelible memory of my visit with the beautiful people of that Barabaig village.