05 September 2016

guests are always a blessing in tanzania.

Let's just get this out of the way: I am a lousy host. Sure I work hard to prepare for visitors and am constantly trying to be mindful of their needs, but I'm also a bit like, "Did you seriously just drop that crumb on the floor and not pick it up? Uh, yeah, it's time for you to go." 

Maybe that's why God had this crazy idea of sending us to Tanzania: to immerse me in a place that is utterly all about guests, a culture that thinks it's totally amazing and wonderful to host visitors. In other words, the past two and a half plus years have given me plenty of opportunity to exercise my hosting skills (AKA hosting attitude). 

In the United States, we joke that only two things are certain: death and taxes. In Tanzania, I'd say it's probably death and visitors, with the latter being planned or unannounced. Most recently, and for the third year in a row, we welcomed visitors from Friends Across Borders (FAB), a mission outreach program run by Maryknoll Lay Missioners. Did I survive? Not only that, but also I was reminded of the joy that comes from a local culture that is all about hospitality. 

This FAB group of nine was visiting from the United States to see the work being done by us Maryknoll Lay Missioners here in Mwanza, Tanzania. During their trip, they spent time visiting each of our ministries or work sites. This means the group visited Education for Better Living Organization (EBLI), the local nongovernmental organization (NGO) that I partner with to carry out my ministry, which is all about economic empowerment for young Tanzanian women. During their visit, the FAB participants met with the EBLI staff to discuss the exact work that we do, toured the facilities to meet the young mothers currently enrolled in computer literacy, and even interacted with the young women (and three boys) in our secondary education program, which provided a great opportunity for the students to practice their English language skills. 

Beyond that, the FAB guests learned how each young mother passing through our economic empowerment program completes at least the following activities: 
  • Sixty hours of business training, including how to become employed or self-employed
  • Creation of actionable group business plans, including how to raise requisite capital
  • Drafting of cover letters and resumes to be used in actual job applications
  • Business exam to evaluate comprehension of the material covered
  • Leadership workshop to build real-world management capabilities
  • Membership in a saving and loaning group to better achieve professional goals
  • Pre and post-training questionnaire to measure the impact of the project 

From there, we talked about the impact of the project since I began leading it in June 2014, including: 
  • Total young mothers having completed business skills training: 260
  • Total business loans distributed across the saving and loaning groups: USD 4,352 

But of course, it wasn't just about the numbers. After all, this is a blog post about the blessing of guests, right? Right.

You see, whenever guests of any nationality visit our work, the local people come alive. They repeat again and again what a literal blessing it is to have guests in their midst, and they stop whatever they are doing to make visitors feel most welcome. You'll never hear a Tanzanian say they are too busy to welcome someone, even if they were not expecting them. A Tanzanian will completely re-orient his or her schedule to make time for a visitor. 

And I suppose this visit was like so many days where a similar pattern of events is repeated but I no longer notice the nuances, only this time I took notice. I took notice of the continual smiles on the faces of our young mothers. I took notice of the courage they had to stand in front of the guests and try to speak in English about their life and how they have benefitted from the project, some of them sharing especially intimate trials they have faced. I took notice of the guests who were visibly touched by the encounter. And I took notice of how proud I felt to be working with the EBLI staff and these young Tanzanian mothers, and just how far I have seen us all grow together. 

The FAB participants finished their visit of my ministry by taking a drive with me to the Mahina neighborhood to visit the businesses of Suzan Silas, a young mother who previously completed EBLI computer literacy and business training. There the group had a chance to interact with Suzan, see her businesses firsthand, and even enjoy a lunchtime meal in her restaurant. Suzan and her mother were all smiles, joyfully welcoming our rather large group into their cozy restaurant space, enthusiastically repeating how wonderful it was to host us and how we all must return again soon. 

From my perspective, Tanzanians welcome guests without counting the cost: they give abundantly from their means, however humble they may be, without concern for their own agenda but every concern for the present moment, a moment blessed and made beautiful by the company of guests. 

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