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Over the past six weeks, BKB Ambassadors Russ Hilliard and Jo Whiting have traveled the length and width of the Iringa Diocese visiting 16 different congregations on behalf of US companions who aren't able to be present this year. During their visits they share reports, letters, and small gifts that congregations have sent along with them. They listen and take notes as congregations in Iringa share updates about their parish and the ups and downs of life in their community. They take pictures, write reports, and do their best to bridge relationships across continents and cultures.
Sitting down with them earlier this week, I learned that one of major obstacles we face is convincing Americans that their everyday lives are interesting and that they too have stories to share. Folks in companion congregations love hearing about the joys and concerns of everyday life that their sisters and brothers in America face. What may be mundane to us may be interesting and even inspiring to our partners.
Where Minnesotans traveling to Tanzania may be fascinated by scenes of everyday life in Tanzania and find themselves crouching down to take pictures of something as ordinary as avocado seedlings or corn drying outside a family's house, Russ and Jo describe congregations they visit being equally fascinated by the ordinary work of our churches. They tell stories of one parish where the people broke into applause when they heard about their partner's work with immigrants and helping to settle Iraqi Muslims in Minnesota. They tell stories of others who were amazed to hear that homelessness and hunger are issues facing our communities, who learned that food shelves and clothes closets are common services our congregations provide, and who were inspired to start similar initiatives in their own communities.
Making return visits to parishes they visited in previous years, Russ and Jo tell stories of how closely congregations in Iringa follow their companions in the United States. In one instance partners in Iringa learned that a congregation's efforts to reach more young families were bearing fruit. In another, they learned that a new lead pastor was called after fifteen months of searching. In both instances the news was met with shouts of "Bwana Yesu Asifiwe! Praise the Lord! Our prayers for our friends have been answered!"
Your stories matter. Our stories matter. Be they sacred or mundane, we need to learn to share them. Embracing life together, we do well when we extend the same courtesy of curiosity to our companions that we enjoy with them. It is at the table, after all in fellowship and prayer just as in bread and wine that Christ is made known among us.
With gratitude and joy,
The Rev. Peter Harrits
Director of Bega Kwa Bega & Assistant to the Bishop