The Gift of Presence
For nearly two weeks, those of us in the Saint Paul Area Synod have been blessed by the presence of ou[...]
It was the beginning of August and months from dusty winter's end in most of Tanzania's south central highlands, yet the earth around the mountain hamlet of Bomalang'ombe remained a deep and vital green.
Word was that the Americans in their baby blue Chinese eighteen seater were creeping further south into the mountains towards the village. The foreigners, one Tanzanian had said in quick Kiswahili after he got off his Nokia, were less than thirty minutes away now. They had left from a sunny, slightly chilly Iringa Town three hours before, just after 8:00 a.m., but their forty-five mile journey was taking longer than expected. Still, no one in Bomalang'ombe, called Boma for short, was worried. Their Saint Paul wageni, or guests, would come in good time. The Lutherans of Boma smiled, shrugged, and made final preparations for their friends' arrival...
In the instant the bus came to a gentle stop before the group, engine idling, a line of fifteen to twenty gawking children and onlookers who had been watching the ritual from a distance moved to the roadside to get a better glimpse of the Americans. The Boma Lutherans quickly formed a semi-circle around the bus's front end and intensified their singing and dancing, each making use of a variety of shuffling, hopping, or arm swinging movements in the local Hehe fashion. Seated along the windows of the bus, the American visitors first took pictures, then clapped and waved. From their side of the glass, they looked on in awe and emotion, some through tears, as an unlikely, inexplicable energy and spirit turned its focus on them. Younger members of the host group ran up to the bus windows shaking branches and singing for a few more moments, blowing whistles and throwing arms in the air, before turning away from the bus to run back to join the assembly. After not more than a minute, the Tanzanians turned away from the bus and started a slow, singing procession up the hill towards their church. As they began heading up the road, the Americans, all still in the bus, followed their singing escort, their vehicle almost literally embraced front and sides by the Boma welcome.
(Excerpt from the introduction to You Have The Watches, We Have the Time.)
At its best, and as captured in the words of author Ross Benbow, this Bega Kwa Bega relationship that we share with the Lutherans of the Iringa Diocese can perhaps be described as a grand gesture of hospitality. In the common work that we do, in the prayers that we exchange, and in the time that we spend with one another, we extend and we receive God's gift of welcome. As we celebrate life together and the One who created us all, like the Roseville pilgrims and their baby blue bus we find ourselves wrapped in God's gracious and unending love. This is good news. And this is what this is all about.
On November 12th the grand gesture of Ukarimu or 'Hospitality' will take center stage at the annual Bega Kwa Bega Fall Festival. Gathered for a morning at Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church on St. Paul's East Side, we will welcome guests from Iringa, learn about the ins and outs of receiving guests, and share with one another the ways in which we have all experienced this great gift. On behalf of the festival planning team, we look forward to seeing you there and sincerely hope that you will invite others to join in the day and this life-changing relationship.
Karibu Sana (You are warmly welcomed),
The Rev. Peter Harrits, Director of Bega Kwa Bega & Assistant to the Bishop