I’ve heard so much about the beauty and magic of Africa. So when my work with Loom International gave me the opportunity to spend a week in Tanzania, I was excited to see it for the first time.
I stepped off the plane in Kilimanjaro and tried to explain to the visa officer what I meant by putting “Communications” down as my occupation. We drove the hour to Arusha in the dark and I couldn’t wait to see what everything looked like in the light. The next day I was not disappointed as we ambled past misty, lush fields of maize tucked beneath the surrounding mountains.
Near towns and villages women sell roasted corn and avocados on the side of the road; in the cities men sit around piles of shoes or displays of watches and leather bags. We pass Donald Trump Butcher and follow a mutatu with “pray hard” across the front. Here I am, in Africa. “Karibu Sana,” everyone smiles as they hold my hands in a warm greeting. “You are so very welcome.”
I also met the rest of my teammates that first morning, as they arrived late the night before. Over the next week I would come to know and love all of them, from Sarah and Paul who are medical missionaries full-time in Haiti and even went on a missions trip for their honeymoon, to Claire who has such a beautiful mother’s heart for everyone she meets, to Dr. Lance whose passion to educate about and prevent sun damage led us to adopt the slogan, “Until all Maasai wear sunglasses!”
The first village we visited was Engikaret. Loom partners with Local Experts who work here year-round, running a pre and primary school, starting a cow and goat initiative for sustainable income, pastoring a local church, and hosting monthly medical clinics. Child marriage is common among the Maasai, even for girls as young as seven or eight. However, as long as they are enrolled in school, legally they cannot be married. So the work in Engikaret began with a school to protect young girls and give them a greater opportunity. Since our team was last here, many new buildings have sprung up to expand their ministry.
The following day, while the doctors were hosting another clinic in a remote village, Caitlyn and I had the privilege of touring the Arusha ministry base and meeting with Local Experts. Our guide for the day was Geoff Mulkowe, who runs Tumaini Children’s Ministry with his wife Beatrice. Tumaini used to be a home for 70 children born into poverty. But after Geoff and Beatrice received training about the importance of a family in child development, they changed the model to provide sponsorships that allowed these children to remain in their homes and still receive food and education. The home is still open for several children who come from abusive or unsafe backgrounds, and hosts an after school snack and tutoring program each day as well. It was so good to hear the courageous steps Geoff and Beatrice were taking to make sure these children were protected and valued properly and had the opportunity to thrive.
We also met with Emmanuel, who trains pastors and church leaders to work among unreached people groups around Tanzania. His wife, Happiness, cooked us an amazing dinner and told us of her ministry to empower women and share God’s love with children in their community. We met with Judy, who runs support groups and micro enterprise for men and women who are HIV positive, providing them with hope for the future. And we toured the sewing center, which trains young single mothers in tailoring skills who have no other option to provide for their families but to sell their bodies. The center is named Waliokumbukwa, which means, “God Remembers Us.”
After only a few days, it was hard to leave Arusha and the friends we were beginning to make there. I was excited to see Kilimanjaro, however, after hearing so much about them.
When the Kilimanjaro ministry base first started, the leaders were given the land for free because it was empty, rocky, and so dry the government had no use for it. Now it’s one of the most lush, alive places I’ve ever been and a community has sprung up all around it. It’s a fitting metaphor for the dozen of different ministries they operate on what seems like impossibly little resources. Against the odds, life is here and spilling out onto those around it. It was an honor to interview so many brilliant leaders, from Phillip and Lydia whose vision has kept everything moving forward with so little, to Emma and Naomi who care for orphans and run a school sponsorship program for children whose parents are HIV positive.
Our last day in Kilimanjaro, the doctors held their final clinic in a village called Engitani, the only medical care this village has received in six years. Thanks to Dr. Paul’s portable ultrasound machine, he diagnosed several patients with serious conditions that needed hospital treatment to save their lives. The team was able to raise the money to help each patient get to the hospital and receive the care they need. Dr. Paul also had the privilege to announce three pregnancies during the trip! More than one patient later told leaders that they now plan to read their Bibles and go to church because of the love they received that day.
Our last stop on this trip was Dar Es Salaam, which was probably my favorite location. I loved seeing the busy, bustling streets, the palm trees everywhere, and the Indian Ocean within view. Here we met Jeremiah and Beate, two powerful leaders who are running maternity, hydrocephalus, and spina biffada clinics, a high quality pre and primary school, a disabilities ministry, vocational training programs, a safe house for street children, and a farming initiative–all with a team of about eleven staff! There is so much more I could say about this beautiful place and the incredible people who work here. Their ministries are challenging, to say the least, but they press on day after day, year after year, because they know deep in their hearts that these precious lives are worth it all.
It’s impossible to return from a trip like this and not be changed. I’m so thankful for this opportunity to be reminded of God’s miraculous work in every corner of the world. To everyone who donated towards my trip or supported our team in prayer along the way– thank you. I am so deeply grateful for your partnership. Together, change really is possible.
Some of you have been asking about fundraising– I’m still looking for more monthly partners who can help me continue to tell these stories, support our partners on the ground, and advocate on behalf of the most vulnerable. If you find yourself intrigued by what I’m sharing or would like to learn more, I’d love to talk with you.