As part of a TIMO team, Miriam Pugh talks about the challenges of living and serving amongst the unreached Alagwa People of Tanzania.
My sister told me that nothing could adequately prepare me for married life; that I would find out what it was like by living it. She was right. TIMO has proved to be the same. There were books to read, experiences to hear, videos to watch, but, like marriage, the reality of TIMO was discovered by living it. Whilst I had idealised and minimised the potential challenges, I had no idea of the vivid joy that also awaited us. The challenges have stripped many layers away; idols that I had no idea I even worshipped. We moved from a busy life in a large, green town near London, a supportive church and a bunch of friends, to a dry spread-out village on a mountain with no water or electricity, 1½ hours from the nearest post box, where no-one understood us. Appointments, timetables and plans were replaced by an unpredictable series of visits, interruptions and simply sitting.
“The idol of giving the children what we felt we should had to go…”
We had prided ourselves that our children were interested in school, ate their ‘five-a-day’, swam, and spent time playing creatively with friends. ‘Five a day’ became vitamin supplements and swimming an occasional splash in the river at the bottom of the mountain. The idol of giving the children what we felt we should had to go; we discovered that God knows much more about being a good parent than we ever will. Suddenly being able to do nothing was far more shocking than we expected. Our neighbours saw us as doubly incompetent: we couldn’t eat, talk or wash, let alone cook, farm, grind or pound. After breaking a tooth and straining my wrist in attempts to prove myself, I discovered a deeper truth: one of the most profound ways to love is to receive. Despairing of ever ‘being useful’ or ‘impacting the community’, God answered our doubts through the community. Unbeknown to us, a local religious leader had called a meeting; he was unhappy at the presence of Christians in Ga’ara. He wanted to call to task those who had sold land for our houses. People streamed to the meeting to support us. Seemingly unable to give anything, we already had received a place in their hearts. For many months, we had an idealised view of our community; their love and acceptance, generosity, tolerance and hospitality. It took longer to experience the more hidden, darker side; intense fears of a spirit-world they cannot control. Whilst social harmony is carefully maintained by their culture, there are fault lines beneath the surface. We know that redemption from their brokenness can only come from the Prince of Peace. They practice an intricately balanced blend of Islam and their indigenous worldview. In Islam, they pray to an unknowable God in a language most of them can repeat but not understand. In their indigenous worldview, they believe that one (female) god made and gives all things, but they cannot relate to her beyond asking for her to provide, and accepting all things as her doing. We have seen glimpses of their desire to understand God, and we long for them know the one true God through Jesus Christ, and experience the hope and peace that He brings. Last year was a bumpy ride – literally and metaphorically – but we have seen God work in the struggles and the triumphs. We still live in a dry, spread-out village on a mountain, but now we are loved and accepted; and, to a large degree, known.