Cross of Christ Lutheran Tanzania Mission Team, 2016

Maybe I’m still on “Tanzania Time” since I’m just now, on Wednesday, finishing this week’s Monday Musing.  Better late than never, I suppose.  Or as they say in East Africa, roughly translated, “In haste there is no blessing.”

I continue to ponder the blessings of being a part of the Traveling Team for Tanzania Mission 2016. This Sunday in worship at my church, Cross of Christ Lutheran in beautiful Bellevue, Washington, we will celebrate the blessings God allowed us to experience as both Traveling and Sending teams.  And among them are the blessings of hospitality for which Tanzanians and East Africans are rightly so well known.

One aspect of that hospitality for which I was not fully prepared was the invitation (often not at all in advance) given to me to participate in, help lead, and speak in worship services during our time in northern Tanzania. And it started on the day we arrived in Tanzania.

On our first Sunday at the MasSAE Girls Lutheran Secondary School, the recently retired District Pastor was leading worship for the 350 plus students and staff, and their 21 just-arrived visitors from America. Pastor Nangole – who has been a great partner with Cross of Christ in our shared mission and ministry at the school and through local churches in the North Massai District – is a gracious and godly man, who invited me to share a greeting from my congregation.  I was happy to do so, and happier still that he translated my words from English to Swahili.  I had also been given a heads-up by veterans of previous CofC mission teams that I’d likely be asked to offer such a greeting.

What I wasn’t ready for was Pastor Nangole then announcing that I would be joining him in the service of Holy Communion! It is always a holy privilege to preside at the Lord’s Table.  I don’t want to say I take it for granted week by week, but I would say that I pretty much have the routine down to a point that I’d be comfortable stepping in at most Lutheran churches if the need and the invitation would arise.

But this wasn’t just any Lutheran Church.  The chapel this Sunday at MasSAE Girls Lutheran Secondary School was being conducted in Swahili, including the liturgy.  In addition to only remembering a few dozen or so Swahili words from 20 years ago when I lived in Kenya (and “On the night in which he was betrayed our Lord Jesus took bread…” are not among them!) I also obviously didn’t know the traditions of this place when it comes to blessing and sharing the Holy Meal.  I was honored, but also startled and more than a bit nervous at this invitation, which while very graciously offered, was clearly not one to be declined.

But Pastor Nangole guided me through, whispering brief instructions in my ear, letting me know when and where to stand or kneel.  Pretty quickly I felt like this was not only not going to be an embarrassing disaster but was a very wonderful life-long memory in the making.  Side by side we held up the elements, shared the ancient words in our own languages, and served the beautiful girls as they came forward in the school uniforms – and kept on coming!  I’m not sure but this might have been the largest congregation with which I’ve ever been blessed to share Communion.

As I’ve pondered that experience – and others like it at the numerous local churches we visited over the next two plus weeks – I am struck by the thought that this invitation to the Lord’s Table from Pastor Nangole was representative of Christ’s invitation to all of us to “take and eat.” I probably ought to be a bit shocked by the graciousness of the Lord’s invitation each time I come forward to the table of grace.  I probably ought to be humbled to be included – and not based at all on my own merit or worth but merely on the graciousness and hospitality of the host.

I know I’ll never forget this Communion experience.  I pray that the hospitality I experienced there will shape the way I receive, share, and celebration this Grace Meal each time I’m blessed to say to all, “…given for you.”