As I write this I have been back in the UK for over a year. Spending time back in the UK has allowed me plenty of thinking time and it’s only now that I have realised how nice it was when in Tanzania not to be surrounded by the media. It is hard to go anywhere here without hearing about Brexit, Donald Trump or terror plots and how terrible our lives will be for years because of them. This led me to wonder where is all the good news, for without it all our lives would be fairly miserable.
During this time here in the UK I ended up at work as the only practising Christian (nothing particularly new there!). But as time went on and I realised I would be here for a while, I wondered why. I had been called to Tanzania and I was clearly being called to return there so why spend so much time in between?
I realised that being here, it was likely that either I would impact someone else’s life or someone would impact my life.
Eventually I found myself working with a new colleague who was so grateful for everything that it put me to shame. Even though I was the one who had spent two years without running water, they were far more grateful for water than I was. This challenged me to be more grateful every day.
This was when I re-discovered the source of all good news, waiting inside each of us to be spread around through simple acts of kindness. This reminded me of the story of the sheep and the goats from Matthew 25: “The King will reply: ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’.”
This became particularly relevant to me when my car wouldn’t start and two colleagues, one of whom was supposed to be catching a train, stayed and helped me get it started. They could have left me in the hands of the RAC but they chose an act of kindness and the train was missed because of it, which in Cornwall means a very long wait (gratitude was easy that day!).
This made me reconsider the story of the sheep and the goats and the nature of the kindness shown. Our society today likes to measure everything in terms of costs, risks and rewards, only approving something if the payout is worthwhile. And yet in the story that doesn’t happen; something is given (possessions, food or time) with no expectation of anything in return.
It is very easy for us to show kindness when there is little cost to us or when there is an expectation that the kindness will be returned. It is a much harder task to show kindness that actually costs us… it doesn’t always feel natural but it can be very liberating. If we take this together with the words from Matthew 5:16 about people seeing God through our good deeds, we can therefore find God behind the good deeds of many other people. We are all made in God’s image and all have a bit of God within us, so we should not be surprised when we see God in others; indeed if we are looking for good news we should look for it in one another for it is there somewhere.
I now count myself blessed that I had the chance to know and learn from the people above but I am also challenged by them. I find it very easy to find excuses if I know helping will cost me – “they don’t need my help someone else will help them”; “ I don’t have time” or “I’d only get in the way”. At the same time, a few incidents spring to mind from my time in Tanzania and I know that I have responded when others have been in need: driving sick pupils to hospital at 2am when the school driver couldn’t be found and fetching water for a sick guest when we had run out (also at 2am and with the help of some pupils, which included climbing a tree to reach the top of a water tower and passing buckets up and down, as the water supply was off). I find myself imagining a sliding scale of kindness and wonder where on the scale I am compared to where I think I am.
Entering into a spirit of kindness and humility when we do good deeds, ones that cost us something and without expecting or wanting anything in return, is a challenge but it also offers us the amazing opportunity to shine and allow others to see and find God through the good news they see in us.
It is something that Tanzanian people seem to be far better at than we are, whether it’s from having closer-knit communities, different cultural expectations or just carrying more the spirit of kindness. I cannot imagine a pupil in Britain voluntarily joining a classmate with a manual labour task and yet I saw this happen many times in Tanzania. I think there is much we can learn – and indeed much I intend to learn – from the Tanzanian people, arguably things we used to have but have lost as our culture has “advanced”, things that are more valuable than anything new technology can provide.
In other good news, I have started my training in Oxford with other mission partners in training and will be staying at CMS House in Oxford during my training, there until 5 July. Following this, I have my commissioning service and I will then be ready to return to Tanzania (assuming all visas/permits etc have gone through).