Following God’s timeline in Tanzania
By Sr Vimala Martin
Tanzania: My missionary life has brought to work in Tanzania, east Africa.
Let me say something about Tanzania before I share about my missionary experience. The country has an estimated population of 50 million as of 2016. Major languages spoken are English and Swahili and major religions are Christianity and Islam. The life expectancy is 58 years for men and 60 years for women.
According to World Bank, the poverty rate in Tanzania rate fell from 60 percent in 2007 to an estimated 47 percent in 2016, based on the US$1.90 per day global poverty line. However, about 12 million Tanzanians still live in extreme poverty earning less than US$0.60 per day. Many hover just over the poverty line and risk falling back into poverty in the event of socio-economic shocks. Universal education, scrapping contributions for primary and secondary school, has drastically increased primary school enrollment.
My first overseas missionary journey in Tanzania began on October 1, 2009.
Before I could make my final religious commitment (vows), I was inspired and challenged to opt for mission work. I had no idea where and what I am going to do. But I was ready for mission work. I prayed and decided to go for overseas mission. After my final vows, I prepared myself for it. When I arrived in Tanzania our SJA Sisters from Dumila, which is located in Morogoro Region, Tanzania, came to pick me from the airport.
Soon after my arrival in a new country, it took a few days to adjust to a new place. I told myself that I need to condition my life directions in a positive manner which will help me to immerse myself in God’s work.
I was happy that one of my senior sisters, who herself was a missionary, accompanied me for mission work. She gave me initial briefings about the country, culture, religions, socio-economic and political contexts. Her practical tips based on her experiences and of others and various off and on orientations on many dimensions of missionary situations and challenges enabled me to acclimatize myself to the new reality where I have to live and work, with commitment, compassion, and competence, to the best ability of my life and with God’s grace.
I was open to learning everything that could enable me to be fit and serve the local church in collaboration with local missionaries and people cutting across cultural divides. I was ready to face any cultural shocks and disregard any biases or prejudices that might crop up in my mind as I was in a new environment, altogether different from my own in India, South Asia.
The first thing, my sisters in Tanzania, did for me is to go language course for a month. Gradually I felt homesick for a few days and often felt out of place, but my sisters helped me and loved me so much so possible in order to make me comfortable and at ease.
Slowly my homesick was gone after my language course. Then, I was sent to Tabora, the sleepy town or municipality of Tabora, in the hinterland of western Tanzania. Tabora is one of Tanzania’s 31 administrative regions.
It was so long journey to reach from Dumila to Tabora. It is nearly more than 800 km. We started in the morning and reached at Tabora by night 12 pm along with one of my sisters.
In Tabora, for two or three months, I worked at St. Francis de Sales Mission School which is managed and administered by Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales (MSFS), also known as the Fransalians. The school at Ipuli has 2,000 students from grades 1 to 11. In January 2010, I took up the responsibility of teaching there. SJA sisters collaborate with them.
We are five sisters in the MSFS mission school. From then onwards I am in Tabora with pre-primary students. In the beginning, I used to struggle with language. Slowly I picked up my language. I used to feel upset for language proficiency as I was not so confident to converse with others. Finally, I learned the language with great effort.
Now I am enjoying being in Tanzania. I appreciate people’s culture and enjoy their variety of celebrations. I do like to talk and listen to people, visit their families and pray with them. People of the place are good. They accept and appreciate us for the work we do.
With God’s grace and cooperation of locals, we are confident to face any difficulty. We commit to be one with people, take care of children’s education and guide them in a right way.
SJA’s presence started in Tanzania in 2004. We have four communities in Africa—Dumila, Tabora, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, which the largest city in Tanzania and one of the largest cities in East Africa. There are 17 SJA Sisters in Tanzania. All of them are from India hailing from Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Bihar and Tamil Nadu.
One of our top priorities is to visit families. SJA sisters work in a health centre, at the school and assist in the local parish (Holy Family Church) in the diocese of Tabora.
Once we come to the mission we don’t want to go back to our home country. We are happy to work with people we serve. Now we have started our own formation house for SJA candidates. We have two local candidates with us at the moment.
We pray that we may get more local candidates to establish our missionary presence in Tanzania. This is the dream of all of us. We are ready to adjust with the people and learn their culture and serve in the local church in Tanzania.
All that I can say is that God is the one who is leading us, so we believe that we will flourish in God’s own time. We follow God’s timeline in missionary work and align with His plan.
[Sr. Vimala Martin is a member of the international Congregation of Sisters of St Joseph of Annecy. The native of the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, she belongs to Bhubaneswar Province, Odisha, eastern India. Jesuit Father Medaille founded the religious order for women at Le Puy in France in 1650.