Piece of Cake
As I contemplated this part of my job description, I felt very confident. After all, I had taught French at the university in England and to professional adults in Germany, so teaching Tanzanian high school youth should not be so hard—a piece of cake! Full of this assurance, I walked down the hill toward my classroom with a song on my lips. But as the days went by, I was faced with a sad reality and the song on my lips faded quickly. One day, in our advanced English class (made up of high school-level students joined by secondary school teachers), I started teaching about verbs. I asked who could define a verb and they all stared at me with blank eyes. Not wanting to be defeated by this reaction or lack thereof, I gave them the definition of verb in Swahili—a verb in a sentence is a word that expresses an action. After explaining and giving a few examples, I wrote a sentence on the blackboard: they play football. One of the students, Edyson, volunteered to underline the verb. He took the blue piece of chalk, hesitated a moment, then underlined the word football. “This is the word that expresses the action, Madam,” he said. This and so many other similar situations took my assurance away. The piece of cake was stuck in my throat and I was realizing more and more that I needed nothing less than the Spring of living waters to help it go down.
When Elisha and I accepted the call to this ministry in Tanzania a few months ago, we both had a different picture of this country in mind. We had heard of and read about Tanzania as a country with beautiful national parks, the site of Africa’s highest point (Mount Kilimanjaro) and largest lake (Lake Victoria); a country with the world’s largest inactive volcano (Ngorongoro) and some of the most unique and fantastic animal migrations in the plain of the Serengeti. These things certainly should attract tourists, which would lead to economic development and then everything else—infrastructure, education—would follow suit. But when we arrived at our work location, something did not seem quite right. We had a hard time reconciling what we knew about Tanzania with what we saw around us—dust, poverty, ignorance, poor infrastructure, and health problems. It took us a few days to chase away the beautifully painted picture we had, which was not too hard since we had not come here for tourism. Still, the hard reality of this part of the country is not easy to accept.
More than 44% of the nearly 50 million inhabitants of Tanzania are under the age of 15. This would be a fantastic asset considering that “The future of society is indexed by the youth of today.” Mind, Character, and Personality, vol. 1, 4. But the sad news is that of all children enrolled in primary schools, only about 20% complete secondary school and most fail the final test of secondary education. The figures are even more dramatic in remote rural villages like Mago where we are located. The ratio of pupils to qualified teachers is 54:1. Most teachers in remote rural places have not completed secondary education. The rate of teacher absenteeism is very high and the quality of education is questionable. Enrollment fees in secondary school are only about 20 Tanzanian shillings (about $12 US), but there are also testing fees, caution fees, watchman contributions, academic contributions, identity fees, and more. This makes school burdensome for large families, orphans, single parents, or very poor families. As a result, most students drop out of secondary school and have nothing else to do but wander around, fueling crimes and spreading life-threatening diseases like HIV. Janet and Frank Fournier founded Eden Valley Foster Care Mission, our present ministry, ten years ago with the goal to offer a better future to orphans and vulnerable pediatric victims of AIDS. The district in which we operate, Makete, has one of the largest prevalences of HIV in the whole country; in some places an entire generation is missing and older siblings or grandparents raise the younger ones. All of our students are school dropouts.
Of course poverty and disease need not be limiting factors. “The cultivation of the intellect need not be prevented by poverty, humble origin, or unfavourable surroundings. A resolute purpose, persistent industry, and careful economy of time will enable men to acquire knowledge and mental discipline which will qualify them for almost any position of influence and usefulness.“ Christ’s Object Lessons, 343, 344.
So far our ministry focuses mainly on teaching young orphans and vulnerable youth a trade such as carpentry, sewing, mechanics, or agriculture. True education however cannot be limited to trade knowledge. In other words, sending these young people back to their communities after two years here with only the capacity to economically provide for themselves and for their families while having no moral or biblical standard does not solve the problem in the long run.
“God has placed in [parents’] hands the precious youth not only to be fitted for a place of usefulness in this life but to be prepared for the heavenly courts.” Mind, Character, and Personality, vol. 1, 4. The lack of knowledge and education has an impact not only on the earthly lives of these children, but, as the Bible clearly says in Hosea 4:6, on their eternal destiny. In places where the value of education is not appreciated, superstition and the power of darkness thrive. One day, in our reading class, we talked about the plan of redemption and the question was asked the students: “How many sinners do we have in this classroom?” “None,” was the painful answer.
People here believe in spirits and accept at face value whatever the witch doctors, priests, or pastors say, and almost never read the Bible. Their minds are in bondage. The object of true education is to “know the truth and the truth will set them free.” John 8:32. And so the Bible has become for us a very useful teaching tool. I know what the Bible has done in my life and in the lives of so many others who have had a wrong start in life. God’s Word truly has life-changing power.
After several months of service in Mago, I look at my job description with a different attitude. It is not a piece of cake. The youth are the future of society. How important, then, is the mission of those who are to form the habits and influence the minds of the rising generation. “To deal with minds is the greatest work ever committed to men.” Mind, Character, and Personality, vol. 1, 4. When we look at our students in class—making fun of each other, seeming totally bored in front of a book, but suddenly energized when passionately kicking a soccer ball, doing whatever they can to avoid working too hard—we know that the task is way over our heads. We just cannot do it by ourselves. But we think of Jesus Christ who took a handful of selfish and uneducated fishermen, and, after enrolling them in His school, made them into the light that changed the face of the world.
And we are convinced that this “piece of cake” attitude needs to be changed into eating His flesh and drinking His blood to dwell in Him and He in us so that through us He can repeat this transformation process and make of each one of these precious young people, who are considered failures by the world, a light that changes their communities. This is a high calling and, honestly, we feel like Moses when God called him from the burning bush—Lord, we cannot. “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26.
By Elisha and Nadége Vande Voort of Eden Valley Foster Care Mission. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Mail: Eden Valley Foster Care Mission, Box 17, Mafinga, Iringa, Tanzania.