Missionary Diary: a solo Christmas with two Energizer bunnies

Tamie Davis and her husband Arthur are missionaries with Church Missionary Society (CMS) Australia. Arthur is staff coach with the Tanzanian Fellowship of Evangelical Students (TAFES), which aims to share the gospel with university students. Tamie is doing a PhD on the theology of TAFES women graduates.

Here in the cosmopolitan city of Dar Es Salaam, there’s a kind of exodus at Christmas time. Whether you’re Christian or Muslim, most people have the week between Christmas and New Year off, and there’s a joke about the great migration upcountry as the Wachagga people in particular go back to Moshi ‘to be counted,’ that is to be seen by senior family members in the village. Buses are fully booked, even the illegal tickets where passengers sit in the aisle and scoot out of sight when the bus goes through a weighbridge!

It’s exciting to see Tanzanian students catch the vision.

University students don’t necessarily go home, though, and it’s one of the few times when all the universities sync their holidays, so it’s a great opportunity for a university ministry to have a conference. TAFES, the ministry my husband Arthur works for, holds its missions conference over Christmas. This year, speakers from all over Tanzania and Africa have come to challenge students to ‘Abide in Jesus, Affect the World’. Aside from the main Bible talks on the Gospel of John, there are sessions about mission and business, politics, family, and media. Students have always played a vital part in God’s global mission and it’s exciting to see Tanzanian students catch the vision.

Well, exciting second-hand, because I was not in Dodoma, the nation’s capital, for the conference over Christmas. I was at home in Dar with our children. The conference is child-friendly in that you’re welcome to bring your children, but there is no children’s program as we would understand it. While Tanzanian kids might be fine entertaining themselves in the dorm room with a university student semi-nearby, our two Energizer bunnies would quickly get bored with that.

A lot of ‘missio mum’ life is parenting solo while your husband is at ministry things.

In previous years I’ve gone, armed with activities for our children, but the end result is all the other bored kids think what we’re going is pretty cool and I end up running an impromptu kids’ program without a team and with very limited resources. And I don’t really enjoy children’s ministry! So this year, we agreed it was easier for my husband to go on his own. It’s sad to be separated for Christmas but, I tried to remind myself, Arthur might not be with us, but Emmanuel is.

A lot of ‘missio mum’ life is parenting solo while your husband is at ministry things, even if, like me, you have your own ministry role. My husband was away for the whole month of October – then seven weeks later, the boys and I were without him again, over Christmas. So I tried to make it fun: we made a slip’n’slide in our tiled living room with shaving cream and food colouring; we made paper chains to decorate the same space; the power is often on before sunrise, so this year when the kids woke up super early on Christmas Eve, we watched Home Alone; when there was a long-awaited downpour of rain on Christmas morning, I let the boys jump on the trampoline in it, praying no one broke an arm!

The first two hours of the Christmas Day service is taken up with dancing

Church on Christmas Day was fun too, or at least, the first two hours were, which was lots of dancing. The last hour and a half were harder going, and I found myself thinking of Australian services that last an hour so people can get on with all the other festivities. Not so in Tanzania! People feel that if you’re going to come to church, it’s got to be worth it, meaning at least three hours! So by the time I took my hungry, cranky children home, it was probably inevitable that there would be tears over presents and refusals to speak to grandparents on Skype! What a contrast to my Facebook feed, a sequence of happy extended families gathered together!

People feel that if you’re going to come to church, it’s got to be worth it, meaning at least three hours!

Like many mums at the end of Christmas Day, I was thinking ‘just get them into bed!’ but my boys were also strung out from the day, and it took a long time for them to wind down and go to sleep. So I stayed singing to them for ages, not just our normal repertoire of hymns but a selection of carols (glad to have my phone with me to check some of the verses!) and then, when they were still not asleep, some classics: How Deep the Father’s Love, In Christ Alone, Shout to the Lord, What a Friend We Have in Jesus. And as I lay between my two little guys, lonely and homesick, this was where Jesus met me on Christmas Day.

Are we weak and heavy-laden, cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Saviour, still our refuge, take it to the Lord in the prayer.