Missionary diary: dancing through Good Friday

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.

When Good Friday rolled around this year, the mood was appropriately sombre in our house. My husband was away (again!) for ministry and the kids and I were at home in Dar Es Salaam with colds. We tossed up whether to go to church but I felt Easter would be incomplete if we only went for Easter Sunday. There’s that movement of commemorating Jesus’ crucifixion and death on Friday, but then, Sunday is coming! You have to have the lows in order to appreciate the highs.

But when we arrived at church, the tenor was anything but low. In fact, it was pretty upbeat, dance moves and all! The worship team wore black with a bit of red, but it was all dance moves and joy. The service opened with ‘Msalaba ndio asili ya mema’. In English, it’s:

The cross is the source of goodness
Here I laid my burdens down.
I have life and eternal happiness
Come, celebrate here.

From there, we went into a song about the blood of Jesus, how we can’t pay for sin without it, be cleansed without it, please God without it, etc. There are familiar themes here, like debt of sin and broken relationship with God. But I am more used to focusing on how my sin necessitates Christ’s suffering – in the famous hymn, that “it was my sin that held him there until it was accomplished.” But at my Tanzanian church, the focus was not on my sin or its consequences but on the one who deals with it.

At my Tanzanian church, the focus was not on my sin or its consequences but on the one who deals with it.

And so the singing morphed into amazement and praise. Who else could do this? Who else would do this? The one who does this is worthy of all honour and glory and praise! Which all melds beautifully into that great theme of Tanzanian Christianity, that there is no God like our God. In Tanzania, people don’t ask, “Is God real?” they ask, “Which God will you serve?” And so the Christian claim must be to a God who is unique among the other gods – more able, more generous, more beautiful. This is the God of Good Friday, a God who is good, and who does good, most especially on Good Friday.

I guess if you’re in a culture where guilt and innocence are prominent, it might be appropriate to spend time focusing on personal sin and its solution, especially if people assume themselves to be innocent or generally good. (Then again, maybe not but that’s a discussion for another day!) But in Tanzania, sin and its effects are not disputed. People see poverty; they are daily confronted with their own inadequacies and failings as well as those of more powerful people and of spirits and demons. Their need is for a saviour from all these things, and he needs to be able to deliver.

Our ears were pummelled with the good news … it felt like an assault!

And so, in the (mostly) shouted sermon, our ears were pummelled with the good news that the blood of Jesus means we are forgiven, healed, freed, etc. It didn’t feel like good news to me, in terms of the delivery. It felt like an assault! If you didn’t understand the words, you’d think the sermon was fire and brimstone, not words of comfort, freedom and life. But in Tanzania, the medium has to match the message, so if the Saviour is in fact powerful, this news will be delivered with power.

The cross is the source of this goodness coming to us. So Good Friday, as the day of our deliverance, is less sombre in tone and more celebratory. I love this because if I am tempted to make Good Friday about how unworthy I am, Tanzanian Christianity teaches me to look not at myself and my own unworthiness but at Jesus and his worthiness.