Missionary Diary: The long send-off

Tamie Davis and her husband Arthur are winding up their term as missionaries with the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in Tanzania. Arthur has been staff coach with the Tanzanian Fellowship of Evangelical Students (TAFES), while Tamie completed a PhD on the theology of TAFES women graduates.

Last week my family and I went on a ‘farewell tour’ of Tanzania. We’re leaving after more than a decade of cross-cultural service here, and there were significant people and places we needed to say goodbye to.

Many of them were places we lived or people we worked with in our early years in Tanzania, so the tour was a bit like coming full circle. Our kids were too small to remember much, but they’ve heard stories of these people and places, so it was good to have them along too.

Tamie with her goddaughter Hilda.

“That’s the police station they took Dadda to after he accidentally drove on the street the Prime Minister was driving on!”; “This is our old house – we planted these massive trees! And look, those are the seed pods our goat loved!”; “This is the market you always went exploring in, but I was never worried about losing you because everyone was always keeping an eye out for the little white kid!”

Many people we saw wanted to thank us for the time we had spent with them, on this trip and over the years. They pointed to what they had gained from us, what our service had meant. Indeed, we have spent significant time investing in people, which required long years of investing in language and culture learning. It was beautiful to hear people reflect on this. As you come to the end of your cross-cultural service, you can sometimes wonder, ‘What did I actually do? What have I achieved? Am I making my ministry sound bigger or more significant than it was?’ So it’s good to hear from others what we have meant to them, in their own words.

Tamie, Elliot and Mama Glory (the “tomato lady” at Dodoma market

But I came away from our farewell tour with a sense of how we too had been invested in, and by so many people. Language partners, cultural mentors, my lecturer at the university, colleagues, friends who included us in their lives rather than keeping us at arm’s length, women at the market who took it upon themselves to love my son and educate me. And so it became important for me to tell them what I had gained as well. For example, I’ve just done a PhD in which the fieldwork was in Swahili – impossible without those who invested in my language learning and complemented by those who allowed me to live life alongside them.

I didn’t set out to learn Swahili so I could do a PhD. I was just trying to honour those I lived among by speaking their language well. Neither was I studying the people I was living alongside so I could write it up for research; I was just trying to understand what made these people I was growing to love tick! But as they invested in me, I began to see God and his world differently.

I was keen to model how Tanzanians can be our teachers.

After several years someone pointed out that I knew something that few Westerners had the cultural access or knowledge to understand, something that others might benefit from. And with Africans so often exploited for what we can take from them, or positioned as recipients of our help, I was keen to model how Tanzanians can be our teachers, and to treat the ministry we’d been involved with as worthy of study, which lends it credibility in its context.

So there is an entanglement of investment here. We have invested and have been invested in. We have given a little and gained much. And that entanglement means we have become part of each other. It’s why leaving is so hard, why are hearts are breaking. And it’s also why as we leave, we are being sent out.

On a couple of occasions during our farewell tour, people commented to us something to the effect of: “You have become part of us. You are going ‘home’, but we are sending you out as TAFES missionaries to Australia.” Missionaries come in all shapes and forms, and one of the biggest missionary workforces today is the African diaspora. How humbling for us to be included in that! What an honour! What a beautiful way of saying that we are both those who have invested and those who have been invested in.