By Rebecca Miller
On Field Media
There is an intensity to the group of eighteen Tanzanian youth gathered in the open air banda in Engedi that night. Again and again, the question comes up in their discussion — how can we share the gospel in hard places?
It is the first gathering of its kind for the Training in Ministry Outreach (TIMO) headquarters near Arusha: a weekend for these young Tanzanians to dig deeper into cross-cultural missions.
In many ways, since it began more than 30 years ago, TIMO has represented the leading edge of change for Africa Inland Mission. According to Kevin Luce, TIMO director, this gathering showed what could become part of TIMO’s future: to train and equip African believers who are passionate about reaching the unreached with Christ’s love and planting reproducing churches.
Some of the youth at the weekend gathering had been on mission trips. Some had not. They are all part of a growing Arusha church movement to minister to unreached people groups around Lake Eyasi, which is roughly 200 kilometers west of the city. And church elders, part of the original group that reached out to the region, along with early TIMO teams, say their youth are passionate about spreading the gospel.
A key component for the weekend’s discussions? The Swahili version of “The Distant Boat” feature film, released in September 2015. Following the film’s original English version, the Swahili translation broadened its reach exponentially, with anywhere from 60 million to 150 million people in eastern and southeastern Africa who speak the language. Including the young men and women at this conference, many of whom do not speak English.
That night in Engedi, the film opens to peals of laughter as Max, a young Kenyan, bumbles along on a business trip to the Kenyan coastal region. The laughter quickly turns to gasps of concern and focused silence as his trip takes an unexpected turn, and Max has to rely on the help of a Muslim family. Eventually, his journey brings him to a crossroad: to continue living his comfortable city life or to obey the call to missions.
The next morning, the conference group gathers again to discuss the film. TIMO veteran Leah Krahn leads the discussion, which settles into a mixture of Swahili and English. She encourages those gathered to consider what would have happened if Max hadn’t fallen on hard times — if his business trip went as planned. Then they brainstormed barriers that often impede Christian and Muslim interactions.
Drawing from “The Distant Boat” and personal experiences, the group quickly fills a white board with obstacles both Christians and Muslims face. Unwillingness to leave your comfort zone. Misperceptions. Community pressure. Fear of the unknown. Cultural differences. Communication difficulties.
Max’s experiences forced him to rely on people he wouldn’t have ordinarily met. Leah shared how she had a similar experience when she first joined TIMO and moved to the Tanzanian bush. She was completely helpless without the help of the people around her. “It was through those connections of needing them that we built trust,” she said.
The weekend was a unique opportunity for Maxwell Stanslus, a 34-year-old family man. He has been on three trips to Lake Eyasi, but he wanted to know more before he returned. Watching “The Distant Boat” and discussing the challenges of missions helped solidify his resolve. “This weekend, we have learned a lot … the best way of building relationships with people in mission,” he said. Already active in a ministry outreach to men, Stanslus said he wanted to be a missionary. “I think I have a duty to tell others who don’t know Jesus.”
But to where? He laughed. “I don’t know … One thing I know? I have to do something.”