When my cousin Barbara asked me: "Joe, why do you want to
go back to Tanzania?" I answered: "Remember you said you always root for the
underdog in an American football game. Well, it’s the same for me. I go back to
Tanzania because I’m rooting for the underdog. Sure there are a lot of needs and
challenges here in America. But if you want the classic ‘underdog’ it’s
Tanzania. According to recent economic statistics Tanzania is the third poorest
country in the world after Mozambique and Ethiopia. AIDS, famine, refugees,
malaria, witchcraft, poverty, low economy, corruption, poor roads. You name it.
Tanzania has got it. But we missionaries feel called to accompany the local
people in all this and try to make a small difference. At this point Barbara lit
up and exclaimed: "I finally understand."
I went on. "Please don’t get the idea that all of Africa
is grim and desperate. The former president of Tanzania Julius Nyerere once
said: ‘We have many problems but we remain cheerful.’ In fact Africans are some
of the happiest, most joyful people I have ever met — even in the midst of
their material poverty."
To stress the missionary side of my life in Tanzania I
added: "Remember that passage in St. Luke’s Gospel when Jesus said to his
disciples: ‘I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other
cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.’ For me this means going to the
other cities in Tanzania also like Arusha and Mwanza and Rulenge. This means
following in the footsteps of Christ to bring the good news to the poor, to the
weak, to the outcast, to the losers, indeed to the underdogs. Mission means
sharing a journey with the Tanzanian people."
These days we talk a lot about ‘inculturation’, which
means rooting the Good News of Jesus Christ in African soil. There’s a wonderful
video on various liturgical celebrations throughout the continent of Africa
called ‘The Dancing Church’. That’s a great title to describe the spirit and
enthusiasm of the church in Africa.