His name is Mseeni. He knew we were coming. He welcomed us with a smile and invited us into his home – the typical hut constructed of hundreds of small tree limbs tied together and then covered with a mixture of mud and manure. The roof was corrugated aluminum and the floor, well the floor was the ground. His youngest daughter was home – a beautiful 3 year old girl. The other kids were at school. She had on a dress and he was dressed in his best clothes. That’s the Tanzania culture – guests get the best you can give.
I had been on home visits before. I’d seen people living in worse conditions, so it wasn’t his home that got to me. It was his story. His grief was palpable. His young wife had died only a few weeks earlier. This is a common story here, and one that no longer shocks me. But now we were there to share his burden, to love on this man in the middle of his sorrow. He showed us pictures of her. I was a little surprised at this. I haven’t met many here who have pictures, so I asked about it. Apparently, there was a man who came through their village with a camera. He was able to take the pictures and print them immediately.
I could tell these pictures were beloved – a keepsake of the wife he had loved and lost. As I looked at him I saw the weight of the world was on his shoulders. Alone and grieving, he still must care for their four young children. In Maasai culture, the men work on their farms or shambas. And the women do everything else. That may sound familiar, until you realize that everything means not only cooking, cleaning, laundry and childcare, but also walking miles to haul water to your house before you can do any of that. It means walking even further to get to any sort of market to buy essentials (think clothes, shoes, toilet paper, etc.) for you and your family. And now he was left with all of it. And he was overwhelmed. It would be easy for us to be overwhelmed too. Where do we begin? There’s lots of things I can of think of to do, to fix this. To fix him. But he doesn’t need to be fixed. He needs a helping hand. He needs a little compassion. He needs love.
I asked him a simple question – what was one thing we could do that would help him? He thought for a long time. His answer? A job. It’s what everyone there wants. We told we’d think on that, and asked again, what we might be able to do that would help him immediately. After a lot of encouragement and discussion, here is what we came up with together. First, he could use some food. Food scarcity here is so common, most people don’t really think about it. But for the next few weeks, we’ll make sure he has enough to feed his kids. Second, they need clothes and shoes, and we can help with that. Next, we looked at long term solutions. After a little probing, we found out that he used to have 15 chickens and 5 goats – great sources of income and food. But a virus came through and killed all but 3 of the chickens. And he sold 3 of his goats to pay school fees. The food and clothes won’t cost much, but buying chickens and goats will be a little more expensive. And before we can get them, he needs to build a house for the chickens and an enclosure for the goats, to keep them safe from wild animals (mostly hyenas). We will provide the supplies. He will build the house and goat enclosure with some help from a couple of our guards who are experienced builders.
Towards the end of our visit, Mseeni asked for one more thing. Something that would indeed make his daily life easier. It was big and he was reluctant to ask, but our time with him had let him relax enough to chance it. Could we possibly get him a bicycle? I wish you could have seen the look on his face as he asked. All the emotions were there – fear, worry, hope, excitement, anticipation. A bicycle. Something most of us take for granted. But for him, this was a way to haul water in a fraction of the time. A way to get to market. A way to get to a job, if he could find one. It was so much more than a bicycle. It was hope.
I wanted to tell you about Mseeni, because he is why we go to Tanzania. He is why we ask people to donate money. A month’s worth of food for this family was about $30. The materials for the animal enclosures were about $200. A dozen chickens cost $40 and 3 goats were about $150. And the bicycle (a good used one) cost us a little over $100. So, we spent just over $500 on this man and his sweet family. And we changed his life. God changed his life. Actually, that’s not even true. His life was changed when someone came to him in Jesus’ name and showed him love. We visited Mseeni in the morning. After we left we went on to do two other home visits. As we were coming down the mountain, we passed Mseeni on the road. I did not recognize him. I wish I had a picture to show you. The joyful, smiling man I saw looked nothing like the man I had seen earlier that day. And we hadn’t done a thing yet. No food, no clothes, no goats and no bicycle. What we had done was come. We had cared enough to come. I do have a recent picture of Mseeni because we see him almost every day now. Because God wasn’t finished with this story. A few days after we visited Mseeni, we had a guard change to part time, which left us with a need for a new guard. Have you guessed it yet? Mseeni has a job. He works 4 nights a week as a guard for our daycare. We had no idea we would need a guard when we went to visit Mseeni. But God knew. God has a purpose for everything He asks us to do. I just love his style. As for Mseeni, well – you can’t get that grin off his face.