After spending a little over four weeks teaching English in Zanzibar, I can assure you that it’s not the tropical island paradise, which you imagine it to be. Yes there’s lots of palm trees, gently waving their branches in welcoming gestures as the sea- breeze makes its way across the lush island, blown from the bewitching azure sea, which surrounds it.
It’s the poverty, in contrast to its natural God-given-beauty, which is blatantly and defiantly revealed from one end of the island to the other, that’s unsettling. However, it’s not the hardship that poverty and deprivation bring, that I wish to discuss today.
Rather it’s the spirit of the people of Zanzibar that deserves our attention.
We were humbled, to the point of self-loathing, as we sat and listened to Pastor David (not his real name) tell his story. To place his account in context, we need to acknowledge that Zanzibar, as a result of its (sadly) infamous history (formerly the centre of the East African slave trade) is a predominately Muslim country. The stats are 95% Muslim and 5% Christian population. It’s not an overstatement to say that the Christians are out number 10 to 1.
After selling his home in Tanzania (the mainland), Pastor David betook himself, his wife and three children to Zanzibar to establish a church there. Moving from the mainland where Christianity is practiced freely to a spiritual wilderness in Zanzibar is a laudable feat in itself.
But to add further to his troubles, there were the Christian naysayers, who said he was crazy to leave, his homeland, church and job and move to the island, where he’d have nothing, other than opposition.
Undeterred, he went anyway. He purchased a small parcel of land upon which to start a new church, and begin a work for God’s glory, in Zanzibar.
If you’re waiting for one of those accounts of victory upon victory, supernatural miracles etc, then you’re going to be disappointed. For the next five years, he and his family lived in a tent, on that block of land, no water, no electricity and no services. Making ends meet by working as a builder, while pastoring a small church.
Over time, and as result of God moving the hearts of many Christians in Africa to give generously to his cause, the place has been transformed slowly into a small Christian centre, with several school buildings in desperate need of repair, a small worship auditorium and a 3 story manse (also in need of repair).
As Pastor David’s recounted his trials, his face portrayed a quiet confidence that God would continue to provide, as he done over the last 20 or so years. He went onto tell me about the orphans God sends his way. Some people have a penchant for finding stray cats in the back streets. Pastor David finds stray kids. When he meets some abandoned kid in the street with no home, hungry and disheveled, he then brings them to his home to live with him, his wife and three children.
Moreover it isn’t just one child at a time. There are usually about three or four orphans living there, as well as visitors passing through, all of whom we meet while spending time with him. All fed, clothed and cared for, from his own meagre resources.
Let’s remember Jesus’s words ”
If Pastor David restrained by poverty can do this, then surely we, who are abundantly blessed with this world’s fare, can open our hearts, and then our wallets, to give generously to those in need.