One of my favorite memories of being in Babati was chai (tea) time. Each day, around 10 or 11 am, the house would fill with the delicious aroma of bread baking in the oven. One of the workers, Getruda, would make fresh lemongrass tea and the softest rolls I’ve ever eaten. We sipped the sweet tea while we prayed, laughed and talked. No one was in a hurry. Even when we couldn’t understand the language, there was a sense of pure connection and acceptance. Despite all our differences, in those moments, we were the same.
Just a few days into the trip, I had what I would describe as a spiritual awakening. The slower pace, the beauty of the natural world around us, and the sound of the kids’ laughter made my heart feel like it might burst. But, it also went much deeper than that for me. I had an overwhelming sense of God in a way I have never felt before.
Uncontrollable tears spilled out. It felt like an emotional release from the high frequency of busy-ness and achievement we are tuned to in America. Our focus on achieving financial security and success, and the firmly held view of individualism, has turned us inward and away from each other. We have forgotten that we are not meant to do life on our own without support from others and have become trained to avoid the very depth of relationship required to find it. Every moment is filled with distraction to numb out discomfort, overwhelm, and pain.
Travel is the antidote to intolerance and ignorance. It fosters compassion, expands our viewpoints, and grounds us in the present. Removing the triggers for our habits and routines made me realize that even in my attempts to decompress at home, I am still over-connected and preoccupied. Far too often, I fail to notice the beauty in the world around me: the way that nature is inextricably woven together to reflect God’s providence and presence. I had lost my sense of joy. I had forgotten me.
But, the tears were also the release of emotions long since locked away. For the first time, I felt the complete acceptance of who I am and what I believe, without having to bend or shrink for the comfort of others. There was suddenly freedom from the dividing lines I’ve come to expect of Christianity.
The American church (and specifically the white church) has been a great source of disappointment and pain for me over the years with its political polarization and silence on important issues like civil rights and equality. The inability to reconcile the evangelical and equity movements has left me dumbfounded. The foundation of my passion for social justice has always been my faith. And my faith has always pointed me right back to social justice work. Jesus specifically stood with and for the poor, the left out and cast aside. He didn’t make sure they earned it or deserved it, and he didn’t prioritize his own needs first. There would be no room for the hypocrisy between scripture and political agendas that we see today, or the messages of nationalism and white supremacy.
Jesus was crucified for speaking against the structures of inequality and challenging power. So, it has always seemed clear to me that the church should be urging its congregations to lead on the critical issues in the world through the lens of inclusion, equity, and love: issues of racial discrimination, income and wealth inequality, immigration reform, healthcare, and education. It also means tearing down walls and combatting fear to work alongside other faith communities. We cannot sit idly by or accept things as they are and still claim to follow a radical man who turned everything upside down for the sake of those at the margins of life.
Too often we show up to church clothed in our Sunday best, careful not to expose our doubts, struggles, or the pain from life’s wreckage. But, it is that exact space where we should be able to shed the lie of perfection, bare our souls and treat the wounds. Anyone working for racial or social justice comes to it from the sacred precepts of dignity, equity, and love. Instead, it feels like the church has chosen capitalism over compassion, comfort over depth, and justification over action.
God showed Herself to me again in Tanzania, through the beauty of its land and the warmth of its people. It had become harder and harder to find Jesus in the church. But, halfway around the world, there He was.
Since we’ve been home, we have continued the tradition of chai time in our own way. We have been carving out time together (with our tea cups filled with coffee and chocolate milk) to share the ways that we have seen God in one another and in the world around us. We pray and read from our devotionals to stay connected to the pureness of our faith. Each time, I am flooded with emotion and gratitude for the opportunity to experience a new culture and reconnect with our faith. May it continue to strengthen our family and our commitment to be unwavering and unapologetic change agents in the fight for equity and justice.