SIM’s presence in Tanzania is very small. On the south coast, scattered with ruins from the slave trading days, is the town of Lindi, home to a few SIM mission partners from Japan and the US – and the scene of a string of challenges to God’s work in this place.
It began with the Hatano family in Japan, who lost a son. As a child he had attended a kindergarten run by the same small Japanese church group which has sent Tan and Izumi Shimizu to serve in Tanzania. Though not Christians, the man’s parents came to ask the kindergarten principal for help to fulfill his will – ‘a school built for African children using money I leave’. “We got an inquiry,” Tan says. Not sure whether to do it, as it wasn’t in their initial vision for the area they serve in, they prayed for guidance and asked local pastors to pray, too. “With pastors’ positive responses, we had peace. We decided to do it for Mr Hatano’s parents, too – we pray that through this, they would know Jesus and be saved. The mother has started to come to the church regularly.
“In Lindi we formed a board of trustees, the Light Shine Trust, comprised of six pastors from six different denominations and an SIM representative.” But five years later the school is still unfinished. Here some of the reality of Africa enters the story, which has stretched into a long saga of delays.
The first hurdle: “To register the trust, we needed an acknowledgement letter from the District Commissioner,” Tan says, “but he is against Christian activity. He opposed us at every turn.” This meant no bank account could be opened to receive the funds to start building.
“The DC claimed, ‘If this primary school accepts both Christians and Muslims, this is a public school, so it also has to have religious classes for Muslims.’ We showed several counter-examples in Tanzania and explained that it is a private primary school. He insisted that we were cheating.
“It took many discussions with the DC, his assistant who supported us, and mercy from the Lord, before the registration of the trust was completed in August 2014.” By this time the funds bequeathed in Mr Hatano’s will, roughly NZ$64,000, were now closer to NZ$50,000 due to the dramatic change in the exchange rate and fees. Then came another setback. It came to light that the land purchased for the school was taken by the former chairman of the trust, who had secretly put the school’s land in his own name thinking that other trustees would support him. They didn’t. But this meant restarting the registration process, and paying land tax and commission all over again. (The former chairman apologised two and a half years later and has been reconciled with the other trustees, but he will never serve on the board again.) The title deed for the school’s land was finally issued in the name of Light Shine Trust in April 2015.
Next, progress came to a halt when an officer in the land office claimed that he had been skipped during the process of issuing the title deed, and six months of bureaucratic quibbling created yet more delays. Finally a building permit was issued in February 2016 and actual building work could begin. A road was constructed to the site and the land was cleared of trees and thorny weeds. Just at the right time, Tan says, a Christian architect from Germany was sent by the Lord. He not only prepared the plan that had to be submitted to get the building permit but has also overseen the construction so far, which includes a brick fence, a reservoir, foundations and some exterior walls.
The Hatano bequest has been used up now and building work has stopped. While the Shimizus were in Japan on home assignment a few months ago, they shared the need and received some donations through SIM Japan; however, to complete the first school building will take $16,000 more. Additional donations are appreciated.
In Lindi less than 5% of the population is Christian, and there is no Christian primary school. It has always been a prayer of local Christians, especially pastors, to have one. Over the past few years of challenge they have continued to say: “We trust in the Lord that He will meet our needs.”
– Zoë Cromwell