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"He did not come to be served; He came to serve"

wesley House

Blog by Davis Rhodes, Wesley House Site Director

Gilbert at church meal.jpg

As he laid plans for Wesley House, Davis Rhodes needed to explain what 'service' was going to mean. He struggled to find the right Swahili word to describe it. Read his account, below, of lessons learned on all sides. The story begins with Davis' conversation with one community member and ends with service work at a local United Methodist Chuch:

“So when I say that we are going to be doing service work, what are your expectations?” I began.

“Ah, yes. My expectations are that we will be leading worship, preaching, teaching, leading choirs at the different churches in the Tarime area. Maybe doing training at different times and places as well.”

… as I was preparing our community, speaking to one of the potential Tanzanian members, I began to kick myself. How did I communicate so badly?

I had said we would be doing service work… let’s see, specifically I used the work “huduma”… that was my mistake. Wrong word. But what word should I have used?

“Huduma” is the normal Swahili word for “service.” In fact, waitresses and waiters are called “Wahudumu.”

But when I used “huduma” to refer to work in a church context, my friend, a theology graduate, had interpreted me to be saying that we would be doing up-front leadership work.

I couldn’t think of a different Swahili word that would have been better. And maybe it wasn’t my fault, nor my friend’s fault. It is just a fact that in many churches, the work of cleaning, cooking, washing dishes, digging and moving dirt is never done by the leaders… it is done by uneducated women, by children, and by paid manual laborers. So when I had used “huduma” to suggest that we would be doing this type of work, the possibility didn’t occur to my friend. It was simply beyond their frame of reference.

When I clarified what I had meant by “huduma,” my friend was shocked. We talked for awhile, and then I went over several examples of Jesus doing this type of work in the gospels.

It’s the perennial human misjudgment as we try to become disciples of Jesus. “Hmm. Jesus did that. Said that. That was weird. Well, I don’t get it… surely he didn’t mean that.”

As we live in community, trying to live in the way of Jesus, it is these misjudgments that we are asking God to correct in us. We are working together and helping each other to understand how Jesus really lived and how we emulate that in our context. It is also why we insist on being a cross-cultural community; each of our cultures has taken hold of certain parts of Jesus’s example and ignored other parts. In community, we show each other the things that we are missing.

We see each other and think, “Wow. I didn’t know you could really live like that… Do that… Love like that.”

So when we went out to Gamasara to do this service work for the first time, I was nervous. What would happen? What kind of resistance would we meet? Would bad attitudes show up? Would this be interpreted as one of Davis’s crazy ideas?

We swept the Gamasara UMC floor. No complaining.

Then we scrubbed the floor by hand. Again, no complaining. Everyone worked hard, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

As I was finishing my corner of the church, I asked, “Hey, where did Gilbert go?”

“Anasafisha pale chooni”

“?? The bathrooms?” I said

“Yeah, we are cleaning those, too.”

“Oh, yeah, yeah, for sure, for sure” I said, trying to pretend it had been my plan all along.

But the fact was, it hadn’t even occurred to me. And as Gamasara UMC doubled as a preschool, the bathrooms were filthy.

The only thing to do was to grab a broom and thank God for working in our community, for making us into disciples, servant leaders.

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