Helen and Alastair - some background

Helen and Alastair - some background : We have always hoped to return to Africa once more before we're too old (perhaps we already are!). Alastair first went to Africa in 1974 as a junior doctor, working for the Church of Scotland in a small hospital in Transkei, South Africa. I met Alastair there in 1982, were married in 1984 and continued in Transkei until 1988. From there we went to Kenya, as employees of the Church of Scotland, where Alastair ran Chogoria Hospital. We left in 1995, with Alec, Peter and Becky to establish the children's schooling and our work in Britain. Here Alastair found himself as consultant in Breast cancer surgery, and Helen initially trained and worked as a GP before "evolving" to full time ordained ministry. Alec is now married to Ruth, and they have baby Zach; Pete is in his final year of medicine in Edinburgh, and Becky half way through nurse training in Oxford.

The Diocese of Western Tanganyika is a partner of Gloucester diocese. The plan is for Helen to join the teaching staff of the Bible College, teaching those preparing for ministry. Alastair will teach English to the students at the college, as well as doing some surgery at the church-run hospitals, and helping with project management in the Diocese.
We will keep you updated on our plans over the next few months and will greatly value your prayer support. Our current prayer requests - and thanks to God of course - will be posted on the side bar.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Good grief

We have so much to learn from the Tanzanian culture when it comes to bereavemnet. Last week, very sadly, the 12 year old son of one of our clergy colleagues died after many years of poor health. He became more unwell over Christmas and Alastair operated as an emergency, but he was not strong enough to recover.  The pain and sadness was felt, and shared by, the whole community. Here in Tanzania people belong to each other, and life is genuinely shared amongst the wide extended family and community. As soon as the news of a death is heard people start to gather at the family house. The furniture is moved to make space for as many people as possible. I was privileged to join this time of shared bereavement, knowing the family very well. As is tradition, the women sat in the house and the men outside. We sat on the floor, mostly in silence, and from time to time someone would start singing hymns and some would pray. The young children were all there as well, playing around on the floor but sensing the respect of the occasion. Many women were working outside cooking food for all who were there - no need for great organisation or menu planning - this is well known tradition and everyone knows what to do. This time of mourning is called the "msiba" and traditionally would last for a week, though in modern society is 3-5 days. The support for the family is day and night, with most people sleeping there. I was explaining to a friend that in the West the family are left alone at such a time, and she was horrified at the thought. The funeral for the child was held the next day. Over 500 people gathered in the area around the house, for prayers, readings, singing and a sermon. The men and women continued to mourn separately - sitting in different areas. We all walked past the open coffin to show our respect. The theme was of the eternal love of God, and that the will of God is not for us to change. The sense of faith in God was palpable in the air. Then as many as could find transport went to the burial area - where again we gathered for prayers, with spontaneous singing. After the coffin was buried, the men all helped to fill in the grave completely while the singing continued. With flowers, candles and simple wreaths placed over the grave, and everyone joining a ceremonial washing of hands there was a sense of completeness.
Making our way to the burial
The "msiba" continued until the next day, at the end of which there was another outdoor service at the home. Money was collected to help the family with the expenses. There was a sense that the death has been acknowledged fully, the pain and loss shared, and the family now released to continue with life.  I was left feeling that in the west our dealing with death is so inadequate in comparison to the honesty and richness of the tradition here.

No comments:

Post a Comment