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Tanzania, International Scripture Blitz, Jan-Feb 2015

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On Thursday 22nd January with some trepidation, but also encouraged by Psalm 139  “If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand  will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast,” I set off on my journey to Tanzania, on my first overseas mission trip. 

It was some years earlier that I had expressed an interest in joining the Gideons on an International Scripture Blitz, and then, in October 2014, I was asked if I would be willing to be part of a two week ISB in Tanzania. Before I knew it, the 22nd of January had arrived.

Departing from a very cold English winter, I arrived in a very warm and humid Africa and met up with 23 other Gideons from Australia, South Korea, Finland, Norway, South Africa,  and the United States. 

Our aim was to work alongside the local Gideons in distributing as many Bibles as possible to local school pupils, college and university students, hotels and hospitals, and the police force, and also to come alongside local pastors and Gideons to encourage and support them in spreading the gospel.
The team leader was Ralph Davis from North Carolina, a very experienced ISB co-ordinator.  Each morning began with a prayer meeting at 5:30am which was challenging but equipped us for the task we faced each day.  On the first Sunday there, I was taken to a Pentecostal church for a 3 hour long service which was quite an experience and interestingly, I met a lady there called Penny who was working there for Scripture Union and came from Smethwick, which is only a few miles from where I live!

For the first week we were based in Dar es Salaam and, working in small teams, we distributed 170,000 Bibles and New Testaments.  The reception we received was amazing; both in the schools and on the streets and everywhere we went they greeted us with “You are welcome.”  I won’t forget the image of their hands reaching out to receive God’s Word, and their gratitude as each one said thank you.  There were so many happy smiling faces and such enthusiasm and excitement; it was something that impacted us all.

We gave away Swahili scriptures to those who could not read English, and there was one miraculous incident when a pupil pointed out that his Testament with a Swahili cover was actually printed in Portuguese on the inside. This must have been a printing error, but when we offered to swap it he said “Oh no, my dad speaks Portuguese and he will be able to read it!” How amazing was it that this one New Testament, seemingly printed in error, came to the one child with a Portuguese dad!

On another occasion a head teacher at a boy’s school told us that a boy had recently asked him for a Bible but the school had none. So the teacher said to the boy that they would pray for Bibles and then he said to us “now you’ve come, and given every boy a New Testament and every teacher a Bible”.

The second week the team split in two, half of us including myself went to Mbeya on the western side of Tanzania which was an hour’s flight away. The other half of the team flew to Moshi in the Kilimanjaro region in the north eastern corner of the country. We had another busy week here, again distributing Bibles and New Testaments totalling 68,000.

Outside the hotel in Mbeya, each morning there was a team of workers unloading sacks of cement off lorries. As we watched them at work, they watched us as we offered Swahili New Testaments to passers-by. On the Thursday, one of the men came over and we offered him a New Testament and one of the Gideons spent some time with him explaining the way of salvation. I watched as he read out the verses about God’s love and that we are all sinners, that Christ died for us and that he wants us to give our lives to Him. I watched his face change, as he understood what he was reading. He then went on to make a commitment to Christ, and I observed his face. He was subdued, thoughtful and happy as he walked back to his team mates. It was then, like the woman at the well in John 4, he told the rest of his co-workers and one by one they came across to receive a Bible. It was amazing to see God at work like that.

The whole experience was enriching, richly rewarding and life changing. It was indeed a privilege to be able to place God’s Word into the hands of so many (318,000 in total).  Please pray that all the seeds sown during that fortnight will bear much fruit and that the harvest will be great.

Robert Read
Walsall & West Bromwich Branch

 

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