Monday, November 30, 2015

“Sometimes life knocks you on your butt . . . get up, get up, get up!!! God does not protect you from problems, but gives you the ability to deal with them.” ― Steve Maraboli

After four days of mostly expecting to die, on the fifth day of malaria (if you’ve taken good medication), you feel human again and are looking forward to the day.  At least that’s how it’s always been with me.  Sadly, thousands and thousands never make it to the third day but die on the second or third, especially pregnant women, small children, people with flu, pneumonia, AIDS, or other diseases that weaken your immune system.  Every member of our staff (nine, full-time workers) suffers from malaria once or twice a year.  So far, they have all survived, but we make sure they get good medication and quick treatment.  While I was suffering, our annual conference was held here with many staying on our grounds.  Since the United Methodist Bishop of Arkansas revoked my clergy credentials and membership in the United Methodist Church and refused to reply to a single one of my many emails, refused to reply to the letters and emails from the leaders of the Methodist Church in Tanzania, we figured that was pretty much a done deal.  So, even though I had never been a member of the MCT and had been made bishop as an honor, I was kicked out of the UMC.  Therefore, while I was ill, the annual conference here made me a full member of the Methodist Church in Tanzania and elected me a full bishop complete with paperwork and a certificate.  I will be an honorary bishop for the rest of my life, but full bishops serve five-year terms, so I am a bishop till 2020 at which time I may be re-elected for another term and then  a final third term should I live another fifteen years.  Also, as a full bishop, when I die I will be buried beside the Bunda Church with honors and in a special place.  I had wanted to be cremated, but I will honor the custom of the church I have helped to grow and learned to love.  At the annual conference, the bishops in attendance (Festo, Kitunda, and Monto) ordained two new pastors who are both recent graduates of the Methodist School of Theology in Arusha (see picture at the right).  One of the two is Esther, who is Festo’s sister and has been a dear friend since we first came here in 2003.  She is now the pastor of a growing church of over 200 members in the village of Kabainja where I baptized 82 people at its first service several years ago where they are still meeting under a tree and tarps.  I was sad not to have been there, but Karen and John represented me (John also took pictures and videos for me).  An elderly woman (Mama Yetu--means "our mother") who met us twelve years ago with hugs and smiles, is quite spry still and dances and swings a fly whisk whenever the choir sings.  She was old when we met her, but neither she nor anyone else knows how old she really is.  Still, she brings such joy and just seeing the video made me feel better in the midst of my malaria.  Such is the power of the love of Christ.  She always has a testimony to offer about how Christ changed her life, and she has helped change ours.  I was really sick and now I’m not.  I was United Methodist retired clergy and now I'm not.  I am an honorary bishop and also, now, a full bishop of The Methodist Church in Tanzania.  Bishops Monto, Festo, and Kitunda are all going to Mwanza on December 3rd for the final ruling in our favor over the Kenya Methodist Church.  The only thing to be decided is whether or not the Kenyan representatives apologize or not.  If they don’t, the court will go after their assets here in Tanzania.  I find the whole thing very sad.  It should come as no surprise that churches can be corrupt and that is not unique to Tanzania.  We read the headlines here about corruption and evil in the heads and policies of many churches in America and worldwide.  It is sad, but I will never forget what an American pastor once told me, “The church may be a prostitute, but she’s my mother.”  Imperfect things can still bring about good things and peace and love for every orphan child and person in trouble.  Don’t ever forget that.
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