by Dan Ruth
“Open the gift! Open the gift!” sang members of the Usa River Lutheran Parish. This weekend they presented their visitors—three Lutheran World Relief staff and former Lutheran Women’s Missionary League President Jan Wendorf—gifts of beautiful kanga cloth. The pastor told them the gift was to help them remember their time with Usa River, something they’re unlikely to forget.
Jan, Brenda, Melanie and Carrie are visiting Tanzania to meet many of the people who have been touched by the Lutheran Malaria Initiative and LWR’s Quilt & Kit Ministry. LWR has been working in Tanzania since the early 1960s, making it one of the longest-standing areas of LWR’s work. And for much of that time we have partnered directly with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT), one of the largest Lutheran churches in the world, with an estimated 5.8 million members. (That’s almost five times the number of Lutherans in Minnesota!)
Over the weekend, this group of women worshiped with the Usa River Parish of the ELCT and were invited in to Dainess and Paulo Gidahos’ home. Dainess and Paulo rent a 10×10 foot room for approximately $10 per month. They share the one double bed with their four-year-old son and 15-month-old daughter. Yet their smiles are infectious.
Dainess has been participating in Mama na Mtoto (Children’s Survival Program; literally “mother and child”), a program through the ELCT that helps mothers from pregnancy through the child’s third year. Because of LWR’s work with the Children’s Survival Program, the whole Gidahos family now sleeps tucked under an insecticide-treated bed net. They have learned that this net protects them from malaria-carrying mosquitoes and that their entire community is better protected when they use the net (studies have shown that community-wide benefits are seen when as few as 60% of households use insecticide-treated nets).
On a wall in Dainess and Paulo’s small room hangs a sign that says in Swahili, “We thank God for all that is given.”
As the visitors say their goodbyes to Dainess and her daughter, Elizabeth, Jan says to them, “To see your beautiful, smiling faces, your beautiful, healthy bodies, tells me [the Lutheran Malaria Initiative] is working.” The images of a difference being made in the members of this family’s lives is a greater gift to these LWR staff than any gift they could open.