Could I survive as Bishop of Rochester without a car? Almost certainly, Yes. It might take a bit longer to get there, but there’s hardly anywhere in the Diocese I couldn’t reach by train and/or bus,
with the occasional taxi thrown in. For the Bishop of Kondoa, it is a very different picture. Getting to most areas of the Diocese for a Confirmation Service or an evangelistic programme requires several hours (or more) of travel along dirt roads, often deeply rutted; and river crossings often have no bridges. Not only is a vehicle vital, but a pretty robust one at that.
When I was in Kondoa a year ago, the lack of serviceable vehicle was a major issue. The bishop’s trusty (but aged) Land Rover was struggling, and in any case having just one vehicle was not
sufficient – sometimes the bishop needs to go in one direction, and somebody else in another. Kondoa is a young diocese with young churches, and in a very poor area. In theory the parishes should support the bishop and the very meagre diocesan operation. In practice, while they give the bishop gifts when he visits (often goats rather than cash), the parishes just cannot do this. So asking the diocese for US$ 35,000 for a new vehicle would be like asking them to pay for a mission to Mars. So last year, supporters in Rochester (notably Chevening parish) and in the US and New Zealand put together the required amount. A shiny new Toyota Land Cruiser is the result – and what a difference it makes – huge thanks to all concerned. And what’s more, the Land Rover has been restored to life as well!
That good news notwithstanding, life for the Bishop and Diocese of Kondoa is very much hand-to-mouth. A return trip to Kilimanjaro Airport costs 160,000 Tanzanian Shillings for fuel (around £60). That same money could buy 9 or 10 iron sheets to help roof a church. Which is the priority? The
Kondoa Bible School needs students to pay their fees if those same students are to be taught and fed – often the money just doesn’t appear. The Diocesan Evangelism Department – by no means a vanity activity in a diocese where new churches are being planted all the time – needs to be paid for: it costs about TZS8.5million per year – sounds a lot in shillings, but it’s only around £3,000 and that covers the Director’s pay and other costs. The Bishop has challenged each Christian in the diocese to give TZS500 to support this work. That’s the equivalent of 18p per person, but even that is going to be a hard ask.
In UK terms these amounts seem tiny, and one response would simply be to send money to meet these and lot of other needs. Where we have linked parishes, some of that already happens. Most clergy in Kondoa receive no stipend – they live off what they can grow. Most of those who do receive
stipends do so as a result of support from a Rochester parish. But for the future, the Diocese of Kondoa has to develop its own sustainability and perhaps our support should be focused on helping that to happen. One example is the kindergarten (reception and infant in our terms) being developed by the Cathedral parish in Kondoa town. This is receiving support, notably from Ss Peter & Paul Tonbridge. The walls of the main class-room block have now reached lintel height, and we laid the foundation stone while I was there. The school when open is likely to offer English-medium education, which is increasingly sought after in towns; fees will be charged such that the school has the possibility of being income-generating, as well a being a place of Christian witness and service in a 90+% Muslim context.
You can’t spend time in Kondoa without being challenged about our relative affluence, and our undeniable materialism. Of course our contexts are wildly different and comparisons are unfair. But every time I visit, I do find myself personally challenged about my comfortable life. And I wonder how it might be seen if I failed to turn up on time for some of my commitments because I couldn’t find the cash to refuel the car.