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Walking together side by side

Harvesting onionsby Kara Califf

Tanzania. I almost didn't go. Well, not really. We were leaving early Friday and the Thursday before that I panicked a little.

Why did I ever agree to this? Isn’t it crazy for a full-time working mom of three from Iowa to jet over to Africa for nine days, leaving work and home responsibilities behind? And I knew little about the trip. Oh, I knew flight times, geographical locations and the emails of some of my fellow travelers. But, when anyone asked what I would be doing in Tanzania, I floundered for a response, saying something about "a mission trip through churchwide WELCA."

People understood that. It was true, but not true. My journey to Tanzania was so much more.

Last spring I received a simple invitation from my mom with a link to the Women Building Global Community travel seminar in Tanzania. I thought about it, procrastinated until the final deadline, said a prayer, and sent my non-refundable deposit.

During the summer, I daydreamed about the adventures mom and I would have in Africa, my mind full of National Geographic type stories. In the fall, reality settled in with doctor appointments and the suggested book, Education of a Stranger by Shoonie Hartwig. I started to think about what was meant by accompaniment, but I didn’t fully grasp “walking together side by side” until we were on our way.

Onion seedsVisiting the Navuruvu Irrigation Association brought some clarity to accompaniment in mission. Learning about ways the farmers improved their crops, livelihoods and health through better farming, marketing, and healthcare was enlightening. Besides my professional interest, the welcome we received was incredible.

They planted an out-of-season demo plot of onions a month before our arrival so we could see firsthand results. They cooked for us and ate with us. They danced and sang and made us gifts. Though I couldn’t understand their words, I could experience their warmth and joy, and my heart filled with thanksgiving along with theirs.

Accompaniment & sharing

Group of womenThe clearest example of accompaniment happened in the hours spent traversing Tanzanian roads with four other women and our driver. We were a wide mix of ages, nationalities and backgrounds, yet so much learning and sharing happened in that Land Cruiser.

I learned Swahili words and songs. I shared about my job, childhood and experiences on this journey. I learned about Tanzania nature, culture  and politics. I shared stories of my kids and husband. I learned about their families and ways of life familiar and unfamiliar. This was accompaniment, a “mutual relationship between people who walk together in service in God’s mission.”

There is nothing more universal than the fierce love of a woman for her children, generation after generation. Sharing this journey with my mom added this unique dimension to my experience. My mom has always been a beacon of love and strength in my life—teaching, directing, loving, accepting. I have experienced this fierce love as a daughter and as a mother, and we were blessed to witness it together in Tanzania.

I hope to translate these experiences in presentations at church and work. I also plan to attend the 2017 triennial gathering in Minneapolis with my mom to be reunited with my Tanzanian and American sisters and continue this journey of accompaniment.

Kara Califf and her husband, Sean, and children, Emma, Andi and Sam, are members of Resurrection Lutheran Church in Ankeny, Iowa. Kara enjoys her work in the agriculture industry supporting scientific publications and regulatory submissions, but her perfect non-work day is a morning run on a tropical beach and relaxing with family and a good book.


Photos of onion seeds and onion harvest by Eva James Yeo. See more photos from the Women Building Global Community travel seminar.