In the summer of 2020, I was making plans for a trip to Tanzania with a group of people from my church. We were going to encourage the saints that we have come to know, visit a couple of Compassion International centers (and perhaps meet our sponsored children!), and help Christian entrepreneurs develop the skills necessary for self-sustaining business.
An itinerary was set, tickets were purchases, a Visa was secured, funds were raised.
Then COVID happened.
Like so many other endeavors, our plans had to be scrapped. But not without hope.
Like Paul and his desire to visit the Roman church, I felt that I could say of my friends in Tanzania, “Without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you – that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Romans 1:9b-12).
I like how Paul adds that last thought, that of mutual encouragement. For I was not thinking in a morally superior sense that I had anything to impart, but judging from past interactions with some of these African saints, I knew that we would strengthen each other.
Fast forward two years, and it looks like prayers are being answered. We now have tickets, an itinerary has been made, and all those funds raised two years ago will be put to use this year. We will be heading to Tanzania in July 2022!
Back in 2019, Richard and Verana Okech, a husband and wife from TZ met with me at a Chick-fil-A in Asheville. In Tanzania, they work with local entrepreneurs, hoping to train them to become self-sustaining in business. They wanted to “pick my brain” on some of the business practices that have made Chick-fil-A such a success. (If you aren’t aware, I have worked for my local Chick-fil-A for 9+ years in leadership development and guest experiences.)
We spent three wonderful hours together, showing them some of the systems that we employ, as well as some of the “theory” behind what we do. Richard and Verena took turns furiously writing in their notebook, passing it back and forth. It was a time of mutual encouragement.
Later, Richard emailed David and me (David is a local man in my church who is heading up this trip) saying, “It is our prayer that the Lord will keep us connected in our journey of doing business and creating the movement to many in disciple making who are doing business.” In a subsequent email, as we were planning the 2020 trip, Richard said, “Most who heard the stories we shared with them about the things we learned from you asked, ‘Can he [Mark] come and talk with us?’ My response has been, ‘let’s pray for that opportunity.’”
It has been exciting and eye-opening seeing how God is working through people like Richard. Instead of coordinating the receiving of a never-ending stream of financial support (which he sees often goes to corrupt officials), Richard and others are working toward ways that Tanzanians can grow their own businesses to support themselves and others. What I have seen work at Chick-fil-A, both before and during the pandemic, I believe is transferable in some way to other settings and cultures.
I truly feel that this is one of those Macedonian calls – Come and help us. I am humbled that I might have even a small part in building up the believers toward discipleship and sustainable business growth. But I know that at the end of it all, it will be of mutual benefit as I see our Sovereign God at work on a global mission, to the ends of the earth.
Additionally, I may be able to actually meet one or both of the children we sponsor through Compassion International. What a privilege!
So, I urge you, my friends and contacts to pray. Pray that the global situation with not prevent our travel. Pray that we remain healthy enough to travel. Pray for my companions and their fundraising efforts. As for my funding, I still have the funds I raised two years ago. I may still need a little more, so if you are inclined, you can contact me, and I’ll let you know how to give financial support.