09 June 2014

i believe in you.

Last week I wrote about the work I am doing teaching entrepreneurship in Tanzania, helping young mothers to plan, start, and successfully run group enterprises. Just this past Friday, I facilitated an initial workshop with several of these young women.

Our three hours together left me with a lot of questions.
  • What do these young, Tanzanian mothers think of this entrepreneurship training?
  • Can they understand my broken Kiswahili?
  • How am I perceived as an outsider?
  • Or even as a married American man leading a group of young, single Tanzanian women?
  • Do they even want me here?
  • Am I adding any value at all, or am I just wasting their time?
  • Will I in any way contribute to a more full and dignified life for these young, Tanzanian mothers?
So much to think about.

Ashley and I came to Tanzania with grand ideas. We wrote about our vision here. People told us that we were naive - that we dreamed too big. And they were right…well, sort of.

They were right in that, in hindsight, my ability to enact a profound and lasting change at a macro level is ridiculously lacking. The overwhelming number of systemic injustices plaguing Tanzania is jut that - overwhelming.

However, if I do not believe in why I am here and in what I came to do, who will and what's the point? I might as well pack my bags and head back to the United States.

As I was hashing out my feelings on this topic with Ashley, she told me something remarkable. 

Jesus did not improve the lives of too many people. If anything, their lives were worse. Because for having believed in His philosophy, they were branded outsiders and persecuted. Okay, sure, Jesus did heal some folks. But pretty much everyone Jesus encountered was physically and materially poor and they remained that way. It was their spiritual poverty that Jesus alleviated. How? He loved them. Jesus spoke with them and cared for them in a way no one ever had before. In essence He told them, "I believe in you," and He looked for the same confidence in return.

I am not Jesus. Let's be clear about that. But reflecting on that thought put me right in His shoes (or sandals). 

During our time in Tanzania, I will interact with an untold number of young women, working to teach them entrepreneurship so that they may start their own group enterprise and rise out of physical poverty. But will I really be able to help all of them escape the grip of an impoverished life? No. Maybe only a handful. Maybe only one. 

But the hope is that my presence with them does something more. That spending countless hours with them - me, a privileged white American man - will say something to them about how much I care for them and believe in them - words they have never heard before. Even if not all of them maintain a successful group enterprise and escape the clutches of material poverty, they will leave behind the spiritual poverty ingrained in them by their culture - that as young, unmarried mothers with a partial education they have little value and no future ahead of them. 

So that is my hope. Others may call it a delusion. And maybe on another day, I would join them. But today, and I hope tomorrow, I will cling on to that belief: that one person can make a difference, even if only in the life of one other person, but that is enough, because it matters to that one.


  1. Hi Mike,
    I would like to share with you a story:

    “Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

    One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

    As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

    He came closer still and called out "Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?"

    The young man paused, looked up, and replied "Throwing starfish into the ocean."

    "I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?" asked the somewhat startled wise man.

    To this, the young man replied, "The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them in, they'll die."

    Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, "But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can't possibly make a difference!"

    At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said,
    "It made a difference for that one.”

    ― Loren Eiseley

    and some quote from Mother Teresa:

    We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But if the drop was not in the ocean, I think the ocean would be less because of the missing drop.

    (As quoted in Mother Teresa's Reaching Out In Love - Stories told by Mother Teresa, Compiled and Edited by Edward Le Joly and Jaya Chaliha, Barnes & Noble, 2002, p. 122)

    May God Bless both of you

    1. Thanks Fr. Tino for sharing that story. It is one that I remember well. In fact, I had that very story in mind as I wrote this blog post. I find it to be of great encouragement.

  2. This struck a chord with me--I have similar feelings about my work in Brazil. Thanks for writing!


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