You Are Warmly Welcome – Iringa Visit 2002 (November 2021 newsletter article)

By Rev. Bonnie Wilcox

The best greeting you could ever want to hear: You are warmly welcome!

Our first trip to the Iringa Diocese and the congregation of Tungamalenga was in 2002. None of our group had ever been to the African continent. Our first night in Iringa city, we were invited to a wedding reception. Our hosts said it would be a “quick stop,” to support a couple they knew. “You are warmly welcome,” we heard that evening, again and again. “Here is soda.” “Please come and greet and bless the couple.” “Please come and dance with us.”

A few days later, on a rough dirt road with culvert replacement projects underway and a bus with no air conditioning, we bumped along for about four hours to the village of Tungamalenga. It is the closest community to Ruaha National Park, which is the only reason most visitors travel that far. It was hard travel.

As we were about a mile or so from the village, we saw ahead a figure dressed in black running toward us, waving and smiling. It was Pastor Alfred Kikoti, then the pastor of the Tungamalenga Parish and its many preaching points. “You are warmly welcomed,” we heard from Pastor Alfred and his family, from the elected leaders of the parish, from the evangelists, and all whom we met.

This greeting, filled with familiar words but offered in a way that was unusual to us, deepened its meaning in each of us. It continued as people walked beside us, holding our hands in friendship, no matter our gender, age, or race. Little children offered adults a traditional blessing and we learned the proper response.

Our interpreter for the village visit was Pastor Benjamin Ngede, who had warmth and joy to spare! I learned I could tease him as he interpreted, since what he told congregations in Swahili was much longer than what I had said!

Our last event of that trip was the funeral of Pastor Benjamin’s daughter. We were devastated at this news. Our hosts encouraged us to attend, “for just a short visit.”

We were warmly welcomed at the church, at the cemetery, and at the houses emptied along a street to accommodate and serve meals to all the mourners. “You are warmly welcome,” we heard again. We were given a place of honor in each place, beyond our comfort, but we hope we graciously received it.

And we knew the truth of this statement — you are warmly welcome — better than we had ever known before.

Read the full article on the Tanzania blog, found at