You? Go to Africa? At your age?
Three women, ages 79-86, bucked conventional wisdom and went to the Third World
The ELCA’s St. Paul Area Synod has nurtured a relationship with the Iringa Lutheran Diocese in Tanzania, East Africa, for over 15 years. There are now 58 “companion church” pairings, linking synod congregations with partners in Africa.
When nine travelers from Minnesota headed to Tan-zania last October 5, there were seven (including four nurses) who represented Beaver Lake Lutheran Church in Maplewood, Minnesota.
Three in that group were between 79-86 years of age.
Dorothy Johnson, 86, Elaine Brant, 80, and Evelyn Ahrens, 79, had the time of their lives traversing dusty African roads, visiting with African Lutherans, and wondering at the stark contrasts between living standards in the United States and Tanzania.
Brant, a retired psychologist in the St. Paul public school system, said this was her fourth trip to Tanzania. She observed, “It’s hard to appreciate the status of African women in society. They’re far from equal.”
She said, “Male domination is a cultural problem.”
More and more girls are now going to school, she noted, adding this has not previously been the case.
Johnson explained, “The men can sleep around the neighborhood, and then bring sexually transmitted diseases back to their wives, and the women can’t object.”
“I was struck with how poorly the people there live.” She described staying as guests in an African home. “In the night, when we needed a bathroom, we realized we’d be heading outside into the dark somewhere.”
Ahrens was impessed by the poor condition of the roads.
“They’re all rocks and ruts,” she said. “And almost everybody walks everywhere.”
What’s different about the African church? Says Ah-rens, “The singing. They’re singing all the time. The harmonies are absolutely beautiful.”
Johnson said, “Their enthusiasm was contagious.”
Ahrens remembered, “We got so many hugs!” Johnson added, “They’re strong women. Those hugs were really vigorous!”
Although a “young” 79, Ahrens spoke for all three older women when she said, “We didn’t feel any trepidation about going to Africa.” She admitted she’d had a stroke a few years before the trip. “I wondered if I could keep up.” Johnson said, “Evelyn did just fine.”
The journey cost each participant around $2,500. Each paid their own way. The group did fund-raising before going to Africa, but the money was for the African church, not to pay for travel expenses.
Johnson explained that a one-year scholarship for an elementary school student costs about $250.
There were some funny moments during the trip. Brant remembers how generous the Africans wanted to be toward their guests. She said, “Our pastor got a goat, four hens and a basket of eggs. It was a wonderful gift, but we got the distinct impression they expected us to take them home with us on the airplane.”
On measure, was making the trip at an advanced age a good idea? Ahrends replied, “If you don’t want to spend all your time in the nursing home, go to Africa!”