Good Friday morning ...

It was Monday morning in Tanzania. I was to meet a friend, Julius, at the Naaz Cafe just east of the Clock Tower on Sokoine Road in Arusha. Raphael, Matthew and I had come in from the bush that morning and were eager to meet our Maasai friend.

We had hustled that morning, leaving the bush village at 5:30, hitching a ride over the thirty dusty miles of "road" to reach the paved Namanga Road and then another ride 50 mile south to meet Julius at 11am. He was late! And we were anxious. A busy day lay before me with many things on my schedule before I would depart for home the next day at noon.

We paced the narrow walk-in front of the alleyway that led to the cafe. Back and forth ... back and forth ... waiting, wondering, hoping Julius had gotten my message.

At least I was waiting and wondering and hoping! Matthew and Raphael were much more relaxed because they knew. They knew what I didn’t, and they were keeping it to themselves. I was concerned that my communication with Julius had not gotten through and that we would not be able to meet. Having just come from the bush, I was still operating with "bush" level communication where you sent messages by word of mouth and trusted your communication was delivered in time. What I failed to realize was how much things had changed in East Africa over the past few years.

In my pacing back and forth I failed to hear the ring, failed to see Matthew reach beneath his red shuka, missed seeing him pull out a small flip phone and failed to hear his brief conversation with Julius who was hurrying toward us a few blocks away. However, I didn't fail to see Matthew's wry smile as he assured me that Julius would be there within the minute ... and sure enough, he was!

These Maasai friends teased me the rest of the morning with the fact that they had a cell phone and didn't let me know they had been in communication all morning long.

Over the past few years Africa has seen faster growth of mobile phone subscriptions than any other region of the world. And these cell phones have changed their lives in ways that politicians, soccer stars, and even missionaries fail to do.

Today in East Africa, many people may not have access to a proper diet, may not have adequate water, shelter or other basic necessities of life ... but a rapidly growing number have cell phones. While there are few land lines, even in the cities, cell towers have cropped up all along major roadways making phone service available in places where there is no electricity, no running water and no other public services whatsoever.

Fetching water from a distant river might eat up four hours of a day for some Massai women, but now it was possible for her to have contact with her son or husband who may be 60 miles away with the family's herd ... thanks to the cell phone. It's an amazing phenomenon. While most Africans live on less than $2 a day, many justify the twenty dollars it costs to purchase a very basic phone and then use prepaids cards for connecting. Granted these phones do not have cameras and Blue Tooth capabilities and most of them are not even new, but they work and work quite well for their purposes. Some people even cover the cost of a phone by charging a usage fee to those who have no phones.

It is particularly amusing to me to see a nomadic Maasai herdsman who lives a relatively primitive life ... living in a mud hut with thatched roof ... starting fires with dried donkey dung and several sticks ... drinking blood from cattle for nourishment when food and water are scarce ... drawing water from a watering hole and transporting it by donkey to his boma ... it is amusing to see this warrior, with spear in hand, reaching for a small cell phone tucked within the folds of his shuka and beginning a Swahili conversation. It actually makes me smile!

But that's the way it is in present-day Maasailand. With this ability to communicate, lives are improving drastically. Villagers, even in some remote areas, are now able to communicate with distant family members. Farmers, fishermen and herdsmen can stay up to date on prices of different markets before selling their goods. Emergencies can receive the proper attention they deserve and hopefully be handled more efficiently. And, most importantly, communication is more readily available between missionaries, bush evangelists and overseeing pastors.

While my friends Raphael, Matthew and Julius were pulling a fast one on me that Monday morning, they were simply taking advantage of a whole new means of communication now available to northern Tanzanians. And though this new communication tool will have a tremendous impact on their lifestyle, still of prime importance for these very relational people, will be a face-to-face conversation over a cup of chai and a mndazi or squatting in the smoky haze of a hut or seated under an acacia tree in an open savannah.

And what better way to foster relationships, to interact and to share the Gospel! It's the time-worn, age-old, God-proven method of one-on-one sharing. It includes eye contact, body language, hand motions, voice inflections, and facial expressions ... most of which are missing with cell phone in hand. And you just can't beat that when you are serious about getting across a spiritual truth.

When was the last time you had a sit-down, face-to-face, one-on-one conversation about spiritual truths? Maybe it's time to put down the cell phone, to lay aside the computer mouse, to turn off your Facebook and Blue Tooth and just have an old-fashioned conversation about the greatest non-technological, non-electric, non-computerized truth there is: JESUS. And may God bless you as you do!

Have a great weekend in the Lord!

PR