Sunday, November 29, 2009

Lantern to Laptop by Karen Wiggins

This was something I wrote when we first moved to Bunda Tanzania.

Lantern to Laptop by Karen Wiggins

Having been without electricity for two days, we were able to use the reserve battery on our laptop at the same time using our kerosene lantern to get around the house. As I saw our coffee table, it was so symbolic of the use of so many methods of living for 2000 years that I needed to record all the things that I have been noticing--old methods and new methods working side by side. The picture that I took of our lantern and laptop represented some of the observations that I had been collecting in my mind.

In the States, we use the old methods and tools to decorate our homes or put in museums. Here they use both old and new. No one even thinks it is odd. Just as the people wear the best clothing that they own, they use the best tools that they can afford.

Many refer to Africa as the cradle of civilization. Bunda, Tanzania, our home on the edge of the Serengeti and near the shores of Lake Victoria, is evidence that this is true. Africa is a place that has traditions dating back over 2000 years. We have been lucky enough to see examples of all of these old traditions and new skills being used today in Tanzania at the same time.


Behind our back fence I was able to watch one man making a large arc with his heavy hoe, his muscles rippled and the hoe come down on the hard earth with a force that I could feel with my feet on the other side of the fence. As I watched for a while, I could feel the rhythm and harmony with the sounds around him. Birds, roosters and goats seemed to harmonize with his steady rhythm.

He would make that full arc seven times in seven seconds and then he would rest for a second. This was repeated again and again. The smell of new earth was heavy in the air as he finished near sundown. He had hoed about one forth of an acre and he smiled with the pride of accomplishment as he came home. Later that night he did some push ups, cooked his own dinner, ate and began to guard our home. He was one with the earth. That night he was planning for another day to systematically plant each seed in the row and not just scattering seeds on stones and paths. We find in the World Book on our laptop that the hoe was used in 3500 B.C.

Some times as we turn a corner we watch a young boy plowing his garden for his family using a yoke and two or four oxen just like the ones talked about in the Bible. In another minute, we see another young man driving his tractor to his land to prepare a crop. We are able to watch all the methods of farming all through the ages using human resources, capital resources and natural resources.


Driving from Musoma 30 miles home to Bunda we watch hundreds of people walking (with flip flops or bare feet) carrying something to sell or something that they bought in the market. I often see Christ and Paul and the Disciples as they did the same. Washing each other’s feet when we go home reminds us of Christ washing the disciples feet . Our feet were dirty even with shoes and socks on and we had driven the car--not walked. The humbling of the foot washing act is made real for us on a daily basis.


The women , old and young, come out of a hut with no electricity and no floor dressed liked models in two pieces of beautiful cloth called Kangas. They looked graceful as if they just walked out on a runway at a fashion show in New York or Paris. The cloth is clean, it appears to have been ironed, and it is wrapped in many ways. One way they wear it is the way we see Mother Mary depicted with Baby Jesus. The cloth seems to just be hanging from the top of her head and falls gently on either side of her shoulders. I cannot help but see Mary whipping that blue cloth from her head and putting Jesus on her back as she was busy cooking or walking just as I see the women doing here.


I can’t go but a few minutes without seeing a Bible verse being acted out. At the same time today is made evident when I chat with my sons on my computer in real time yet being thousands of miles away. We are just using land lines now and the internet connection is very, very slow; however we are due for wireless broadband next March. At that time we will be able to talk and see them on camera in real time. As I sit and find out about my son’s day, I am listening to drums in the background practicing for the upcoming elections in Tanzania and watching a man from the Masai tribe answering his cell phone. I am learning Kiswahili now, but I doubt I will be able to learn communication by drum. Many villages had cell phones before they ever had land lines to phones. In ten years, the ownership of cell phones went from 2000 to 2,000,000. Technology leaps are huge.

Building material

Building material is another across-the-ages observation that we see here. Sun-dried bricks are the material that we used for the learning center and the church in our compound. This is the cheapest way to go rather than mud and sticks. Man has been using the sun dried brick method since 6000 B.C. No material for building here is imported. All the bricks are hand made. No machines make bricks in this part of Tanzania. The handmade bricks that are being used to build our house are fired. We see the mounds of bricks everywhere that have mud on the outside to seal the bricks inside. There is an arch that allows the wood to be placed inside this mound of bricks. When the fire is lit, an awful smell rises and penetrates your nasal cavity to let you know that the bricks are now becoming stronger and will not dissolve in the rain. Because we are using fired brick for our house, we will not have to cover them with cement to protect them from the weather as we did with the learning center and the church. With the knowledge of the fired bricks being used the same way in 6000 B.C. my mind quickly envisions the old woman looking for her lost coins in her brick home in the fifteenth chapter of Luke. I also see Jesus knocking at the door of a home much like mine will be. Government buildings are made of cement blocks. They, too, are built on the spot. Not in a factory and not imported.

Delivery Methods

As we build each building in our compound, which will be used to train the Methodist evangelists of Tanzania, we have a three-day watering period to make sure that the concrete sets well. We found water, and we have a well, but it does not bring the water to each construction site. Women in the neighborhood are paid to carry the water in five gallon buckets on their heads to the newest construction and splash the water on the wet cement. This method of delivery is used the most. We see women and children on the side of the road caring various things in buckets and in baskets and sometimes just bundled up with the cloth balanced on their head. When I see the large beautiful clay pots being carried on their heads, I am reminded of the woman at the well.

If we buy a chair in town and they say they will deliver it, it comes in a hand cart pulled by a young man. To get firewood or charcoal to the market, these are precariously tied on the backs of their bicycles and taken to market in another town. As a bicycle carrying a wide load of sticks was passing a lady bringing water home in a jug on her head with a sleeping baby snuggled on her back, we were passing the bicycle and avoiding the donkey on the other side of the road in our four-wheel-drive. All of this was on the same page in Tanzania in 2005. Many people have their own donkey. They make pouches to hold goods on either side of the donkey. I feel the need to place palm leaves in front of the donkey like Jesus was riding into Jerusalem. Whether I am delirious from the malaria that I keep getting or I really see the likeness to Bible times, this place keeps me close to Jesus



The oral language of Jesus time is also connected to today's education. Parables and stories to make a point are used here daily. Tanzania as well as other countries in Africa have a book famine. To watch children trying to learn to read and trying to learn math without a book is like watching Jesus and the disciples trying to teach with only the oral story. It must be working here because Tanzania has a larger percentage of literate adults than Arkansas. We may have the person here who can solve poverty or cure cancer, but if we can’t stop the book famine we will never know. I am trying to open a public library here in Bunda. They don’t even know what a public library is. I will have to have classes to teach the use of a public library. Go to to find out how to help books come to Africa. We will have a container come here in January to start our first library ever in Bunda.

In the dark, with the lantern shining on our laptop, Charles and I will be watching Jesus’ time go by while our time is going by in this, our last adventure. We just wanted you to take a peek through our eyes with us. Charles and I are so very happy here. We appreciate your prayers.

Karen(Lusby) and Charles Wiggins

About Charles and Karen Wiggins:

Charles attended Boston University from 1988 to 1992 where he received his Master of Divinity degree in Theology, Philosophy, and Ethics. He also has a Master of Arts in English from California State Polytechnic University and completed his studies for a Ph.D. in British literature from the University of Arkansas. Instead of writing his dissertation, Charles entered seminary in Boston. Charles and

Karen received their undergraduate degrees from McMurry where she was in T.I.P. and Charles was in Ko Sari. Karen taught for 40 years before retiring to be a missionary. Charles has been a minister for 20 years. Their goal is to create a Learning Center complex for the new Methodist Church of Tanzania.

With 40 churches and 4 ministers, Charles is called to teach the lay ministers who are carrying the bulk of the load at the churches. They are buying a bicycle for each of the lay ministers at the rate of one a month. The first seminar was this month. Karen will be giving lessons in sanitation and hygiene with her training from LifeWater of California in January. She will also be active in getting the books to Bunda and starting the first public library there.

Through the United Methodist Church and the One Book Foundation construction groups of 12 to 15 people come to Bunda to build churches and the buildings in the complex, as well as medical/dental teams, well drilling teams, and sanitation and hygiene training. In the complex, the Bunda Methodist Church is completed, the learning center completed, and the house and the fence are going up now with the first dorm room begun today. God is good--all the time.

Karen and Charles are volunteer missionaries under the General Board of Global Ministries and the Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church and the foundation that Charles started in Fayetteville.


1910 Old Wire Road

Fayetteville, Arkansas 72703

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Karen’s e-mail is

Charles’ e-mail is

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