It's a sunny day on Mount Meru in Tanzania, Africa. I'm playing with children in Seela, the village of our partner parish. What a blessing it is to represent Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Menomonee Falls, Wis., in a partnership through the companion synod program of the ELCA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania.
As we play, a little boy timidly approaches. "Mama Sue," he says. I'm able to understand the Swahili words njoo (come) and nyumbani kwangu (at my home). There is a slight sense of urgency in his voice.
Not sure of what to expect, I tell the other children "nitarudi" (I will return) and begin walking with the child. Carefully, he leads me by the hand down a rutted dirt path to his home.
The house is built of rough timber with a dirt floor and rusty metal roof. He points to a nearby coffee tree, ripe with red berries. With a trace of a tentative smile, he says, "Mama Sue, piga picha."
Ahhh. "Take a picture." After so many years, children in this village are familiar with my camera and delight in finding things for me to photograph. I smile and take a photo, which I show him on the back of the camera. He looks and nods approvingly.
"Piga picha," he says again, pointing to a goat. So I do. I'm as delighted as he seems to be with these unexpected photo opportunities. He checks this photo, too, and nods. Pulling me by the hand, he takes me around to the back of his home.
I'm not prepared. My hand covers my mouth, stifling an unexpected intake of breath. Realization rocks me. This is the little boy I've heard about. This is the boy whose mother died just last week. He has brought me to her grave.
"Mama Sue," he repeats solemnly, almost whispering, "piga picha." It was my turn to nod.
As he stood next to a rough wooden cross on which his mother's name was painted, I silently complied with his request. A picture of a boy at his mother's grave. It must have been how I looked as a child, standing at my own mother's grave 40 years ago, at age 7.
The cycle of life and death goes on. It is yet another reminder of how much I love the people of Tanzania and find comfort in the connections in our lives. We all live by faith, trusting in God's plan.
© 2016 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers