It was in November 2002 when members of MAC (Mission Awareness Committee of RSAT) visited Bagamoyo, a historical town of the early missionary station in Eastern and central Africa. Every MAC member was anxious to benefit fully from the trip. The members included several priests, sisters, brothers, laywomen and laymen. They travelled by mini-bus from Mbagala Spiritual Centre, Dar es Salaam. On the way, they sang songs, made jokes, and from time to time exchanged their experiences since the last MAC meeting in Dodoma. Hence laughter after laughter dominated the one-hour journey.
When they arrived at Bagamoyo, their host, Samahani Kejeli, welcomed them with two open hands coupled with a broad smile. On behalf of the committee, Fr Shayo introduced the MAC members to the curator of the Catholic Museum by saying, “We have come here in order to familiarize ourselves with the history of the first missionaries”. Mr. Samahani Kejeli introduced himself as a retired civil servant who worked for many years in the department of antiquities. He began by giving the origin of the name ‘Bagamoyo’. He said, “The original word was ‘bwaga-moyo’ (in Kiswahili) which literally means ‘throw down the heart’ or ‘spill the heart’. Most of the slaves after having been sold to Arabs had the feeling of losing their hearts. Their onwards safari to Zanzibar was felt as one having left his/her heart behind. They all were dominated by fear of death. They were also perplexed by the unknown destination.”
While MAC members were listening with excitement, Kejeli continued to elaborate how the first missionaries established Bagamoyo Parish. “The leader of these first missionaries to Bagamoyo was Father Antony Horner of the Holy Ghost Fathers. These Holy Ghost Fathers came to Bagamoyo in 1868 after having established a mission station in Zanzibar in 1860 the year they arrived from Europe. The priests tirelessly made contacts with the local sultan in Bagamoyo and finally they managed to secure piece of land where they erected the church and a camp for the freed slaves. Where there’s a will there’s a way. They did not only concern themselves with the work of proclaiming the Good News to the people, but were actively involved in taking care of the slaves they had saved from Arabs. They also provided some basic services to the communities around the mission area. The services attracted many people. A good thing sells itself; a bad thing advertises itself for sale”.
“As they had already acclimatized to the weather in Zanzibar, they found Bagamoyo equally hot and humid. However, many of the missionaries died of malaria in their youthful age and were buried here.” When Kejeli had finished talking, MAC members congratulated him by clapping their hands as their appreciation for his vivid explanation. Everyone thought that Kejeli was knowledgeable on the subject. However, they asked him a few questions, of which he answered them accordingly. Amazingly, all the members became dumbfounded when Kejeli answered the question asked by Sister Amandus, “I’m neither a Catholic nor a Christian. I’m a Moslem!”
Then Kejeli walked them around the compound. When they came near the huge old baobab tree, he told them its history. “The seedling of this tree was brought from Zanzibar and planted here by Fr Horner in 1868. We can say that this tree is as old as the history of Catholic Church in Eastern and central Africa. Is it a living symbol of the Church in this area? Big things have small beginnings.
At the end of the day, the members talked much about their trip to Bagamoyo. Samahani Kejeli was the centre of their discussion. Most of them were inspired by the challenge given to them by a non-Christian to have ably evangelized them. All in all, they appreciated that the history of the early missionaries in Bagamoyo, as this place was the corner stone of Christianity in Eastern and Central Africa. “How does the AMECEA utilize the fruits of missionary work of over 2000 years? Apart from proclamation of the Good News to the people, what do we offer our Lord Jesus Christ who was crucified, died and resurrected for our salvation?” Sister Betty inquired. “Is the deeper evangelisation the duty of Moslems who should evangelize us according to the 21st century vision?” Fr Nyasulu thought that was odd.
Brother Ernest observed, “The first missionaries who came to Bagamoyo erected a Cross, which symbolizes the flag as a sign of victory. What have we to give the Moslems? Isn’t there any one among us, Christians of Eastern and central Africa, who has been baptized and possesses good history of the Church and can keep the history for the mother-church at Bagamoyo, besides this Moslem, Samahani Kejeli? Or is Kejeli a director of deeper evangelisation in Eastern and central Africa?” Fr Tundra demanded some explanation.
“We the members of AMECEA are in dilemma. What should we do now concerning the fate of our faith? Where are we? What does Jesus tell us according to Mathew? ‘Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces,’ (Mt 7: 6)”. This reflection came from Boniface. “Does Kejeli work here in order to be paid by the visitors who come to learn the history of our early missionaries? What would happen if a fundamentalist Moslem came and bribed Kejeli with a good sum of US dollars so that he could enter into the church and take away the Holy Eucharist? Kejeli has no faith in the Holy Eucharist. If this malicious act did happen at all, who should be blamed? How come that Kejeli is (Peter) entrusted to keep the key of the mother-church of Eastern and central Africa?”