In animating the Small Christian Communities (SCCs) in
Rulenge Diocese, Tanzania we used many ways of emphasizing the importance of the
practical action part of the weekly Bible service. One Tuesday afternoon I
participated in the Bible reflections at the home of Theresa, one of the most
faithful Christians in Bukiriro Village. Following the local African custom she
prepared a place for us to pray together outdoors. She arranged straw mats in a
circle with fresh flowers in a vase in the middle.
But Theresa was embarrassed to put her old plastic
crucifix next to the flowers. The crucifix had no arms. It had probably been
brought to Tanzania by a missionary many years before and passed around several
families. I said to Theresa: "Don’t worry, Theresa. This crucifix is fine. I’m
sure it has a special meaning for us."
After one of the leaders read the Lenten Gospel there was
a period of silence followed by shared reflections. Suddenly it dawned on me
what that old, battered, armless crucifix was saying to our group of 15
Christians praying together. Jesus Christ was asking us to be his arms and to
reach out to the poor, the needy, the sick, the suffering, the oppressed. The
other Christians responded immediately to this reflection. They emphasized the
importance of mutual help in the local community. One SCC member quoted one of
our favorite Swahili sayings in the outstation: "Words without actions are
During the last part of the Bible service we decided to help Anna, one of our
neighbors who had two sick children. We gathered firewood and fetched water for
the mother while she stayed at home with her children. Like Jesus we tried to be
men and women for others.