Herb Gappa at Bariadi Parish (Archives)

St. John Parish, Bariadi

by Herb Gappa

originally printed in Maryknoll in Touch (January 2001)

Rooted in Faith

I’m overjoyed to begin this new year by thanking our Partners in Mission for all you do to help your brothers and sisters in St John parish in Banadi in northern Tanzania Our parish has received great deal of help from the faithful in my home state, Minnesota, but all of you have helped by your prayers, your donations and your concern. When I was appointed pastor of Bariadi in 1977, our rural parish launched a 20-year plan with three objectives:

  • To make faith come alive by forming Small Christian Communities (SCCs), groups of some 20 families who would pray together, read the Bible and apply the Word of God to their daily lives.

  • To help parishioners work together to gain the basic necessities of food, water and firewood.

  • To raise funds for the buildings and equipment needed for all this apostolic work.

I wish we could say, as we passed the 20-year mark, that our parish has had outstanding success in reaching those goals. Well, we’ve made some good progress, but we still have a long way to go, especially since Tanzania remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Our SCCs are flourishing. We have most of our buildings and equipment in place. Good clean water is now available from 300 shallow wells in our district, a project our parish promoted with aid from the Dutch Water Supply Program. (Previously our district had 30 wells, with only a handful functioning properly.)

We’ve also had success in growing 15,000 multipurpose trees of over 30 species in 12 parish plots. We favor quick-growing, resprouting trees, such as leucaena, that regenerate the soil and supply good forage, firewood or compost. The tree project helped farm families become more independent because they did not have to buy wood or spend time looking for firewood or forage.

Our major problem is that our farmers are still too dependent on God’s erratic rainfall. We need about 40 inches of rain annually, but we have been well below 30 for three of the last four years. We have convinced only about half of our farmers to invest in insurance, that is, plant at least one-quarter of their fields with cassava or similar crops that can grow under extremely dry conditions.

With all our problems, however, our SCCs have had outstanding success in one area, convincing people that God sends the Holy Spirit to guide people united and rooted in faith. They know that success is possible by taking small steps in well-designed, workable projects over an extended period of time. It took 15 years, for example, for our tree-planting projects to really take root on a wide scale. Our theology of creation, or cooperation with God’s Spirit, enables our people to sustain hope and combat fatalism. We tell people God helps us start the engine, but we have to drive the machine ourselves.