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Church group used music as catalyst for trip to Africa

Sep 20, 2013 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

When members of St. James Episcopal church in Riverton hear a new collection of hymns during their Sunday service, they may be pleased to learn that the words and rhythms traveled all the way from Tanzania.

Veronika and Harold Schultz of Riverton were part of a two-week mission music trip to the Kiteto Christian Center in Tanzania, a nation in eastern Africa. Other members of episcopal churches in Wyoming joined them to visit the school with enrollment of about 400 students.

The Wyoming group joined the children to sing, dance and collect songs to bring back home. They also realized that Tanzania was very different from their home.

Their trip to Africa required more than 24 hours of travel time that included bumpy, rugged roads. They noticed several abandoned vehicles on the side of the road because, they were told, the roads were so bad the vehicles broke down and were abandoned.

The Schultzes said that even though people in Kiteto earn an average of about $200 a year, they still celebrate their lives every day with singing, dancing and worship.

"We learned to appreciate what we got here," Harold said. "They know how to enjoy life in spite of all that they don't have."

"They were the most generous, kind, loving group of people we've ever met," Veronika said.

The couple also learned a few words of Swahili and got familiar with other customs related to attire and food. They explained that many of their centuries-old traditions are still the same, and they received traditional gifts such roosters and special foods.

Veronika said many students and teachers live houses with no toilets or running water and with very little room to sleep. Despite all of that, their singing relayed a message of joy and happiness through their spiritual songs. They also mentioned that they were surprised to see so many people, especially younger adults, with cell phones.

"Everybody had one," Harold said with a chuckle.

The couple noticed the different types of homes, the meals they ate, and the roles of young men, women and children in the community.

"We experienced traditions that to us at home would seem ridiculous," Harold said, adding that tradition calls for a young man to kill a lion before getting married.

The couple noticed that for the most part the people in the city got along well even though there were three different religions. They were astonished that there were only three stop lights in a city of 2 million people. The streets were roamed by cars, donkeys, scooters, and bicycles.

"There was no road rage, and they made it to work," Veronika said.

Music without notes

The two were impressed with the innovative ideas used to create music.

"We saw unusual instruments," Veronika said.

Fiddles made from sticks and thumb pianos, or mbira, helped them play songs that had no written music notes or lyrics.

"They made it all up," Veronika said.

The church group inquired about transcribed hymns, but they were told the musicians didn't use music books and didn't know what music notes were. This led the group members to learn to mesmerize the songs and be as descriptive as they could when recording the songs onto paper to be able to take home.

Their service ran for four hours. Dfferent age groups got up to sing and dance during those hours.

With enrollment increasing, the school is extending the program to more grade levels, Veronika said.

For the church music group, this translated into a renaissance of music and worship for the people of Tanzania--something they believed to not be happening in the United States. Travelers came home with many stories for their friends and family in Riverton. Their photos showed how churches built from thick logs, and dancers wore bells wrapped around their ankles. As they prepared the music for Riverton's St. James Episcopal church service, they were excited to introduce new hymns and rhythms.

"They were learning from us, and we were learning from them," Harold said.

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