Phil and Jan find joys and challenges in East African country
by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
Phil and Jan Gerth of Upsala traveled to the East African country of Tanzania in December 2013, to visit their son, Ben, and his family.
They participated in the daily routine tasks of their son’s family as well as received unique privileges offered to visitors.
“We flew into Nairobi, Kenya and spent the first day there looking around and shopping,” said Jan Gerth. “Then we had a 10-hour van ride to Musoma, Tanzania.”
Ben and Jeannette Gerth met while both were attending Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. After they married, Ben taught school for a few years before answering a call to be a pastor.
“After a couple years, he and Jeannette both felt a calling to go into missions,” Jan said.
They started fundraising with Wycliffe Bible Translators more than three years ago, needing to find the resources necessary to support themselves while they are in Tanzania. The family arrived there 18 months ago. The Gerth children are Kara, age 8; Luke, age 6; Ellie, age 6 and Jenna, age 3.
“This is a long-term commitment,” said Jan. “They are hoping this will be a career opportunity for them.”
There are 127 different language groups in Tanzania. Ben is a linguist working to produce a translation of the Bible for the Jita people, who live two hours from Musoma.
“They are working with nine people groups in that area,” said Jan. “It’s a challenge to make sure the accuracy is there for each people group.”
First, the translators must learn the language. Then they put it in a form of writing that the people can understand, so there is a Bible in their “heart language.”
Wycliffe defines heart language as the language most clearly understood, and in which ideas are most clearly expressed by an individual or people group, according to its website. The term often refers to the language that reaches to the inner depths of a person and can best express God’s eternal message.
The “trade language” of Tanzania (used in business life) is Swahili and “just about everyone in Tanzania and most of East Africa speaks Swahili,” Phil said.
“But words can mean totally different things depending on the area of the country,” he said.
“They have to know the culture to know the right word to use,” said Jan.
Ben works in an office with satellite access and computers.
“He is working on a ‘cluster project’ with nine languages that have a lot of similarities,” Jan said.
“The first book of the Bible they did was Jonah,” said Phil. “There are a lot of verses in that book that could be helpful with other books down the road.”
Everyday life tasks take a lot of time for Ben and Jeannette.
For example, all water for drinking, cooking and brushing teeth must be purified.
“There is a five-gallon bucket outside where water is filtered,” Jan said. “Then the water goes through another system inside.”
The Gerths brought a sediment filter from the United States with them to help at the beginning of the purification process.
“They have to be thinking all the time about the water,” said Jan. “We take that for granted.”
The preparations to use fruits and vegetables begin at the market by removing all visible critters. The produce is scrubbed at home with water and dish soap. It is submerged in bleach water and then rinsed in purified water.
“They still peel most of it anyway,” Jan said.
While there is little violence where Ben and his family live, there is theft.
“Eight-foot concrete block walls topped with barbed wire surround their home compound,” Jan said. “There is a locked iron gate and guard dogs. They have a hired guard day and night.”
Malaria is a concern, as well as typhoid fever and dengue fever.
“Dengue fever is making a comeback,” said Jan. “Malaria facts are scary; one child in the world dies of malaria every 15 minutes.”
They take care to avoid illness (via critters) by using window screens and mosquito netting over beds. Still, they have found a cobra snake in their yard, and there are many huge spiders.
“Ben and Jeannette have become somewhat less startled by some of the challenges that go along with life in Tanzania than they were at first,” said Jan.
“It’s part of what they have to do; they feel that’s where God wants them,” Phil said.
Before boarding a plane to return home, the Gerths all headed to Nairobi for three days. They fed giraffes, went to a baby elephant orphanage and checked out a bead factory.
Phil and Jan have lived in Upsala for 25 years, working at Camp Lebanon. They have participated in mission trips to Costa Rica, Jamaica, Austria and Mexico.
Their congregation, Community Covenant Church in Upsala, holds a rather unique distinction; five of the missionaries it supports grew up in the congregation.
The Gerths found that there are similarities between Tanzania and some of the other countries where they have served, in that the people there live very simple lives. But there were some differences to their experiences in Tanzania.
“We spent lots of time with other missionaries,” said Phil. “We saw how excited they were that we visited. It was an encouragement to everyone there — missionary teachers at the school, people who work with Ben, local people and others in the area around Musoma — for us to visit.”
They visited the children’s school, where Jan taught them songs and helped with different projects.
While the Gerths aren’t quite retirement age yet, they received the level of respect given to older people in Tanzania.
“It was very much a bonus,” they agreed. “We got a lot of ‘Brownie points’ for Ben and Jeannette with the local people.”
One evening, Phil went with Ben and his family to one of the translators’ homes.
“Despite the fact that these people had ‘nothing,’ the table was laid with enough food to feed an army,” said Phil. “They were so very generous to give what they had and to include us in their family.”
Another night, Phil and Jan visited the night guard’s home.
“It just blew us away that they have that kind of heart,” he said.
“God blessed us with a phenomenal month: cooler weather, we stayed healthy, hardly any mosquitos, wonderful cultural experiences and quality time with family,” said Jan. “A ton of people were praying for us; we really felt God protecting us.”
During their annual trips to the Jamaican Boys Home in Kingston and while they were in Tanzania, the Gerths were continually reminded to be grateful.
“What we have is from God,” Phil said. “Hearing (the boys in Jamaica) pray for all they’re thankful for — it’s about being grateful for what we have.”
“It’s important to support your local missionaries with prayer and encouragement — for their mission work and their everyday survival,” said Jan.
To learn more about Ben and Jeannette’s experiences in Tanzania, visit http://gerthfamilytanzania.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/translating-jita-jonah-part-3.html.