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Ben and Katy Ray link letter no.18 May 2018

Dear friends,

“Umenenepa!” (meaning “you’ve got fatter”) our Neema colleagues exclaimed as we returned to work. Katy and I nodded in cheerful agreement to this compliment, often shared here when someone has been away for a while. There being some truth in the statement, we added that “the food in England was just too delicious”. Most of the blame for our belt widening we pin on the warm hospitality of our link churches and other friends whom we managed to visit during our four month furlough.

Whether it was lasagne in Combe Down or crackling in Ealing, it was so good to share food and stories of God’s faithfulness with folk from across the country. We hope we didn’t upset too many children (or their parents) when we ate “elephant dung” at the front of church, but it’s good be back in Tanzania now where we can source the real thing and not make do with a Weetabix/bran flakes substitute.

Iringa seems much better fed and watered too since being away and is still wearing its greenest finery after a very persistent rainy season. When I asked one of our guards “habari ya shamba?” (“how is your farm?”), he could hardly contain his glee over the growth of his maize crop. Of course, you’re never far from a farmer who isn’t happy with the rain levels here, but generally it seems to have been a good year which is something to thank God for.

We certainly experienced the full range of weather in England. As anticipated, it was mostly cold, grey and damp, but Zachary and Alessia thoroughly enjoyed their first forays into the snow.


By the end of our stay we even enjoyed a BBQ in the late April sunshine with our new pals in St Neots, David and Sarah Crawford. Not only did our stand-in managers (Malcolm and Irene Crawford) lend us their house and car but they were also thoughtful enough to leave their son and daughter-in-law just up the road, along with their grandchildren who are the same age as our own. A parent’s idyll, St Neots offered us plenty of parks, shops and nearby attractions to keep the kids entertained and was conveniently placed to reach most of our link churches. Once again, God provided us with exactly what we needed and a lovely place to stay.

Enjoying an ice cream in the English sun

Lessons from home leave

In spite of having a blessed time back in the UK, we have been missing our life and work in Tanzania. Home leave can be unsettling for the whole family as it drops you, Narnia-like, back into your old context and away from your regular roles and routine.

Our children’s sleeping patterns were thrown by all of the unfamiliar places we slept in and we noticed that Zachary in particular was not his usual cheerful self. For the first three months his first comment in the morning was “I want to be back in Tanzania!”. This was mostly because of missing his three closest friends.

Visit to St Barnabus, Homerton

For Katy and I, the most difficult thing was being reminded of whom and what we have left behind over the seven years we have been away and how much harder transition back will be the longer we make Tanzania our home.

However, a change of context has been helpful too. It has allowed us to appreciate the good things in both Tanzanian and UK culture, but also distanced us enough from work at Neema to reflect on where we have got to and where we are going. As we consider the manifold options for both Neema’s future and our own, one thing became clear through praying with our close friends Barry and Debbie in Malvern; that we should be looking for another couple to take over the management of the centre. This would allow us to either grow the work of Neema and reach many more people in Tanzania or to come back to the UK. This isn’t a long-term masterplan (as we would like it to be) but it is enough light for the next step.

These unsettling weeks have reminded us that it was God who directed our steps to where we are now, he who has been so faithful to this point and he who we need to trust for the seasons to come.

First days back

We thank you for your prayers for travelling mercies. The biggest mercy of all was that we weren’t flying back with Emirates who now allow an extra bag per charity passenger. Ten 23kg bags and eight 12kg pieces of hand luggage was quite enough! We had to book two enormous taxis to take us to Heathrow, which is just as well as three items had to go through the “oversize” check in aisle. We were thoroughly relieved when our bags (mostly stuffed with Neema odds and ends) made their way through Tanzanian customs intact.

Stepping back into our old home was like watching our children released into the wild again as they ran around in the open space and began playing with our pets, which are now more numerous in number then when we left. Our two cats have had kittens. Irene tells us she was on-hand as midwife for the deliveries, both of which happened on her lap. Irene likes cats.

Happy to be at home with friends...

At the end of last week, the Neema staff gathered to say farewell to the Crawfords and pray for their safe journey home. As is customary for volunteers, before cake is shared, people shared their gratitude and stories. What shone through was the great effort the Crawfords had put into their time at Neema and how well they got on with our staff. I have just read through a lengthy list of notes left by Malcolm for me about a number of different and very useful things that he has introduced, the main one being a new inventory system for our stock. Dull as this may sound, we had been looking for such a system for a couple of years but didn’t know which to go for. By Katy’s request, Malcolm set us up with software that he’s familiar with and has helped it to integrate with our accounting software. This could streamline our sales orders process and ultimately help us to employ more people with disabilities. God is good.

The Crawfords open their farewell presents, with Paulina

Working in Katy’s office, Irene helped to manage the production of some very large orders while we were away, including 1,700 pineapple print wash bags headed for the US. The irony was that Irene detests (as in can’t be in the same room as) pineapples! God has a sense of humour.

Also grafting away in the background while we were away was our incredibly talented designer Dom, who with Paulina our new orders manager, has produced a number of new print ranges as well as planned our biggest event of the year, the Dar Artisan Market. This is no small feat and yet we feel assured that on Friday next week we’ll be driving the 11 hours east for our best prepared show yet.

Yesterday I fired the starting gun on the next phase of the housing project, ordering wood for doors and window frames to be made up. We aim to build 20 more staff homes this year. One of our sites was plumbed in with running water this week and we anticipate receiving new building permits for our next big site on Monday, which is great news.


Ben, Katy, Zachary and Alessia x

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