Bishop Given's testimony
Profile of a Tanzanian Bishop
Strung upside down from a tree by his drunken father, the small boy could not possibly have imagined what the future would hold. His mother watched helplessly and tearfully as her husband went looking for a sharp knife. What was he going to do? But the rope – probably only made for tethering goats – parted, and the boy fell to safety away from the knife and the fire his father had prepared for him. It was not the first time that his life had ‘hung’ in the balance.
This was so far from the family life his mother had hoped for. She had been born out of wedlock. Her mother had then been packed off to marry a man far away, so she was brought up by her grandmother, never really knowing the love of a father and mother. In childhood she dreamed longingly of one day having an ordinary family of her own.
As a Christian she wanted to marry a man of her faith. Somehow she got engaged to a man who got baptised as a Christian in order to become her husband. Very unfortunately for her he turned out to be an alcoholic who beat her regularly. He beat her when drunk and he beat her because she had difficulty conceiving. She was mocked by women who seemed able to have children ‘at the drop of hat’.
After five years she gave birth to a son – in 1966. He was premature; and premature babies were considered to be cursed. Normally such infants were left under the branches of a baobab tree for the dogs, wild animals and vultures to find. In this case the child was taken care of by a nurse who fortunately had access to an incubator. He had no name, so named him ‘Given’, a gift.
Life at home continued as before. His mother had a second son, but having only two children was cause for further beatings. There was very little to eat because any money was spent on drink. The boys cried with hunger, often going several days without food. It was a very miserable existence of the direst poverty. Their home had only a roof made of mud and sticks which leaked in the rains, the boys huddling in a corner, trying to keep dry. Given held a deep hatred for his father.
When he was 14, some travelling preachers from the East African Revival movement – something that had started back in the 1930s – came to the local church. One of them quoted Jesus’ words ‘Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest’. The preacher went on to say ‘There are people here who are carrying a heavy burden’. Given knew he was one of these people, and responded. ‘I decided to give my life to Jesus. For the first time in my life I felt peace, joy, love. I came to realise that someone loved me more than anyone – Jesus’.
Being Tanzanian, he began to tell people the following day about this change in his life! When the local Bishop came to do Confirmations, Given’s pastor arranged for Given and the Bishop to meet. The Bishop asked him if he would be happy to go to school? ‘Yes!’ was the answer. With the Bishop’s access to funds, Given was able to pick up his education, and exchange his rags for school uniform.
As time went on his talent was recognized. He trained as a Church Army Evangelist, and worked in Kondoa. He went to Theological College and was priested in 1994. He was invited to further study in the USA and New Zealand, gaining a doctorate. He became Kondoa’s second Diocesan Bishop, being consecrated in 2012. His wife Lilian is also ordained and they have three children. He has been able to forgive his father.
We thank God that Kondoa is led by someone who understands the needs of his people; he has experienced them all himself! And he knows the transforming power of Jesus Christ. As for the lady who bore him? She is the proudest mother I have ever seen...
Written by Canon David Kitley, Bishop’s Adviser for overseas partnerships. Rochester Diocese UK.