The Spirit of Karibu

This content was originally published in The Sower, Summer 2017 Edition

When our land cruiser drove into the Tanzanian village of Moshi-Marungi, I was deeply engrossed in a conversation with another visitor on our vision trip, but I had to stop mid-sentence. “Oh, wow.”

Cheers, yodels, and songs immediately engulfed both sides of our vehicle. We turned onto a small pathway shaded by palms. We were bordered by smiling and cheering farmers, mostly women, rushing out to greet us. As we drove further up the path, they fell into a parade-like formation that followed us, erupting in songs that seemed to get louder and louder. The volume of the celebration only increased once we opened our doors to get out. We came as visitors to a nearby Farmer Field School, initiated by Plant With Purpose’s Tanzania partners. They enthusiastically showed us the sustainable farming techniques they had learned. The field school based on learning-by- doing. “These are nightshade plants we made using our compost soil,” pointed out one of the farmers, “and these are [the nightshade] we made with regular soil.” Beyond the more vibrant leaves of the compost crops, the plants made with compost were significantly larger. “When we see differences like these, it becomes easier for us to change our practices.”

These changes in farming practices seem simple, but they make an incredible difference. One after another, people told me that in places where sustainable practices had been adopted, weather patterns were normalizing. The land was now lusher, and people saw their lives improve. “The double-dug garden beds produce two-and- a-half times more vegetables,” cited another participant.

As I recalled how these farmers depended on this growth for their families’ survival, that sort of growth struck me as a big deal. These farmers planned to share with me their farming lessons, but I didn’t realize they would also teach me the meaning of celebration.


Years before working with Plant With Purpose, I worked for a human rights organization that dealt with refugee rescues and resettlements. In the middle of our office hung a bell, with a long rope. Every time we experienced a small victory, we would ring the bell loudly, and the entire office would clap.

One of my mentors explained that working on issues like human rights or poverty alleviation are difficult. You’ll experience some wins, but you’ll also gain a brutal awareness of how daunting these challenges are, as well as the severity of their effects. It can be easy to burn out, unless you learn how to celebrate every little win. When I started with Plant With Purpose, I was happy to see a cowbell in the middle of my new office. I would hear it rung to celebrate gifts that made programs like the Farmer Field School possible.

Celebration isn’t restricted to when work is complete. It’s important to celebrate as you go, to use the momentum of victories from the past to push beyond obstacles for better futures. It wasn’t until I left that I realized that the farmers who greeted us were doing so on one of their
market days. Market days are when families can sell their produce and bring in household income, and it sunk in that this was a much larger sacrifice on their end than it would be for me to take a couple of vacation days from work. I also learned that a portion of the group was absent, in support of a farmer who had lost a family member. Their joy was demonstrated in the face of costly sacrifice and tragedy.


I considered my joy-filled encounter with the Farmer Field School in Moshi-Marungi a once-in- a-lifetime sort of experience. Then it happened again. We were greeted with the enthusiastic cheers, celebrations, shouts, and songs the next day when we drove into the village of Rombo. It happened a third and fourth time that week when we visited a group of Farmer Field schools, then a savings group in Siha. Of course, it never got old.

That’s when it struck me that karibu was not just a Swahili word for welcome. It’s one of the first words a visitor will pick up in East Africa, but beyond its literal translation, it’s a spirit embodied in the lives and practices of these communities. In action, karibu didn’t just mean welcome, it meant we are thrilled like crazy that you’re here and we can’t wait to show you what’s going on! I think of all the people in our world for whom a little acknowledgement and a little invitation would go a long way. Being invited into something, especially something transformational, is the deepest form of affirmation.

The farmers went on to show us how to make a sack garden, not by mere explanation, but by inviting us to build one with them. It was some of the most joyful work I’ve been able to participate in. They sung songs and Swahili hymns as they prepared the soil, transforming work
into worship.

Wilson, a farmer from Moshi-Marungi expressed gratitude for the way his life changed after working with Plant With Purpose. “I love the idea of graduation,” he explained from his farm, “because we have already learned the skills and have seen the differences. We want other people and other groups to learn from us.”

I remember his mindset as I introduce new people to Plant With Purpose’s work. We have seen some incredible things happen in people’s lives, and we want other people to be a part of the transformation.


Jesus constantly uses images and stories of feasts and celebrations to show us what it looks like to be in God’s presence. There’s a great wedding reception meant to represent this in Matthew 22, and in Luke 15 when a prodigal repents, the father celebrates with music and dancing. On earth, any glimpse we get of genuine joy is a taste of God’s kingdom. Any time we experience a moment of delight over something God has done or made, we get a taste of the kingdom as well.

From her farm in Rombo, Christina excitedly told us about how she could marvel at God’s creativity in the compost practices she was learning. “In the soil, there are organisms that live there,” she excitedly pointed out. “Worms and everything. So if we use compost, everything is
going on as God planned.”

It was impossible to listen to her speak without getting excited myself. True joy and celebration is contagious, and that is a good thing. Every village needs more joy, whether that’s a rural village on African mountainsides or my coastal San Diego neighborhood.

Back at the lodge, I got to hear the owner, Bobby, express his happiness that things around him were changing for the better. He pointed out a blue-headed bird. “When I was a kid, you used to see those a lot. Then they went away when trees were taken down. But now they’re coming back. And the winter mornings are chilly again. Things are changing for the better.”

Tanzania is a great place to learn about living a life of joy, where you celebrate as you go.

Work can be difficult, life can be hard; there is still lots of room to celebrate the heck out of it.

Philippe Lazaro2017