A wall of witness
An art scheme in Tanzania is taking the Bible to the people.
by David Watson, Major –
In the semi-rural setting of Mbeya, in the southern highlands of Tanzania, Africa, sits The Salvation Army’s Shukrni International College, surrounded on three sides by a wall topped with barbed wire and with a wire fence in front. For many years the wall, like most local structures, has remained plain gray cement.
While working on a project for disabled children, I saw other walls, mostly in schools, which had been decorated at the behest of enterprising teachers with things like physiology or biology charts and maps of the world or Tanzania.
Most Tanzanian schoolchildren have only the basicsa couple of workbooks, a pencil and a ruler. Very seldom do they have textbooks, so instead the walls themselves provided the information. Similarly, the majority of Tanzanians do not have Bibles.
Not long ago, my wife, Christine, and I visited a Roman Catholic cathedral in Songea. Its high walls surrounding the central space above naves and aisles were decorated with colorful murals depicting biblical scenes, which led to an ideawe should create a wall of witness at Shukrani College.
The staff quickly took on the thought, and finances came pouring in from friends in Australia. One teacher contacted a local Christian artist, John Chota, and a month later the wall was finished, from Eden all the way through to the last judgment.
Each of the 40 panels bears a brief caption and the relevant Scripture reference in Kiswahili, the local language. Along the top of the wall are four Scripture quotations. The final panel lists the local corps activities and portrays Jesus welcoming children.
This “Bible in pictures” is already making an impact on those who trudge the roads alongside itchildren on their way to school, women carrying their goods to and from the nearby market and young hawkers carrying their handfuls of shoes and clothes. Both the young and old stop to wonder at the stories, some even writing down notes and asking questions.
One grandmother passing by stopped with tears in her eyes.
“I cannot read but at least I have a Bible I can see,” she said.