Ok, that’s a slight exaggeration, but only slight.

I love animals and saw majestic wildlife on safari in Tanzania, but most memorable of all was meeting the people of the Kilimanjaro Region as part of a medical mission team.

The take away:  people are far more interesting than animals.

Tanzanians do not know strangers.  Upon your first meeting, you are greeted with extensive handshaking. 

A man from Kenya told me how frustrated he was with the Tanzanians’ love of long greetings. 

Kenyans, he said, are more westernized and always in a rush, but Tanzanians take time with you.

To him, it was culture shock. 

To me, it took a little getting used to, but it underscored the value they place on relationships.

I was the evangelist for the 2018 Mercy Medical Team in Tanzania, a ministry of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. 

A Tanzanian doctor and several nurses from the city of Moshi assisted our American nurses with their medical and translation skills. 

We ministered to both body and soul, serving nearly 1,400 people, many of whom would not ordinarily see a doctor or nurse.    

Meeting in a small church in the village of Uchira, mine was the first station of the clinic. 

I spoke to groups of twenty or more, sharing how God provides medicine for the body and also medicine for both body and soul in the person of Jesus Christ. 

A Tanzanian Lutheran pastor provided translation in Swahili.

From the evangelism station, patients would go to other stations to have vital signs checked, medical histories recorded and medication prescribed. 

Finally, each patient was individually prayed for. 

We served Christians, Muslims, animists—anyone and everyone who came to the clinic.

Most Tanzanians are materially poor by our standards, but they lack for nothing.  Their wealth, as well as their identity, is in their community. 

When a person is in need, he goes to others in the community, and assistance is provided. 

Most of us would be embarrassed to ask family or friends for money.  Africans would be embarrassed not to.

Visitors to East Africa often say, “These people are so happy and they have nothing.” 

But they do not have nothing.  They have a community that cares about them.  They have all they need.

How many westerners can say the same?

In East Africa, material possessions are not so much yours or mine as they are “ours.”  This is especially true if you have an abundance of things that you are not using. 

Such things are viewed as available for the community in time of need, because what matters most are relationships, not stuff.   

In our culture, being late is rude.

In their culture, being late is often the result of giving attention to other relationships.

It’s hard to fault that.

Regardless of your culture, life is really about relationship and little else.

We are all social creatures, created in the image of the God who is eternal relationship—one God in three persons--Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Through the Son, we have fellowship with the Father and with one another. 

That fellowship surpasses all other experiences, regardless of the continent you’re on.    

It’s great to see Africa’s “Big Five:” the elephant, lion, leopard, rhino and Cape buffalo. 

But if you visit Africa, go first for the people.  Join a mission trip or find a cultural safari where you can interact with and learn from the people you meet.     

People really are more interesting than animals.

Close-up of two men shaking hands. It seems the African handshake could be slowly fading out in the countries affected by the Ebola and Marburg viruses’ outbreaks. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP