WBU students take semester hiatus for mission work

PLAINVIEW - Zack Greer will be the first to admit that mission work "is the hardest thing I've ever done in my life." But he also said returning to the states in January to finish his education at Wayland Baptist University left him feeling split between his native country and Tanzania, the African nation he'd called home for the last seven months.

Greer and his sister, Penny, both juniors at Wayland, took their summer and fall semesters off from school to do mission work in Tanzania with their parents, James and Dana Greer, missionaries there since April 2001.

It was the Greer children's first visit to Africa, though both Zack and Penny have done summer mission work both in the U.S. and abroad. For them, missions was a big part of family life and they knew their parents would eventually go into full-time mission service.

"They tried to go (into missions) years ago, but we were too old then and the IMB didn't want them taking older children into the field," Zack said. "We knew it was going to happen eventually."

"We wanted to do it with them," Penny added. "We would have been good MKs (missionary kids)."

James Greer, who had served in all facets of church ministry and was serving as pastor in Athens, announced in the summer of 2000 that he and his wife would finally be going into missionary service. Their children, who had been attending Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, began looking into universities to transfer and complete their education.

Though they weren't considering Wayland at first - East Texas was home to them at the time - they began looking into the West Texas school and, as Penny says, "It just all worked out. All the puzzle pieces fell into place." With two sets of grandparents in Pampa, the pair knew they'd also be close to at least some family, though their parents would be miles away in Africa.

In their Spring 2002 semester, Zack and Penny said they began talking about visiting their parents, but not just for a holiday.

"The way I saw it, I didn't want to go if I couldn't do ministry," Zack said. "We talked with Dad and he suggested we do a people-group study."

Working through the Tanzanian government, the International Mission Board and the university, Zack and Penny were able to get clearance to spend the remainder of 2002 in Tanzania, studying the Makonde people.

The elder Greers had been the first Baptists to work among the Makonde, who Zack describes as a remote people who live in mud huts and have no electricity, no running water and primitive living conditions. Famous for their carvings on wood and other materials, the Makonde are also a large people group, with a population of about one million.

After arriving in Newala, Tanzania, the younger Greers spent the first months learning the Swahili language and forming relationships with the Makonde people. After they had gotten more acquainted, they began visiting more in-depth with the nationals in order to learn their history, culture, customs and language and record much of what they learned. Penny worked among the women primarily, while Zack formed bonds with the males in the village.

"They were just so excited that we wanted to know more about them," Penny said. "They would talk about everything very openly."

After collecting many stories, Penny and Zack compiled a lengthy report on the Makonde for use by the IMB, the Tanzanian government and Wayland. They were also able to work with their parents, who are church planters, in developing more preaching points in the area.

While in Tanzania, Zack and Penny were able to see the first church among the Makonde started in the village of Chitandi. Within weeks, what began as a preaching point underneath a grove of trees had blossomed into a temporary building made of bamboo. The students were also able to see God's work among the Tanzanian people.

"The country is 98 percent Muslim, but the Lord really prepared the hearts of the people before we got there," Zack said. "At our first service in Chitandi, we had a pastor from Pampa visit and speak and about 40 people were saved. Many of those were the Islamic leaders, and the other Muslims there were all wondering what they would do now for worship since their leaders had become Christian."

Though they weren't enrolled in college, Zack and Penny said they learned many lessons through their experiences with the Makonde and both said the visit affirmed their calls to mission service. Zack noted that the length of their stay was important to the decision, since it gave them a real chance to know what time away from their own cultures was like.

"I learned that as Americans, many times we base our happiness on material things, but the Makonde build their lives on relationships," he said. "Christians there bond together better than we do, too. If we would quit tearing each other down and really united together, we'd be a lot more effective."

Penny said the attitude of the Makonde made an impact on her too.

"The women there get up every day and walk to get water from the bottom of the plateau, but they were so happy," she said. "They had nothing, but were so happy all the time. They always had a smile."

Penny, a religion major and music minor at Wayland, and Zack, a religion major and English minor, both intend to pursue missions after they graduate in December 2004.