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2016 Christmas Newsletter: The Tree of Life

The medicine man told Stephan if you plant mango trees you will die! He warned, “Do not plant mango trees in this village.” Yet as Stephan walked around the countryside in northern Tanzania he noticed that other people were planting mango trees. He was surprised to learn that others were not dying and that their families appeared to be healthier than the families that lived in Stephan’s village.

The medicine man in Stephan’s village held incredible power over the people in the village. The villagers consulted the medicine man for many things: their health, when to plant seeds, when to harvest the corn and the other crops that they grew. The medicine man is called upon to place curses on others because of disagreements and jealousy. Stephan dared to ask why people in other areas were planting mango trees and why did those people not die. He was told that those people are Christians.

We know differently. God has given us good plants and trees such as the mango tree to grow and eat. Many parts of the mango tree can be used to maintain good health in people. The parts include the fruit, leaves, bark, flowers and seeds. When used and prepared properly, natural medicine guides on tropical plants and trees recommend the use of the different parts mango tree for the treatment of diarrhea, constipation, cough, bronchitis, fever, hemorrhoids, inflammation of the gums, scurvy and intestinal worms.

Community development staff from our Tanzanian partner African Inland Church of Tanzania (AICT), heard about the bondage people were under to the medicine man and the belief in witchcraft in this village. Many people from surrounding villages knew what was happening in Stephan’s village because they also travelled to this village to consult with the medicine man. The AICT staff surveyed the village and found a high illiteracy rate (45%). The school was too far away for the children to walk to. There was much sickness and hunger among the villagers. The nearest health clinic was 30 kilometers away, too far for the villagers to walk. This area was also prone to frequent droughts so harvests were poor.

The AICT community development staff asked the village leaders if they would be allowed to come and teach about agriculture from teachings given to them by World Renew staff. They asked if a mobile clinic could come to the village to give free medical care. They asked if one of their Tanzanian pastors could come and hold outdoor church services in the village. The village leaders gave their permission to all the requests.

Stephan and others attended the agricultural teachings. His family came to receive free health care at the mobile clinic that visited the village on a regular basis. Stephan even started to listened to the pastor as he held church services under a mango tree not far from the village. Stephen did not go back to the medicine man, instead he told other people in his village about what he had heard, learned and seen. He wanted these missionaries to come to his village, he wanted his children to be healthy and he wanted to learn good things about agriculture and planting mango trees.

The people in Stephan’s village took what they had learned and are now working together. Through the benefits of the village group savings and loans programs, villagers have built their own small health clinic. The local government then sent a doctor and a nurse to live and help in this village. The people built a school so the children can walk to school. The people at Stephan’s church even started a preschool for the younger children who are not able to walk as far as the older children. Village women come for literacy classes taught by the local pastor’s wife in the new, modest, unfinished church building.  The people learned the benefits of planting mango trees and they did not die! They lived!


Stephan took Phil, Jannetta and visiting guests of World Renew to his little farm (shamba ). Even in a season of very little rain the shamba is producing enough food to support his family. Stephan attended the Conservation Agriculture trainings he received through our partner organization AICT. We saw the crops and the trees he planted, which improve the fertility of the soil and preserve soil moisture on his farm. We saw the chickens that provide eggs and meat to feed his family. Wherever we looked there was positive change taking place.


Ideas continued to be shared as we stood together in the farmers’ fields. Other villagers eagerly showed us their farms and the changes in yield they were experiencing. Before we left the shambas, in order to hear more testimonies of transformation at the new church building, we stopped to pray for the farmers, their families, their crops, and for the village.

During the month of November, Phil and I have been enjoying fresh mangos. We have made mango jam, mango crisp and have eaten fresh mangos with yogurt every day. Just outside our compound gate in Mwanza, school children throw stones at the mango trees so the fruit will fall on the ground and they can eat a mango on their way to school.

Since 2012, the mango tree has become a metaphor for new life in Stephan’s village. With Stephan, we look at the mango tree with new meaning because God used the mango tree to bring life, physically and spiritually, to people in an isolated village in northern Tanzania.

The remembrance of the birth of Christ at Christmas is also a celebration of new life in Jesus Christ. In John 10:10 Jesus Christ says, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full” The people in Stephan’s village heard and believed this message. They planted mango trees and live. Jesus has become for this village “the way, the truth and the life,” as He says in John 14:6.

This Christmas season may you also experience the transformation that takes place in your lives because of the birth of Jesus Christ. Thank you for your prayer and financial support for the work of World Renew in Tanzania.


Merry Christmas and a Blessed 2017.  

Phil and Jannetta VandenBerg.  

World Renew TZ.