The plane makes its final descent into Kilimanjaro International Airport, the runway stretches
into the African plain and the nation’s most famous landmark soars on the horizon. I gaze out
the window, reflecting on my previous trips here. There is a quiet security that comes in
familiarity half way around the planet.
Then, something new startles me. Three crimson ribbons sprawl across the dusty, beige
An African woman dismounts the plane ahead of me, her suitcase jolting on each aluminum step of the portable stairway. Looking beyond her, I can see the magnitude of the three crimson ribbons of carpet. Each are lined with dozens of attendants, standing with shoulders squares and heads erect. Someone is about to get the red-carpet treatment. But who?
I make my way to customs, and the customs officer growls, “Purpose of visit?” I answer,
“Visiting my friends, sir.” He looks at the visa in my passport, “Your previous visa expires in two days. That will be $100 for a new visa, Mr. Steve.”
Smiling, I reply, “I guess I should have visited my friends last week.” The customs officer
flashes a wide smile, “You are so right, Mr. Steve. But, keribu, welcome to Tanzania.” Keribu
One final backward glance reveals that the attendants are still standing guard on their crimson
carpet, sweltering in the African heat. Who are they waiting for? I later find out at dinner
the next day.
My first of my dinner guests to arrive are Moses and Mary, who live in Arusha, not far from my hotel. Mary is the daughter of a dear friend I see each Sunday at College Church, Moses Magwasela, archbishop in Tanzania, graduate student at Wheaton College. It is a delight to meet Mary, like father like daughter.
Though close by, Moses and Mary arrive a bit late, apologizing that the traffic was horrible. We wait for our other dinner guest, Pastor Joseph, a ministry colleague of Moses. The hour grows late, and we decide to begin our meal without him. As we finish dessert, Pastor Joseph arrives.
“I have never seen traffic like this in all my years,” he exclaims. “We were stopped on the side of the road for over an hour. Motorcades passed by, one after another. So many!”
The mystery of the crimson carpet is about to be solved. “Who was in the motorcade?” I ask.
“The East African Community (EAC) presidents met today in Arusha,” Joseph answers.
Indeed, they did. A quick Google search turns up the following: “The Presidents of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan held a February 1 summit meeting in Arusha, the headquarters of the East African Community (EAC).”
The summit was canceled twice in the last three months and finally met on Friday night. Why didn’t they check my dinner schedule?
These leaders meet to solve world problems. “The Burundi/Rwanda relations are not on the agenda. We are dealing with the issue bilaterally with Uganda. Items on the agenda include the resolution of long outstanding non-tariff barriers, the roadmap for the accelerated integration of South Sudan into the EAC, the verification exercise for the admission of the Republic of Somalia into the EAC” and so forth. Important items no doubt.
Now I know why that unmarked, white jumbo jet landed at the airport shortly after my arrival.
The important people finally landed, presidents, after all. The power brokers, the people who really matter, the ones who will solve all Africa’s problems. Or will they?
Tomorrow I land again at Kilimanjaro International Airport, retracing my flight pattern on the way home. By now, the carpets will be rolled up and stored in some dusty hangar, until they are rolled out again for a different list of power brokers. Same carpets, different shoes. But who are the people who truly matter?
The past ten days of my fourth trip to Tanzania convinces me that it will take someone greater than presidents to solve these problems, someone who also has different feet on the ground..
The prophet Isaiah wrote, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’ The voice of your watchmen — they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy” (Isaiah 52:7,8a).
I have spent the week with the watchmen. The publishers. The bringers of good news I heard their voices preach and their hearts sing. Their feet know no crimson carpets and likely never will in this life. But God says their feet are beautiful. Period. That is all that matters. One day they will be given something better than a dusty carpet. They will be given the real royal treatment.
What’s better than a crimson carpet from the airport warehouse? How about
this: “And when the Chief Shepherd appears you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1
Peter 5:4). Presidential carpets come and go, pastoral crowns never fade. They will never be taken away.