Zambia Summary

One of the blessings I was able to experience was an opportunity to meet with President George Bush and First Lady Laura Bush as a representative of our team the day before we left for Africa to discuss what faith based groups were doing in Africa to combat the AIDS epidemic and what more we as a country and this administration could do for the people of Africa (We are already doing a lot I discovered). It was one of the most special days of my life and an incredible way to kick off our journey. I would encourage you to click here where you can read my summary of that meeting.

Many people have been asking what we did on the trip, but I am going to try to explain to you what we experienced, which was much more profound. Many people also have asked why we would go and do this in the first place.

The secondary reasons for all of the 16 team members who went are varied and actually quite interesting, but the primary reason we all went was a calling in our lives from the Spirit of God to go and serve the least of these. For me God had been calling on me to stretch in my service and to “get uncomfortable” in my outreach. When I saw the opportunity to go to Sub Saharan Africa to work with children who had been orphaned by AIDS, I knew this was where God wanted me to be, and in the coming months He confirmed that decision in ways I can scarcely believe. I learned how glorious life can be when you are operating firmly in God’s will for your life.

It began with our team. Somehow a group of 15 other people who I had literally never set eyes on before was molded into a close knit group that was more like a family before we even left for Zambia. When we arrived in Zambia I received my first lesson on perspective. It was apparently the beginning of the rainy season, and as we were in our first meeting with our hosts, the good people of the World Hope organization in Choma (our home base), we experienced an amazing display of torrential rain. It was pounding so loud on the tin roof it was almost impossible for us to hear one another talk. Now placed in this situation we as Americans would grumble about how this would change our outdoor plans or spoil our newly washed car or just generally inconvenience us. Not so the Zambians. When I commented on the ferocity of the rain one of the volunteers leaned over to me and said “To us, rain means food”. Wow.

During this briefing we learned in great detail the many challenges facing the people of Zambia. They are indeed daunting. 1 in 4 Zambians are infected with HIV, the disease which causes AIDS, and the number one means of transmission now is mother to child. An entire generation of Zambians is being wiped out by the disease, leaving a huge number of parentless children and only grandparents and elders to care for them. 87% of the people of Zambia live on less than $2 a day. Given the daunting nature of their lives, one could not blame a Zambian for questioning the wisdom of bothering to get out of bed in the morning. What we discovered to our amazement however is that this is not the case.

We found a pervasive sense of optimism and yes, even joy, completely at odds with the reality of their circumstances. I was fascinated with this, but not surprised when I learned the answer. Without the gift (and indeed sometimes the curse) of self-reliance the people of Zambia are forced to point their hearts towards God, fully reliant, fully trusting, and fully committed to Him. They lean into Him in a way we here in the States find difficult to conceptualize. It is as if they are leaning on Him for support, and were He to step away they would fall flat on their faces. I saw many examples, some of which I will detail, of God honoring that commitment to His people. Despite their difficulties, things are improving in Zambia, in some ways dramatically, much of it the result of direct efforts of the people of God or through the governments that represent them. I came home hopeful and optimistic rather than despairing.

One of the first things we did after arriving was to travel to a secluded village to help them plant a garden. When we arrived on our bus we were greeted by the entire village brightly attired and singing and clapping like it was the President arriving. We were blown away by the exuberance and genuineness of the greeting. We went to a modest sized mud building which was their church and had a rousing praise and worship service. Let me tell you, it seems that every Zambian has an amazing voice and unlimited energy when it is time to praise God. We tried to keep up as best we could, but even while being carried along by the Spirit we couldn’t quite manage it. This taught me a cool and valuable lesson. Zambians sing and worship quite loudly but speak very quietly. We Americans of course tend to speak loudly and sing meekly. We are working on that one.

Then we went out to work in the gardens where we were promptly put to shame by a woman who could be my grandmother and who had as many arms as teeth. We tried valiantly to keep up but to no avail. It was fun laboring together digging, weeding, planting, and in something that really caught my attention, watering. In the middle of the garden was a simple hand pump for a well that had been dug a couple of years ago, and I asked the pastor and sort of honorary village headman about this. He grabbed my arm and would not let go as he took me around and with great pride told me about the impact that well had and the plans the village had for the future centered around that little well. The first year after the well was dug they were just able to grow enough food to feed themselves. The next year they were able to expand the garden and grow enough to sell some to buy more seed for the next year and some books for the school. This next year they were planning to expand even more to provide for more things in the village. The importance of clean water not only for health and in some cases survival but for prosperity is a lesson that was drilled deeply into me.

Another day we visited a co-op, which are economic units that neighboring villages put together to work on raising animals and growing crops and sharing the proceeds, usually in coordination with one of the faith based groups operating in Zambia. It was fun and quite humbling. I got to plow some fields behind two oxen. It looked easy but then a couple of 8 year old boys did it twice as fast and twice as well, terminally damaging my self esteem. The women would then walk behind us after we plowed and drop in maze (corn) seeds. Apparently the gals were putting them either too close together or too far apart as I heard one of the Zambian women proclaim “You are not very good at this”. The point is that physically I think we were of very limited help (save as comic relief) but the impact on them emotionally and spiritually was clearly evident. They were so excited that people they did not know would fly around the world to spend time with them for no other reason than they served the same God.

After a couple of hours we stopped and were treated to the Zambian equivalent of Gatorade, a tinny drink called Chuwantu that you both drink and chew. I choked down enough so as not to offend, but that was it. By the way, every village we visited we would pay for food for the entire village and they would prepare the meal for everyone. Chicken tastes really good when you were watching it strut around the yard an hour before! True free range. Zambians are very communal people. After the break and the delicious libation I expected us to get back to work, but everyone was packing up to leave. I spoke with the village headman and inquired why with untilled land in every direction, dozens of people there willing to work, and bunches of plows and oxen we didn’t plow another couple of acres. His answer: “Chris, we have no more seed”. It showed me what a fine line life can walk in places like Zambia. For want of a couple of bags of corn seed they were anchored in subsistence rather than moving on to abundance.

The next day was a Sunday so we broke up into 3 groups and had the blessing of going to several different local churches to participate in and enjoy their services and I’m pretty sure I got lucky because mine was one of the most spectacular services I have ever witnessed. Christian church services in Zambia are nothing like here in the states. They go as long as they go, which is dictated by just how far along the pastor and the choir are being carried by the Holy Spirit that day and everyone in the congregation just revels in it! It is timeless and joyous and worshipful and I found it altogether unforgettable. English is the de facto second language of the entire country and there are many, many different dialects as well as more popular languages like Tonga so the pastor, who could not have been a day over 20 and who was attired in an attractive suit (most all of the people were dressed up despite the heat) spoke in English and was immediately and forcefully interpreted in Tongo by his assistant. They had this amazing rhythm and the pastor would speak softly then grow more passionate reaching an incredible crescendo then drop down quietly and then repeat the process over and over. While I was swept up in the fervor and passion of his preaching it was his message which was truly profound as it always is when it has it’s foundation in the scriptures. He spoke about how Jesus sent the disciples out on to the sea of Galilee ahead of him where they encountered a raging storm and of course then walked out on the water to rescue them. The central point was that we have storms in life and that we can count on Jesus to rescue us if we but have faith, but perhaps as importantly He will at times send us into the storms so that we may learn and grow from them. He does this knowing in advance that at the appropriate time after we have cried out to Him He will be there to calm the storm for us. I would travel back to Zambia just to attend another one of those services.

Our next to last day was probably my favorite. We had a huge rally and youth festival at the Machipapa Central Church in Choma with a couple of hundred young people, some of whom walked 2 hours to get there. (How they got the message I don not know). After an hour or two of boisterous singing and dancing (they do that a lot over there) some of our team members got to share their stories as well as the Gospel of Jesus. During that time I was sitting with a group of about 5 boys under the age of 10 who were clearly intimidated by this big “Makua” (white man). However, after I showed them how by pushing some buttons on my chronograph watch you could make the hands move we became fast friends. One boy in particular would just not let go of me. Then some of the children got up to do a skit, and they finished by stepping forward and saying what they were thankful for. Stuff like “Thanks to World Hope I was able to go to school this year, or thanks to World Hope I got my first pair of shoes” At this point I was just about to start bawling and making a scene when up stepped my new little buddy. This was trouble. So he stepped up, pointed at his relatively new cloths and while doing a little jig said “Thanks to World Hope, I look gooood!” Kids are kids the world over.

Then we got to break into groups where the kids got to ask questions about America, and we got some good ones. One boy asked me if all Americans had car chases and ended up in gun battles. Another asked if it was OK to eat engineered food! After that we into a bunch of groups and had some very frank and serious discussions about the AIDS epidemic and what could be done to stem the tide. It was here that I learned the truth that there are some problems that cannot be solved no matter how much money is thrown at them. I have learned that testing and treatment for HIV in stable, responsible countries like Zambia is readily available through American funding through PAPFAR. (Since 2000 the number of people receiving ARV’s (Anti Retral Viral drugs) to prevent HIV from turning into AIDS in Africa has risen from 50,000 to over 2 million, largely through this program). So why weren’t we seeing more results for this? I learned that most of those who reveal that they have the disease are shunned, even though statistically 1 in 4 of those doing the ostracizing have the disease themselves! This of course suppresses diagnosis and treatment. Until the hearts of the people are changed, one at a time, this epidemic will be here to stay. Evil is present everywhere.

After that sobering discussion we got back to the fun, laughing and playing and doing crafts. We couldn’t have had less in common with one another yet it was like we were family. At one point one of the boys grabbed a hold of my forearm and I lifted him up in the air over my shoulder. This recast me as a human jungle gym and I was besieged by a group all wanting a similar ride. This sense of joy was not reserved to the children however. All of the adults appeared to be enjoying things every bit as much as the children.

In addition to the sharing of joy there was also a great deal of shared sorrow. Loss of life and loved ones is an ever present fact of life in Zambia. One of the people I met in Zambia who made the biggest impact on me was a man named Cyrus who works for World Hope. When we were doing our briefing he was sitting there with his computer nicely attired quietly taking notes. He really stuck out to me because he was professional and reserved in his bearing and he had this quiet strength about him. On the last day of our visit he came into the office wearing a suit and he just looked beat down. I asked him how things were going and why he was wearing a suit and he informed me that he had just attended the funeral of his cousin who had died from AIDS and that it was his third funeral of the week. He was standing there with this distant look in his eyes and I had to reach out and hug the man. When I did so I realized that there was just nothing to him. He was healthy and strong but the cloths hid the fact of how lean he was. I was a wreck. I was left pondering the fact that after just a few short weeks I was going home to my life but that Cyrus and folks like him would still be there applying the strength of their faith and their character to the health of their nation, and that there would be many more days that would require a suit and that Cyrus would once again somehow bear up under it. I am still not quite sure what to do with that image, with that truth.

There were many other days and similar lessons that were learned but I would like to close my narrative with a couple of central truths that I learned that you may find of value. The first was the aforementioned sense of family that we all experienced. We got to see and feel firsthand what it meant to have brothers and sisters in Christ first and how little the other differences matter once we were in that family.

The second truth I learned was a new definition of the word “need”. I will not embarrass myself by detailing here what things both tangible and intangible I previously defined as something I “needed”. Most have been recast as “wants” as they should have been in the first place. I have found this very liberating. Needs are things you well…need. Wants you can take or leave. I enjoy getting the wants in their appropriate measure and already some of them are starting to look like needs again so I imagine I am in for a lifelong battle. I’ll just have to harken back to my little buddy who “looked gooooood”.

Finally I got to experience the ministry of “presence” firsthand. I think I understand the term now for the first time. Before going I would have thought the day I spent building a piggery out of bricks was something concrete I had done to contribute to those villagers and would be the most impactful. I would have been wrong. A functioning piggery was nice but with a few more days was something they could have accomplished themselves. The experience and memory of the fact that 16 people they had never met had come half way around the world to meet them, to work and play with them, and to celebrate faith together really, really meant something to them. I could see it in their eyes and I was so grateful that I got a chance to see that look.

You know I had heard lots of fellow missionaries proclaim that in the act of serving the server often received more than the served. I must admit I thought that sounded good but I didn’t really buy it. I now know truer words were never spoken. This trip will never be far from my mind for the rest of my life. My business, personal relationships, stewardship of my finances and attitude in giving and serving have been altered in ways that will last for as long as God leaves me on the earth. I see many future trips to Africa on the horizon with more opportunities to serve and to be served.

I want to thank all of my supporters once more on behalf of myself, my teammates, and the people of Zambia.