Tuesday, October 28, 2014

God ain't dead.

Someone I love was hurt the other day, and it hurts me. The next day, a close colleague lost his beloved grandson, his six-year old namesake, the little boy he was raising as his own child. Another friend is trapped in a situation of abuse and manipulation. While there is tremendous beauty and resilience here in Zambia, the reality of pain and loss is never far away.

It reminds me of a sermon illustration from James DeLoach, "Some time ago I saw a picture of an old burned-out mountain shack. All that remained was the chimney...the charred debris of what had been that family's sole possession. In front of this destroyed home stood an old grandfather-looking man dressed only in his underclothes with a small boy clutching a pair of patched overalls. It was evident that the child was crying. Beneath the picture were the words which the artist felt the old man was speaking to the boy. They were simple words, yet they presented a profound theology and philosophy of life. Those words were, 'Hush child, God ain't dead!'

"That vivid picture of that burned-out mountain shack, that old man, the weeping child, and those words 'God ain't dead' keep returning to my mind. Instead of it being a reminder of the despair of life, it has come to be a reminder of hope. I need reminders that there is hope in this world. In the midst of all of life's troubles and failures, it is a mental picture to remind us that all is not lost as long as God is alive." 

My friends know that God is alive. And so they get up in the morning, they dry their tears, and they continue the work of building God's kingdom on earth. We need our time for weeping, our time for sorrow, but we also need those words like we need air to breathe. Hush, child, God's ain't dead. That is the air I breathe, the hope I have, and the faith I have learned from the people around me. 

I ask you to please pray, for me and my family, for my friends who are in pain, for all those who suffer in unbearable ways. Because God ain't dead, those prayers matter. So thank you, friends. Thank you.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


We are in the dry season right now, which means we have not seen rain in over six months. Not a drop. The boreholes are drying up, the shallow wells are nonfunctional, and the heat is extreme. October and November are the hottest months of the year, and we certainly don’t live in a land of air conditioning.

Last week, I was sick for awhile. In the middle of the night, I woke up, sweaty and nauseous, my mouth dry, my body screaming for water. I went into the kitchen, but the tap was off, as usual. I walked towards our reserve water buckets. They were empty; Joel had bathed the children, and there was no water to refill our supply. I looked for a half empty glass, scoured the fridge for a forgotten sip in a bottle, but with no luck. There was not a drop of water in the house - no clean water, no dirty water, no water at all. My mouth tasted like sandpaper, and my stomach continued to churn. But there was nothing to do; I decided to try my best to sleep. I knew that I would be able to get water in the morning.

But there are a lot of people who can’t just get water the next morning. A lot of people who wait and wait for rain to come. A lot of people who pray that the borehole does not dry up. A lot of people who weep as their shallow wells become empty holes. I was sick, and I could not get any water, anywhere. But I knew water would come in the morning. Others are sick, and they cannot get any water, anywhere. And they don’t know when water will come. 

No matter where I live in the world, I hope I never forget the frustration, and sometimes desperation, that I feel when I turn on the tap and nothing comes out. I hope I never forget the feeling in my body, when I want water desperately, and I simply can’t find any. I hope I never forget how hot and dirty and sweaty and sticky and tired and nauseous and weak and sad and dried up it can feel, when the water does not come. I hope I never forget these things, especially if I end up living in a place where long, hot showers are always possible, where the water that flows from the faucet is cold and clean and abundant. 

The dry season will end in a few months. Because of climate change, it lasts longer now than it did five years ago. Less rain, fewer crops, drier land. But the rain will come, and the wells will fill again, and after seven months of parched bodies, parched mouths, parched crops, water will flow again. 

There is always hope, always possibility, always promise. The rain will come. But in the waiting, in the parched land and parched lives that stretch on and on, there is pain, there is suffering, there is death. For most people here don’t have the privilege we have; most people here cannot just buy water when their supply runs out. 

And so we must do something, those of us who come from places where water is wasted and taken for granted. People like me, who lived in Michigan, the land of lakes. We must try to imagine a thirst that is so deep and powerful and all consuming, that we are desperate, absolutely desperate, for just a sip of water. Then we must transform that thirst into a thirst for justice, into our own thirst, a desperate need for a world where there is enough for all. And through that thirst, through that need, through that desperation on behalf of our sisters and brothers, we do something. We fight. For water, for food, for justice. We shout the words of our faith, "But let justice roll down like water, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." (Amos 5:24)

Below are links to two wonderful organizations, working to make sure that justice rolls down like water. The first is our organization, CCAP Zambia, and offers an opportunity to contribute to our Protected Water Department. The second is Church World Service, and you can purchase jerry cans, wells, filters, water pumps, and other items, to bring water to those who are thirsty. Finally, you can take action on climate change, which is causing tremendous pain for the most vulnerable, thirsty people in the world. The link at the bottom of the page will lead you to a petition and an action page.

As I write these words, I am thirsty. And although our water is currently off, we have some reserved in buckets in our kitchen, and I can drink until I am satisfied. There are too many people who do not have this privilege. So, let’s work together to create the kingdom, friends. Let justice roll down like water. Amen.    

Church of Central Africa Presbyterian, Synod of Zambia: Protected Water Department

Church World Service: The Gift of Water

Church World Service: Sign the petition and pledge to take action on climate change

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Cat, the Rat, the Goat, and a Hundred Chickens

So, a goat moved in next door. A very loud goat. And while it is fun to peek over the fence and see its beard and horns, it is somewhat inconvenient that the goat chooses to lament his situation very early in the morning. At some point, I am sure, we will be no longer be troubled by the noise of this particular goat, but at that time, we will probably have some deeply sad children, as the neighbors consume their cute gray friend.

However, in my office, there is another gray companion who is not so cute, and really not a friend. He appeared running around the rafters, an enormous rat a few feet above me; yesterday and today, he decided that the area right above my desk is a good place to hang out. As I pointed out our visitor to my colleague, he suggested that we get the cat. It took a little while, because the cat didn’t want to enter, but after some time, we were able to shut the cat and the rat in my office, while I waited patiently outside for the execution to take place. It didn’t.

Instead, the rat escaped into the chicken coop attached to my office, where it terrorized a hundred chickens, all of whom are waiting to be killed in the next seven days. The red truck appears, the chickens get loaded, and the number slowly dwindles. They are now fully grown, so this flock will soon disappear. In any case, after the rat ran around with the chickens, and the cat gave up in disgust, I returned to my office, and we continued our work on a grant application. This particular grant would offer funding for an income-generating project, to sustain feeding programs in five of our community schools. 

Many of you know that our family is vegetarian; Joel and I haven’t eaten meat in fifteen years, and our children have been vegetarian their whole lives. And so, the impending doom of the goat, the chickens, and even the rat should disturb me. But it doesn’t. So many things are different here, and different now. So many of my thoughts are gray and uncertain. I am delighted that the chickens are being sold and slaughtered; the income from their sale will support amazing projects in the church. And our neighbor, the goat, will provide protein for people who need it. And I am glad the rat is gone, dead or alive, so that my colleague and I can continue working on a vital grant application, to feed children who are very vulnerable.

I love the way I am challenged here, the way my assumptions and way of life are questioned by the circumstances that I live in. My theology, my world view, my issues with trust and self-confidence, my dogmatic perspectives...almost all of the truths in my life have been expanded and nuanced through daily life in a developing country, with peers who see the world in phenomenally different ways than I do.

In any case, I am not going to mourn the goat, or the chickens, or the rat (if the cat finally does her job). Instead, I am going to celebrate getting the grant application done. I am going to celebrate the young adult volunteers working in the community schools. I am going to celebrate the initial stages of translating the curriculum. I am going to celebrate the HIV/AIDS youth training. There is a lot to celebrate here, and a rat-free office is one of them, God willing.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Building Together

Take a look at what our partners are building in Zambia....

And check out the new Synod website that Joel built...

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Jumping In

It is a good thing that laughing in church is a perfectly acceptable behavior here, because I couldn't control the tears of mirth flowing from my eyes, and Joel simply doubled over in a coughing fit brought on by too much laughter. The source: one of the YAVs passed over her camera as we were waiting for worship to start. On the camera was a video of her dancing at a Zambian wedding. It was funny. Really funny.

It wasn't that she was dancing in a particularly humorous way. Instead, it was because she was dancing for all she was worth in front of a crowd of strangers, who were also laughing hysterically, while moving forward, to join in her dance. This was her explanation, "Well, they asked me to come forward and dance, and I figured I could just do some simple swaying from side to side. Or, I could really dance. I decided to just go for it." The crowd of strangers soon became friends, as person after person came forward, among cheers and laughter and shouts.

These past two weeks, the three young women have decided to just go for it, over and over again. They immersed themselves in a village stay, spending three nights sleeping on woven mats, hauling water from streams, learning to grind maize by hand, learning to eat properly and sit properly and dance properly. They have led Bible studies and given speeches. They have learned to wrap chitenges and eat with their hands. With only two weeks in Zambia, they have stood in front of hundreds of people, to offer their greetings in Chichewa. These three YAVs know what it is to jump right in, to choose courage over fear, to just go for it.

Even after two years here, I still worry about getting it right. Before I stand up in front of a congregation, my stomach rumbles with nerves: Will I get the grammar right? What if I forget the Chichewa word? Can I remember the order for a proper greeting? There are even times when I have avoided eye contact, in hopes that I am not asked to stand and address a church. 

And yet, when I do, something amazing happens. It is not that I get it right. In fact, I frequently get it very, very wrong, especially when I try to branch out and try a Timbuka word or two. But when this happens, and the congregation is roaring with laughter, because I said the word for "forgiveness" while acting out the word for "tree," I am laughing, too. Being wrong is not the problem, but being scared of other people...well, that is a problem.

I am so proud of these three young women, who are willing to risk being wrong, who are willing to risk looking silly, who are willing to risk discomfort, in order to build something beautiful, to trust a community with their vulnerability. They have not had an easy two weeks. But they have certainly jumped right in, with singing, with dancing, and with lots and lots of laughter. It bodes very well for their year in Zambia. 

When we offer ourselves, our real, silly, crazy, fun, flawed, grammatically insufficient selves, that is when laughter and love flow. That is when we show that instead of being scared of one another, we are united with one another. Brothers and sisters dancing our lives, calling one another into the dance. I am grateful for the inspiration of these young women, and for the reminder that being vulnerable, being real, is what leads to real relationship. And I am also really grateful for that video. Because it was funny. Really funny.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

YAVs arrived. Curriculum approved. Resources distributed. Kari happy.

It has been an amazing four months. From May-August, I have been able to visit all 13 presbyteries in the Synod of Zambia, traveling all over the country with beloved colleagues to present on our curriculum and HIV/AIDS resources. We have held four curriculum trials, and prepared orientation for the Young Adult Volunteers, who are coming to spend one year teaching in our community schools. We have collected, printed, and selected resources for our HIV/AIDS portable libraries. Together, with dedicated colleagues, we have prepared for this past week.

And now, in the past six days, we have arrived in a beautiful place: The YAVs are here (arrived Tuesday), HIV/AIDS resources were distributed (at Synod meeting on Thursday), the Curriculum was approved (at Synod meeting on Friday), and Kari is happy and Kari is exhausted (as of worship this morning.) But mostly happy...(and getting ready for leading orientation during the month of September.)

Rebecca and Devin meeting with Rev. Muwowo

Hannah meeting with the Stewardship Committee

Reuniting with clergy friends

YAVs resting after a long day!

Preparing for the formal introduction to CCAP, Synod of Zambia

I get the honor of introducing these wonderful young women!

The curriculum approval - and a happy me!

At the market

Three happy YAVs

At worship in Rebecca's home community, Mtendere

Rev. Phiri welcoming Frankie and Johnny

Another welcome for the YAVs

Rev. Phiri with his "daughter" Rebecca, who will be staying with his family

Friday, August 22, 2014

Rural Running

When it takes seventeen hours of driving through the bush to arrive at a village, it is a pretty safe bet that you won’t run into other Americans. In fact, in this particular area, my white skin stood out so much that fingers pointed, adults stared, and children swarmed. One woman asked twice if she could have my skin. I was not sure how to respond either time, except to say that I was pretty sure it would hurt a lot if I tried to take my skin off. And that her skin was quite lovely as it was. She laughed, and so did I. 

Race, privilege, socio-economic status....all these things are stark here, and this woman wanted my privilege. I understood, and despite the laughter, I was once again reminded of the privilege that I never earned, and was simply granted by virtue of my birth. So, I could handle the stares, the swarming, the fingers pointing. It was a reminder of the things I have that I never earned. No, white skin is not better than brown skin. But my white skin told everyone in that village that I had access to things they could never even touch. 

After three days, we moved on to the next town, three hours away. It was a bit bigger; and this rest house had actual toilets, instead of an outdoor squat latrine. It also had electricity, so I was feeling quite excited. But after all the travel, I really wanted to run. In the last village, I had done my exercises in the cramped room within the guest house. But here, I wondered if I could get away with actually running outside.

I asked my colleague, a pastor who had once served in this area. He gave me a weary look. “The children will run after you, and all the adults will be so surprised.” I nodded. It was fine; I could continue to exercise in my room. But Moses, our driver, had a suggestion. “I can drive you outside of the village, and you can run in the bush.” My colleague was concerned, “You will watch her?” Moses nodded and smiled, “I will watch, but I cannot run. I do not have the proper attire.” We all agreed that this was a very kind solution, and I thanked Moses for his generous offer.

A few hours later, after I had changed into running shoes, running clothes, grabbed my iPod, and filled my water bottle, I climbed in the truck. We drove to the edge of town. Moses parked the car. I set my timer and my music and took off, promising to be back in thirty minutes.  

As I ran, the red dirt path wandered over a tropical landscape, banana trees bending in the strong wind. After some time, I passed a very small village, five houses made of mud, covered in thatch. People stared, children waved, and I continued on. 

A little while later, I passed a group of women. They were carrying trees. Not logs - trees. Huge trunks over their shoulders, enough weight to curve their backs as they struggled up the hill. Through the headphones, my music continued to blare, as I greeted the women, bent with their labor. 

When it was about time to turn around, I encountered a work crew. A large group of men, covered in sweat and dirt, carrying picks and shovels. I was far from the truck, Moses couldn’t see me, and I was in the middle of nowhere. I smiled at the workers, they gave me bewildered greetings, and I continued on.

As I ran back towards the truck, I thought about the women carrying tree trunks up and down these hills; the men pounding away at the rocks with heavy picks; children walking miles with buckets of water on their heads. I chose to run and sweat in these hills; they did not choose their backbreaking labor. I listen to music and time my run; they listen to birds sing and hope there is time to get home and do all the chores that await them.

I have the running gear, running clothes, iPod, water bottle, and even a driver who will take me out of town to run on the red dirt. When I return to the rest house, I will eat a granola bar and bathe. Now, it is true that I didn’t have running water for three days. It is true that my only toilet was a shared, outdoor, squat latrine. But it is also true that there was a woman to bring me a bucket of warm water for bathing, and it is also true that in my current guest house, I have electricity most of the time, and running water for a few glorious hours each day. 

Perhaps the most important truth of all this is that I can choose. I can choose to sweat in the hills, or I can choose to rest in my room. I can choose to travel to a remote area of Zambia and deal with squat latrines and bucket bathing, or I can choose to live in luxury and never worry about water, toilets, and electricity. I can choose my career, and I can choose to never carry an entire tree on my back. I can even choose what music I want to listen to, as I run over the red land in my proper attire.

And so, when the woman tells me that she wants my skin, I am reminded that it is not fair. It is ridiculous that my skin, my birth, my origin, gives me so much privilege, so much choice, so much freedom, when her skin, her birth, her origin, limits her options and forces her into a life of illiteracy and poverty.

They make me uncomfortable, these realities. But running makes me uncomfortable, too. And I think they are both healthy things. Struggling with the reality of our privilege is a healthy thing. And while my rural run made me uncomfortable in many ways, I am grateful for the discomfort that it brought. Because we have a choice, with the privilege we have, to work for justice. We have a choice, with the privilege we have, to do something. So let’s all get uncomfortable and do something healthy with our lives - to seek justice, to love mercy, to run humbly with our God.

If you are feeling uncomfortable, check out these links:
Donate to empower women through our organization: http://www.presbyterianmission.org/donate/E051151/
Donate to address global poverty through our organization:
Donate to address global health through Partners in Health: 
Advocate for food aid through Bread for the World:

 *As a post script, Moses decided to run with me the next day. He lapped me, while wearing loose sandals, brown work pants, and an enormous smile.