Friday, September 21, 2012


My current title is Discipleship and Church Growth Specialist for the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP), Synod of Zambia. And it is particularly interesting for me to go into a growing, vibrant, remarkably healthy denomination, and serve as a church growth specialist. They are already growing in tremendous ways, and while I believe that the churches I have served have grown during my ministry, I am not sure they have grown in the way that CCAP Zambia has. And so I wonder, looking at CCAP Zambia, why I would be called in as a church growth specialist? Reading their Strategic Plan was certainly a humbling experience!

CCAP-Zambia grew from 16 congregations in 1984 to 67 in 2010; from 16,000 members in 1984 to 63,450 in 2010. In 1984, there were only 4 ministers in CCAP Zambia and now there are 57, with more in seminary. They are an energized, vibrant church. And this is reflected not only in numbers. Here is what they are doing in regard to mission work, from their recent strategic plan:

"We will preach the word of God, and provide education, health, and agriculture services to the church and society."

In those areas, these are their accomplishments, as of 2011:
  • Education: 14 mission schools and 21 community schools
  • Health: 1 rural health Center, 1 under construction, implementing new CHE programs
  • Water and Sanitation: 434 shallow wells as of Feb 2010
  • HIV/AIDS Department: 17 Day Care Centers and 22 Home Based Care Centers
  • Agriculture: Hiring staff to help families become self sustainable in terms of food security
In their HIV/AIDS Department, they are addressing the following goals:
  • Conducting regular workshops to raise awareness, training medical staff on HIV/AIDS
  • Developing educational materials on HIV/AIDS in the 7 major languages of Zambia
  • Providing equipment for HIV testing
  • Training personnel in counseling skills
  • Ensuring supplies of ARV drugs at clinics
  • Educating pastors on HIV/AIDS; requesting that clergy preach 2-3 times a year on HIV
  • Encouraging people living with HIV and AIDS to experience the love of community and the joy of Christ, as well as medical treatment 

I feel incredibly blessed to be working with this denomination; still relatively small, but growing by leaps and bounds. Only 67 churches, and yet they are doing all this wonderful work for God? That is amazing, exhilarating growth and energy!

And so, here is what I hope to offer. I hope that I can grow right along with the denomination, and as my faith deepens and expands, I can help other people deepen and expand their faith, as well. As I see the tremendous gifts of this church, I hope that I can help other people see these gifts, and invite them in. As we work together to serve God's people and create change in the world, I hope that I can call others to join with us, to be a part of this amazing body of Christ, in this particular location in the world. I hope that we will all grow, as we watch God perform miracles in Zambia.

I do trust that God can work through me, and that God is awesome enough to enable me to do the work that I am called to do in Zambia. One thing I am pretty sure of, though, is that I will be the one growing; blessed and grateful, as we all grow together.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Boom Bands are playing...

Praise God with trumpet sound;praise God with lute and harp! Praise God with tambourine and dance; praise God with strings and pipe! Praise God with clanging cymbals; praise God with loud crashing cymbals! Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!" Psalm 150:3-6

It feels like the Boom Bands are playing; like we have left the waiting place, and we are now in a place of joy, gratitude and praise! We had great news about Johnny's new medicine; it looks like it may be even more effective than his previous prescription. His blood test came back better than before, and we are so very, very grateful. Now, we know that we can access all the meds he needs while we are in Zambia, and that these meds will keep him healthy and full of life!

We also have our tickets for Lusaka all set to go; we leave on October 16, and arrive on October 18, which makes it so real and so exciting. The boys are enrolled at a wonderful international school in Lusaka, all set to start on October 29; we have a home waiting for us, with a neighbor we already met in Pittsburgh; a very kind friend is in Lusaka, giving us all the info we need; and the wonderful people at Church of Central Africa Presbyterian, Synod of Zambia, have already been warm and welcoming via Skype and phone conversations. It is so very real, and so very exciting!

As I look around, with gratitude so deep it almost overflows, I am reminded of one of my favorite prayers, that I thought I would share with you today:

"Days pass and the years vanish, and we walk sightless among miracles.  Lord, fill our eyes with seeing and our minds with knowing; let there be moments when Your Presence, like lightning, illumines the darkness in which we walk.  Help us to see, wherever we gaze, that the bush burns unconsumed. And we, clay touched by God, will reach out for holiness, and exclaim in wonder: How filled with awe is this place, and we did not know it!  Blessed is the Eternal One, the holy God!" (Gates of Prayer)

May we all see miracles today, God's light illuminating the darkness in which we walk, the bush burning unconsumed. Let us feel wonder and awe and blessing. Thanks for walking this journey with us.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Waiting Place

Number of hours until we get Johnny's test results: 41 hours
Number of days until we leave for Zambia: 37 days

Yes, my world has revolved around waiting lately. I am counting the hours until we find out about Johnny's new medication. Is it effective? Is he healthy? Will this work for us in Zambia? 41 hours to go. I am in the Waiting Place.

I am counting the days until we leave for Zambia. Will we ever really go? Will we have everything ready? What is the best method for purifying water? Where can I get good solar lamps? 37 days to go. I am in the Waiting Place.

It would seem so much more appropriate if we were in Advent. I love that expectant wait: for the birth of the Holy Child, for Love to become Flesh, for God to be incarnate in the world. Preparing for the arrival of Jesus as I prepared for my son's birth. Make room for that which is new and exciting and holy and mysterious. Wait and wonder and prepare, knowing that a good thing, an amazing thing, transformation, new on its way.

But now it feels like the end of my pregnancy, when I was two weeks overdue for my oldest child, and all I wanted was to go into labor. Get here, already! I am sick of waiting! I want to meet you! Get born, little boy; get born THIS SECOND!

Oh, Dr. Seuss, I know exactly what you are talking about, sitting here in the waiting place...
"…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go or the mail to come, or the rain to go or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow or waiting around for a
Yes or a No or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.
Waiting for the fish to bite or waiting for wind to fly a kite or waiting around for
Friday night or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake or a pot to boil, or a Better Break or a sting of pearls, or a pair of pants or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.
NO! That’s not for you!
Somehow you’ll escape all that waiting and staying.
You’ll find the bright places
where Boom Bands are playing.
With banner flip-flapping, once more you’ll ride high!
Ready for anything under the sky."

When I combine Dr. Seuss logic, with my faith in Jesus Christ (which I tend to weigh much more heavily!), I can be pretty sure that those bright places are on the other side of this waiting, that once more I will ride high. The waiting will be over, and the day will come, when I will hear that Johnny's medication is effective, that my child is healthy and doing well, that it is time - time to go serve God in Zambia, time to experience God's love in Lusaka. In the midst of the waiting, I have the promise of a faithful God to see me though.

The Waiting Place is not my favorite place. One thing that has helped, A LOT, is knowing that so many people are praying for our family. Thank you for praying for Johnny's test results. I carry those prayers, your presence, and the presence of our amazing God, into our doctor's appointment on Wednesday. Thank you for praying for our ministry in Zambia. I carry those prayers, your presence, and the presence of our amazing God, as we begin to pack up bins, sort through donations, and say our good-byes. Your prayers, and your presence, matter to me. And even though it is not very fun, they make The Waiting Place just a little bit more bearable!

I hope that if you are waiting for something right now, you can also hold onto the hope that something is coming, that God is being born, somewhere, in some way, for you, too!

God bless,

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Dodgeball Camp

This was our third summer at Dodgeball Camp, and probably our last one for quite awhile, as I doubt there is Dodgeball Camp in Zambia. But, as our date for departure approaches, it felt important to have one last family time at our favorite campground, which offers not only Dodgeball, but Pudding Slip and Slides, Candy Cannons,  Dangling Donuts, Glowstick Parades, Wet and Wild Wagon Rides, Face Painting, Rock Painting, and all the normal fun camping stuff, like swimming, campfires, and s'mores. It is a crazy camp, with different fun and totally ridiculous children's activities every hour or so.

As I was enjoying Dodgeball Camp, watching candy literally rain from the sky during the Candy Canon, I was also reading The Unheard: A Memoir of Deafness and Africa by Josh Swiller, which takes place in the mid-90s in Zambia. Swiller was a Peace Corps volunteer in Mununga, a village on the shores of Lake Mweru. I am almost done with the book, and its images wreaked havoc with my mind, as I watched overfed children eat donuts off a dangling rope, faces covered in powdered sugar.

In Swiller's memoir, two-year old twins starve to death, as their mother watches helplessly. In Swiller's memoir, a ten year old boy lays on the floor of a hut, slowing dying from meningitis. In Swiller's memoir, three or four children die in the village every day during rainy season, victims of malaria. In Swiller's memoir, the clinic pharmacy is a "small, windowless room no bigger than a hot tub...There were three long shelves of drugs and vitamins, mostly aspirin, and a crate of condoms covered in dust - this was the total pharmaceutical supply for about fifty thousand people." And so, people die, because there is not enough food, there is not enough medicine, there is not enough clean water. Swiller tells the story of a strong, vibrant, loving people, for whom death, hunger, and disease are constant companions.

In many ways, there are reasons to be hopeful as we prepare to do health ministry in Zambia. This memoir reflects a Zambia that existed 18 years ago; since then there have been significant developments in health. According to the World Health Organization, the total expenditure on health in Zambia has more than doubled since 1995, the under-5 mortality rate has decreased significantly, and there is a slight improvement in the percentage of people accessing clean water. At the same time, the horrifying realities that Swiller describes are still lived, day-to-day realities for many people: disease, hunger, death. In the rainy season, children die of malaria; as a matter of fact, it causes more deaths that HIV. The probability of having your child die before the age of 5 years old is 141 in 1000.  And the life expectancy in Zambia is 39 years old. These realities are hard for us to imagine, and yet, they are inescapable for many people.

As I watched my children enjoy being very spoiled at an extravagant camp, I questioned my decision to bring them to this camp again. Why should they be allowed to slip and slide through chocolate pudding, while other children have to choose between stealing and starving? And then, I consider that pretty soon, they will move to a completely different country, where they will face significant challenges. They will have trouble understanding the culture, the language, their new friends. They are leaving their home, their grandparents, their cousins, their school, their dog, everything that is familiar to them. Should I let them have this one last weekend at a camp that they love?

I don't think there are clear answers for those of us who live lives of privilege. We do make choices that affect whether other people live and die; when we spend money on ourselves, it is money that we could invest in mosquito nets or HIV/AIDS programs. When we choose an expensive vacation, we are choosing not to send those funds to assist in maternal health. At the same time, God did not create us to live lives of guilt and self-loathing. God wants us all to experience joy and fun. And so, we are left with questions. How much should I spend on myself and my children, and how much should I give away? What do I do with my privilege, and how can God use me to transform the world?

I don't have good answers to the questions, and even as I prepare to move to Zambia, I still face a lot of guilt and confusion. Do I really need to buy a nice, new camera before we move? Do we truly need fancy pots and pans in our Lusaka kitchen? These are questions that will not leave us, and they are important questions to ask. What lines are we willing to draw? What are we willing to give up? Where can we give more, and take less?

We really did love Dodgeball Camp, and I am glad we went. But I will also take the money that we spent on that camp, and donate the same amount of money to an organization helping hungry children. That is one way that I can reconcile my spending; one answer that works for me. What answers work for you?