Thursday, July 25, 2013

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday...

Rev. Justin Zimba, Esther Phiri Zimba, and Grace Zimba
On Sunday, we sat and talked with a good friend of ours, Rev. Justin Zimba, who has lost three children. He is about the same age as Joel and me, but has already buried three of his five children. On Monday, my supervisor came into the office; he was on his way home from a funeral, having just buried a baby who died of diarrhea. On Tuesday, Elias, our gardener, came to our home with a desperate look on his face. Little Victor, his 10 month old son, had diarrhea and a fever. We gave him money for the hospital, for medicine, for transport, and sent him with our prayers. On Wednesday, when I said hello to our secretary, she told me that her niece had just died. At twenty-five years old, the young woman just suddenly dropped dead because of a treatable heart condition.

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday...It happens every day, with a frequency that can make a person numb. Diarrhea, asthma, lung congestion...How does diarrhea turn into death? How does asthma kill someone? How can a cough be fatal? 

The family supported by Nicolette's church
A few night ago, I was talking with Nicolette, who is our guest for this month, about cancer. She is a pastor in the United States, and deals with cancer on a regular basis. She mentioned that while she has heard of so many people dying of so many diseases here, she does not often hear about cancer in Zambia. While it is true that cancer exists here, it is also true that many people simply don't live long enough to get cancer. They die from other things, like asthma, diarrhea, hunger.

In six days, I will travel back to the United States for some speaking engagements, and for my father's wedding. I will be officiating at the wedding, as I join my father and his fiance in marriage. We will eat a lot, I am sure. We will dance and we will celebrate. I will stay in places where there is constant running water, and be able to choose a hot shower whenever I want it. I will even be able to drink water out of the tap! I will not have to deal with constant power outages, and I won't have to check for snakes whenever I want to take in the laundry. And while we are there, we will get some significant medical work done for both of our children. Our family can just get on a plane and leave behind the constant tragedies we witness here.

It is true, as I have written many times, that when tragedies occur here in Zambia, love pours forth, and people are surrounded with comfort, compassion, and support. I believe it is remarkable and inspiring that the people here are not numb to the pain of death, and they do not just accept that which is unacceptable. Instead, they mourn, they soothe, they show up for funerals and visitations and hospital stays. They bring food, they donate money, they pray, they sing, they sit in silence and solidarity.

But today, that is not enough. I am sick and sad and angry. My children are outside playing with a dozen other kids. These kids laugh and climb and goof around just like any other children. But if my kids get sick, we can get excellent medical care. If their friends get sick, we just have to hope that they survive. Hope and pray.

And so I come back to prayer, back to faith, back to the mystery of a God who loves us and sustains us through tragedy. I can get angry. I can become furious. I can weep with worry and guilt. But my Zambian friends choose to pray. They choose to praise. They choose to trust. They choose to have faith. They believe that there is something bigger than death, a God of love who is with us in life, and beyond. My Zambian friends are certain that there is something more, something bigger, than life itself, and they have found hope in their Christian faith. They believe that the promise of heaven, the assurance of grace, and presence of God, will never fail them. And so they endure, they move forward, they live with pain and are sustained by faith.

I have so much to learn. Today is a day when my faith falters, when my assurance is weak, when my struggles become almost too much. But God loves me anyways, and God is stronger than my frustration, my anger, my sadness. And if God is strong enough, big enough, gracious enough, to see my Zambian friends through their immense pain, then I think that God is strong enough, big enough, gracious enough, to get me through the sadness, too.

Please pray for my friends today, and especially for little Victor Phiri. And may we all pray for a faith that is strong and powerful, as we seek to love God, love God's children, and be God's hands in the world.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A guest post from Nicolette

Perhaps not surprisingly, I was never a boy scout, though I do take seriously the motto "always be prepared."  When packing for a trip, whether for a weekend or a week, I make lists of what to bring with me.  I make lists of clothing, toiletries, devices, and other odds and ends.  I gather everything in one place and use my bed to sort the piles, paring down some things, remembering others at the last minute.  I will bring rain gear and a bathing suit and layers and too many books, and then often come home and figure out that I never used half of what I brought with me. 

The advice I received as I prepared to leave for Zambia was to lay out everything I wanted to bring, then pare it down to only what I needed to bring, then cut that by half.  It's not that I have never had to travel light - as a child my dad would take me camping.  He would carry the food, the tent, the cooking supplies, the sleeping bags, and his clothing.  I would carry my clothes, my teddy bear, and the water.  Usually I gave him the water part way up the mountain. 

However, as I started making the list of what to pack for Lusaka a full month before leaving, I emailed Kari over and over, asking what to bring, what not to bring, what the weather was like, what I would be doing.  I knew that I would be there for about a month, but was reassured that I would have access to things like a washing machine and (usually) running water.  I knew I would have electricity for most of the day, and hot water on most days, and that there were stores though their selections were limited and often expensive.

I intended to fill half a suitcase with my things, and half a suitcase with things to leave in Zambia for Kari, her family, and her church.  In response, my church began collecting crayons, and soon supplied me with 27 pounds of them.  Friends of mission projects in Zambia from Kalamazoo sent additional supplies, so in the end I had one large suitcase weighing 43 pounds filled solely with art supplies, and a much smaller one with my things.  Kari was thrilled that I had brought so much from America to support her work here.  

However, it soon became clear that what seemed like an abundance was also completely inadequate.  What seemed like mountains of crayons actually only worked out to 24 crayons per church, or 4 crayons per prayer house (like a church within a church).  I thought to myself 'we didn't do enough...I should have brought more.'  Knowing I could have brought an additional 7 pounds of supplies and still have been within the airplane weight limit filled me with regret.  

Every day I caught myself saying "I wish I had brought _____ with me" for everything from more crayons and art supplies to chocolate chips to ziplock baggies to stockings to UNO cards. 

However, the truth is that I could have filled both suitcases, and my purse, and my carry-on with supplies; I could have paid to bring more bins on the plane filled with crayons and chocolate chips and toiletries, and it would not have felt like enough.  

Having never been to a developing nation before, coming from a place of lavish wasteful abundance and traveling to a nation where so many people have so little, my first instinct was to solve problems by bringing everything from America and giving it to the people here.  Starving? We have so much food in America that we throw 30% of it away (  Naked? I have more clothing than I can possibly wear, including some outfits that I have never worn.  

However, just dumping supplies into a culture, without having understanding of the socio-political-economic impact of what we bring can do more harm than good.  Campaigns like 1 Million T-Shirts for Africa were started with the best of intentions, but flooding fragile economies with free t-shirts would have devastated the local textile producers.  Articles like this one from Time (,8599,1987628,00.html) help to explain the on-going debate on the best way to support the people of Africa, and why sometimes just giving does more harm than good. 

Quick fixes to symptoms of poverty - like free clothing, shoes, soap - are tempting.  Didn't Jesus tell us to clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, give water to the thirsty, feed the hungry?  Certainly, charity has its place, but should be done carefully, and in conjunction with  partners who have cultural understandings of the place where aid is being given to prevent horrific unintended consequences.  

So, here I am, feeling like what I brought with me was completely inadequate, yet also realizing that Zambia does not need me to come and fix its problems.  Kari's last blog put it beautifully - the struggle between wanting to simply help and fix (without concern for longterm consequences), and doing the harder work of sustainable development, is the struggle to be patient.  In churches, we speak of "asset mapping," using the strengths and gifts of the worshipping community in new ways so that it can thrive long into the future.  It takes work, patience, persistence, and creativity, but sustainable development empowers the people living in Zambia to find culturally appropriate solutions to their own challenges, using their gifts and resources in new ways, far more effectively than I could do as an outsider.

Of course, it is true that there will be times when global partners are needed to support certain projects.  Little things, like carting a suitcase full of crayons halfway around the world, bringing a soccer ball to a child my church sponsors, or an extra package of 'birdies' so the neighborhood children can play badminton, can make a real difference to children who may not otherwise have access to such luxuries.  Larger projects, like digging wells and pit latrines, benefit from partnerships, but the impetus for such must always come from within the community.  

It's hard to remember that though our intentions are good, the best solutions will come from within local communities.  In America, we could learn a lesson from the selfless giving of people who are willing to come together, neighbor with neighbor, to work together towards common community goals. 

In the end, I think I made really good choices about what I packed and what I left behind.  I am grateful that in deciding what to bring, my greatest problem was one of abundance and worry over bringing too much.  The cleansing cloths (that look like baby wipes) caused quite a stir through airport security, but have been helpful on mornings without water.  The three pairs of shoes, that still seem excessive, have been well worn.  The neck pillow for the plane was perfect, and I'm already on the second wearing for most of my clothes.  

Sure, there are things that I wish I had here, but I also know that too many things can become more of a burden than an asset.  We start to focus on what we have, and what we want, and forget that as God's people we are called to share and to be generous with our blessings.  The opportunity to be here, to see the work that Kari and Joel are doing in conjunction with CCAP, has reminded me of the gift of living simply, of loving God, of sharing with neighbor.  I pray that I will carry this gift with me when I return to America, and have the opportunity to share it with others. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Long Drive Home

Oversight & evaluation of Community Health Evangelism
“We teach our neighbors that they need to wash their hands with soap, but they have no soap. What is the use of these lessons?” It is a hard question, and I feel twenty pairs of eyes boring into me. Not one who is accustomed to squirming all that much, I actually feel myself squirm in my seat. There is no easy answer for this question, this question that underlies all the concerns, all the frustrations, all the anxieties that weigh down our conversation, “How can you expect us to do participatory community development, when our community does not have enough resources?”

Rev. Dr. Victor Chilenje discussing CHE with community trainers 
The women and men have travelled from their villages, where homes are made of mud and roofs are woven branches. After days of training, they have engaged their communities in health education, seed projects, a child nutrition initiative. There are changes in the villages, to be sure. Pit latrines have being dug, and as human waste disappears from the bush, there are fewer flies, fewer diseases. Dish racks have been built, a simple way to keep dirt off of plates and pots. Children are eating more nutritious food, as families learn how to balance their diets, using vegetables and fruits that are easily grown.

With the CHE workers in Petauke
With the CHE workers in Nyimba
These health workers also engage in evangelism, proclaiming God’s love for all people. They speak constantly about love, loving their neighbors, loving God, seeing God’s love for their bodies, for their children, for their spirits, for their lives. One woman says, “It was like we were asleep, but now we are awake.” They are energized and excited. “All of this is about love,” says one man, drawing a triangle in the dirt. “Love between people,” he says, as he traces a line between two people on the ground. “Love for God,” he says, as he draws a line from the person, going up. “Love of God for us,” he says, as he draws a line from God going down. In the middle of the triangle, he traces the word “love” in the dirt and underlines it. “This whole thing is about love,” he concludes.

But the questions linger. “We have dug the latrines,” one man explains. “But there is no cement to build the walls.” Another woman speaks out, “There are so many orphans. They need food. We need more resources to feed them.” All of the participants face me with expectation. I am squirming. I love the stories of change, the stories of love, the stories of healthier children and communities. But this is also the reality: we need cement, we need food, we need soap. What do we do?

As I prepared to leave the villages after a couple of days, I anticipated a six hour drive back to the capital. I would be driving on my own, which is challenging for me, but the challenge became even more intense when I discovered that there was a fuel shortage in the area. There was no fuel at any of the gas stations, and the closest place to get fuel was 5 hours away. I couldn’t make it five hours! I needed fuel. 

Community health evangelists discussing projects in their villages
The community came together and found me enough fuel, hopefully to make it to the gas station five hours away. I took a deep breath and began to drive. It was stressful enough to travel those winding mountain roads through the Zambian bush, but the worry of running out of fuel did not leave my mind. 

On the way out of the village, I stopped along the side of the road, to buy something to drink from a vendor there. As soon as I got out of my car, a young man approached me. He had participated in yesterday’s monitoring. We greeted one another, and after a few moments of conversation, he asked if I was returning to Lusaka. When I told him that I was on my way there, he looked up at me with hopeful expectation. “My mom needs to get to Lusaka. She needs to bring a baby back to her parents, but there are no buses today. Can she go with you?” I breathed deeply, thinking about the precarious gas situation, the winding roads through the bush, and a woman with a baby added to my car. At first I hesitated, but I simply could not say no. Catherine settled into the back seat, holding baby Mary, and I said a prayer as we started out, that we might get baby Mary safely back to her parents.

The drive was full of challenges, and there were times when I was sure our gas would not get us there. At one point, I was ready to give up, and Catherine quietly said, “I am praying. With God, all things are possible.” I kept on driving, holding tight to the wheel and trying not to let fear overwhelm me. Each time that I felt panic, I also felt something else. I felt Catherine’s prayers, traveling from the backseat, to surround our car with prayer. We kept on going. It took six hours, but we finally made it to a gas station with fuel. My gage was on empty, and as we pulled up to the pump, I heard Catherine let out an audible sigh. But then she started laughing, and I started laughing, and we both said a prayer of thanks. We were going to make it to Lusaka.

I kept thinking about the soap during the drive home. “We teach them to wash their hands, but how can they, when they do not have soap?” I wanted to get home and to bring baby Mary safely back to her parents. But how can I, when I do not have fuel? Somehow, we got there, and somehow, these community health evangelists are getting there, too. At the end of the meeting, they decided to pool some of their resources to buy soap, and began to talk about income generating projects, to create a source of sustainable revenue to fund the community health projects. The answers were not all there, but the faith was in abundance. We will get there. Yes, we will get there. 

Sustainable development is harder than relief. We don’t just hand out soap today, because there needs to be soap tomorrow, too. Sustainable development must be creative, risky, and challenging. Sometimes, it involves disappointment. Sometimes, it involves fear. It is slower, it is less flashy, it can make people squirm. Certainly, it makes me squirm sometimes, when I just want to do relief, and give up on the very challenging work of sustainable development.

Catherine and baby Mary
But as I sweated my way through the bush of eastern Zambia, and somehow made it home, I remembered that the long, hard work of sustainable development will help us all to arrive. Because God is with us, to help us reach our destination. And God sends people, to pray us forward, to move us forward. Without Catherine, I don’t know that I would have made it home that night. Without her prayers, her presence, her calm encouragement, I know that fear would have overwhelmed me. But I believe that God sent Catherine to me, to ride with me on the long, scary, winding road. 

God is working in the villages, as well. We will get there. Yes, we will get there. Because Catherine is sitting in the back seat, praying us home. And so are many of you. So, thank you for praying us home. Please stay on the journey with us.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Johnny's Birthday Party

Johnny turned six on June 24th, so this past Saturday, we threw a birthday party. It involved 31 children, 2 adults, a lot of sugar, a very large bounce house, and kids who are not all that accustomed to enormous inflatable playhouses. So, yes. It was fun and hilarious. As an added bonus, there was no blood. Here are the photos: