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.


  1. Hi Kari! I'm Robyn Sekula, and I do social media for World Mission (along with other communications). I'm going to post a link to this on the World Mission Facebook page: - this is really a wonderful blog. You've done a nice job with it. Thanks for sharing! If you're on Facebook, anything you can do to send people to like the page is helpful.

  2. Thanks for the message, Kari. My wife, Jenny and I are working with CHE as part of her work in the Dominican Republic. And I am exploring how to apply the ideas and principles in my ag work in Haiti.

    You rock.