Saturday, July 4, 2009

Now That I am Home

I returned home eleven weeks ago, and I feel I am finally ready to write my last blog entry about my Zambia adventure. I have spent a lot of time reflecting on my experiences and what I learned from them. I realize I have learned as much about myself as I did about Zambia, especially my imperfections. For example, I never realized that respect had become so important to me. Did this happen as I got older? I have always believed that the young should show respect to their elders. This is Biblical. When, however, did I cross the invisible line of being one of the elders?

There have also been moments of overwhelming sadness. It feels like a hole inside my chest that refuses to go away. I noticed it after my first meal off the plane. Mike took my daughter and me to The Outback. The bill came, and it was almost $40.00. All I could think about was how many people that would feed in Zambia. These culture shock moments quickly faded, but times of sadness still come unexpectantly.

I fell in love with Zambia and my sisters. Reflecting on their hard work, and tenacious ability to survive things that would devastate me, causes my heart to embrace the memory and not let go of it. The realization, however, of their private and unexpressed grief makes me long to be with them. I know I could not change their hardships, but I could offer comfort. They could express forbidden tears with someone willing to share their sorrow with tears of her own. It may not be much, but it is what I have to offer. I wonder if God will allow me to return someday to teach grief counseling.

Every memory is like the one above. First, the memory is filled with wonder and gratefulness for the opportunity. Second, it is filled with sadness as I remember the suffering. Third, it is filled with questions and frustrations at the lack of concern and action on our part to ease the suffering. Must we drive beautiful new cars to church to sit Sunday after Sunday in a nice building, with nice stuff, while our brothers and sisters sit on logs with empty bellies? Finally, it is filled with challenge. What does God want me to do? Every memory has to be sorted and filed in such a way that I do not become consumed with something I cannot change. It is exhausting work.

I promised in my last entry to tell you of some ways I was able to make a difference. In the last few weeks of my visit, I knew I could not leave Zambia without doing something, no matter how small. Somehow, I knew it would be my sanity when I returned home. After talking with World Hope staff, I decided to sponsor a child. His name is Junior, and he is nine years old. After his father’s death he, his brothers and his mother lost their home. It is a common practice for the man’s family to take all his property leaving the wife with nothing. There are new laws against this practice, but it is hard to enforce. I was able to meet Junior before I left. I was introduced as his new grandmother. I am honored. It was an amazing experience. I had fun shopping for his school supplies and buying him a soccer ball. Junior will now be able to attend a good school, and his family will have enough to eat. In exchange, I am blessed with the peace that comes from knowing that I get to make a difference for one.

I have been asked many times, if I could do it over, would I do the study abroad program again. There is not an easy answer to this question. I am amazed at the miracle of this experience. How many married women my age get such a gift? I am grateful for my Guistwhite scholarship. I am also grateful to the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation who encourages their scholars to have a study abroad experience and provides funding for my education. Most importantly, I was blessed with a supportive husband and church family. With all this in mind, I would not do a three-month trip again without my husband. It was difficult not having Mike there to process and share experiences with.

I hear from my Zambia brothers and sisters every now and then. I love continuing to share in their lives. I really hope to travel to Zambia again armed with the knowledge and tools to help make a difference, this time with Mike by my side. We will see.

Thank you dear friends and family for following my journey with me. Your involvement helped make this the adventure of a lifetime.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

My Last Blog Entry from Zambia

This is my last blog entry from Zambia. Tomorrow morning we leave for Livingstone, Zambia to see Victoria Falls, and Friday we will go on a safari. Saturday we board the plane for the long journey home. As the time draws near to say goodbye to my friends here, it has become bittersweet. I am excited to be home with my family, sleeping in my own bed, using my own toilet, riding my motorcycle, and taking a clean shower. Everyone here keeps asking me if I am excited to be leaving. My answer is simple. I am anxious to be with my family, but if they were here, I would choose to stay in Zambia. As a matter of fact, there are some Zambian friends praying that God will bring Mike and I back.

It is hard to leave so many new friends with so many needs. I wish I could help each one, but there are so many. I have, however, made some differences. I will save these for my last blog entry, the one I write when I return home.

I know there will be adjustments as I return to a country where so many have so much. I can imagine that visions of affluence will jockey to overcome visions of entrenched poverty and sickness. I pray God will help me find a new balance, one that never forgets, always acts, and brings peace knowing God is still in control.

I am going home tired and exhausted, but I also go home with a renewed understanding of God’s mercy and grace. My Zambian brothers and sisters in the Lord have shown me a side of God I have never seen. They have shown me what complete dependence on God really looks like. Oh, I thought I understood this, but I have never had to depend on God for each meal or each breath. I have seen what joy in the Lord looks like, to praise God even in sorrow, to praise God in all things. I have seen people walk miles just to worship their Father with other believers, and I have seen pastors who ride a bicycle day in and day out to visit a congregation that is miles and miles apart. I have seen sacrifice in a country that, by our standards, have little to sacrifice.

Yes, there will be many things to process when I get home, but I am going home a richer person. I have been blessed to be here, and I pray that God will bring Mike and I back, even if only for a visit.

My Last Visit in Zambia

Our last week in the field was spent building a hen house. Of course, the men did the building and the ladies carried bricks and water. Women came from the village carrying corn, pumpkin, ground nuts (peanuts), and the pots to cook it all in.

We were introduced to the pastor. Like many of the small village churches the pastor was a woman who stepped up to fill an empty pulpit. God bless them, because it is a job no pastor would envy. There is constant loss, constant poverty, and no salary.

I was introduced to the village as Muyi Bussa, which means wife of the pastor. It is a term of respect that Maureen, our Zambian hostess, gave me last week. I was honored to receive my Zambian name from someone I respect so much. Maureen has become as close as a sister, and I am going to miss her very much. It will be hard to tell her goodbye.

We women carried bricks from the “oven” to the hen house. The bricks are made from giant ant hill dirt that has been abandoned. I would not want to meet the ants that made that hill. The women were carrying bricks on their heads, 2 at a time. Now, these bricks are big and heavy. I was amazed, so I asked to carry 2 on my head. The pastor told me just 1, but I told her I wanted 2 also. I made many trips with 2 bricks on my head. I could not get the balance to carry them with no hands, but it didn’t matter. The women began calling me Muyi Bussa. Names have meaning, some are earned and some are given because of birth order, or to show grief. A child born after the loss of a sibling may be called a name that means “sorrow.” A girl child who is born in the midst of brothers may be called Beenzu, “visitor.” A boy who is born after his sisters may be given the name Chimuka, it means “late.”

During our brick carrying time, I was handed a bright green stalk by an older woman who was showing me what to do with it. You bite into it and pull the tough outside off with your teeth. Then you chew what is left like bubble gum. It was sugar cane, and it was good. Unfortunately, I did not understand that you spit it out when the flavor is gone. I had little slivers of fibers in my throat the rest of the day. The other team members laughed at me. I’m so glad I could provide a little midday entertainment.

I also carried a jug of water on my head. We walked a pretty good distance to the closest water hole, a pond that was smelly and stagnant. I had second thoughts, but was not about to back out. One of the women gave me a chitenge that was coiled and placed on my head. The jug was placed on my head. At first, it was very heavy and I was so afraid I would drop it. Slowly, I began to get the hang of balancing it. I was even able to use only one hand just to balance it. We walked past a small building, like the size of my bathroom, that served as a bar. I heard the men inside laugh and say, “mukuwa.” This means white person. I started laughing and yelled, “I heard that.” The amazing thing was I did not drop the water while I laughed. Isn’t it sad to know that man can find a way to a bottle no matter how poor, or how small the community is? While those men drank, women were out trying to find food to feed their children and the man who spent what little they had on drink.

I watched an older woman sitting on the ground weaving a basket. I must admit, there is no way I could sit on a hard ground that long. Her crooked fingers moved swiftly, wrapping the dried grass around a reed or stalk of some kind. Through an interpreter, I asked her how long it takes to make a small basket. She said 3 days, if she does nothing else. What is the cost of all that labor? Less than $5.00.

As we prepared to leave, the pastor prayed for us and we prayed for them. Neither of us could understand the other. Somehow, when standing in God’s presence on behalf of the other, no interpretation was necessary. The spirit of heart language was understood loud and clear. God brought us together in the Holy Spirit and nothing else seemed to matter.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

March 19, 2009

Today we visited children in the OVC program (orphans and vulnerable children). I could tell you about each of the children we visited, but I just can’t put what I’m feeling into words. There were more starving children, children with dreams that seem out of reach for a fourteen year old child who has never owned a pair of shoes. There was a girl who is stigmatized because her mother cannot afford $3.00 for a uniform. This makes her poor among the poor.

I gently laid my hand on the mother’s back as I prayed for her and her children, and she wept. It was the tears of a lonely woman who wants what all mothers want, a better life for her children than she had.

Today a fourteen year old girl, named Mercy, invaded my reality. Keep in mind that I have raised many girls with horror stories of their own. Can you, should you become sensitized to children's nightmares? This girl was obviously living by herself. She told us she was a Christian. I asked her who she could ask for help if she needed it. She looked at me for the first time and said, “no one.” She is attending school, because she wants to be a teacher. Her gaze never met mine again. She did what many females do here, look away or down. In the back ground of our circle sat an elderly man watching us. Most men in a village will approach the group, shake all of our hands and join the visit. I felt Satan’s presence. I knew there was a battle being waged for this young girl’s life. We laid hands on her and prayed for protection, prayed for her life in Christ to stay strong, for her choices to be God’s choices.

Poverty is in bed with Satan. It steals the hope of the oppressed. Without hope minds begin to see no way out. When you see no way out, creative solutions erode. It is like the imagination of a child who builds a sand castle and dreams of being a princess. The tide comes in and beats against the walls until they cave in. The child says, “Why build another one? The tide will come again.” In a state of defeat, the child’s thoughts do not see that building the castle farther from the ocean would bring victory.

It is so easy to be overwhelmed with the great need and do nothing. Doesn’t Satan just love that? We may not be able to save the whole world, but we can send one child to school. It will be one less child who will not sell her body for school supplies and a uniform.

On the lighter side: I will be leaving Choma, Zambia two weeks from today. We are going to Livingstone to see Victoria Falls (one of the Seven Wonders of the World) and go on a safari. I can’t wait for these adventures, and to be home. I miss my family and friends.

Today I was given a Zambian name, Mayi Bbusa, by my sister Maureen. It means “Wife of the Shepherd.” It is what a pastor’s wife is called here to show respect for her.

We also stopped at the mission house in Zimba and were served tacos and brownies. Joan Wallace, the missionary nurse, was a great hostess. We have come to really care about Joan, and not just because she serves us great food.

Our new guest house now has hot water, which we are very grateful for. If you live in Wabash, see you in two weeks.

God is Still Challenging Me

WARNING: I am writing the next two entrys at the end of a long day, so please excuse typos, or any embarrassing things I might have below.

How can a day be both wonderful and disheartening? Tuesday we visited HIV/AIDS clients in their homes. It was raining so many of the visits took place in the kitchens. A kitchen is a small short hut with a slow burning fire in the middle. We sat on Tonga stools, short pieces of carved wood, while the families sit on the dirt floors. The smoke burned my eyes, and in such a small place there was no getting away from it. The first client was a young man. He is in constant pain. His father is helping him, and his mother has not been “right” since her son was diagnosed with the virus. There are no counseling opportunities for families of AIDS patients.

The second home was an entire family. Both the husband and wife have tested positive, plus two of their children. This family is unique because the couple is still together, and the husband has been tested. Their prayer request is to live long enough to see their children be able to care for their basic needs. Do husband and wife share the fear that they will out live their children? Precious little Grace may not see many birthdays. The mother sat silent while the father did most of the talking. She did not make eye contact or engage with us. Most of the villages we visit do not have men present, but if they are, they do a lot of the talking. I asked the mother what she does when she feels sad. She said, “I never feel sad.” When the interpreter asked the question differently I was told that she refuses to be sad because this would take away from the joy of being able to accomplish small things.

The third home was a mother with an infant, both are positive. The mother has so little to eat that her breast milk has dried up. This 3 month baby is eating shema, the corn meal staple, when that is available. The mother prays for more food so the baby will not cry from hunger. Because the mother has an empty stomach she gets sick from the ARVs. These medications must be taken with good food, something in short supply everywhere we go.

In the fourth home I was the only team member who could enter the kitchen. It was the smallest, and it had a bed in it. The child was the client. Many of these children are being raised by elderly grandparents or aunts. This makes these elderly people, who no longer can work very vulnerable, which in turn, makes the child more vulnerable. Many will be married off at an early age, due to lack of resources to care for all the children. The prayer request in this home: That God would add days to the child’s life.

What do we do on these visits? We listen to their stories. We read them Bible passages, as 90% of Zambians do not own their own Bibles. We touch them as we pray for them, and as is the custom, we bring them a gift. The gift is mealy meal (the stuff for Shema), a bag of sugar, and a bottle of cooking oil. This means survival for two more weeks, perhaps three if they only eat once a day. The miracle of this gift is the receiver. They do not think in terms of how long they can feed their family with this gift. They will share what little they have with whoever around them has the need. They will not have full stomachs while their neighbors’ stomach is empty.

All this emotion in one day. I think I will spend the rest of my life putting all the images floating around in my head into categories God can use.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Being Used

When I was asked what project I wanted to work on I chose community planning. I put youth ministry as my last choice. I wanted to learn something new. My choice was based on what was good for me.

This week I was asked to attend a pastor's week of training. The training was to educate pastors on the HIV/AIDS Pandemic and how to support the youth in their congregations. "Youth" is anyone 12 to 30 who is not married. This is the age group that is at the greatest risk for HIV/AIDS in Zambia.

On Monday I was asked to co-facilitate a session on mentoring and disciplining youth. At the end of the week, I realized that God used my weird collection of experience with youth to minister to a group of male and female pastors that know they are losing their youth due to a fast change in culture and tradition. They do not know how to work with this new generation of youth, but they are so anxious and willing. At the beginning of the session I told them that we Americans may say something to embarrass ourselves, and they should feel free to laugh at us. We did not disappoint them. They were gracious,however, even when I used the word "dating." You see, in this culture you would never "date" except for the purpose of having sex. They asked us if youths dated more than one person. Audrey said, "all the time." They gave us the Christian look of shame. :) Finally, the WHIZ facilitator clued us in. We have had many laughs about this in the last few days. When I explained that I was talking about a time to talk and get to know the person, and find out whether the person was as godly as they claimed to be, I was in good graces again. I feel blessed to have been used in a critical area. I'm so glad God does not always give us what we want.

We moved this week into the new WHIZ guest house. It is beautiful and large. Most importantly we have almost constant internet access. I finally downloaded research that I desperately needed. We are thrilled to be the first team to use this new facility, and realize this may be considered a selfish thrill :)

We were moved at night, probably when the truck was available. We had a few surprises waiting for us, even though we were excited. First, since the bunk beds would not fit in the rooms we were suppose to stay in, we were put in a room that had not been cleaned or have full screens on the windows. Due to mosquitos, we had to keep the windows closed. It got a little toasty. The next surprise came when I needed to use the toilet. I lifted the lid, and lets just say it was nasty in there. Next I realized there was an open window. I went to close it and a baby frog jumped on me from the window sill. I screamed. Next, Audrey came running into our bedroom to let me know the door had to be shut because a bat was in the house. Brandon chased it back into the attic, and we were safe once more. We are calling him Batman. The last surprise was how cold shower time was. I think God just needed to remind us we were in Africa even though we had moved up in the world.

Today a flatbed truck pulled up with the remainder of "stuff." Boxes are hard to come by here so most things were just thrown on. We have managed to get most of it put away. We wanted to surprise our housekeeper. She is a wonderful woman who serves in amazing ways, with a quiet and patient spirit. While she has not literally washed our feet, she has served us in the same humble way. I have prayed that some of her gentleness would rub off on me, but I'm still just as vocal as I was when I arrived in January :)

Laughter is Universal

As I am writing this I am listening to Matthew West on my laptop. I am so proud of myself, because I discovered how to download music off my mp3 player. In Zambia you learn to appreciate the little things of life. I believe this is the reason our Zambian friends praise God in mighty ways. They appreciate the joy of waking up each morning and God’s provision of the food they put on the table each day. Nothing is taken for granted. The next time you sit at the table be amazed and grateful that you have a table to eat at. I have never seen a table in the villages. Pans are placed on the ground and food prepared by women who must bend or squat to prepare their food.

This past week, I had the blessing to help deliver incentives to a village trust. Incentives are bestowed on trusts who are faithful stewards with what God has given them through World Hope International Zambia (WHIZ). The incentives consisted of 2 bags of corn meal, oil, sugar, soap, and laundry soap. This is enough to feed a family for a few weeks. These women laughed, praised God with song, and celebrated. We were told simply that the food had come just in time.

An elderly woman carried two bags of corn meal on her head to deposit into the church building. Another woman with a baby on her back carried three bags on her head. Each bag weighs about 23 pounds. I walked over and asked the men in the truck to place two bags on my head. The women laughed and clapped and let me know they appreciated my effort to follow their way. It was heavy, but fun. When I returned to the truck, the staff asked if I wanted to try three bags. I declined and accepted my two. The women laughed. The greatest joy I have experienced in Zambia is the joy these wonderful brothers and sisters express when we work along side them. We have been told by WHIZ staff that our visits bring encouragement. They believe a visitor is worth more than silver and gold.

There was a drum outside the church, and I asked if anyone played. A young man was brought from the church to play. Charlotte, a team member, began moving her feet and soon several women came from the church to dance with her. The song was about God’s faithfulness. An elderly woman came out and ran in front of the young women making the loud celebratory noise we have come to enjoy. The pastor’s wife threw her a shatanga cloth and she made another trip down the line of girls waving it over them. It looked like a blessing.

I had my camera with me. I took a picture of a woman with her child. I showed her the picture on the back of my camera, and she was amazed. We have learned that taking pictures brings a lot of excitement in the village, for the young and old alike. They all want their pictures taken and then look at it. I wonder how many of these people have never seen themselves since mirrors are rare. Even in our guest house there are only two mirrors and both are the medicine cabinet size. There are no full length mirrors. Every morning you depend on your team members to tell you if something is showing that shouldn’t be.

The good thing is that I can’t see how much weight I have put on, eating mostly carbs. The first ingredient in bread is vegetable oil. It is hard to imagine that pasta could be starchier than at home, but it is true. Chicken is breaded and fried. Why would you have diet anything in a country where most people look like match sticks? That starchy shema keeps them full longer. I have been told I am fat. This is a compliment. It means you are healthy. In the United States we are obsessed with looking great, and here they are obsessed with being disease free enough to gain weight. Most will have malaria several times a year.

I always try to end the blog entry with something upbeat. Here it is: I have laughed more this past week than I have the whole time I have been here. My good friend Charlotte’s bed frame broke and she became a taco. Dr. Garner and Brandon had a Ninja pillow fight, and Sydney (Dr. Garner’s wife) gave us a lecture on how to go to the restroom when both arms have been broken. The Lord is blessing us with laughter.