Holy Tears

There are simply no words to describe this day adequately. Our last full day in Mwandi has been full indeed. We end the day preparing for one last night’s sleep in Simba House, with hearts full to overflowing with a mixture of so many feelings it seems impossible to describe them, but I’ll do my best.

Sorrow. We shed tears all morning this morning. We led the Mwandi Hospital Chapel this morning, focusing on a passage from Philippians 1:1-11. Each member of the team spoke words of love, thanksgiving and respect to the workers at the hospital, acknowledging our bond as brothers and sisters in Christ. Each team member also voiced a prayer for the hospital and mission as we prepare to take our leave. We sang and prayed together and shed tears as we bid farewell. Then it was on to the OVC where we again tried to share words of encouragement and love with the staff of that special place, this time focusing on Hebrews 11 and 12. We spoke of meeting young Adults in our time here this year who grew up as part of the OVC, who received scholarships for high school and even university who have come back to Mwandi to serve their community. We spoke of the reality that the staff of OVC may not always see the full fruit of their labor but the love they pour into these orphans and vulnerable children bears much fruit. They brought out a beautiful goodbye cake Deaconess Judith had baked for us and we shared it in fellowship, sang and prayed and shared tears of farewell. Then we passed through Kandiana one more time to share a farewell with the elderly orphans who live there, and with their wonderful caretaker Catherine. We asked if the residents would gather for a group photo and everyone did except the oldest man, who went back into his small room. This blind man emerged a few minutes later in a full suit and tie with his Bible in his hand. He explained that he was a deacon and he wanted to be properly dressed for the photo. Again, tears were shed as we bid these dear friends farewell not knowing if some of these farewells with these elderly ones might be forever.

Joy. Later this afternoon, we climbed into open air vehicles and traveled as Chief Yeta had encouraged to see the fledgling Peace Park that is seeking to re-introduce some of the native wildlife to the region. We first drove through fairly dense brush seeing impala, waterbucks, and common duikers. We thought we might not realize our hope of seeing zebra and wildebeest but we drove to another area of the park and came upon two large herds of each of these animals as the sun was beginning to set. Blessing upon blessing.

Gratitude. Tonight, the main choir of the UCZ church in Mwandi came to Simba and spent an hour singing for us accompanied by the drums. The harmonies, the joyful praise, the dancing, the drumming–all of it lifted us beyond ourselves in humble thanksgiving for this amazing gift. We shared cake and juice and fellowship as well giving a small contribution to the incredible music ministry they provide.

Peace. We leave this sacred place with the strong sense that our time here has been full: full of learning, fellowship, joy, laughter, sorrow, tears, friendships made and strengthened, faith deepened, love shared. We are at peace with what we have been able to do and to share, and most importantly with the way we have been able to simply “be” with the people of Mwandi.

Anticipation. Tomorrow morning we leave for two nights at Chobe Game Park in Botswana where we will see the exquisite beauty of the part of God’s creation called Africa. There are no words to describe the diverse beauty we will encounter. God is a masterful artist and we will see some of God’s greatest masterpieces. And then we will begin the two day journey home.

We may not have access to internet again until we get home. Thank you to those who have prayed for us–please keep the prayers coming through June 10th. Thank you for journeying with us. We are the lucky ones who got to be here in person. We will never be the same. Mwandi has changed us. God has changed us through our time together and through this place. I have a feeling God is not finished with us yet.

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Time Flies

Suddenly, we are approaching the end of our time in Mwandi. Tomorrow is our last full day here before heading for a two night excursion at Chobe Game Park in Botswana followed by the two day journey home. Ten nights in Mwandi seems a fairly long time when you first arrive, but the time has flown by and now it draws to a close. It is always a surprise.

Today began with a lovely time leading devotion for the OVC staff at 8:30. We focused on a passage from First Corinthians 12 in which Paul speaks of the importance of every part of the Body of Christ–that we all have our role to play and no one is more important than another. We spent time sharing with one another the various roles we play. Each OVC staff person talked about the part they play in the mission of the OVC and each one was able to express how the part they play is important in making sure the children are loved, fed and nurtured. From cleaners, to cooks, to gardeners, drivers, guards, administrative assistants, storage keepers, program managers and the deaconess, each person spoke with a mixture of humility and pride about their work and how it fits into the whole. Each of our team members talked about their role on our team and how they fit into the whole. It was a wonderful time of mutual sharing, followed by singing and prayer.

Then we went to the Mwandi Mission School and split up so that one of us went to ten different classrooms in the high school to observe. It was fascinating. Our classes covered subjects like science, mathematics, history, English, business, and more. Classes are taught in English and we were all impressed by the teachers, the students, and the high caliber of learning given the very meager resources the school has for their classrooms. The students are bright and eager to learn.

On the way back to Simba we stopped to say hello to our friends at Kandiana and I bought rope from Patrick to bring home for those who have made items for sale out of the rope to benefit Kandiana. A couple of years ago, rope bracelets, key chains and other items were sold and raised enough money to buy all new mattresses for Kandiana! Stay tuned. We also saw that the two local men we hired to work with us on the Kandiana project were well on the way to building new chicken coops for the Kandiana chickens, who were already starting to move in with their many chicks!

After a late lunch, we spent time with two of our Zambian friends who had goods to sell–Dorothy and Samuel who were selling bags and carvings respectively. Then we had a brief time to dress for a lovely dinner out at Shakeltons Fishing Lodge with our special guests Lawrence Kamba and Dr. Cathy who have been a special part of our visit. It was a very fun evening and wonderful to get to know each of them even better.

And so now we are headed to sleep, with dreams of our last day in Mwandi on our minds. This time has been precious. The time has flown. One more day on this sacred ground…

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The View from the Bush

Early this morning, Barry Delozier and I embarked on a journey with long-time friend Ruairidh Waddell who serves as the area coordinator for Malawi and Zambia for World Renew, the Relief and Humanitarian arm of the Christian Reformed Church. Four of Ru’s Zambian coworkers went with us as we traveled deep into the bush to visit the village of Andosi, one of the many villages in the Mwandi District to receive food relief and water projects in the wake of the devastating drought in 2015. We traveled together in one vehicle, two in the front seat, three in the backseat, and two bouncing around in the back of the small SUV. As always on such journeys, we bounced our way over bumpy dirt roads, sometimes driving through thick branches close by the small road, sometimes encountering areas of water we had to drive through or around, sometimes encountering cattle or people in oxcarts and once encountering two vehicles blocking the roadway, both of which had been broken down for four days! The landscape was beautiful as we passed a few other small villages along the way.

After a bit over two hours, we finally arrived at Andosi. We stopped at the village school to see large tanks World Renew had installed for rain water catchment with the help of some funds from the IPC Foundation. The waters in areas around the village have not yet fully receded from the floods that come in the rainy season from November to February or March, but these tanks are standing full for when the dry season begins and extends from August through November. After our stop at the school, we made our way to the village church where the day’s meetings were to take place. This community is one of those that has received assistance from World Renew for the past couple of years. Today, the team was checking in to hold interviews with residents of the village to survey them about a number of aspects of their daily lives to try to determine food security, water issues, patterns of family life, income sources, and education for their children. There were 54 villagers interviewed one-on-one today.

In addition, there were two focus groups, one for women and one for men. Barry and I were “flies on the wall,” listening as the focus groups spoke openly and honestly about many things. My mind is still swirling with all that I heard and fascinated by all we learned by listening to the residents of Andosi tell us about their daily lives.

We listened as they talked about the plentiful season, which they are experiencing right now, when there is accessible water, crops to harvest, good grazing for animals, fish to catch, and three meals a day with good variety. We heard about the floods that come during the rainy season that can wipe out crops, bring illness to animals and humans, and cut their village off from the outside world, including access to markets, for about three months of the year. We heard about the dry season when water sources dry up, villagers may have to walk four hours a day to access water, crops wither, animals have to be herded to a water source many miles away, so the men and animals may be gone for up to four months as they camp near a water source, and families eat only one meager meal a day. Women talked of a daily schedule filled with physical labor that begins at 4:00 AM and includes fetching water and firewood, cleaning, cooking, tending children, tending home gardens, helping with planting and harvesting and so much more. Men talked of ploughing, planting, harvesting, fishing, herding, storing, and doing piecework to support their families. They all talked of times when traveling to market at Mwandi is necessary, which is six hours by oxcart and ten hours on foot. They all spoke of the lean times when the children eat first. There were probably 75 people from the village gathered in the shade of the large trees surrounding the church. The day was a true village event and people were clearly enjoying the opportunity to break from their usual routines. They spent the day, when not engaged in an interview or focus group, talking, laughing, and reveling in each other’s company.

There is so much more to process from this day. But the words that come to mind to describe the people we met today are: resilience, strength, courage, faith, determination, diligence…and also hope, joy, community, interdependence, love for their children and for one another, resourcefulness and dignity. The view from the bush is heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. It was such a privilege to hear them tell their own truth about their lives and to be with those of goodwill from World Renew who are seeking to find ways to partner with these communities to help them build strategies for resilience.

Back at Mwandi, the rest of the team completed the painting project at Kandiana, took supplies to a local preschool, did devotion and helped with feeding for the children at the OVC and more. We are grateful that we are here. Africa finds its way into your heart. When we leave Mwandi in two more days, part of our hearts will remain here, waiting for our return.

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Remember the Sabbath Day…

Our team has experienced a true African Sabbath Day today. We spent two joyful hours at the UCZ Jerusalem Church this morning from 9:00 to 11:00. The church was quite full and there were a great number of young people in the congregation, which was heartening to see. As always, worship was characterized by several different choirs offering praise to God through music. The African drums, the amazing harmonies, the joyful songs of praise accompanied by dancing lift your spirits into attitudes of joyful praise.

I was the assigned preacher and preached from Second Corinthians 4:1, 5-18. It is an experience that for me is unique to Africa that when you are called forward to preach the choirs sing and dance you into the pulpit. The Holy Spirit was certainly in that place! It is fun to preach with simultaneous translation into Lozi, the local tribal language. The sermon focused on our own feelings of weakness and inadequacy because we are like the clay jars–fragile and imperfect. But like clay jars we can still be useful when we allow the power of God to flow through us as vessels of the love of Jesus Christ in our needy world. We are weak but our God is powerful! Our team was warmly received and greeted after worship by every member in the congregation. The main church choir takes up the end of the receiving line and they sing all the way out of the church and into the community. The joyful faith of the people of Mwandi, who face such overwhelming challenges, is very humbling. I wish the American church, with all its material prosperity, could learn this joy.

After a quick lunch and brief rest, nine of us split into two groups and traveled to two of the village “sections”–the UCZ church has divided the village into five sections. Today, we visited sections 3 and 4 for bible study in homes. Our bible study leader was a woman who focused on 3 John verses 1-8, which speaks of visiting missionaries. She spoke so warmly and graciously of the encouragement the people of Mwandi receive from visitors to the mission. She spoke of the mutual love that binds us together as brothers and sisters in Christ, even across many miles. We sang together, prayed together and shared fellowship. They took up an offering as they had at church this morning and at the close of our meeting, they were headed out to use their offering to benefit the most vulnerable in their section. They all have such limited resources and the sacrificial love they exhibit daily is remarkable.

We have truly felt God’s presence with us on this Sabbath. We pray all those at home will know Sabbath this day as well!

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A Cultural Exchange

This Saturday our team spent diving more deeply into local culture in Mwandi and learning more about this community we are calling home these two weeks. The morning began after a delicious breakfast with the team going on a village tour with our long-time friend Gertrude as guide. Gertrude was able to share stories about life in Mwandi. She took the team to the homes of several local friends where the team was invited inside homes to get a sense of how day-to-day life in Mwandi is lived. The tour ended with many from the team spending time shopping in the local market–always an eye-opening experience!

After lunch we paid a visit to the OVC where we were able to participate in the daily feeding of the orphans under care of the center. There were easily a couple hundred orphans receiving their one hot meal a day. For a number of folks on our team today was their first experience at the OVC and I was reminded how overwhelming it can be to come face to face with children of all ages in extreme need. These children are hungry for food, love, attention, touch and acceptance. Every team member had large groups of children surrounding them, holding their hands, clinging closely, longing for smiles and hugs and love. Their needs are deep and it overwhelms the mind and heart to see the enormity of need and know that we cannot do anything to truly help in long- term, substantial ways.

While we were at OVC Peggy went with the son of our dear deceased friend Lontiya to visit her grave. While they were in the cemetery, another funeral procession came along burying an elderly family member.

After returning from OVC the team had the chance to take makura rides. The chance to head down the Zambezi River in the traditional dugout canoe is remarkable. A local friend served as the pilot of this boat, standing in the back of the canoe and propelling the canoe down river with a long pile. The canoe moving silently through the water as if on the surface of glass and see Mwandi the way so many see the mission and village–from the river–was such a great privilege.

After changing out of very wet pants, the team went by invitation to the home of Dr. Cathy, the medical officer in charge at Mwandi Hospital. She invited us to tea at her home and we had a very proper full tea. Oh, the lavish table she spread. She had invited other hospital staff and it was a real moment of sharing life together. It was such a delight and an honor for all of us.

We ended the day with a visit to a craft market put together by the local church. The amazing talents of so many were on display–from carvings to jewelry, from textiles to baskets the room was Gould of beautiful craftsmanship. We left the market a bit poorer monetarily, but richer in our connection to this place. We then had dinner with our dear friend Ruairidh Waddell from Malawi who lived and worked in Mwandi for 10+ years and had much to teach us from his humanitarian work.

And now we are off to bed to prepare for tomorrow’s Sabbath Day. We are so much richer now than yesterday. Thanks be to God for the rich experiences of this day!

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Chief Concerns

Today has been a glorious day in Mwandi! We rose early so that we could be at the Palace for an audience with His Royal Highness Senior Chief Inyambo Yeta at 8:30 sharp! It has been a few years since our teams have had the opportunity to have an audience with him because he has often been out of Mwandi on government or tribal business during our visits. So today was a great privilege and joy for us.

For some of us, our visit was a chance to renew an old friendship. Others met the Chief for the first time today. It is always a fascinating experience to meet with him. The cultural and tribal traditions surrounding the office of the Chief are complex and call us to a deep respect for the reverence the Lozi people feel for their leader. Chief Yeta is a very kind and learned man, with a law degree from St. Andrew’s in Scotland. The breadth and depth of his knowledge of not only the political, social, religious and environmental realities of Zambia, but also of issues in the wider world, are remarkable. He spent over an hour with our team this morning discussing a wide variety of issues and answering all questions with candor and thoughtfulness. He told us a great deal about the new Peace Park in the Mwandi area which is attempting to re-establish native wildlife to the region that were lost during the years when neighboring countries fought for independence and entered into Zambia with devastating consequences for wildlife. They have reintroduced several species in the last two years with good success. They hope to continue this process so that this region of Zambia can again be a draw for those who wish to see African wildlife. He has encouraged us to go one day next week with one of his guides to see the animals they have already introduced!

Upon leaving the Palace, we went to Enedi’s home, which is quite near the Palace to take her a large donation of yarn. Enedi teaches Knitting to women in the village and they make baby blankets and school uniform sweaters. She invited us into her home and we had a lovely visit.

Then it was back for lunch. We are awaiting the arrival of more paint to complete our project at Kandiana, but we dropped by there for a visit. David Delozier was invited to come to a soccer practice with the local youth league and had a wonderful afternoon of fun and friendship building. He donated a regulation soccer ball to the team and was invited back to play again!

Tomorrow will include a tour of the village, devotions with the children at the Orphan and Vulnerable Children Center and help with the feeding, some afternoon play with the orphans, Makura rides (dugout canoes) and a visit to the home of Dr. Cathy–the new doctor in charge at Mwandi Hospital so that we can enjoy fellowship but also learn from her about current successes and challenges at the hospital. Meanwhile, I am trying to finish a sermon as I am to preach in church on Sunday! Our days are full and so are our hearts!

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Sometimes We Dance

Joy can be found even in places where human need and pain are great. Sometimes that joy spills over into dancing. Today, we danced.

Our day began with the women on the team going to the meeting of the Animoyo at the UCZ church. This group is the equivalent of the Women’s Guild at IPC, with caregiving ministries rolled into the responsibilities. As we arrived at the church this morning, we were greeted by yet another long-time Mwandi friend, Enedi. When I first started coming to Mwandi, Enedi was on the staff at Simba House, the guest house for visiting mission teams. In those days, Enedi sang and danced her way through her work days. She is a member of the Animoyo Choir and has a lovely voice. She retired from that work back in 2008, but for the past ten years, whenever our teams have come to Mwandi we have spent time with her. She is our friend. As we arrived at church today, she embraced us and said with a joyful smile on her face, “Welcome home!” She sat with us during the Animoyo meeting and translated for us from the Lozi tribal language. The meeting was filled with joyous singing and dancing, prayer, bible study and business. It is humbling to listen to these women talk about how they can be of greater support to the vulnerable in their community: the widows, orphans and elderly. These women all live in poverty, many without the means to be secure in their ability to care for their own families, and yet their love and compassion for the most vulnerable among them is palpable.

After the meeting, Enedi returned with us to Simba where we spent time sharing about our lives and families, our joys and troubles. At one point, Enedi said: “Last June, I was sitting alone in my house and my Spirit was troubled and my heart was heavy. I kept thinking that something was wrong; something just did not feel right. And then I realized it was because no team was coming from your church last year. We are so happy and our spirits are joyful when you come to be with us. We know we are not forgotten. Please, you must always come to us. You are our family. When I saw you today, my spirit danced.” In those moments when we feel that our mission trips are inadequate, we remember statements like Enedi’s today. We are a part of each other. Our hearts are bound together and our joy is made more complete in each other’s presence.

After lunch, the team was back at Kandiana to work on the painting project. David took a Bluetooth speaker and played a variety of music while the team worked. Suddenly, the elderly residents of Kandiana began to smile and laugh and then they began to dance. The team danced with them. The residents of Kandiana are often forgotten. Most mission teams pay them a brief visit but rarely do teams focus a project there and spend extended time with them. They are very elderly, they have various health issues, several are blind and all of them are alone in the world save for each other and their caregiver. Today, they experienced joy. Today they danced.

Why do we come thousands of miles to this far-away place? Perhaps it is because the Lord of the Dance calls us to come, to share love, to share life, to share faith, to share joy…to join him and each other in the Dance.

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