Monday, October 26, 2009

Out of Africa

It is with mixed feelings we all leave Livingstone today. We have created unforgettable memories, lasting friendships, a profound sense of accomplishment and a new respect and compassion for the many needs of Africa's people. 11 days is hardly long enough in one sense to have really accomplished much. In comparison to what needs to be done for children, orphans and widows, there is an almost insurmountable need here. Hopefully we can adequately tell the story when we return.

The other day, as we were saying goodbye to Winnie Takema, the director of Healing Place School, she read for us a passage from James 1 that reads "pure and undefiled religion is this: that you visit the widows and orphans and care for them in their need." She said "this is what you have done. We cannot thank God enough for you."

We sometimes think our actions have to be grand and our accomplishments significant in order to be worthwhile. Yet a few days of work, of sharing with children, of giving clothes, school supplies and food - while pretty small in our estimation - means so much to those whose daily existence is subsistence at best. Did we do all we could? I will ponder that question for some time to come? I am sure we could have done more. Was it worth it all? You'd have to ask the children and teachers in Kabanana. WOuld I go again? Absolutely? Did I grow and mature? Without a doubt.

That is what Africa does to a person. It casts you back to basic assumptions about life and meaning. It strips away the pretense and the haughty attitudes. It humbles you by its grandeur, mystery, beauty, primitive naturalness.Most of all it reminds you that God loves all the people of the world.

So we sadly say goodbye.We are anxious to return home but will always carry the sights sounds and people of this land in our hearts. I hope you will as well.
See you soon in the US.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Safari time

I think I wrote in last years blog entry that it was a jarring step back from being servants to the people of Africa who are most needy to being the ones waited on hand and foot by African hosts. The starkness of this change makes what we did in Kabanana even more important in my life. The opulence and comfort of the Zambezi Sun Resort is only several hours drive time from Kabanana yet every time someone comes to wait on me, I find myself thinking, "I am supposed to be the one serving." To me it is a good lesson of how different my life is from the children and adults in that little hilltop community surrounding Healing Place School.

Africa is hauntingly beautiful. It is exotic and rugged; beautiful and wild; filled with wide open bush country and dotted with populations of wonderful people. Once Africa gets into you, you can't get it out. This is an expression we have heard again this trip.

Saturday was Zambian Independence Day. 45 years ago, the brave men and women of Zambia fought to overthrow cololonial rule and they are very proud of that fact. Yet we didn't see the excessive displays of fireworks or partying that we might have expected. People were very mindful of the importance nontheless.

We boarded a van at 0730 and headed for the border crossing into Botswana. The Chobe River, where it meets the mighty Zambezi forms Africa's equivalent of the USA's four corners area. Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe all meet right at that place. Chobe game park is just inside the border of Botswana along the river near the town of Kasane. Arriving at the Chobe Safari Lodge, we boarded a small boat for a morning of cruising the river around an island where Water Buffalo, Hippos, Elephants and Red Leeschi Antelope graze contentedly knowing they are safe from Lions who don't like to swim.

On the island side and on the shore side, we saw innumerable Impala, Hippos, Water Bok, Warthogs, and every imaginable bird. We saw several crocs but nothing too huge. One man on our boat was dangling his feet over the front until the guide reminded him that crocs can jump up to five meters towards their prey. He quickly complied by bringing his feet in.

There was a herd of nearly 50 bull Elephants crossing a shallow spot in the river to graze on the island. It was a remarkable sight that none of us will forget and one which the guide said was highly unusual.

Around 1300 hours we returned to the lodge for a wonderful meal. I had the impala stew which was very good. Most others stayed on the safe side. After lunch we boarded canvas-covered 10 seat Land Cruisers for our Afternoon drive through the park where we saw even more incredible, and wonderful animals. Most amazing was that there were over 100 female elephants with calves heading down toward the water to take a mud bath and drink as well. Seeminly unconcerned with our presence they appeared to be acting out their natural instincts - one even tussling with a territorial hippo. All in all it was an amazing day.

We arrived back at the hotel around 1900 (7:00) for dinner and relaxation. One somber note we found out was that at the border, where our driver was waiting for us on the Zambia side, a young man who peddles hand made goods to tourists had laid down in the shade of a large semi-truck for a nap. Not seeing him, when it was this drivers turn to head down to the ferry to cross the river, he drove over the poor man. Our driver had seen it and was very upset as you might imagine. I was able to pray and talk with him. Having been on the other side of such an experience and yet alive to talk about it, I think he found encouragement from our conversation and said he was thankful to the Lord that he had allowed me to live and share that story with him - not to mention to do the work we had been doing in Lusaka.

Today some are on a lion encounter. Others are planning to bungee jump (not me) and take a helicopter tour. Me, I plan on sitting by the pool and reading. We head back tomorrow. The week has gone by much too fast. We look forward to seeing you all and sharing stories with you after we arrive Tuesday night around 6:00 pm. Blessings to you all.

Africa Hot - Africa Time

I am not sure which has been tougher to adjust to: Africa Hot or Africa time. Africa hot means unrelenting sun baking the earth’s reddish brown crust. It means temperatures right around 37 – 39 degrees Celsius (100 degrees F). It means drinking about 8 bottles of water a day but still not needing to answer nature’s call very often because you are sweating away most of that fluid along with vital chemicals and electrolytes. The body’s automatic cooling system is hardly able to keep up. Africa heat means competing for the few spots of shade that dot the landscape – an isolated Mango or banana tree; Africa hot means sore, dark red shoulders and necks even after swathing in sun block. The sun and the heat have been a difficult thing for most of us Northwesterners to adapt to. One redeeming grace in it all are the cold showers at our lodge at the end of each day’s work.

Africa hot means that an entire community comes out to watch as a borehole is drilled and water comes gurgling to the surface; a precious commodity in this arid climate. Even the members of our team felt the elation of water having been discovered on the site. Africa hot – what more can I say except one day soon, I am guessing, a video will be posted showing Jeff chanting a dirge about the heat while sitting on a pile of stones at the end of a long work day in the sun.

Africa time is no less difficult for a group of Americans used a much more pressured and time-bound culture to adapt to. I am writing this entry from a 26 passenger bus that is transporting us to Livingstone. I insisted the team be up. packed and on the driveway ready to go by 5:45 am. Our bus arrived at 7:15 – not an uncommon occurance in a world where one seldom sees a watch, let alone relies on scceduled arrivals or departures.

Africa time means a normal 15 minute drive to the store taking 30; it means sitting in a jumbled maze of busses, vans and taxis all merging in the same intersection with no space to navigate; Africa time means expecting a delivery of sand or rock at a certain time and waiting until the next day for it to arrive. Africa time means trying to remember that loved ones back home are just arising from a night’s sleep as your day ends; it means scratching your head in bewilderment as people talk about 1400 or 0630 and expecting that you know exactly what time that is. It all takes a little getting used to and just as we begin at acclimate, it is time to return to American time. I hope you will all be patient with us while we continue to move along slowly in Africa time.

Our last day in Kabanana was an exciting one. After a later than normal wake up call, some of the team went to the Arcades Mall while 5 of us Rotarians went to the Taj Pahmodzi Hotel where the Lusaka Central Rotary Club meets at 1230 hours every Thursday. Wsanting to be polite and on time, we arrived at 1220 and were served club sodas and cokes by uniformed waiters in crisp white smocks. No Rotarians were in sight however. We waited patiently having been assured that they would be arriving soon. At about 12:45 people began sauntering in one at a time and around 1300 every one was seated for a moment of fellowship. Then the president announced “Shall we please all be upstanding and offer a toast to the President of our beloved Zambia."

Then we were invited to partake of a sumptuous buffet that inclided lamb stew, rosemary chicken, parsely potatoes, fresh fruit and vegetables, and much more. I couldn’t help think to my self that the food in front of the 25 of us could have fed the children at Healing Place for a week.

I was asked to introduce Jeff, Myung, Jon and Lauren and exchange a banner from our club. Later in the program I was able to talk about our project and encourage their participation with us. At one point I overheard the president of the club speaking to the Projects Committee chair telling him that they needed to adopt a project in Kabanana. She has made a commitment to visit the site herself and meet both Winnie Takema at Healing Place and Rachel Kasanya at Balm of Gilead. It was a rewarding time that I think will bear ongoing fruit in establishing a partnership for the work we have been involved with.

After club, our friendly and ready to please driver George gathered the entire team for one last afternoon at the site. Just as we arrived the drilling company was bringing up the first muddy showers of water from the 90 meter bore hole. The lowered welded pipe sections to carry the water and then capped it until a hand pump can be purchased. To me, it was a more thrilling site than just about anything I have witnessed or experienced. That is until just an hour later when after distributing more supplies, giving gifts to the workers and exchanged goodbyes.

When I had awoken Thursday morning, I had a heavy impression on my heart that in addition to giving my boots, gloves, caps and t-shirts to the men who had volunteered and helped us prepare the foundation of the classroom, I needed to give my Bible to Pastor Jesse Mbanga. He is a faithful man who not only preaches to a congregation of 45, he is a spiritual shepherd to the community and lives with very little. He and his wife have 7 children of their own and have taken in 6 other orphaned children in their small two bedroom house. When I handed him my Bible, his look of shock and the tears in his eyes told me I had done the right thing. He told me he had wanted to ask me for a Bible the day before but didn’t know how to ask and so he prayed about it and left it in God’s hands. To him, that Bible was a precious possession. I have over 20 Bibles in my study not to mention the many commentaries, dictionaries, language helps, and unread books.

We sang a song by the side of the van called "tupende cine amopolo" – Bemba for count your blessings, then we began the difficult, long process of saying goodbye. These were highlight moments as we held hands and prayed in three languages, ngyenge, Bemba and English. Getting last hugs and high fives from the children was most difficult. To make it all bearable we knew we left having made a small difference in an impoverished, vulnerable area of the world and in the lives of real people whom we will never forget. Tearfully we left Kabanana for good (at least this time) and headed back to the lodge where we celebrated the night with Chimwemwe’s
26th Birthday party.

So, that brings you up to "speed." Speaking of speed we are finally moving at a pretty good clip of 90 kph.We should be arriving at a roadside coffee shop soon. Then on to Livingstone and Victoria Falls for a couple of days of real touristy things. We miss home, we miss our families. We miss all you who have supported this effort. We can’t wait to tell you about it and try to share not just details but the spirit of what we have been a part of. It has been remarkable. We are blessed. May you be also

UPDATE: We are sitting alongside a gravel road in the middle of the African Bush right now. It is our third “rest stop.” We will not make our 1600 (4:00) pick up time in Victoria Falls for an evening cruise on the Zambezi River. A six hour trip is “quickly” turning into a 7 or 8 hour trip (one that started 90 minutes late). Sigh, that’s Africa time

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Invisible Hand

The Invisible Hand.
Have you ever sensed that there was a power or a presence that was at work in circumstances that you could not explain or attribute to human effort? As I sit on the shaded veranda reflecting on the events of the past few days, I am reminded that there is “an invisible hand” that is at work, guiding, helping and working out circumstances in ways we just can’t comprehend.

As you know, one of the main projects that we had hoped to accomplish this week was to see a well drilled and capped to provide safe water to the children of Healing Place School and this particular area of Kabanana Compound near Lusaka. Driving each day to the work site, you see children pushing large 55 gallon drums of water from community wells to service their homes and family. They roll these heavy drums over bumpy roads, uncultivated fields and through thick undergrowth just to have something that you and I take for granted. Women also help roll these barrels but often they are seen carrying large pails or jars of water on their heads. Some walk as far as 5 – 8 kilometers. Near our project the closest water is 4.5 kilometers in either direction.
Children, in order to get water for their family often miss school. And yet at Balm of Gliead School where a team from Enumclaw worked last year, enrollment has climbed from 217 to 330. They have a well but are unable to pump water because of the high cost of power. At Healing Place, the enrollment is 235 ranging in age from pre-schooler age to teenagers studying to take exams for entrance into government school.
Water for this school and community is critical. That is why Enumclaw Rotary donated such a sizable amount of money for a well to be dug. That is why most of us committed to coming. Yet when we arrived we were deflated to learn that water at the site was much deeper than first thought and the first three attempts at a bore hole well were unsuccessful. Discouraged, we set our sites on other projects. The next priority was to dig a foundation for a first classroom building. That in itself seemed too daunting for our group but we said, “Okay, let’s do what we can. We are few in number but whatever we can do, it will be a help. So we prayed that somehow we could do something positive. And the next day – Monday – we pulled up and saw a cadre of 9 men ready to help us. An invisible hand guiding us in this project.
The well situation still remained however. And in typical African fashion, the company responsible for drilling said they would be back Monday. Monday came and went – no drilling team. Tuesday came and went. No drilling truck in sight. More discouragement. But then again, last night we just said if it was to be, it would happen. When we arrived this morning, there was sand, gravel, cement on site so we began working under the hot African sun to mix and pour concrete footings. About half way into that project, the drilling rig showed up. What a stir that caused in the community. Children were dismissed early from school, husbands, wives grandparents, babies – all came out to see this exciting prospect of water coming to their community. They drilled to 65 meters before running out of pipe but the last 10 meters showed wet sand. Encouraging. Later this afternoon – after we had left – the extra drill bits arrived and they were able to find good sustainable water. Tonight they are putting in the pipes to bring it to the surface and then they will cap it. The commissioner for the area was deeply grateful as was Pastor Mbanga, Winnie Takema, and all the people of the community. In spite of our discouragement, an invisible hand brought more to completion than we had thought possible. Your support in prayer and in finances has brought water to a community; the beginnings of a classroom building for a school that is ministering to over 200 children who are the most vulnerable in Lusaka; and most importantly a sense of love and partnership that spans over 17,000 miles.
In Genesis 50 Joseph declares to his brothers who had sold him as a slave “You intended to harm me. God meant all this for good.” Everything seemed against us at the first of the week. Now here we are on Wednesday night and incredible things have happened.
We are all safe and well – mostly! Even cold water showers are welcome after working hard at the end of a short handled shovel in 98 degree heat. But it is worth it as we see the fruit of our labor and prayers take shape. Thanks for your partnership.
Tomorrow we go to Lusaka Rotary to seek their support and partnership in this ongoing prokect. I’ll keep you posted.
Todays prayer on my heart - “Lord, may my heart be broken by the things that break your heart.”

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hello from Zambia

today was a day of raw emotion for me. When we first arrived at Healing Place we delivired clothes and coloring pages to the youngest children who didn't receive anything yesterday. To see them cling to a pair of cast off jeans or a t-shirt like it was the greatest treasure in the world once again reminded me how sheltered and how rich I am in so many ways. All of us were moved again by the warm welcome and greeting songs.

One girl recited a poem about having lost her mother to AIDS. WHen the father remarried the step-mother slapped and abused her telling her she was not the girls mother. She couldn't finish the poem but broke down in tears. As we comforted her, she told us it was not her mother that died but the mother of her best friend. Unfortunately the story is told over and over again in this impoverished area of Lusaka. The most vulnerable of all the people of Zambia are the children in this poor community called KABANANA. Yet they are filled with such love and faith and expectancy that our hearts were more blessed by their resilience and faith than they might have been by ours. There are 42 double orphans in Healing Place(both parents dead) and many more that are single orphans. HIV/AIDs continues its tragic toll on the people of Africa. Seeing these children and putting our arms around them reminds us all that AIDS is not a statistic - it is real people and real life and even among the poorest in our world, the hurt and loss is even more heart-wrenching.

Today was cooler in temperature. Yesteday we spent the day digging foundation trenches for the new school building. The night before we prayed that we didn't think we could do all that was being expected of us while we were here. SO when we arrived on site - there were 9 experienced, strong young men to wield a pick or shovel and they intend to stay and work until a building is completed. We are grateful for the financial support of Village Steps to make this all possible.

Since it was cooler today, we were ready to roll up our sleeves and work but as is usually the case in Africa, we had no supplies with which to pour the footings. Most of the team spent the remainder of the morning playing with, teaching, loving and encouraging the children who flocked around each teammate like African flies. Sometimes one feels almost claustrophobic with the needs. That is balanced by the incredible love and tenderness these children crave. We are emotionally drained and filled with an even deeper sense of the needs of the world and our responsibility to help share in meeting those needs. We could have sent money only but the deepest point of contact with these children is in touch - how they crave hugs, love and care. Our prayer is that we can continue with energy and compassion.

More tomorrow.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mosquitoes, stars and fireworks

Where do I begin to tell you about our first day in Lusaka? Do I tell you about how tired we were when we clamored off BA flight 255 at 6:00 am local time (9 pm PDT) after a 10 ½ hour flight from London? Or should I tell you about the beautiful purple flowering trees surrounding the airport terminal as we walked fro m the plane across the tarmac to the customs and immigration desk? I thought about spending some time writing about the group of Anglican women, their crisply starched and pressed habits providing incredible and sharp contrast to their beautiful, glistening black skin. As we left the terminal with our bags (By the way, every single bag made it here this year. Yeah) they were in two columns on either side of the promenade singing and dancing a welcome song. Did it matter that they weren’t there to greet us but another group of Brits who had come to Lusaka for much the same reasons as us. We took it as a welcome to us.

Then there was the helpless sense of being in a strange country, knowing few people at all and wondering when Chimwemwe, our host and friend from last year, would be there with our van to take us to our lodge for some needed rest and washing. She arrived and for those of us who were here last year, it was awesome to see her striding across the street to greet us. What a beautiful sight and what a relief it was to reunite with her. She is everything her name implies – she radiates joy and beauty inside and out.

I could have written about our lodging accommodations at the Vineyard Guest House. They are homey and comfortable and the garden area is filled with Palm Trees, Jacaerinas, Bird of Paradise plants and other numerous, indescribable plants. There is a thatched roof lanai as well as a slate tiled patio that is sheltered from the sun and is a very pleasant place to let the African breeze sweep across your face (and blow the mosquitoes away. We sat outside last night before dinner, later into the evening (at least Myung and I did – the rest were already in bed) and this morning. Last night, we had the added treat of watching colorful aerial fireworks exploding across the night sky as Zambians prepare to celebrate their Independence Day on October 24th. When the mortars weren’t showering the night sky with their variegated display , God had put on an even better show with the stars of the southern hemisphere glistening with God-given radiance.

If one thing stood out about the day, it was our trip to Kabanana. As we passed The Balm of Gilead’s Green water tower standing sentinel over the school and the beautiful children we met and worked with last year, a wave of profound emotion swept over me as I remembered so fondly all that we did and all whom we met last year.Our first stop Monday morning will be there as we deliver school supplies, clothes and soccer balls to Rachel Kasanya, her staff and the students at Balm of Gilead. Just a few more miles down a winding, dusty road however, we came to a roadside stop near a government school. Madame Winnie Takema was there to greet us and show us the way to “The Healing Place School.”

We pulled up to the familiar chants of “Ey Yah, Ey yah.” About 40 – 50 of the students from the school had come out on a Saturday to welcome us with song and dance. They were wearing the bright orange and green shirts that had been purchased with money from Calvary’s 2009 Vacation Bible School. To say they were standing at attention would not be accurate as they were moving and dancing in ways that I, in my 59 year old Caucasian body couldn’t begin to emulate. It was a thrill. It reminded us of last year’s greeting but even more, it represented a new chapter in our partnership with the people of Kabanana District. If I may use Charles Wesley’s phrase in a different context, “my heart was strangely warmed.”

Inside Pastor Jesse Mbanga’s one room church building were another 70 or more precious children sitting quietly, waiting to greet us. Also in the building were there parents, who after a few words of greeting began singing and dancing as well. Since it was recorded on tape, I can’t deny that even I was compelled to dance alongside some of the parents who came out into the aisles to dance. It’s not something I intend to post on You Tube, but I am afraid some of my team mates may decide it should be.

It was difficult if not impossible to pull ourselves away from those beautiful children who, with beaming faces, expectant eyes, were reaching out for our touch. We will never forget those faces. But pull ourselves away we did because Headmistress Winnie and Pastor Mbanga wanted to show us the parcel of land that Village Steps had helped them purchase to build the school. Disappointingly, they showed us the three test bore holes that had been drilled. Because of the elevation of the sight, the depth to which they had bored (50 metres) was still dry so worokers will be out again early this week to drill to a depth of 70 metres (250 feet). They say they are confident water will be found – we’ll wait and pray.

Now, it is Sunday morning. We are preparing to be picked up to go to church with Joy. After church we will go to the Arcades Mall for lunch and for the open air market where one can find amazing, hand crafted jewelry, baskets, hand-carved teak and soapstone figures, animals, and walking sticks. Another great adventure to add to the list. At some point, I will stop at an Internet Café to post these blogs.
Right now it is breakfast time – scrambled eggs, corn flakes and toast. MMMM- good. More later. I could have written about any or all those things but you know what, there's too much to tell. So I think that for today, it is enough to tell you that I am glad to be here, that the Lord is good and that this week holds adventures and blessings that will amaze us all. For today, it is enough to say
“This is the day, the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

A foggy Day in London Town

I say there chap, instead of coffee, I think I’ll have a spot of tea. That is pretty much what I expected to hear once we landed at Heathrow around noon Friday. After clearing customs and security, we decided as a team we didn’t have time to go into town and do any sightseeing, Instead, everyone scattered to the four corners of terminal 5 (a city to itself) to wash up, find something to eat and check out the duty free shop.

After an all night flight with only a few hours of fitful sleep, I decided that tea wasn’t what I needed. Instead, I headed straight for – you guessed it – Starbucks and had a Iced Quad-shot, Americano. It did the trick. I am now wired and ready for the next leg of our endurance flight – a ten hour flight from London to Lusaka. It will be Saturday morning in Lusaka. In Seattle, it will still be around 9:30 Friday night.

Speaking of Seattle, a nice young woman came up to me on the plane this morning and said, “Aren’t you a pastor in Enumclaw, WA?” It turns out Erin is Dorothy and Keith Blackburn’s granddaughter. She and her newlywed husband are in London to visit family before heading on to Spain for their honeymoon. What a surprise that out of a packed Boeing 777, we would bump into someone from Enumclaw with Calvary connections.

During our approach to London, Jillian, our flight attendant sat down in the jump seat just opposite my exit row seat. She asked what we were all doing because she had noted we were traveling as a group. When I told her we were going to minister at schools that reach out to orphans in Zambia, she began to open up and talk about her faith and that she has gone for the past several summers to help at orphanages in South Africa, Kenya and other places in Africa under the sponsorship of the Catholic Church.

It was cool and cloudy in London when we landed. In some ways it felt very similar to landing in Seattle. And to top it all off, once we got to the terminal we were reunited with Swampy Marsh – our ninth team member who flew to London from D.C. after seeing his daughter married. We are once again a complete team. It has cleared now that we are about ready to depart. Once we hit Zambia, it will be a different story though. Forecasts are for it to be very summer like there: Sunny and hot.
Joy, our close friend from last year’s trip will meet us at the airport tomorrow and help us get settled in the Vineyard Guest House and Lodge. Once we have washed up and rested, we intend to head out in the afternoon to visit “The Healing Place School.” We want to meet Winnie, survey the site where we will be working and meet some of the children. School will not be in session but if last year’s experience is any indication, children from all over the neighborhood will be curiously attracted to our presence there. This trip is all about the children after all. We have lots of donated items to give. But even more, we have lots of love and faith to share also. Pray that this would be our focus throughout the week.

God has provided in amazing ways for us to be here. I want to represent Enumclaw, Rotary, all the people who have supported this trip and Calvary well. However, I desire that I and our team would be ambassadors of Christ’s reconciling love.

Let me remind you of who is on our team. Myung Hong, Jon Funfar, Lisa Mierke, Lauren Hardman, Cate Underbrink, Terry Marsh (Swampy), Jessica Iunker, Jeff Iunker and me.
In the cars on the way to the airport yesterday, someone shared about some interviews she had heard of ten people who had just attempted a summit climb of Mt. McKinley (Denali). Only four made it to the top. She asked if we could guess what each of those four said was the reason they made it to the top and the reason that the other six said they didn’t. Those six who didn’t summit each said that they set out to give it their all, to put out 110%, and to strive as hard as they could to attempt this climb. Instead, they burned out. But the four who did make it said – to a person – that their attitude was to take it one step at a time, to learn from each experience along the way, and to focus on the journey, not the summit. And in the process, ironically, they were the ones who made it. Pray that we all focus on the journey and the growth from the experience and that we don't burn out.

Lord help me to focus on the journey, on the people I am teamed with, on the lessons I can learn along the way and the joy and blessing of having this opportunity. Don’t allow me to get lost in the details of simply accomplishing a great number of tasks and physically working as hard as I can. Open my heart so that the children of Lusaka can touch my heart even as I pray, I might touch theirs.

Well, I won’t be able to post this until after we arrive in Lusaka. But it is just about time to head towards our departure gate so I think I will finish another good strong cup of coffee and then prepare myself to be used this week however God wants.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Number Two

What does the number two mean to you? Right now, it means the number of days before our Zambia team heads out on British Air for twelve days of ministry and work in Zambia. Two means the number of carryon items I can take with me which will be a small back pack with a change of clothes, some books, and maybe some snacks. The other will have my computer so I can blog from Lusaka. Two also represents the number of checked bags each of us will be hauling. One will be filled with clothes and personal belongings. The other will be filled with some of the overwhelming number of clothes, toiletries, school supplies and book bags that the people of Enumclaw, Rotary and Calvary have donated to this effort. The response has been so incredible that the piles of items are now spilling over into room number two in our office.

Two is the approximate number of weeks we will be gone. We leave on October 15th and return on October 27th. Two is the number of flights it will take us to get to Lusaka. We leave Seattle and fly over the north pole to London. From London, after a layover, we fly directly to Lusaka.

Two is the number of schools we intend to visit while there. We want to stop at Balm of Gilead (where our team worked last summer)to reconnect with some of the students and teachers there. But most of our time and energy will be spent at school number two - The Healing Place. It is a new school that is just getting started and the money that has been donated by team members, Rotary and other faithful people has enabled us to provide a well for safe water. It also will help us get electricity to the site, buy food and cooking utensils so these children can have nutritious meals at lunch, and provide school supplies for the children. We also will be doing some back breaking digging of trenches that will be used for foundations for the first classroom building on this site.

Two is a small, seemingly insignificant number to most people. My blackberry phone just vibrated twice, signalling me that I have just received an email or a text message but not a phone call; not anything urgent that I need to stop what I am doing to attend to. Two is the number of heaping scoops of ground coffee I have found works best in my French Press travel coffee maker (They mostly have Nescafe instant coffee in Africa so I am taking my own).

Two is more than one but it is less than a few. It is way less than a lot. When I think of how much I have here in my life in the United States, I have more than I need or deserve. That is why I am going back for trip number two. I want to share from my life with others who have even less than most.

This week, I received a special gift from one of my grandsons. Inside were two one dollar bills and a note saying he would be praying for me and that he wanted this money to be used to bless the children in Africa.

You be the judge. Is two too small a number? It two too little to give? Is two, too few a number of times to travel to a place to make a difference? I don't know. But I do know that two represented a very generous and sacrificial gift for a nine year old who likes to keep track of his money. Two US dollars is worth nearly 10,000 Zambian dollars or kwachas. Two dollars will buy enough food to feed several children a couple of meals.

Two - what does it mean to you? More importantly what would be the proportional equivalent for you to share with your church, a mission agency, a relief organization or a local food bank? I am inspired by someone who is willing to part with a significant part of his resources simply to bless others who have nothing.

My prayer is that I will use that $2.00 wisely so that it may indeed be a blessing.

Pray for our team while we are gone. Pray that the Lord would knit us together as a close knit team. Pray for our safety and health.Pray that the Lord would use us to encourage, witness to and be of significant help to the people of Zambia that this trip will be worth it. And keep posted at this site as I hope to be posting several blogs from various places along the way. Thank you all for your prayers, support and encouragement.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

mealie-meal, nescafe, no water pressure

I am sitting at my desk drinking the last dregs of a cup of Starbucks Coffee that I bought earlier this afternoon. At best it is lukewarm. It brings up images in my mind of Revelation 3:16. To paraphrase, it is neither hot nor cold - just lukewarm and it is close to being spit out. Yechh. Still, it is better than the coffee available at most places in Zambia, the country I will be visiting again in just 9 short days. All you can get there is a cup of moderately hot water and a packet of Nescafe.

The title of today's blog is in reference to life in Zambia, which, once again this year, I will be visiting in a week and a half. Yes, that's right. I am going back to the country and city Judy and I visited last summer (2008). This time, there are 9 of us going as a joint team from Enumclaw Rotary and Calvary Presbyterian Church.

My local Rotary Club has named Village Steps and its commitment to assisting in educating Lusaka's poorest children as its International Project for 2009 and 2010. They have donated a significant amount of money toward Village Steps and to one of the schools Village Steps supports. With the money Rotary has committed, a well for safe water will be dug, we will purchase equipment to help the staff of The Healing Place School provide lunches for the children, and we will begin digging foundation trenches for their first classroom building. Right now, there are approximately 110 children who attend this school which exists because many of the kids in the Kabanana district cannot afford the $90.00 USD it takes to buy a uniform and books for one of the government schools.

Even for an in tact family, that is more than the average household annual income in Zambia. Most of these children are living with friends or extended family because they are orphans. One or more of their parents has died or is sick with HIV/AIDs.

While there, we will also be seeking to elicit the support of the Lusaka Central Rotary Club for this project which will enable us to apply for matching grant money from our Rotary District and from Rotary International. We read about the extreme poverty and need in the world and, at times, it is almost too overwhelming; we feel paralyzed from doing anything about it. Hopefully, 10 days, 9 people and lots of prayer and support from back home can make some difference in the lives of these children. They are only a small percentage of the orphans in Zambia (over 1 million) and in the world (130,000,000). But each one is an individual. Each one has a name. Each one is an object of God's love. Each one has a right to safe water, a nutritious meal each day and an education that will better equip them to live a productive and healthy life.

So I am willing to drink Nescafe (or take my own supply of ground coffee and a French Press) and eat nsima (also called mealie-meal, it is a staple of the Zambian diet. It is a thickened corn meal whose closest equivalent in the states might be grits). And I am also willing to endure sponge baths or weak showers. It seems a small sacrifice to make if I can do something to affect even one child's life.

From last year's experience, I also know that the greatest impact of a trip like this is the effect it has on the people participating. My life was transformed by going to Africa last summer just as it has been by building houses in Mexico or helping rebuild houses and lives after Hurricane Katrina.

Jesus once said that "the Son of Man did not come into the world to be served but to serve." Sometimes I look at my life and think of all the things I feel entitled to like really good coffee, abundant food, and way too many material possessions. Then I go to a developing country and see the stark contrasts of what is normal, and I am reminded once again that of all the things I enjoy in life, the greatest is the opportunity to serve others in Jesus' name. The Son of Man didn't even have a regular place to lay his head. I guess I can endure - and maybe even enjoy - living a little more like the majority of the world's people do.

Our team will be reflecting on Mark Labberton's book "The Dangerous Act of Worship while we are in Zambia. He says (among a whole bunch of thought provoking and convicting things)that a vigorous theology of never escapist. It's never about forgetting the neighbor, not least the neighbor who is blond and poor and oppressed and hungry. It is about never submitting again to the wrong yoke of slavery, but instead taking on the yoke of Jesus whose burden is light."

This trip is different in that it is not a church sponsored trip. So I can only speak for my own motives and my own convictions today, but I don't want my "yoke of slavery" to be my own personal rights, privileges and possessions. I want it to be the freeing yoke of servanthood to those the world tends to overlook and forget.

Now, I think I will finish that lukewarm cup of Starbucks. It may be one of the last one's I will have for awhile.