05 July 2013

Eunice Chidenga - A Story of Injustice

Eunice Chidenga was once a normal happy Zambian woman. She was married and had 6 wonderful children and a loving husband. Then her husband died in February 2010 at the young age of 39, and her nightmare began. Eunice lived in Siambani village in the Gwembe Valley of Zambia an area that is still extremely traditional and notorious for witch craft. As the custom goes after her husband died she was inherited by a relative of her husband.

There are many reasons good and bad for why a relative might inherit a wife. The good side is it is meant to make sure that a widow is cared for. Like Boaz being a kinsmen redeemer for Naomi it gives women the chance to keep family land. The bad reasons are numerous. For one thing there is a belief that your husband's ghost will haunt you if you are not "cleansed" (essentially raped) by one of your husband's male relatives. Another bad thing is the widow is often given no choice when she is inherited. What it often comes down to is that when there is poverty adding an additional wife with children who are not your own will most likely lead to abuse and neglect.

The man who inherited Eunice works on a kapenta boat meaning every night except during the full moon he is out on the boat. When he goes on land it's for 2 things, booze and sex, which consequently waste all of the money his family needs to survive. He would regularly arrive home and find no food because he hadn't given the family any money, so he would beat Eunice and some times the children blaming them for his money problems. Eunice's children are the sweetest kids anyone could ever hope for. They started calling their step father "Batata" a respectful word for Dad. He yelled at them screaming "Don't call me father. You have no father. Your father is dead, and I will never be a father to you!" Two of Eunice's children were teenagers, but of the youngest 2 were boys and 2 were girls. The step father didn't treat the girls too badly. He refused to allow them to go to school and used them for hauling water, washing clothes, and cooking food. He hated the boys. He refused to allow them to eat from his food, go to school, or pay for them to get medical treatment. Eunice started selling fritters and using the money she made to keep her children alive, but the money was never enough.

When I met Eunice and her 4 youngest kids Lasteria, Mashombe, Fleza, and Meter my heart was broken. Fleza and Mashombe were skin and bones. They came to my house in the morning and I saw the children shivering from the cold since they had neither long pants nor sweatshirts. Eunice bore scares of witchcraft on her chest and explained her husband had tried to kill her. She told me with tears in her eyes that she wanted me to take her children at the orphanage. She said she was going to leave the man who had inherited her, but she wouldn't be able to feed her children.

Helping people is more difficult than it seems. If I take in children who have a mother at the orphanage I'll be in hot water with Social Welfare, and I could jeopardize my project. Not only that, but I'm setting a precedent and will soon have dozens of mother's on my doorstep demanding that I also take their children and accusing me of favoritism. I could easily lose the respect of the community which could lead to the collapse of my whole project. Furthermore as amazing as I believe the orphanage is, I also believe if a child's mom is alive they'll usually be better off with her. I don't want to encourage people to abdicate their responsibility to care for their children or their relative's children. For even more reasons than I can put here I knew there was no way I could take in her children at my orphanage. I also knew that I had to help Eunice.

So I got her kids sweatshirts to help with the cold. The kids came by every day and Fleza and Meter would fight over who got to help me pump water for the garden. They won me over with their desire to help out in any way they could. Eunice moved to her parent's village about 4 kilometers away with her children. The man who inherited her didn't care at all. We decided to help her with food while she tries to get on her feet. Eunice loves her kids so much and is happy to have them with her and the kids love being around their grandparents who love them so much.

heaven to earth, to fight for justice, and fight to end suffering, so I've tried. What I know is that Eunice and the children's lives are no longer in danger, they are no longer cold, and they are no longer hungry. Please pray for Eunice and her children as they try to get back on their feet.

 This is a picture of Eunice receiving soem food after she moved to her parents place. She is pictured on the left with her daughter Lasteria on her left and Meter on her right. She is holding Trison her son from the man who inherited her. Her sister is sitting on her right.
 This is a picture of Fleza and Mashombe the first day I met them. I can say they are all smiles now.

13 May 2013

School of Dreams

We named the orphan sponsorship program in Congo "Masomo ya Ndoto" the School of Dreams because orphaned children would tell me their hopes and dreams and then explain that it would never happen because they weren't able to go to school. Many African nations have found ways to provide free primary school education within the past fifteen years. In Congo nothing is free and it's the poor who suffer from it. Orphans are usually the poorest of the poor and ranked at the very bottom of whatever family member happens to take them in. In a world where people are choosing to either put food on the table or pay school fees, no one is paying school fees.

When I lived in Congo I had a desire to help orphans. I was working in an area of Likasi called Shituru and through a series of events found about 100 orphaned children. I was living without electricity or running water and had no means to help all those kids. I remembered the story of Peter and John meeting the lame man at the gate saying they had no money to give but they would give what they had- the gospel. I started a weekly program where the orphans could come and hear the word of God. I used to have the kids memorize scripture and summarize stories. One day five year old Jean Paul explained the story of Elijah and the Ravens like this "God loved Elijah and he saw his hunger so he sent some birds to bring him food. I know that God loves me too and sees me when I am hungry and now I know he will somehow bring me food too."

I bonded with these kids week after week and prayed for some way to do something more tangible to help them. I talked with their guardians and asked what was the one thing they needed help with the most. They almost all answered school fees. I did the calculations and it seemed nearly impossible to raise enough money for all of the kids. I started aiming to just start with grade 1 and then hopefully add from there. School starts in September and by June I had nearly given up. Then in July I had a meeting with some friends who run a Christian school. They said they heard about the orphans and also wanted to help. They told me they would allow the kids to go there at half the normal price and consider the loss they would incur their Christian contribution to the orphans. I still didn't have enough money but all of a sudden it felt doable. That week someone gave me $2000 and before September the project was fully funded and has been ever since.

It is a Christian school and the person I trained in Children's ministry still does the chapel services every Friday. While I was last there I got to do them myself. It was so much fun to see the same kids so excited about the things of God. They came up to me one by one expressing their gratitude for the opportunity to receive an education. Their teachers all sang their praises and explained how much more seriously the orphaned children are about school than their peers.

Being able to visit them was such a blessing to me. I am so thankful to everyone who has given towards the project! The story is such a good reminder to me about how when we step out in faith and give what we can, God will make a way even when it seemed impossible!

05 April 2013

Public Transportation

After years of living in Africa without a car I've mastered the local forms of public transportation. We have nice comfortable coach buses for long distances, but also crammed buses with chickens, luggage, and people everywhere.  Minibuses cram between 19 and 30 people into a 15 passenger van and tend to have the most aggressive and frightening drivers.

To travel short distances on a main road hitchhiking is your best bet. Although minibuses will take you they are not always there when you need them. Hitchhiking in Zambia is completely safe and normal. Everyone knows the rates minibuses charge to go places and ask hitchhikers to pay the same amount to offset their fuel costs.

In Zambia for going into the rural areas we use lorries or 3 ton flat bed trucks. Going into the bush is always crowded and uncomfortable. The tricky part is you are actually sitting above the sides of the truck a lot of the time and as the roads are terrible you are bouncing around and leaning quite a bit. It's easy to fall off.

In Congo just about the only way to get places in the bush is with a motorcycle taxi. Congo is filled with laterite clinging dust so after every ride we look like a new race of orange people. With bugs flying into your face and dust obstructing your vision it's not terribly pleasant, but it sure beats walking.

There are obvious downsides of public transportation, but somehow I've come to genuinely enjoy it. I love meeting random people along the way to where I'm going. There is a true sense of community in the back of those lorries. I enjoy eaves dropping on conversations about politics, education, and life in general. I love the freedom of being able to go places without having a vehicle. I take pleasure in being able to read while I'm traveling and not having to drive. It's also usually cheaper which is always nice.

08 March 2013

The Tragedies of Child Birth

Yesterday I saw a friend while I was in town buying supplies for the orphanage. She lives only a few kilometers from our orphanage in the bush. She has such a big personality and speaks good English so we've become friends. I saw her in town decked out in her best clothes. She was grinning from ear to ear and almost skipped as she walked. She greeted me and asked about my family all the while bursting with excitement to tell me her news. "My daughter has given birth today... and it's twins!" She went on and on about how beautiful the girls are and how much they look like her family and how proud she was of her daughter. Neither she nor her daughter had had any idea her daughter was carrying twins so it was a surprise. We didn't talk for too long because she was off to buy more supplies for the unexpected second baby. Before we parted ways she told me they were naming the girls Linda and Sheri after me and my mom.

Then today when she came by my house I thought she just wanted to invite me to go to the hospital to meet the girls. Then I saw the distress all over her face. As I put out my hand for the general greeting of a handshake she grabbed me and forced me into a hug which is very unusual in Zambian culture. Then I felt her tears on my shoulder as she said the words "My daughter has died." I held her in an embrace as she recounted the story. Her daughter began to bleed and the doctors couldn't control it. They can't perform surgery in Kalomo so they arranged to transport her to Choma Hospital about an hour's drive away. By the time they arrived in Choma it was too late and her daughter died.

Child birth should be such a joyous occasion, but far too often it ends in tragedy. I've seen so many mothers die because of pregnancy and child birth not to mention how many of the babies have died too. I read Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn's Half the Sky and it explains that so little is being done to improve maternal health because it is not cost effective. For the same amount of money you could provide malaria medicine and other medical assistance that saves far more lives so money simply isn't being invested into maternal health. As the book goes on to say even though it may not be cost effective we should do it anyway because it is the right thing to do.

One of my sisters had complications with her delivery and needed a C section. Because she was in America it was pretty simple. Mother and baby were in distress, the doctors recognized the signs and took her in for an emergency c section, and my sister and her baby are fine. Had my sister been a village lady in Mapampi she wouldn't be alive today and neither would my nephew or my niece. It's not fair that my friends here in Zambia die of complications that are so easily treatable in the western world.

I know there is no simple solution to the problems of maternal health. I do want to see less money being spent on mosquito nets that end up being used for fishing instead of to prevent malaria which most people don't even die of these days, and more money being invested into maternal health. I am so happy that I have a few friends who are midwives with the desire to work with women in rural areas to improve maternal health. I'm so happy to know people who are contributing to solutions to this problem.

13 February 2013

Fairford Farm

Last Sunday my church decided to take church to a new location- Fairford Farm. It's a neighboring farm to Chabwino Farm where our church is located. So people walked as far as 8 kilometers to reach this new location and meet with strangers there.

It's rainy season here in Zambia. This year we've gotten more rain than usual and this past week has been one of the rainiest I've seen in my 20 years here in Zambia. Rainy season means growing season for Zambians in the rural areas. Even the employees on large farms keep a small field of maize during the rains in addition to their regular jobs. For example Pastor Muchinga is the head butcher at Chabwino farm, but he along with his wife and children have a one acre maize field. Employees working for large farms work 6 days a week making Sunday their only day off and in rainy season they have to use that day to care for their fields.

I had never been to Fairford Farm before Sunday. All I knew about it was that there were no churches on the farm and ours was the closest being only about 3 kilometers away. We pulled up to find a large area of dirt that had been swept clean of all leaves, sticks, etc by Pastor Kaomba who had arrived early to get things ready. The entire pastoral staff including myself had been fasting and praying for this meeting and hoping not to be rained out as the dark clouds lurked above us. As we began singing the people began to trickle in. They kept coming until we numbered more than one hundred people.

As the service began so did the rains. Thankfully it wasn't hard rains just a steady constant drizzle but enough to make you wet and cold. I looked out at all the people sitting on the dirt ground and wondered if they would retreat to their homes to avoid the rain. To my amazement the people refused to leave. They found umbrellas and huddled together to try to avoid getting soaked, but no one left. I could see how hungry they were for the things of God in their eyes. It was obvious how much they were enjoying the opportunity to worship together.

After the service was over people came up to us one by one and thanked us profusely for coming and giving them the opportunity to go to church. They begged us to not forget about them. Their words hit me straight in the heart. There are so many places in rural Africa were there are no churches. I was amazed by their excitement and hunger for church as it should be. Not a building, we were after all meeting outside in the rain, but a community of people who can worship and grow together while supporting one another.

As soon as we started off in the vehicle to return home it began to down pour. If the downpour had come earlier I doubt anyone would have even been able to hear what was going on even if they had decided to stay. God's grace, faithfulness, and timing are more wonderful than words can describe.

We've invited everyone at Fairford Farm to take the walk and meet at our church on Sunday mornings. It will be a sacrifice for any who choose to do so since it will be giving up half of their only day off when their fields are crying out for cultivation, but I know many will make that sacrifice because they understand the parable of the pearl of great price.

21 December 2012

The Meaning of Christmas

I was asked to speak at a friend's church about the meaning of Christmas. I've been thinking a lot about it and what would be a good sermon. Christmas is so rich with meaning, beauty, glory, and power. After much thought I decided that at least for this year the meaning of Christmas is sacrifice.

Jesus sacrificed everything to save us, to show us the way, and to destroy the works of the devil. Because he gave up everything we gained everything. The magi sacrificed to travel from the east to see a baby they somehow new would change the world. And they gave that baby gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Why did they give the baby they believed would save the world something used for burial? They must have known and grasped that Jesus would be a suffering servant. He would save us by sacrificing his own life.

When we think about giving things up or sacrificing it tends to leave a bad feeling in our gut. But we're told Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before him. The story of Christmas is a celebration. The kingdom of God is so radical because it teaches us to put ourselves at the bottom. The way of the kingdom is to consider others more important than yourself. What if we stopped working so hard to build our own lives constantly defending ourselves, talking about ourselves, spending our money on ourselves, spending our time on ourselves, and started working hard to build up others and not only our friends but even the undeserving. After all can any of us say we are deserving of Christ's sacrifice? What if our attitude was one of sacrifice, one of willingness to give everything for those around us for the sake of God's Kingdom?

Perhaps you've sacrificed in the past and it left you miserable. Perhaps you want to sacrifice because you feel guilty or because you want to win points with God. Those reasons have nothing to do with the Christmas message. What we need is transformation, and our only motivation should be love. God wants to change us so that sacrificing for others is a joy. So this Christmas I'm remembering that the way up is down, that giving is so much better than receiving, and that it's not about me and my rights. It's all about Jesus.

10 December 2012

Only by God's Grace

I've known Kelvin and Azuriah Siabukandu for over 5 years now. I can't tell you how many things they have taught me and how much they have encouraged and inspired my relationship with God. One of the biggest lessons I've been learning from them now is humility. Kelvin is an uneducated man from the bush who had no interest in God or church. Somehow over the past 7 years God has completely transformed his life. He can now speak English, is a shop owner, and a pastor. When he opened his shop he named it "Choolwe" (Lucky). I was surprised he hadn't selected a Bible verse or a family name or something less common. He explained to me that he had selected the name because there was no good reason why he, an uneducated man from the rural area, could be a shop owner. "I'm telling you it can only be by the grace of God."

Grace is something I've been contemplating a lot lately. Some times it's easy to think that I've gotten where I am by pulling myself up by my own bootstraps. I work hard therefore I see good results. I'm a Christian striving to follow God and have been consistently from childhood because I'm intelligent, I work at it, or maybe I just have more faith than others. But it hit me that kind of thinking is completely void of grace.

Kelvin could have said he had worked really hard to learn English and that had helped him get ahead. He could have said he started reading books and trying to educate himself. He could have said he did his research from other shop owners to learn how to do the job. He could have said he managed his money wisely and scrupulously saved every penny to afford to open a shop. He could have said he just had more faith than other people and read the Bible and prayed more or that he had a better grasp on spiritual truths. But instead he proudly proclaims to anyone who will listen that he's just a nobody who got lucky. Of course Kelvin is always quick to couple his explanation with how everything good in his life is only by the grace of God.

So I started to think about what happens when we attribute all of our successes to our own goodness and ability. We become judgmental and proud. But people like Kelvin have an unshakable confidence and a deep seated humility, because their confidence comes from Christ not from within.

I'm not really a Calvinist, but in this area I think Calvinistic theology may be a bit more on point with my experience. If God hadn't called me how would I have become a Christian? If the Holy Spirit hadn't worked in my life how would I be striving to follow Christ? If God hadn't given me revelation and strength how would I have not stumbled or fallen away from God at some point? If God wasn't leading my life and blessing me with gifts and abilities how would I be intelligent, or gifted, or successful in any way? Apart from Christ I truly am nothing, but with Him I am everything! If I truly view every good thing in my life as something I haven't earned but just a blessing from God because of his unmerited grace how can I ever be prideful? How can I look down on anyone unless I feel superior to them and how can I feel superior to them unless I forget that anything that may make me seem superior is unmerited on my part, just a free gift, just me getting lucky? I thank God for His grace and pray that others may experience it too.