Monday, August 29, 2005

Stranded on Munali Hill

We knew it would happen sooner or later. It was only a matter of time. Our time to be stranded by a vehicle breakdown happened Wednesday. We had taken Patson, one of the Zambian evangelists, into Lusaka to apply for a visa at the American Embassy. We had spent the Tuesday night in Lusaka so that we could be at the embassy before 8:00 a.m. The application and interview took two hours, and then there was grocery shopping to be done. We were ahead of schedule when we left Lusaka at 2:00 in the afternoon, confident that we had plenty of time to complete the five-hour trip before dark.

At 3:30 the battery light came on and the engine started overheating. We were on a narrow two-lane road in the hills of Kafue by then and began looking desperately for a place to pull off where we would also have cell phone service. We finally located a “lay-by” or additional lane added for passing and stopping. As soon as the Land Rover stopped, the unmistakable sound of steam hissing from the radiator hit our ears. Boiling water spewed onto the pavement and ran down the hill. Diagnosis: broken fan belt.

We called Kelly Hamby back at Namwianga. Just an hour earlier, two big yellow school buses from the Mission had passed us on their way into Lusaka, taking women to a three-day meeting. Kelly called the drivers and asked them to bring one of the buses and tow us back to Namwianga. That seemed like a good enough plan, so we settled down to wait for our rescue.

Patson pointed out that we were on Munali Hill and there was a monument just across the road. We walked over and climbed up some steps to the top of a small hill. The marker noted that from this spot David Livingstone had first sighted the Kafue River. The local natives named the spot Munali Hill in honor of Livingstone. Munali means “The Red One.”

Sightseeing completed, we looked for other ways to fill the afternoon. I finished reading the biography of Albert Schweitzer and worked crossword puzzles until the sky began to darken. When the light faded, David, Patson, and I decided to get out of the vehicle and sit on the hillside. We enjoyed long conversations about our families and work at the mission. Patson taught us some Tonga hymns, and the night kept getting darker.

David had bought a newspaper in Lusaka and had read us an article about the night sky. It seems that Mars was going to be more visible this night than it had been in years. We were to look for it on the lower right of the moon. The only catch was that the sighting wouldn’t occur until 10:45. In the meantime there was no moon at all.

A moonless night in Zambia can be described by words like inky, black, and even . . . spooky. We have heard lots of stories about bush animals like lions and leopards. Our rational minds knew that those animals are found only in game parks, but I’ll admit that more than once we jumped up and shone the flashlight into the brush behind us when we heard a noise. We began to scan the road for vehicles coming our way, hoping each time that the lights were those of the big yellow bus coming to get us.

Four hours after we broke down, the bus finally pulled up. Jeremiah, Donald, and Zimba jumped out with the tow bar and (gulp) nothing to use to fasten the tow bar to the vehicles. They’d been searching the stores in Kafue for rope or chain and had no luck. No problem, we say, because we have these great tie-down straps for the Land Rover! The guys set to work fastening the tow bar to the Land Rover, but what’s this? The bus had no towing hitch! There are two yellow buses, you see, and only one has a hitch. I didn’t even want to ask why they chose to bring this one. There was some sort of hook under the bus, so they fastened the tow bar to the hook. This entire process took about an hour, but finally we slowly pulled out and headed up and over Munali Hill.

Donald and Zimba were in the Land Rover. Jeremiah was driving the bus with David, Patson, and I in it. We’d gone less than a mile when Donald started honking the horn. We stopped immediately, and this time there was no shoulder on the road, so were in the roadway. The hook on the bus faced the wrong direction, so the tow bar had already slipped off. The guys got busy trying to work on the situation, and I got busy with the flashlight directing traffic around our vehicles. Let’s just summarize the next hour by saying that I know a lot more about the size of 18-wheeler rigs than I really ever wanted to know. I utilized my favorite coping technique by singing all the verses of “Anywhere with Jesus” a few times.

(Side note to any of my former students who are reading this: I always taught that song to my classes so you would have it in your head when you were out in some dark, scary place and needed to remember some comforting words. It certainly worked for me!)

Once we were moving again, we decided to try a Plan B. We would stop at a village and leave the Land Rover to be picked up in the morning. We stopped at a roadside village. Again the road had no shoulder, so again we were right in the roadway and I was out directing traffic. By this time it was so late at night that there were very few vehicles moving. The dogs in the village announced our arrival, but no one came to greet us. The guys yelled a few times, but decided the villagers were too scared to come out, so we moved on.

Kelly called us at this point and gave us Plan C. John and Shadrach were on their way from Namwianga with a truck. We would find a safe place to leave the Land Rover with Donald in it, and John and Shadrach would come tow it in while the rest of us came on in the bus. By this time the guys had done a good job of getting the tow bar attached to the bus, so on we went. An hour later we limped into Mazabuka and found a deserted filling station. We unhitched the Land Rover and pushed it into a lighted area. Now we had to unload all the groceries from the Land Rover onto the bus. As we were doing this task, we discovered the station wasn’t deserted. It seems there was a night watchman, and he didn’t want us to leave the vehicle there, at least not without some rental fee. Some negotiations ensued, some kwacha went from David’s pocket into the watchman’s pocket, and Donald, Zimba, and the Land Rover stayed while the bus pulled out.

By the way, the moon did eventually come up and we had a spectacular view of Mars.

It was 2:00 a.m. when we arrived back at the mission. Again the groceries were unloaded. We collapsed into bed at 2:30 and slept as only those who have been stranded for hours by the side of a road in rural Zambia can sleep.

John and Shadrach, meanwhile, had taken a fan belt off another Land Rover at the mission before they set out. When they got to Mazabuka, they put that belt on our Land Rover and one of the guys drove the Land Rover home. All of them got in at 6:00 a.m.

The next day David and I marveled at how calmly we had handled the whole situation. Neither one of us had gotten upset or overly worried. We hadn’t snapped at each other or someone else in anger. We decided that this kind of situation is an expected happening when you live where we do and go where we go.

Just another day in Zambia.

Friday, August 26, 2005

News and Notes - August 26

If you remember, we were told our house would be ready August 20. Today is August 26, and the house is still not ready. It is getting closer, however! The painting is almost done. The kitchen cabinets are almost finished. The electrical wiring and plumbing are near completion.

In the meantime, we moved again. (Move number six in six months!) This time we moved into the Hamby’s house after they went back to the states. The guesthouse where we had been staying is reserved for a group from Canada beginning in early September. Plus, the kitchen at the Hamby house was all set up and ready, whereas the guesthouse kitchen did not have dishes, pans, and supplies out and ready to use. It was easier to move than to dig our kitchen stuff out of storage. Keep in mind that none of our moves here in Africa has involved much furniture—just clothes, books, and office supplies.

There has been diesel for sale for the last ten days or so. We’ve filled up at every opportunity and have kept our jerry cans filled as well. Now we’ve heard that the refinery--remember there is only one in Zambia--has had another problem and is shut down again. We are hoping for the best and are continuing to schedule outreaches.

A new missionary couple and their three children have joined the work at Namwianga. We are enjoying their company and are learning together. Keep Bart and Stacy Bruington and their children in your prayers as they adjust to this new way of life.

We have had so many adventures lately that I can’t get all of them onto the blog until I have more time to write. Be watching for “Stranded on Munali Hill” and for news about the well drilling project.

A scripture has sustained me over and over since we came to Africa. I memorized it in the King James Version years ago and still prefer that wording. From Isaiah 26:3 “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee.”

Grace and Peace.

Part 2 of Trip to South Africa

The border crossing to enter Botswana was not quite as complicated, requiring only an hour for the official paperwork, stamping, and waiting. Then we headed north through desolate flatlands. Our original plan was to arrive at Nata and spend the night, but the delay at the border made that impossible. Just after dark we drove into Francistown. At the restaurant where we ate our meal, the manager discouraged us from traveling farther at night. “There are too many animals in the road,” he said.

So we spent the night in Francistown and headed out at 6 a.m. the following morning. We drove through miles and miles of commercial farming areas. At one point the fields on both sides of the road were waves of black as far as I could see. The fields were planted with sunflowers! Later we passed miles and miles of cotton fields. The cotton had been harvested and was piled in huge mountains that looked just like snow. Since this was the dry season, the cotton could be left in piles until transport vehicles arrived to take it in for ginning.

We understood what the restaurant manager meant about animals when we had to stop for six ostriches to cross the road in front of us. Another time a donkey stood right in the middle of the road like a statue and watched us with mournful eyes as we carefully maneuvered around him. Cows seemed more willing to get off the roadway when they saw us coming.

At noon we were near the Zambian border. We had eaten only snack food for breakfast, so we opted to stop for lunch at a restaurant. There is no such thing as fast food in our part of Africa, so the meal took almost two hours to complete. That slowed us down in getting to the border crossing. Since the border is the Zambezi River, we had to cross on the Kazangula ferry. The line of trucks and cars waiting for the ferry was long, so there was more sitting and waiting. A clearing agent approached the bus and offered to go on across to Zambia and get the paperwork started, so we sent him on ahead. We finally got our turn on the ferry and had a short and uneventful trip across the water. Just a few years ago a huge trailer rig drove off the edge of the ferry and caused it to capsize. Almost all the passengers drowned because they could not swim and there were no life jackets. On this new ferry there were plenty of life jackets and we made sure we wore them!

We noticed two huge groups of children in school uniforms who were crossing into Botswana, and we wondered what they were doing there at 4:00 in the afternoon. When we stepped off into Zambia we were surprised to see Mr. Sikute, a member of the Zambian Board. He informed us that he was there as part of a greeting committee for the arrival of the president of Madagascar, and that the school children were there to sing for the president. The clearing agent grabbed us and told us that there was not enough time to complete the paperwork on the bus, so it was to be impounded in Livingstone for the night and we had to get it there by 6:00. We rushed through immigration and made our way through the crowds of people waiting for the presidential motorcade. The clearing agent rode with us into Livingstone and allowed us to find a lodge before taking the vehicle to the impounding yard.

The next day we endured another six hours of waiting for official inspections and paperwork. The impounding yard closed at 1:00, so there was a flurry of activity from noon on, and we were finally cleared to leave around 2:00. The trip back to Namwianga was blissfully uncomplicated, and we were able to say with enthusiasm, “It’s good to be home!”

Monday, August 22, 2005

Trip to South Africa

We experienced “the other Africa” last week. Rod and Sue Calder run an orphanage and farm next to Namwianga. They suggested that we make a trip to Johannesburg, South Africa, to buy items for our house. They are from Johannesburg themselves and assured us that we would find a greater selection and much lower prices. The Calders were picking up a bus in South Africa, so we could ride home with them. They even found a cousin of theirs that we could stay with. It was too good an offer to refuse!

We flew down last Monday. Rod and Sue met us at the airport and took us to the home of Ivan and Marlene Currie, Sue’s cousins. The Curries live in a beautiful Italian style home and were superb hosts. Besides feeding us delicious meals, the Curries transported us all around the area.

Johannesburg is a world away from Namwianga! The city is every bit as modern and industrialized as Dallas or Houston, if not more so. The malls and shopping centers were huge, the traffic was horrendous, and the pace of life hectic. Almost all of the goods available to buy are manufactured right in South Africa, and the prices were very comparable to what we would have paid in the U.S. We shopped non-stop for two and a half days and were able to get almost everything on our lengthy list.

One highlight of our trip was a hospital visit to see Johnny and Cindy Robinson. Johnny is an American on the medical mission team who began having seizures and had to be evacuated to Mill Park Hospital in Johannesburg on July 9. He was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor and chose to have surgery at Mill Park. We spent the afternoon at the hospital with Johnny and Cindy on Wednesday. We were thrilled to hear later that he was dismissed from Mill Park on Friday! He will have a follow-up visit with his doctors this week and hopefully they will be on their way home this weekend. It has been a long and difficult time for the Robinsons, but they have made the best of their situation by sharing their faith in every situation.

We worshipped with the Benoni congregation on Wednesday evening and received a warm welcome. We even managed to find people there who are connected to family and friends of ours in the U.S. It is a very small world in many ways!

Friday morning we set off at 5 a.m. for the return trip to Zambia. In the Calder’s 27-passenger Coaster bus we joined Rod and Sue, their three children, and Rod’s mother. The back of the bus was filled with all the goods that our two families had purchased in Johannesburg. We crossed South Africa on Friday morning, arriving at the border post at noon. Now the complexities of border bureaucracy began! We first traipsed over to a dismal brick office to find a clearing agent. Rod had to clear the bus and his goods through customs, and we had to clear the things we had purchased. The clearing agent did her work and then sent us back to the bus to wait for the customs inspector. He arrived some time later and insisted that he needed to see the vehicle number on the engine to make sure it matched the number on the forms. Rod, David, and Sue began to search for the number as the disinterested inspector stood at a distance and complained of being sick. He offered no help in locating the number, even though there were two Coaster buses just ahead of us that he had inspected, which means he must have had some idea where the numbers were located. His female co-worker finally suggested to Rod that we “just give him something,” intimating that a bribe might speed up the process. Rod carefully explained that as a Christian he was unwilling to do that, so she left and the search for the number continued. Finally Rod scraped some rust away and found the vehicle number. We called the inspector back and he grudgingly completed his part of the paperwork. There was still more paperwork to endure, more waiting, more stamping of official stamps. Three and a half hours after we arrived we were finally on our way into Botswana.

To be continued. . .

Saturday, August 13, 2005


It’s usually a good thing to be able to laugh at yourself, especially if you’re a missionary in a new culture. We are laughing along with everyone else at Namwianga over yesterday’s goof-up.

There has been no diesel in Zambia for more than two weeks now. Every day we hear rumors that “the trucks will be arriving tomorrow.” And so we hope and wait and conserve what little fuel we have left by staying close to home.

On Friday morning we were on our way to Dube, a congregation near Kalomo, to participate in a church gathering. David was to deliver a lecture and I was going to do the children’s program. We stopped on our way through Kalomo at the filling station to pick up my translator, Jerrie. David asked Jerrie if the station had any diesel yet, and Jerrie said yes. David asked him again, just to make sure, and Jerrie again said yes and pointed to the pump as he declared, “It’s in that pump right over there.” One more time David said, “Are you sure?” and Jerrie again assured him that there was diesel. David even asked why there wasn’t a queue (line), and Jerrie said he didn’t know. We started to pull over to fill up, but then we checked David’s wallet, and he didn’t have any kwacha. So we headed on out to Dube, but we couldn’t keep good news like that to ourselves, so we called back to Ellie at Namwianga and told her the that yes, indeed, finally there was diesel in Kalomo at the filling station.

Innocently we went on with our day. I set up the children’s classes and got them going while David preached. His cell phone rang during the lecture, but he turned it off and went on with the lesson. The question and answer session lasted a long time after he finished speaking, so it was more than an hour later when he returned the call from Ellie and found out what had happened.

It seems that our diesel news spread like wildfire through Namwianga. Everyone who owned a diesel vehicle (and that’s most of the drivers at Namwianga) packed up and headed for Kalomo. The motor pool even loaded 55-gallon drums on the back of a truck and took them in. One driver had gone to Choma (an hour away) to look for fuel, and he hurried back south when his wife relayed the news to him on the cell phone.

It must have been quite a gathering when they arrived at the filling station and found out that THERE STILL WAS NO DIESEL IN KALOMO!!!!! Cell phones began ringing again, telling those on the way to turn back. We’re pretty certain that questions about the sanity and trustworthiness of the Gregersens circulated freely.

With egg on our face we returned late that afternoon. No tar and feathers, thankfully, just lots of good-natured ribbing about how gullible we must be to believe that there would be diesel in Kalomo with no long line of cars waiting to fill up!

Our best guess is that we had a communication breakdown with Jerrie. Since he doesn’t drive or own a car, he may not have even known that there was a diesel shortage and just assumed that we were asking if the filling station was a dealer of diesel. Obviously, he didn’t understand our question.

We’re patiently enduring the light-hearted teasing of our co-workers. At least we can take comfort in knowing that we have increased the repertoire of humorous stories about Namwianga missionaries.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Haven

Orphan care is one of the many ministries sponsored by Namwianga Mission. The home for infants and young children is appropriately named The Haven. I visited this amazing place recently and interviewed Cecilia Siafwiyo. She and her husband, Thomas, are houseparents at The Haven.

A generous Canadian family financed the spacious brick house. Built in 2001, the home features a large central living area. On one side of the living area are four bedrooms for the Haven’s infants and children. On the other side are three rooms for the Siafwiyo family. Two of these rooms are used as bedrooms and one is used to store cans of baby formula.

On the day I visited, the entire facility was spotlessly clean and in perfect order. Along one wall of the living area were bouncy seats for toddlers. Another wall was lined with high chairs. A table with recessed seats for up to eight little ones sat near the door to the kitchen. Cecilia led us through the infant bedrooms—bright, cheerful places with several cribs and a set of bunk beds in each. Three infant swings swayed gently in the hallway. Busy workers, called “aunties,” were lovingly holding and feeding the little ones.

Even though my visit was unannounced, Cecilia graciously agreed to an impromptu interview. Her daughter Harriet also joined us. Harriet and her husband live in a small house behind the Haven, and Harriet provides much needed help with the children and housework.

Linda: How many Haven children do you have right now? What are their ages?
Cecilia: We have twenty-one today. One went home just yesterday.
Harriet: Eighteen are under two years of age. The oldest child is nine years old. The youngest is three months old.

Linda: How many children do you and Thomas have and how many live here?
Cecilia: We have one child living at home and one who is in boarding school at Namwianga. Our other three children are married.

Linda: How do the babies come to you?
Cecilia: They just come! The Merritts began keeping babies years ago, so people know that Namwianga will take care of needy children.

Linda: Are all of the babies orphans? (Note: In Zambia a child is called an orphan if one parent has died.)
Cecilia: Not all of them. Most of them are here because the mother died and the family has no way to feed the child.
Harriet: But we also get babies from multiple births. We have two little boys who are quadruplets. One baby died and the parents kept one baby. The other two will go back home when they are about two years old. We also have two triplets.

Linda: Do all the babies go back to their families by the time they are two years old?
Cecilia: Most of them do, if there is an aunt, grandmother, or other family member who can take care of them. But some families leave children here and never come back for them.

Linda: What will happen to those children? Will you raise them as part of your family?
Cecilia: (At this point Cecilia had a look of surprise on her face—as if she couldn’t believe I would even ask such an obvious question.) Of course!

Linda: How much baby formula do you use in a day and where do you get the formula?
Harriet: We use six tins (cans) of powdered formula (400 grams each) every day.
Cecilia: Roy Merritt buys it in Lusaka. The mission also provides formula for families who take care of babies at home when the mother has died. Right now we give formula to fifty families.

Linda: How many people do you have working for you here?
Cecilia: There are seven women who take care of the babies. Three of them work at night (5 p.m. to 7 a.m.). Four work during the day (7 a.m. to 5 p.m.). We have one man who does the laundry and another who takes care of the lawn and garden.

Linda: Who does the cleaning and the cooking?
Cecilia: Harriet and I clean the kitchen and living areas. The caregivers keep the children’s area clean. Harriet and I do most of the cooking with help from the caregivers when they have time.

Linda: What was the hardest thing for you to learn or get used to?
Cecilia: Not to sleep well.

Linda: Do you ever get a good night’s sleep?
Cecilia: I am up every night with the babies.
Harriet: When the babies are sick, she only gets one or two hours of sleep.

Linda: Do you ever get any time off?
Cecilia: Not really. I go to church for two hours on Sunday morning, and I go to town to do shopping.

Linda: What do you enjoy most about your job?
Cecilia: Playing with the babies! I love the work I do!

The cost of caring for an orphan at Namwianga is $50 per month. Right now two babies do not have sponsors. If you would like to become a sponsor, please contact us or write to Zambia Mission, 3103 Memorial Road, Edmond, OK 73013. One-time donations to buy formula are also welcomed.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Sunday at Kanyaya

There has been no diesel for sale in Zambia for two weeks now. We are down to a quarter of a tank, so we are staying close to Namwianga. Sunday, August 7, Rodgers Namuswa arranged for us to visit the Kanyaya congregation just a few kilometers north of Kalomo. We had a “Rover-ful” of people with Mr. and Mrs. Namuswa, Mr. and Mrs. Peter Mufwafwa, David Kalimanshila, Jean Mushatila, and Mrs. Jope. The trip wasn’t long, but the road was a narrow path through a wooded farming area. Tree branches and thorn bushes scraped against the sides of the Land Rover, threatening to snap off the side mirrors.

The mud and thatch building had split log seats. The women and children sat on the right and the men sat on the left. When all the seats were filled on the right, the children found places to sit on a straw mat at the front. I should know by now to expect the unexpected, but I was still taken by surprise when Rodgers Namuswa stood up and announced that since there were so many children, Mrs. Jope and I would take them outside for Sunday School! I had a few moments of panic—after all, I was unarmed. I had no flip charts, no crafts, no puppets, and no lesson plan! But I did have Mrs. Jope, and she seemed to be unruffled as she led us out the side door, singing as she went.

We settled the group in the shade of a large tree. Mrs. Jope led a few more songs while I formed a battle plan. These children didn’t grow up with TV, so it wasn’t hard to hold their attention. I told the story of Jesus calming the sea and then we acted out the storm with sound effects. Then I told the story of Zaccheus. The shade tree provided a great prop, and we sent one of the little boys up the trunk to be Zaccheus as we acted out the story below him. One more story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 and then the service was over.

After the traditional handshakes and greetings, the men settled under the tree for a Bible class with David and the women came inside for my lesson with them. A few of the women remained outside cooking dinner over an open fire. When Bible class time ended, we women visitors were served our meal on the straw mat inside the building. The visiting men were served in the back part of the room. This is the Zambian tradition for mealtimes—the men eat separately from the women and children.

Besides the usual nshima and chicken, this menu included mpongo (goat) and rice. The rice, the women said, was served because they weren’t sure that David and I could eat the nshima with our fingers like they do. (We can and do.) Nshima is the staple of their diets. Rice is more expensive and is reserved for special occasions.

As we got ready to leave, we went back outside and found the women who had cooked our dinner and thanked them. Apparently the entire congregation was going to have a meal next. I counted ten pots of various sizes arranged in the fire.

We’re already looking forward to next Sunday. We don’t know where we’ll be, but we know that the Zambians will welcome us warmly—and probably cook us some great nshima!

News and Notes

I suspect some of our readers think that we are a little bit crazy for moving to Africa in our fifties. While we admit to a little bit of craziness, we also want to remind you that we have some nice perks over here. For instance, most of you are sweltering in the August heat. We, on the other hand, are enjoying cool mornings and evenings, with daytime temperatures in the 70’s and NO humidity. Yes, I know that our time is coming, and we will eventually be enduring the high temperatures without air conditioning, but we can gloat a little right now, can’t we?

Our house is still under construction. Andrew, the man in charge of the project, assured us this morning that it will be finished August 20.

Last week members of the Zambian Board met with three visiting members of the American Board. The Americans left on Friday just as a new team of drip irrigation and water well drilling people began arriving. This is a happening place!

A church leader from Singwamba was here last week to report that three new congregations have already begun as a result of the medical mission in July.

Saturday, August 06, 2005


Several of my friends had asked me, “What are you going to do about your hair when you’re in Africa?” To be honest, I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do. There were several options: Grow it out and wear it in a bun, like a stereotypical missionary wife is supposed to do. Or, cut it myself, which I’ve never done and really don’t want to try. Or, let David cut it. I wont’ even go there. Sue Calder lives on the farm next to the mission, and she let it slip that she has cut hair for some, so that was a possibility. Sue also told me that there was a place in Lusaka that cut makua (white person) hair. With no diesel for sale, the long drive to Lusaka didn’t seem too wise.

Then I heard through the grapevine that Kathi Merritt had used a place in Livingstone. My hair had gotten shaggy, and to make matters worse my curling iron was broken. I did have some hair curlers, but they were locked away in storage somewhere. Desperate times require desperate acts. David and I went to Livingstone to take some people to the airport, so I decided to give the Livingstone place a try.

The salon was unmarked from the street, but I’d heard that you went up the steps by the Pub and Grill and the salon would be on the second floor. David came along for moral support. We climbed a dark stairway and found the salon, a nice-looking establishment at the top. A quick look around showed me there were no other makuas, so I timidly asked the lady at the desk, “Do you cut hair like mine?” She nodded, so I asked if I needed an appointment. “No, we can take you right now,” she replied.

That was a little sudden for me! After all, would they know how to cut my baby fine, wavy tresses? Too late! The lady at the desk called to one of the beauty operators and the next thing I knew I was seated in a swivel chair. The one who was to cut my hair disappeared for a few minutes. David had found a couch to sit on to watch the fun. I looked at him wild-eyed and mouthed the words, “Let’s get out of here!” but he just grinned and shook his head. Too late again!

My unsmiling operator returned and without a word began spraying my hair with water and vigorously (ouch!) massaging the water in to get my hair all wet. Then the scissors appeared. Finally she spoke, “What do you want?”

“Just one centimeter trimmed off,” I said, and held my fingers apart to show just a tiny space. Silently she grabbed her scissors and started to work. She slowly and methodically did her cutting, and from what I could tell, she was doing it just like my hairdresser in Austin used to do. I noticed with a little start that the hair falling on my shoulders was more like an inch long than a centimeter. Oh well, I reasoned, my hair grows fast anyway. She didn’t say a word as she worked, and I couldn’t come up with any small talk to offer.

She finally put down the scissors, and then seemed a little unsure of what to do next. She found a blow dryer and aimed it at my hair as she pulled the top hair up and moved it around. Then she combed it back off my face and curled it under my ears a bit. Finally she stepped back and asked me if it was okay. “It’s fine,” I said. “Where do I pay?” She pointed to the lady at the reception desk.

Now I began to worry how much this was going to cost me. After all, the salon was very nicely furnished and had several operators. What if this was an expensive place and I didn’t have enough kwacha? I was pretty sure they wouldn’t take my Visa card or my Austin Credit Union check. “How much?” I asked, with fear and trepidation. “10,000 kwacha,” came the reply. Whew! I had plenty for the payment and the tip.

David and I agree that I got a good haircut. It’s not exactly like what I got in the US, but it’s close enough.

And the 10,000 kwacha price? That’s little over two dollars.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Sunday in Maamba

Sundays begin early for those going on outreaches. David was up and out the door by 6:30 last Sunday. Martone and Minnie, teachers at the Namwianga Secondary School, had asked David to drive them and a high school boys’ singing group to Maamba for an outreach. I was staying behind to host the Zambian Board members who had gathered at Namwianga for a meeting.

David pulled up at the boys’ dorm and the six guys came running out to climb into the Land Rover. David handed them granola bars and juice boxes, expecting them to eat breakfast while he drove to Martone’s house. Instead, they burst into song—the incredible, moving, rich harmony of Tonga hymns and spiritual songs.

Adolescent boys who would rather sing than eat? It’s hard for Americans, even one like me who loves to sing, to understand the importance of song in the Tonga culture. Like eating and breathing, singing is woven into the fabric of their lives. Longtime missionary Ken Elder claims that more Tongas have been converted through song than through preaching!

Martone, Minnie, and their 18-month old son Bill, were added to the group as the journey to Maamba began. David had a vague idea of where they were going: southeast on paved roads, and one tank of diesel would be enough. This last fact was extremely important since there has been no diesel for sale in Zambia since July 24 and none will be available until after August 12.

After a three-hour trip, the group arrived at the church building in Maamba. Martone had helped start this congregation, and the members had built the brick walls and thatched roof. For today’s service, women had decorated the window ledges and makeshift podium with bouquets of bright bougainvilleas.

The singing for the worship service was led by one of the Namwianga boys. Another one of the boys led the communion meditation. David preached, with Martone translating the sermon into Chitonga. The Namwianga boys’ group sang, as well as the youth group from the Maamba congregation and a women’s sextet.

There were eleven responses after the sermon, with ten requesting prayers and one lady coming to be baptized. The baptism meant a three-mile trip to the mighty Zambezi, one of the four main rivers in Zambia. The Land Rover was the only vehicle in the village, so people filled the inside and climbed up on the top rack for the ride. At the river, the singing resounded again as a church leader administered the baptismal rites and a new creation was added to the body of Christ.

Now it was lunchtime. Martone is from the village of Maamba, and he explained that the group would be eating two lunches today: first with his aunt and then with his mother. So they enjoyed chicken and nshima with his aunt in the shade of a tree near her house, then drove across the village to dine on chicken, nshima, and fish with Martone’s mother. She served the meal outside on a small, low table as the guests sat on short stools. Chickens busily scratched the ground between the diners, pecking at the bits of nshima that dropped to the ground. Eventually one grew bolder and jumped up on the table to steal a bite from the plates. David grabbed the chicken by the neck and flung it off to the ground, delighting the other Zambians.

Martone’s mother decided to go back to Namwianga for a visit, so she was added as a passenger for the return trip. The singing continued on the ride home as the boys led songs in Tonga and in English, old hymns, gospel favorites, and even contemporary songs that our American youth love. At a roadside market, Minnie asked to stop so she could buy some vegetables from the vendors. The minute the vehicle stopped, ladies with baskets of cabbages, tomatoes, carrots, and onions perched on their heads surrounded the Land Rover, loudly touting their produce. David distracted them by asking them to pose for a photo while Minnie made her selections.

Meanwhile, back at Namwianga, I had been expecting them to return around 4:00. When 6:30 rolled around, I began to wonder what might have happened. Car trouble? Illness? Lost in the bush? I knew they had a cell phone, but I also knew there were pockets where cell phones would be out of range. Finally at 7:00 David called. They were still an hour away, he said, and could I feed about nine extra people when they got to Namwianga?

I put together a meal of leftovers from the refrigerator and freezer. I can’t cook nshima yet, so I made a pot of ramen noodles instead. They devoured the food, and then David asked the guys to sing one last song for me. They chose a favorite Tonga hymn, singing it the traditional way at first and ending with Acapella Vocal Band-style flourishes. I had chill bumps just listening, and couldn’t help imagining what it would be like to take them to LTC choral competition in Dallas some day!

This outreach was only one of many that went out from Namwianga last Sunday. Singing groups, teachers, and preachers fan out to strengthen village churches and spread the good news of Jesus in southern Zambia every week.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Mrs. Makupa

Kelly Hamby called me over to his veranda, saying, “Linda, I need your help.” Then he introduced me to Mrs. Makupa. The old woman sat hunched over in her chair. She briefly looked up at me with tired eyes and slowly thrust out her hand for me to shake. Then her eyes returned to her lap. As she sat in silence, Kelly told me her story.

Mrs. Makupa had met her husband when they were both students at Namwianga. Her husband eventually became an administrator at Namwianga Secondary School and was acting in that role when Kelly became headmaster in the 80’s. Kelly thought highly of him, and credits Mr. Makupa with helping him learn his job.

When Mr. Makupa became ill, Mrs. Makupa and her children left Namwianga and took him back to their home village. It was a decision that made their lives more difficult but offered him the opportunity to die with dignity. The ensuing years brought more and more heartache. Three of the Makupa’s five children have died, and two others are disabled. Mrs. Makupa, now in her eighties, is raising five grandchildren. Three of the grandchildren are preschoolers.

Kelly had made arrangements for Mrs. Makupa to receive a bag of maize each month to help her feed the family. However, the system for distribution did not always work. On the day I met her she had come to tell him that she had not received any grain for the months of June or July. Kelly wanted me to know Mrs. Makupa and her situation so that I could assist her during the months that he would be back in the U.S.

Kelly made some phone calls and located the two bags of grain that she was to receive. I got Harold, one of the young men who work on the mission, to go with me, and we agreed to take Mrs. Makupa and her grain to her home. While we were discussing the arrangements Mrs. Makupa sat in silence, her eyes down. As we explained what was going to happen, she looked up and spoke to Kelly. “My life has been hard,” she said quietly. “I am sorry that I have to come and ask you for help.” Kelly reassured her that she was not a burden. In reality, he reminded her, the Bible defines pure religion as taking care of widows and orphans.

Then, with great effort, Mrs. Makupa rose from her chair and shuffled her bare feet toward the edge of the veranda. On the steps she stopped and put on the tattered canvas shoes that she had left there. She labored to make the climb into the Land Rover, collapsing with relief into the back seat.

We turned off the main road and began following pasture roads. We kept going farther and farther as the roads became worse and worse. I began to wonder who had brought her to see Dr. Hamby. Harold asked her and found out that she had come by herself, on foot. She left her home at 9:00 that morning and had walked four hours to get to Namwianga.

Even our vehicle took almost 45 minutes to find her small farm. The brick and thatch hut had cardboard covering broken windows. Chickens raced around the yard as three of the grandchildren ran to greet us. We unloaded the sacks of maize and said our goodbyes.

I clocked the mileage on the return trip as I tried to picture Mrs. Makupa in her ragged shoes walking the trails to get to Namwianga. The distance was 5.9 miles.

Mrs. Makupa has haunted me. I remember her tired face, her hunched shoulders, her downcast eyes. I know there are many more like Mrs. Makupa in southern Africa—elderly women raising their grandchildren alone. The words of James 1:27 echo in the bush: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress. . .