Saturday, January 28, 2006

Teaching Again

Classes started this week at George Benson Christian College. My class load has doubled this term. I have two basic English courses for the first year teacher training students and an English for office skills class for the business course students. I am teaching material I have never taught before to students who speak English as a second language, so class preparation is a challenge. I have books spread out all over the living room, dining table, and bedroom as I comb through the pages for ideas. I’m exhausted at the end of every day, but I do enjoy my classes. The students are polite, respectful, and appreciative. They struggle to understand my American accent and I struggle to understand their Zambian English, but they are very patient with me as we learn together.

I have found that the students are quite shy about telling me when they do not understand what I am teaching. Now I have taught them to use signals to let me know how well they are grasping the subject/concept that I am presenting. I have them put “thumbs up” if they are understanding the material, “thumbs down” if they are totally lost, and “thumbs together” if they understand some of it but still have questions. The system has worked well to give me a quick idea of whether I need to go back and review or press on.

This week we worked on learning how to use textbooks and resource books. Some of my students have come from village schools where textbooks were not available or where many students had to share a few available textbooks. I found that some have never used an index or table of contents. Some have never had access to dictionaries or encyclopedias. I’m really starting with the basics! The good news is that they are very motivated to learn and will gladly accept extra work in order to grasp the material.

I remind them often that improving their reading, thinking, and communication skills will make them better church leaders, and that’s what George Benson Christian College is all about.

Victor and Obrien

Victor and Obrien ("Our Starfish") sent us letters from boarding school at Kabanga this week. They report that they are doing fine. Obrien says he is studying extra hard because "they don't teach as you teach." He has found a Grade 11 boy to help him with his schoolwork. Both Victor and Obrien have joined the choir and are looking forward to going on outreaches.

Obrien's letter included this: "I am okay and I am doing wonderful here. I haven't faced any problems here."

We rejoice as we understand a little of what the apostle Paul must have felt when he received good reports about his children in the faith.

A Package Deal

We had gotten a few messages from friends and relatives telling us that they had sent packages. It has been several weeks since we received anything other than letters, so we were beginning to wonder what had happened.

Yesterday we received notices that SIX packages were waiting for us in the Kalomo Post Office. We hurried into town to collect them. It was Christmas again at our house, as we opened up Cds, a book, Newsweek magazines, crossword puzzles, and seasoning mixes.

The postmarks spanned from December 5 – January 15. One had a stamped message saying “Missent to Jakarta, Indonesia.”

I was sharing this story with long-time missionary Roy Merritt last night. He reported that during the holiday rush, the packages just stack up in the post offices until the workers can get around to them. Then they start at the top of the pile and work their way down. Often the packages mailed last will arrive before packages mailed earlier. He assured me there is still hope for the book my sister mailed me in November—it may just be sitting at the bottom of the pile somewhere.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

IRIN Africa | Southern Africa | ZAMBIA | ZAMBIA: Media ignores drought affecting rural Zambians | Democracy-Food Security | Breaking News

IRIN Africa | Southern Africa | ZAMBIA | ZAMBIA: Media ignores drought affecting rural Zambians | Democracy-Food Security | Breaking News


The Zambians are such gracious, helpful people! Our Land Rover is in the shop for repairs, so we are borrowing a small minivan. We took some young men home this afternoon and got stuck in a mudhole on our way out of their compound. Within minutes a crowd of helpful men and women gathered. The pulled and pushed for some time with no luck. Two of the women brought large stones to put under the sunken tire. Still stuck. Finally the men decided to just lift the rear of the van. They grabbed hold of the back bumper, lifted it up, and moved it to dry ground. We thanked them profusely and went on our way.

Sad Times

Death is a constant presence in this community. There is seldom a week that goes by without a funeral. Joe, the carpenter who is making our window screens, asked if he could use our carport to build this coffin for his cousin. Since this is the rainy season, he needed a covered area to do his work.

Joe's cousin was a 30-year-old woman who left two young children behind. Although we didn’t know her personally, we do know two of her brothers.

The gospel message has an urgent appeal in a culture that faces death so often. Perhaps that is why so many are willing to listen and respond.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


We never know who will show up on our veranda. We found Victor there one Friday afternoon when we returned from a trip to Choma. He had been waiting for four hours. Victor had been given a sponsorship to Kabanga Christian School, and earlier we had agreed to give him a ride to Kabanga with Obrien on Sunday. We just weren’t expecting him to arrive two days early. We asked enough questions to find out that he had left his village that morning on foot at 12:30 a.m. and had arrived eleven hours later. He came with a letter from his father explaining that they weren’t able to get him all the things he needed for school and asking for our help.

Victor’s father is a great evangelist who has planted at least five new congregations since the medical mission last summer. We think highly of him and were glad to help his son. We fed him a meal—his first all day—and asked if he had a place to stay. He told us that he had friends in a nearby village that he could stay with until Sunday. We told him he was welcome to rest on the veranda until he was ready to go there, and then we went back to our business inside the house. An hour or so later I noticed Victor still sitting quietly, so I went out to speak to him. He admitted that he was very tired. I asked him if he would like to stay with us that night, and with a look of great relief he said yes. It was only about 6:00 in the evening, but Victor crawled into bed and went right to sleep.

The next day I saw what Victor had brought in his small duffel bag: one pair of pants, two shirts, and a sweater. All were ragged and worn. The only shoes he had were the plastic flipflops he was wearing. Since Obrien (see “Our Starfish”) was also headed for Kabanga on Sunday, we enlisted his help in getting Victor ready for school. David drove the two of them into Kalomo and let them off at the market so they could buy a uniform for Victor and the other items they would need for boarding school. They came home later in the day with the uniform and a solid friendship. We invited Obrien to spend the night with us, and the two young men spent the evening packing, planning, and laughing together.

Victor had obviously not been out of the village very often in his 18 years. I noticed that he had some difficulty figuring out how to use a fork to eat his pancakes on Saturday morning. (Zambians use their fingers for eating.) He watched Obrien carefully for clues about what to do at dinner on Saturday night. On Sunday morning Obrien left very early to go back to his house and retrieve the rest of his things, so Victor was by himself. He came shyly into the kitchen where I was working and said, “Madam, I need to bath.” I realized that he had never used a bathtub before, so I took him into the bathroom and showed him how to put the plug in the drain and turn on the water. I gave him a towel and soap and hoped he could figure out what to do.

We packed their belongings in the Land Rover for the trip to Kabanga: one plastic trunk that the two of them would share, Victor’s tattered duffel bag, Obrien’s plastic pail, and one cardboard box. I couldn’t help contrasting this meager collection with the boxes and boxes of items that my own two children had packed when they left for college. Victor and Obrien were quite happy with what they had, though, and I knew that most of their fellow students at Kabanga would have no more.

As we left Victor at school, I realized that his parents had no way of knowing that he had made it to Namwianga, or that he had gotten a uniform, or that he was now safely established at Kabanga. I marveled anew at the sacrifices and struggles the Zambians make to get an education.

A week later, though, I got a chance to tell Victor’s mother about his safe arrival at Kabanga. She came to our veranda, bringing her seven-year-old son and a letter from Victor’s father. The letter explained that they had no food in their village and asked if his wife could work for us a few days in exchange for food and blankets. (We assumed that the father was not in good enough health to work just then.) Mother and son had taken two days to get here, stopping to sleep somewhere in the bush the previous night. I fed them a meal and told them about Victor and Kabanga while David set out to get some help and advice from church leaders who knew the family. Victor’s mother told me that she had five children still living, and that two had already died. She was happy to hear that Victor was settled at Kabanga, and she thanked me repeatedly for the meal.

David returned later with a stack of blankets for our visitors. He took Victor’s mother and the boy to their relative’s home nearby, and then came back to tell me what he had learned. Last year the family had been without food and had gone out to forage in the bush. Two of the children had eaten poisonous mushrooms and died.

We didn’t ask Victor’s mother to work for us. We helped her start home the next day with food from our garden, mealie meal, the blankets, and some cash.

And we wonder who will be on our veranda tomorrow.

Nine Lives Minus One

We have a cat. That is not remarkable unless you know that I have a longstanding dislike of cats in general. I warmed up to the idea of having a cat only when I heard that they would keep mice, rats, and snakes at bay. The Merritt’s cat had a litter of kittens when we arrived in June, so we agreed that we would take one of the kittens when we had our own house.

It only took a few days for our kitten to convince me that I had been wrong about feline pets. Indeed, Makua has entertained us on many occasions with his playful antics. He’s proven to be a great mouser, although it is a bit disconcerting when he brings his prey indoors for the kill. On one occasion he proudly arrived with a 12-inch snake in his mouth and was very unhappy that we disposed of the snake before he could do the final execution himself.

We have joked that Makua must be a teenager in cat years. He likes to stay out all night and sleep all day. He runs to the refrigerator and stands there any time the door is opened. He wants to eat constantly. But worst of all, he’s obsessed with car engines.

That was almost his undoing last Tuesday. David didn’t know that Makua had climbed up into the engine when he started up the Land Rover. He could tell that something was wrong, and when he turned off the engine we could hear Makua’s pitiful wailing. I was sure he was cut into pieces and went into the house so I wouldn’t have to see his mangled body. A carpenter who was working at our house opened the hood and managed to extract Makua all in one relatively unharmed piece. Apparently there was a space between the fan belt and the radiator, and Makua managed to be in that space. His only major injury was a gash on his upper leg.

We placed the rather shaken up cat in a box and drove to town to find the vet. The vet wasn’t sure he had the right anesthetic, but he found something and stitched up the leg. He told us that Makua would be “out” for about an hour. We suspect Makua got a little more anesthetic than he needed, because he was out for most of the next 10 hours. When he did come around, he was one drunk, miserable kitty. He couldn’t walk without falling over, and he had a glazed look in his eyes.

For the rest of the week Makua spent most of his time sleeping in the back of the guest room closet. He ate only tiny bits of food and had no interest in playing or going outside. We were afraid that our playful Makua had lost his sparkle.

Yesterday, though, we caught him trying to climb up on the dining table. Later he jumped around a little, pawing the air with his previous friskiness, and he began standing expectantly over his dish meowing for more food. We’re glad to have our entertainer and exterminator back in service.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Our Starfish

Obrien is our starfish. To others he is a tall, nice-looking Zambian who speaks English well, but to us he is our starfish.

You’ve probably heard the starfish story by now; it’s been circulating on the internet and in inspirational writings for several years. But just in case the starfish story is new to you, here it is:

Walking along a beach one day, a boy saw a man pick up a starfish and throw it back into the water. “Why did you do that, mister?” asked the boy.

“Because the tide is going out, and the starfish would be stranded here and dry out. In all likelihood, he would be long dead before the tide comes in again,” responded the man.

“What difference could it make?” the boy asked. “Surely there are thousands and thousands of starfish in that ocean. What difference would it make if you throw just one back in the water so it can live?”

“It makes a great deal of difference to this one,” smiled the man as he walked on the down the beach.

Now here is the story of our starfish. Obrien showed up in September when we were still living in the Hamby’s house. He wanted to do piecework to earn money for new shoes. David turned him down, telling him that we didn’t need any piecework just then. Obrien came back a few days later asking for money to help his grandmother get back to her village. We gave him a little bit and thought we’d seen the last of him.

Obrien showed up again when we were getting our house ready to move in. The construction manager had hired him as a pieceworker (temporary) to scrape paint off the floors and then wax them. I noticed that his English was quite good, and I used him as a translator to give instructions to the other workers.

After the other pieceworkers had gone home, Obrien stayed around, asking again if he could work for us to earn money for new shoes. This time David relented and let him stay on. We thought he would work just a few days, but that’s not how events unfolded. He turned out to be a hard worker and very dependable, and we kept him on to help with the gardening and yard work.

Eventually we learned his life story. Obrien is an orphan. His father died when Obrien was very young, and his mother died seven years ago. After his mother’s death, Obrien went to live in Ndola with an aunt. Then the aunt died. Obrien returned to his grandmother’s village and stayed for a while, but the grandmother couldn’t afford to pay for his school fees. (Education beyond seventh grade is not free in Zambia.) Obrien had to quit school before finishing the eighth grade. He had come to the Namwianga area last spring and was living with a cousin. The arrangement wasn’t the best, and Obrien was looking for another place to live. He also asked us to help him finish school.

It’s not easy to find a boarding school for a 21-year old. The Secretary of Education at Namwianga investigated for us found out that Kabanga Christian School had boarding for grade nine, and they were willing to take Obrien, even at age 21. I agreed to tutor him for the next three months to get him through grade eight.

Since October Obrien has arrived at 6:30 every morning Monday through Saturday, and he and I have waded through the Zambian grade 8 curriculum. Our schedule was to study until 9 a.m. or so, then he worked outside in the garden or yard until 3:30 in the afternoon when we started schoolwork again. We continued working until 5:00 and then he went home and did his homework. The house where he lived had no electricity, so he used some of his pay to buy kerosene for a lamp so that he could have enough light for studying. He never once complained about anything I asked him to do and always had his work done when he arrived in the morning.

Last week we helped him gather the things he would need for a new phase of life: a school uniform, a toothbrush, a bucket for hand-washing his clothes, a blanket, a cup, plate, and spoon, school supplies, and a Bible. On Sunday we took Obrien to Kabanga for the start of the new school year. He had never seen the school, so we showed him around and introduced him to some of the teachers. We offered our words of wisdom (“Study hard and stay away from the girls!”), gave him hugs, and then we left him there as we set off to return to Namwianga.

As we drove away, I told David we had thrown our starfish into the sea. There are hundreds of thousands of young men like Obrien in Zambia. We hope we’ve made a difference for this one.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

More Lists

After six months in Zambia, here are some things we miss and some things we don't miss.


Our children
Mexican food
Chinese food
Sonic and Wendy’s
Dr. Pepper
Walmart and Target
Chocolate chips
Spiritually deep sermons (We are preaching and teaching all the time on a very basic level. We’re realizing that we have to be fed as well. Our quarterly missionary gatherings will address this need.)
American prices on food and gasoline
Sleeping in a bed without a mosquito net over it
Riding in the car with just each other and not a load of passengers we’ve picked up along the way


Junk mail
Hyped-up news media coverage of current events
Over-scheduled evenings (Most Zambians don’t have vehicles, so evening gatherings are few.)
From Linda - Wearing panty hose (I have had on hose for exactly three hours in the last six months—to visit the US Embassy)
From David – Wearing a necktie (He’s worn a tie one time—for graduation)
Unmotivated students who take getting an education for granted
Grackles and starlings
Fire ants (We have plenty of other bugs, though!)

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Another Cow Story

At the Simwanda outreach today Sylvester and I had the children sit on the grass for our Bible lesson. A little boy about eight years old wanted to be in Bible class, but he was doing duty as a cowherd for four cattle. The solution? He brought the cattle with him to class. They grazed all around us as we had our Bible story and did the handwork. If the cows started getting too far away, the boy would jump up with his whip and go bring them back.

2005 by the Numbers

As we begin a new year, we looked back and counted some significant happenings of 2005.

6 = Number of times we moved this year
202 = Number of baptisms during the 2005 Zambia Medical Mission
Over 19,000 = Number of patients treated during the 2005 Zambia Medical Mission
20 = Number of baptisms that took place in our back yard since September 12. All of these were students at the college or secondary school.
16 = Outreaches we went on in 2005
1068 = Children taught in Bible classes on outreaches August – December
2 = Number of snakes we’ve had in our house so far
19 = Overnight guests in our home September - December
6 = Number of weeks diesel was unavailable in Zambia
457 = Number of mourners gathered inside and outside our house to hear Dr. Hamby’s funeral service
Beyond measure = Blessings we’ve experienced here in Zambia

Six Months and Counting

We have now been at Namwianga for six months. My daughter has a minor in missions, so I read her Missions 101 book before we came. According to some missiologists, David and I should be hitting a low stage in our cultural adjustment. Many missionaries are depressed and homesick at the six-month mark. I’m happy to report that we are neither. Our relatively smooth adjustment could be due to a number of reasons. We had been to Namwianga several times before we moved here and already had been introduced to the culture. We are old enough to have been through difficult situations, so we tend to keep a long-term perspective on tough times. We haven’t had to learn a new language, so that has helped our adjustment tremendously. Finally, we have had such faithful prayer support from our home congregation and many of you. We are very grateful for the many dear souls who lift us up before the Father on a daily basis.

I thought it might be interesting to share some six-month lists that have been swirling around in my head.

List Number 1 – New Habits and Routines in Our Life

1. Watch for snakes wherever you go.
2. Keep a flashlight and candles handy because you never know when the electricity is going to go out.
3. Always have a Plan B for meals in case the electricity goes out while you are cooking.
4. Clean the bugs out of the kitchen sink every morning.
5. Sweep the bugs off the bed every night before you get in.
6. Tuck the mosquito net in around the mattress before you go to sleep.
7. Unplug the refrigerator, freezer, computer, printer, and internet hookup whenever you hear a thunderstorm approaching. This is because lightning can strike through the electric wires and fry the electric appliances. It happens frequently here.
8. REMEMBER to plug the refrigerator and freezer back in after the storm is over.
9. Always keep extra mealie meal (cornmeal) on hand to give away.

List Number 2 – Hard Adjustments We Have Faced

1. Being away from our children. I knew this would be tough, but it has been REALLY tough. Each of our children faced a pretty significant crisis in the last six months, and it was painful to not be available to help them.
2. INTERRUPTIONS! I keep thinking that I will keep a record of how many times a day I get called to the door to solve some problem or accept a message or greet a friend or give out food. It is very difficult to get anything done in between interruptions. I have started getting up very early to have some uninterrupted time for Bible study, prayer, and working on projects. (So far the earliest someone has knocked on the door was 5:10 a.m. and the latest was 10;45 at night.)
3. The constant poverty and need around us. I knew we were coming to a developing nation, and I knew we would be around the poor, but I was not prepared for the degree and pervasive nature of the poverty we encounter.
4. We are time-oriented people living in an event-oriented culture. We have had to learn to be patient and not watch our clocks all the time. The Zambians say, “Time is elastic.” We are learning.
5. Living without fast food and convenience foods. This may sound trivial, but it has been hard for me to adjust to cooking every single meal, especially since there are few convenience foods available.

More lists to come in future blogs.