Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Back to School

Many of you know that one of my roles here at Namwianga is coordinating the US Sponsorship Program. I match sponsors in the US with needy Zambian high school and college students.

I am slowly learning the ins and outs of the Zambian education system. Students (called pupils in Zambia) take an official government exam at the end of their ninth grade year (late October-early November). Then they go home and wait for their "results." All the other grades start the school year in January, but those who just finished grade nine must wait to see if they got high enough marks to qualify for high school. Once the results are published, the pupil must go to the school and pick up a copy of his results. Those who scored above the government cutoff point are guaranteed a spot in a high school and are assigned by the government to a school. They will have to pay whatever tuition is charged at their assigned school, plus boarding and other expenses. Those who scored below the cutoff but still passed the test receive a certificate. They have to hunt for a school that will accept them. The pupils who failed the test either end their schooling or repeat grade nine and try again.

The results usually come out in late January or early February. This year there were delays, and the marks were not available until February 14. The pupils have two weeks to pick up their results and either get to the assigned school (if they scored above the cutoff point) or find a school to accept them (if they scored below the cutoff). At our house, we have had a steady stream of hopeful scholars. Typically the student timidly reaches into a pocket and pulls out a folded piece of paper, the paper that lists the exam results and promises a future--if there is money to pay the fees for tuition and other expenses. As I unfold the paper, I hear, "Madam, I have a problem. I qualified for grade 10, but my family cannot afford to pay my fees. Can you help me get a sponsorship?"

So many dreams, so many hopes, so many students who desperately want an education. I waver between satisfaction in knowing that the sponsorship program is helping many needy students go to school and the despair of not being able to help all of them.

And I think about the many American students who take the blessing of free education for granted, who chafe at doing homework and following rules and who wish for freedom from the confines of school. For some of the Zambian young people who cross my path, "freedom" means sitting at home in the village wishing for a chance to get an education.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Cape Town, Part 2

Flexibility. We often remind ourselves that flexibility is one of the most important traits one must develop to minister in Africa. Our Tuesday night Bible studies in Cape Town provided us with opportunities to tune up our flexibility.

We headed off in different directions after dinner. Don Boyd took David to do a Bible study for a combined group of congregations while Sondra Davis took me to the Westlake neighborhood for a women’s Bible class. Westlake is made up of new but tiny duplexes. The Westlake church meets in a “windy house” behind a duplex belonging to Congolese refugees Honore and Bizou. A windy house is a term for any kind of prefabricated structure built behind another dwelling. Some are used as living quarters, some for storage, and this one houses the thirty to forty members of an inner city congregation. This windy house was made of metal sheets on sides and top. The floor of the 8 x 12 room was a layer of sand, and about 12 plastic chairs were arranged in a circle. We arrived and sat with one or two others as the rest of the women trickled in. As the daylight faded, one of Bizou’s daughters announced that someone had gone to buy electricity. It seems that in these low-income housing areas, electricity is a pre-paid item. You pay your money and are given a code to activate the meter.

The women began singing, alternating songs in English, Langila (a Congolese dialect), and Xhosa, the language of distinctive clicks. A few minutes later Bizou arrived and tried switching on the lights in the windy house. Nothing. She adjusted the light bulb and inspected it to see if it was burned out, but it seemed to be fine. Still no light. I mentally began going through my notes in case I had to teach in the dark, but Bizou decided we should all come inside her house since the electricity was working there.

We picked up a few of the chairs and trekked into the tiny cubicle that serves as kitchen and living room. Sondra whispered to me, “There are seven people living in this one-bedroom house.” We found places at the narrow end of the 6 x 8 foot living area while more women filled in the rest of that space and then the slightly larger kitchen area. Bizou graciously welcomed all of us and worked to free up every inch of available space for chairs and women.

The Bible study went well, and I was pleased to see many of the ladies diligently looking up every scripture as we went along. We were all so close together that it was easy to maintain eye contact with every one of the twelve or so women. Afterward two of the women arranged for individual studies. We said our goodbyes and headed back to Sondra’s house to meet up with David and Don.

When we got to Sondra’s, we were told that David and Don were now at the Riverview church building and we should meet them there. It seems that they had set off for the community center normally used by one of the congregations, but found it empty. After driving around for several minutes, they found a church member who said the meeting was at a different community center in Lavender Hill. They drove there, only to find their Bible study group standing outside the locked doors. No one had gotten the key during the daytime, and now there was no way to get in. Someone had access to the church building at Riverview. Don had his Toyota pickup, and two or three others also had vehicles, so the decision was made to load everyone up and go to Riverview. The Bible study that was set to begin at 7:00 finally got started after 8:00 and was just winding up when we arrived shortly after 9:00. No one seemed to mind, and all of us enjoyed refreshments and fellowship after the study. The vehicles were loaded once again, with people sitting on laps and filling every inch of the truck beds for the trip back to their homes.

The evening was declared a success in spite of all the moves and changes. It’s all about flexibility!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Cape Town

“Cape Town is beautiful.” We had heard that comment from several people when they found out we were headed here. They were inaccurate. “Beautiful” is much too weak an adjective to describe the magnificence of this city. “Gorgeous” and “breath-taking” even seem a little too tame. The rugged mountains that jut up from the beaches and the turquoise ocean waters that lap at the white sands have us in wide-eyed wonder. The architecture, reminiscent of quaint European cities, is another delight to the eyes.

We are staying in a suburb of Cape Town called Muizenburg. This area was at one time a resort area for the rich and famous. Cecil Rhodes (think “Rhodesia”) had a cottage here for his vacations. In latter years the downtown had deteriorated into a low-income area populated by poor refugees. Recently, however, the buildings have been bought up and renovated as high-end housing developments. We have a room at Kosie’s Place, a Christian guesthouse just a five-minute walk from the beach. Kosie’s is run by a father and his two daughters and their families. They are gradually fixing up the 95-year-old building which houses a downstairs restaurant, their living quarters, and the guest rooms. It has been a delight to get to know this wonderful family and bask in their generous hospitality.

Brian and Sondra Davis and their two boys, Noah and Bryson, have an apartment just a ten-minute walk from our guesthouse. Sondra’s parents, Don and Rita Boyd, are also here. All of them spent ten years or so working here in Cape Town and establishing churches in the inner city areas. They especially targeted Congolese refugees. The Davises and the Boyds now work in northern Zambia, but they have returned for the month of February to follow up on the congregations they established and continue evangelistic efforts. A group of five members from a Cape Girardeau, Missouri, congregation flew in on Saturday and will be here for the next two weeks to assist in the work.

Our worship on Sunday was an experience I will never forget. Six congregations had a joint service as part of the evangelistic work. We have attended many assemblies where several congregations gathered together, but this one was unique. Our gathering included Americans, Afrikaans (white South Africans of European descent), Congolese refugees, black South Africans, and Coloureds. The latter comprise the majority (55%) of the Cape Town population. They are of mixed racial heritage but consider themselves a separate racial group and call themselves Coloured (NOT a derogatory term as we consider it in the US). We sang songs in English, Afrikaans, Lingala, and Xhosa. Xhosa has several clicks in the language, so this added a new dimension to the singing. David preached a very appropriate sermon on unity from Ephesians 4, and the concept had an entirely new meaning and importance when I thought about the huge differences in the cultures, races, skin tones, backgrounds, and economics of the people gathered in that room. One member remarked that we were probably much like the group described in Acts chapter 2 when Peter preached the sermon on Pentecost. Everyone on Sunday participated with joy and enthusiasm, and I hope the Lord was pleased with our sacrifice of praise.

On Monday we went up Table Mountain, one of Cape Town’s most famous tourist destinations. We rode in cable cars to the top of the mountain and hiked around to take in the incredible panoramic views of the bay and Cape Town. On the drive home Brian took us around more of the Cape Point to see other vistas of the bay and the resort communities that line the foothills of the mountains.

Monday night we met with a congregation of Congolese refugees for a night of singing. What an encouraging experience that was as we alternated singing songs in English and in French or one of their native languages. Tonight (Tuesday) I will be speaking to a women's meeting in an inner-city area and David will be teaching at another congregation.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Update - February 17, 2007

As of today we have six teams of student teachers preparing to work with local congregations while they do their teaching practice May - July. More have come and asked to be assigned, and we are working to find them places. It is exciting to see their enthusiasm and willingness to go wherever they are needed. We are placing a team in each of the high schools that has a student congregation, and we are hoping that will be a big encouragement to those young groups. Please pray for this effort.

The rains have stopped for a few days. The mud is now deep sand. On my trip into town yesterday I had a little excitement when the vehicle fishtailed in one of the sandy spots.

We are leaving today for Cape Town, South Africa. Our missionary friends Brian and Sondra Davis, have asked us to join them for a special evangelism effort there. The Davises worked in Cape Town for ten years before coming to Zambia, so they know the congregations and the needs there. We are looking forward to this opportunity to be with them (they have those adorable little guys Noah and Bryson) and to be part of this work. David will be preaching and teaching and I will teach a ladies' class. We're also going to see some of the sights of Cape Town. We'll be back next Friday.

Monday, February 12, 2007


Shown here is Michael, a member of the Namwianga Christian Secondary School basketball team. He's modeling the new Cobras uniform his team wears this season. The Harding Academy basketball team from Searcy, Arkansas, adopted the Namwianga team and raised the funds to purchase these great uniforms. The Cobra mascot was chosen by the NCSS players who have heard the tales of an earlier Namwianga team that called itself the Cobras. That team, coached by Roy Merritt, won the Zambian national championship in the 80s and went on to compete in South Africa. These younger Cobras have their sights set on the same goal. They are well on their way after winning a recent tournament.

Update - February 12

After two days in bed with the stomach flu, I am back in action and getting caught up on all the things that went undone.

We had our third appreciation dinner on Friday night. The first two groups were faculty members: first the secondary and then the college. Friday night's guests included all the maintenance staff, farm workers, and kitchen staff. It was our largest group, but we managed to seat all 50 on our veranda. These were also our most enthusiastic guests. They took us seriously when we said there was plenty to eat, and many went back for seconds and took home extra plates as well. We thoroughly enjoyed the evening with them, especially singing Tonga songs together.

Petronella, our chicken, has now been joined by another hen we have named Citronella and a rooster named Justafella. Justafella is chronometrically challenged and crows at all the wrong times. He may be Sunday dinner if he doesn't get his timing straightened out. The three of them seem very happy, although they escaped from their pen Saturday night and chose to roost in the rafters of the outdoor kitchen. Citronella laid an egg, but since she had no nest it crashed and broke.

Ellie Hamby and Don and Laura Oldenburg arrived on Wednesday. Ellie is here for a month and the Oldenburgs are moving here for a couple of years. We have enjoyed their company and are looking forward to the time with Ellie and to working with Don and Laura.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Hen on the Bunny Slope?

Our newest household addition is this adventurous hen, a gift from a man we have helped in the past. One of our houseguests named her Petronella. Our Zambian friends think it is hilarious that we would name our chicken! They also tell us that she will be lonely unless we get some other chickens, so we are in the process of building a pen and getting some more feathered friends to keep Petronella company. Right now she lives in and around our outdoor kitchen. Saturday she decided to go exploring and flew up on top of the thatched roof. She walked around for a few minutes and then started skidding and sliding. I happened to have the camera ready and captured her ski maneuvers.

Texas-Sized Sunflower

We planted a few sunflowers in the garden last year. This volunteer came up on its own this year and just kept growing!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

New Arrival

Yesterday when I came home for lunch, Abishine was waiting on the veranda. He had been chosen for sponsorship at George Benson Christian College, but he moved before his acceptance letter arrived. When he didn't report for classes, I began trying to contact someone who knew where he was. After e-mails and phone calls to fellow missionaries, we finally found a relative who was able to contact him. Abishine found out on Wednesday that he should report immediately. He hurriedly gathered his belongings into a backpack and one plastic sack and set out on foot from his village Thursday evening. He walked all night, arriving at the Mission around noon on Friday. He knew not one person at Namwianga--all he had was my name. Once again I marveled at the difficulties many Zambians are willing to face in order to get an education.

Since it was lunch time, I took Abishine to the campus and found two sponsored students, Richwell and Liston, to take him to the cafeteria. Knowing that the students must provide their own plates, I asked Richwell if I needed to get a plate for Abishine. "No, madam," he replied. "We will eat together." Later that evening I found Liston and Abishine "hanging out" on campus. Liston explained that he and Abishine were sharing Liston's living quarters. Abishine is now more than two weeks behind in classwork, but other students have already volunteered to help him catch up. The gracious nature of Zambians never fails to impress me.

Great Guys

During our time in the US, I was asked, "What encourages you the most in your work?" My answer is students like those pictured above. Humphrey (left) and Brian are second year college students training to become teachers of secondary math and religious education. Both are academically gifted, and both have a heart for ministry. They are our "go-to" people when we plan student outreaches, and they are regarded as spiritual leaders on campus. This week the two of them came by to discuss their placement for student teaching during the second term. They want to be sent to a place where the church is not strong so that they can be actively involved in evangelism. We are happy to help them with this request, and we look forward to the good things God will accomplish through their willing service.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Special Delivery

My wonderful neighbor, Mrs. Moono, provides us with chickens that she and her family raise, butcher, and sell. We ordered seven last week for our Appreciation Dinner. Mrs. Moono delivered them all herself--carrying them in a tub on her head! These are big chickens, but she didn't seem to have any trouble with the load and was quite willing to pose for this photograph.