Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas 2005

We spent our first Christmas in Africa in 2005.  We had only one decoration:  A Christmas card sent by my friend Dianna.  No wrapping, no bows, no tree, no family.  And yet that day is one of my favorite memories.  Here's the story:  

Our Christmas was certainly different this year. We were up early, as usual, and were able to talk to both our children on the internet (Skype). They were spending Christmas Eve with my brother’s family in Monett, Missouri. (Zambia is eight hours ahead of CDT.)

At 8:00 we left for our outreach, taking eight Zambians along with us. We arrived at Gowell (pronounced go well) and found Patson Syula just finishing up preparations for the day. The congregation at Gowell has only a handful of members, but they had invited the entire community for an all-day Christmas gathering. Patson, a member of Namwianga’s Church Development Team, had organized the event. He had spent the weekend at Gowell helping them get a thatched roof shelter made and arranging the food for the guests he hoped would come. He had just finished work on the shelter that morning and had added posters and balloons as decorations.

People trickled in all morning as we had singing, preaching, teaching, and communion. My translator, Sylvester, helped me teach the 38 children who came for Bible class. David preached the morning sermon, and others took their turns to teach and preach as well. The meal was to be the last event of the day, and we could see some young men doing the preparations nearby. During a break we went over and helped stir the nshima as it cooked in a huge iron pot over the open fire. The afternoon continued with some special singing groups as well as congregational singing and more preaching. The people kept coming, adding more to the 93 who were present for the morning service. Finally at 4:00 the food was ready. We feasted on nshima and goat meat.

We arrived back home at 6:00. We pulled out the Dr. Pepper and the new DVDs that we had been saving for the occasion. Our congregation at Brentwood Oaks had sent us a wonderful care package of goodies with the Americans who came in early December. It is amazing how good a Dr. Pepper tastes when you haven’t had one for six months! We enjoyed a nice, quiet evening of watching movies and drinking Dr. Pepper.

There are all kinds of ways to celebrate Christmas. We consider ourselves blessed to have shared this one in Africa.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Student Success Story

I have spent the last few days sending out letters to the 100 plus sponsors who fund the education of 150 students at Namwianga Christian Secondary School and George Benson Christian College.  The motto of the US Sponsorship program is Building Leaders, Changing Lives.  The story of Gift is an ideal illustration of how the sponsorship program does just that.  I interviewed Gift last summer during our trip to Zambia.  It was a tough interview for me, because I was so touched by this young man's story that I had to hold back my tears.  I hope that Gift's resilience and faith will encourage all of us to have faith in difficult times.  

Gift is an impressive young man.  Articulate, smart, and confident, it is not surprising that he was chosen to serve as NCSS Headboy , the highest leadership position in the school.  The title of Headboy is respected in Zambia, and for the rest of Gift’s life, it will be something that shows his excellence and leadership.  Americans would compare it to having “Eagle Scout” on a resume. 

When you hear Gift’s story, it makes his achievements even more remarkable.  At age 13, Gift lived in the capital city of Lusaka with his parents and 5-year-old sister.  His father managed a supply company for the government, and they lived in a comfortable, modern house.  Gift attended a private boys’ school. 

All of that changed in an instant when his parents were killed in a car accident.  A week after his parents died, Gift was sent to live with his grandmother in a remote village in the bush.  He had never met his grandmother, nor had he ever been exposed to village life.  He was separated from his sister who stayed in Lusaka, and he was also separated from the only lifestyle he had ever known.  He went from a house with electricity and running water to a thatched hut shared with his grandmother and four other orphans she is raising.  Instead of the private boys’ school, he attended a rural school with other village kids. 

Gift tells his story without emotion, but one can imagine how hard it must have been.  At first he was miserable, refusing to go to school or to cooperate with his grandmother.  Eventually he decided that he had to make the best of his situation.  He worked hard in school and became part of his village family and community.  The transition, he knows, was made easier by three George Benson Christian College graduates who were teaching at his village school.  “They called me over to their house to watch TV,” he recalls, and their friendship and influence helped him adjust.  Gift excelled in school and became a student leader.  His GBCC mentors made sure that he applied for sponsorship at Namwianga Christian Secondary School and gave him good recommendations.  Gift knows that sponsorship changed his life:  “I would be sitting at home in the village if not for my sponsorship.  There was no one who would have paid for my high school fees.” 

Gift is very grateful for the opportunities he was given, and he has high hopes for the future.  He wants to become a doctor.   Gift’s remarkable story is another example of how the sponsorship program is fulfilling its mission of Building Leaders and Changing Lives.  

There are hundreds of other young people like Gift waiting for sponsors so that they can go to school at Namwianga.  If you would like more information about how to sponsor a student, please reply to this blog post with your contact information.  I will answer you personally and will not post your  reply or information.