Right now, more than any American luxury, I simply wish I had enough bandwidth to post a video or picture of the Zambian orphans; for these are the kids I have already fallen in love with. And, in reality, this is the world I have fallen in love with.
Saturday I arrived in Zambia. I watched wide-eyed as we traversed a country side that was characterized by children running barefoot along dirt paths, men using sickles to cut down tall grass, street vendors and an incredible green landscape that left me wondering if Africa is really the 'disadvantaged' of our two nations. Running barefoot in green grass seems like a pretty swell plan to me.
However, Saturday I felt rather out of place. Where do I go? How do I act? Am I just going to be a stereotypical loud American (we all know I'm rather good with volume).... or how will these people perceive me? Will I ever be able to stop watching and being watched, and just be?
Sunday morning I was picked up by yet another unfamiliar face to attend church. As we bumped along roads filled with potholes, I wondered what this church was going to be like. And, to my surprise, once we arrived I was met by the nicest building I have yet to see in Africa. A choir was singing a song I did not know, and the pastors were praying in Bembe, the local language. I was also the only white person, and many people pointed and waved. There was no hiding now.
As I stood in church, trying to sway in rhythm to the unfamiliar music, I started to consider what was actually occurring in my life. A place I didn't know, a culture I didn't know how to fit into, not a single person I could talk to to ask the little questions about which greeting is proper for what type of persons or why everyone was laughing at certain things. What in heaven's name was I doing here?! But yet, somehow... I liked it. Which also confused me. I was fighting fear, but embracing reckless abandon. Fighting loneliness, but embracing new relationships. Fighting the doubts, and looking to God.
At the exact moment that I had finally come to the conclusion that I was indeed happy in this place, the pastor got up again and began to speak in English. I dont remember the first of what he said, but I was caught when he boldly proclaimed, "God is good!" ...and I couldn't help whispering under my breath the words "all the time" in response. However, there was no need to whisper... as, while I was secretly participating in worship the way I knew how, the entire congregation then spoke just as boldly as the pastor to also declare, "ALL THE TIME!"
Who is this God of ours? I couldn't believe it, and laughed.
The pastor then went on to the second half of the greeting: "And all the time!".... and I also gratefully declared with a host of Zambian Christians: "GOD IS GOOD!" From that moment on, it's been pretty hard to deny God's goodness, faithfulness, and purpose.
The rest of the 3 hour church service seemed to fly by as we sang in such a way that would put any CRC congregation to shame and listened to the sermon (complete with an English pastor presenting the word, and then a translator translating [almost] every word into Bembe..... though the translator kept cracking jokes that I wish I could have understood!). After the service I returned to the EOH office to get a nap, and then I was woken by Mrs. Harwara who then took me to the first of the My Father House [MFH] Orphan Homes. 'Lusaka Houses 1 and 2'.....
The Lusaka Houses 1 and 2 were the first houses made by EOH. Thus, for the past 6 years, the orphans in the homes have grown up together, surrounded by the local church and loved on by a house mom. I was blown away by the bright, smiling, amazing faces that met me at the door. Big hugs, laughs, and a tour of the house were immediately followed by teaching me their favorite games. However, the thing that will take me a long time to forget about Sunday was the conversation I had with the kids after wards.
Two of the eldest sat me down and started asking me questions that I was completely unprepared to answer, and the younger ones chimed in from time to time to ask for clarification that I was afraid to give. Questions about America, and faith, and what religion looked like where I came from, and what I hoped to do about it when I went back. What I hoped to do about religion in America?? Are you serious? Who has any power to change the situation of religion in America? God himself would have to step down to give America the wake up call she needs! But then, aren't we supposed to be God's hands and feet? What was I doing in Africa, when my country's heart is breaking right now? A million questions continued to circle through my head as they continued to ask (what they meant to be) simple questions about my home.
My education of both myself and Zambia continued this week. Chongwe is a village town, slightly removed from the more 'city-esk' Lusaka, where there are 4 more MFH Orphan Homes. Upon my first visit there, I was greeted by yet more hugs and 'Aunty Annika!!'. (That's a name I could get used to.) The kids in the Chongwe homes are all somewhat younger, and have come to EOH more recently, thus it was easy to identify a few of the kids who were a bit more tentative... and made my heart break as I considered the reasons why they would be hesitant to love as quickly as the rest. Nevertheless, all of the kids were eager to play more games and teach me their songs. In return, by the end of the day there were 30 kids in a little African village singing a newer version of Jesus Love Me, complete with 'Na na na na nananana Hey! Na na na na nananana Ugh!'s.... as they also wondered at some of our songs.
Tuesday I began to work in earnest with Esther, the coordinator of the MFH's in Lusaka. I am very, very excited to report that it is with her that I will probably be able to be the biggest help... as she is looking to implement a few programs into the MFHs (such as Bible Studies, sports' days, and even an AIDS lifestyle training... I guess that after being at LaGrave, growing up with my mom and all of my other desensitization towards talking about sex, it's only God's humor that he would have me teach a sex-ed class in Africa!). However, up to this point Esther had been a little unsure on how to start planning and facilitating such programs. And, though I don't claim to be an expert in too many areas of life... that is one area that I have come to feel rather competent. I guess God knew what he was doing when he brought me here to help before sending me back to my own country to 'do something' about religion there.
Wednesday I woke up.... puking. (As many of you probably already knew from my facebook! Thanks for all of the prayers!) The previous day I had been at MFH's 3 and 4 in Lusaka with Esther, and one of the generous and loving house moms had offered me a 'local juice' (made from roots) after we had been playing outside with the kids all afternoon (soccer... in long pants... in 80 degree heat). I gratefully took the drink, as Esther gave her nod of approval that it was in fact safe for me to drink. However, when I woke up with huge stomach pains on Wednesday, Mrs. Harawa realized that the drink was probably prepared with unboiled water.... oops. More than a few meds, a long nap, and I woke up Wednesday afternoon feeling quite better. By the end of the day I was feeling as good as new. Praise God. (However, there was no internet available to update anyone on my health, so I apologize to all of you who sat in worry all day for me!)
And then there's today. We woke up extra early this morning because of a very important errand: we had purchased school uniforms for the students in Chongwe the day before... and if we got to Chongwe early enough, the students would be permitted to go to school for the day! Up to that point, the orphans in those MFH had not been allowed to go to school... the terms here started on Monday (they take a month off every 3 months, instead of one just 'summer break'), and the school where the kids were attending decided to make a rule that all kids had to have uniforms... whether or not they could afford them. No uniform, no school. So we descended on Chongwe with brand new uniforms for 24 children.... and if you have ever seen a child on Christmas morning, multiply that reaction by about 10,000... and you have the electricity in the air as the kids were handed their 'smart suits' (as I heard one little boy refer to his new clothes, haha). It hit me then that these were quite possibly the first brand new clothes any of the kids had ever received... as the MFH apparently rely on many clothing donations. I quietly looked down at my brand new skirt that I had bought for this trip. The $7 I spent on it now felt too much.
It all feels like too much. A year ago I would be given $15 for dinner at Track and Field meet days....here, I receive $15 a day as my stipend for food, water, travel expenses, ect; total my $400+ a month that that $15 a day gets me... and all of a sudden it seems exorbitant compared to the measly $500 a month that each of the MFHs has to operate on in order to feed, clothe, protect, provide healthcare and an education for the 8 orphans and mother living in the home.
Welcome to perspective.
There are a million other things that I could talk about:
The corruption of the education system that I have already come face to face with as Esther has tried to put students in their right grades... but been denied and asked to pay more money 'in order to get grade completion forms re-sent'.
The fact that when asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, at least 30% of the kids at MFH Lusaka 3 and 4 reported that they wanted to be soldiers.... so that they could help people by protecting them; as apparently Zambia is known as a Christian nation now, and all the kids want it to stay that way.
Protection itself is an issue as well. I sit here writing this behind my locked bedroom door, inclosed in by huge wooden doors over the back and front entrances of the office, followed by iron gates that close over the doors. Outside the front gate is the guard, who patrols by the 10 foot wall surrounding the office that is topped with broken bottles and an electric fence. It scares me when I think about why such security is needed. And I almost peed my pants last night when I couldn't get the back door to lock correctly... and woke up suddenly, hearing things in the house. (I eventually went and looked outside my bedroom... maglight in one hand and cell phone in the other... and there was no one there. Praise God. Must have just been the wind blowing a door.) I was grateful to see that they had the lock fixed today.
....this was all taken in sharp contrast to my realization today (again, as we were driving through the countryside) that, despite all of the corruption, I think the world here is more beautiful and joyful than the hard nosed, fast paced culture that too many American's bow to.
Then there was the incident this morning when we stopped in a rural part of Chongwe at a man's home.... and his daughters cried and ran from me... and the man had to explain that they had never seen a white person before, and that he hoped I was not offended that they were afraid of me. Offended? I have always grown up thinking color didnt matter... but maybe for the first time in my life, it did.... but I hadn't even noticed it. What a crazy world.
Last but not least, it would be hard to speak of Zambia without talking of the amazing faith that everyone here seems to have. Maybe it is because there is a need for such faith, or maybe it is because they simply have more time and less distractions to enable them to actually listen to God.... but everything that is done around here is done trusting in God's providence. Even just talking about it gives me goose-bumps. I love that.
And, although I am inclined to apologize for the length and sporadic inclinations of this post.... if all of these words are beginning to overwhelm you, then maybe I am beginning to capture my life over the past week. So many encounters, thoughts, faith stories, God moments.... and it's only been 5 days. But, I think I can sum in up in this way: I am loving Zambia, loving our God, and I love you all... (but I am somewhat lonely at times, so keep the emails coming updating me on your lives!) and I pray that God gives you the same blessed assurance that he has been giving me here day by day.
God is good.... ;-)