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195. Reflections from Zambia

In this issue, I reflect on my experiences in Zambia.

OUT OF AFRICA
Since finding a dependable Internet connection in Zambia was next to impossible, this edition comes a little late. Our team is back home after three successful pastor-training conferences in Lusaka, Livingstone, and Kabwe. In a future post, I’ll post some pictures, especially of Victoria Falls (the largest in the world). My normal Saturday news edition will be posted tomorrow (Sunday).
 
Try to imagine living in a country where orphans make up 22% of the population, life expectancy is 38-42 years, and where the poor are routinely taken advantage by their own countrymen. This is Zambia. During our first week, I preached at a church located in the middle of an extremely decadent section of town. I’m not sure what the church’s membership was, but there were between 250 and 300 in attendance. This church has built a school for 800 local orphans, some as young as 4, living on their own. They feed 500 every day. Once the students leave school each day, they’re on their own. Some live with relatives, but many are so stressed providing for their own family, all they can provide is a roof over the child’s head. The church where our first conference was held also helps the orphans by providing money of buying books for those able to go to school.
             
As if the orphan problem isn’t bad enough, many of the public schools have been bought by those with money and converted into private schools. With the number of public school declining and the number of children increasing, many children never have the opportunity to go to school. It’s a terrible situation offering little hope for this impoverished country.
 
I heard a story that reflects the plight of many women trying to earn some money by taking their product to the market. Many live so far away that they must take the bus. They make arrangements ahead of time and are told the cost of the trip. They walk to the “bus stop” carrying their baskets. When the bus arrives, the driver says there is a surcharge for each item they bring with them. They must pay or go back home. After a while the bus stops, the driver leaves, and a new driver shows up, demanding the same surcharge. This may happen four times before they arrive at the market. After they collect their earning at the end of the day, they must return home with anything they didn’t sell. They would be subject to the same extortion on the way home, so they can’t afford to bring anything home. After a few days of losing money, they give up. I have no idea what they do next.
 
For those with money, the Nigerian scam artists have devised many sophisticated schemes to get their hands on it. In one scheme, they pose as officials at the ATM offering to assist you. With a tiny device hidden in the palm of their hand, they are able to take a picture of your card. They send the information to a nearby partner who is equipped to make a replica of your card which is quickly used to make several withdrawals from your account, in amounts just small enough not to raise any red flags. By the time you check your balance, it’s too late. They have relieved you of several thousand dollars. This is not unique to Zambia. It’s happening all over the region.
 
So much for the bad news. The church service where I preached the first time was, for the most part, a wonderful experience- warm, friendly people who really know how to make a joyful noise to the Lord. The African worship experience is like no other, especially the music. It was awesome! And they’ve got the moves to go with it. One choir after another; one age group after another, all in matching outfits, choreographed to the hilt. In the back sat many very young children, perfectly behaved, able to make it through the 2-1/2 hour service without a potty break. I was impressed.
 
Once again, I left feeling blessed by the experience, humbled by what they were doing with so little. America is full of people who are simply “playing church.” I believe I saw the real deal, people doing a hard thing in a hard place and still full of joy. I hope I will bring some of this back home with me.
 
Finally, spending three days flat on my back gave me an opportunity to put my faith to the test. I felt like I might have to return home early, but a team member challenged me to believe that God hadn’t brought me that far to go home early. I kept my next preaching engagement despite how I felt and experienced a powerful third week of teaching followed by the most powerful presentation (at a church) I have ever given. God is so good!

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