Baboons, Bungee Jumping, and the Boiling Point: Fun Times at Victoria Falls

At Victoria Falls

We got to take a quick run down to Livingstone to see Victoria Falls a couple of days ago.  It’s over 6 hours from Lusaka, so we left at 4:30 in the morning so that we’d have time to actually enjoy ourselves when we got there.  We piled into a van with Michael, the mechanic here at Mapepe, and 5 of the 6 AIMers.

The journey getting there was a mini adventure in itself.  The roads smoothed out once we crossed over from Central province into Southern.  But the last 50 miles or so to Livingstone were terrible.  The roads are being worked on, so there were constant detours – even the detours had detours.  We spent about an hour puttering along on really uneven dirt roads.  So glad to make it to Livingstone where the roads smoothed out again.

Livingstone is definitely a tourist town; there are lodges everywhere from the moment you arrive.  We stayed at Chanter’s Lodge – a cozy room at a reasonable price.  Checked in, dropped off the bags, then off to the falls.

Ok… so a few things you should know about Victoria Falls.

First of all, time it well.  You’d never believe it, but the Falls actually dry up for part of the year during the dry season.  It’s the beginning of the dry season right now, so we were fine, but fair warning.

Second… plan to get wet. Completely, soaking wet.  Unless you’re just going to stand there and watch the water from one spot (FAIL), most of the paths around the Falls and the forest are in constant rainfall from the spray.  And not a light mist – more like a downpour.  There are places where you can rent ponchos to cover you.  I’d say save your money and dress to get soaked, because it will happen either way.  But it is the funnest thing ever.

What else?  Oh… sensible shoes. Flip-flops and sandals… not the best idea.  Especially if you go down to the Boiling Point, which I recommend if you can handle a mild hike.  The Boiling Point is a spot you can trek down to and be in the bottom of the canyon where the water that has come over the Falls flows by.  Awesome.

Baboons everywhere.  But they won’t bother you.

Bring your passport.  There’s a bridge over the river that connects Zambia to Zimbabwe, and you can bungee jump, swing or zip-line from it.  $180 for the whole deal – not bad.

We were only here for a one-day trip, but you can do safaris, half- or all-day elephant rides, helicopter tours… the list goes on.  But for me nothing that’s there could beat the experience of the Falls itself.

God’s power is awesome.  I’m glad to have yet another reminder.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters. — Psalm 29:3


The Healing Part

Probably the most well-known religious teaching ever is in the gospel of Matthew, chapters 5-7 – often referred to as the Sermon on the Mount. Most people probably know at least some portion of this teaching of Jesus, even if they don’t know they know it. (Test yourself: “Judge not, that you be not judged.” “Seek, and you will find.” “The meek… shall inherit the earth.”  Any of these sound familiar?)

What most people probably don’t know is that Jesus came down off the mountain and immediately put his words into action – he got to work healing folks.  In fact, the Sermon (chs 5-7) is followed by an extended presentation of Jesus’ healing power (chs 8-9).  And  all of it is sandwiched between 2 similar statements in 4:23 and 9:35 – that Jesus went everywhere teaching and healing.

Following in the Master’s footsteps… I’m glad that in addition to agriculture and teaching, we’ve also had the opportunity to be involved in medical missions while here in Zambia. The night we got here, a container was being unloaded with all kinds of stuff for local villages and hospitals.  The first few days we were here there was a lot of sorting of clothing, books, and medical equipment.  After a few days the medical equipment was delivered to local hospitals and clinics.  For the next few days there were specific medical excursions into some of the villages.

The missionaries heading this up, Ty and Judy Jones, were conducting an optical clinic in the villages (Judy is an eye doctor).  We accompanied them a couple of days and assisted in providing glasses to locals.  So many of them have poor eyesight, so the optical clinic is always well received.  People stand in line for hours for the opportunity to have their eyes checked and get glasses.

It was a bittersweet time.  One woman came in with her two young children who were both born blind; heartbreaking to know that there was nothing that could be done.  Then you have men and women in their 80s and 90s (the oldest man we saw was 99, I think) who rejoice at being able to have clearer vision.

The best part for me was knowing that we were not only helping physically, but beginning to open the door for spiritual help as well.  For example, one of these villages was the same village where there was an agriculture workshop going on with school staff as well.  And of course the eye charts being used had John 3:16 written out to test reading ability.

Awesome times…


5 Things I’ve Learned By Going to Zambia – Now That I’m Here

Well, we’re officially on the back end of this trip – less than a week left.  Now that we’ve been here a while, I thought it would be good to take another look at what I’ve learned through this experience.

5) It’s amazing what you can put up with

I never would have believed it if I didn’t see it with my own eyes, but Bridget is actually surviving in the midst of frogs, mosquitos, spiders, and snakes.  Of course, neither of us would ask for it, but we get on.  The mosquitos aren’t bad, but we obviously try to keep an eye on them since we don’t want malaria – scares are bad enough.  So we burn coils at night and bat them away during the day.

The frogs aren’t bad, although it was strange at first to have them in the shower.  Once we figured out how to plug some of the holes in the hut, we’ve been fine.  But… there was this one time that Bridget found one in her shoe.  H-I-L-A-R-I-O-U-S!!! Ask her about it sometime.  The spiders are okay, as long as they keep their distance.  We actually go to sleep every night with several of them staring down at us from the rafters.

Then there’s the snakes… that’s a category all by itself.

4) Snakes are cold-blooded

Okay… so if you’re going to visit a foreign country, it’s helpful to know some things about the culture, the politics, the history.  And the infrastructure.  Definitely the infrastructure.  For example, if you’re visiting Zambia it’s helpful to know beforehand that all of Zambia is powered by *two* generators, and it is conceivable that power to the entire country will go down for hours at a time.

So this happened one night, and a few of us were outside cooking and eating with a BBQ grill.  It happened to be a chilly night, which led to the incident.  All of a sudden, the dogs started going crazy barking.  We shined a flashlight at the spot they were barking at, and there’s a king cobra… reared up and hissing, ready to strike, about 7 feet away. Apparently it had been drawn by the heat of the grill.  I shudder to think what would have happened if the dogs hadn’t been there, or if we hadn’t first shined the light to see what was going on, or…

Fortunately, snakes are a rare occurrence.  At least I get to say I saw one.

3) Sometimes you have to say no

One thing that Westerners have to be careful of here is creating dependence.  It may seem like such a small thing to pull out your wallet to help in the face of such staggering need, and sometimes that’s the appropriate response, but far less than you’d think.  In fact, more often than not, it hurts rather than helps.  This has been particularly hard on Bridget, I think, because she’s a tremendous giver.  It’s been hard to put the brakes on that.  Even I have had to struggle with it.  Of course, another aspect is that what is done for one must be done for all, so you can quickly find that by “helping” someone, you’ve peered  over the edge of a bottomless pit, and you’re in danger of falling in.  I think we’re learning lessons regarding poverty and stewardship that are applicable in more familiar contexts as well.

2) Effective ministry is to the whole person

I’ve written previously about this, and will probably write more, but this is a lesson all itself.  It’s completely astounding to me that people seriously argue that it is wrong for Christians to be benevolently engaged with the world around them on certain levels.  It’s equally discouraging to know that there are some folks who will devote their lives to good works without ever making a serious effort to tell the beneficiaries about the God and Savior whose love motivates the good works in the first place.

Being here has re-emphasized for me the good that can be accomplished when the ministry of the word and the ministry of good works go hand in hand.  I hope that I can take that with me.

1) God is powerfully at work in the world

The stories that I’ve been hearing from and about the people here – the students and the staff – have encouraged me to the depths of my soul.  Every day, I’m told of another brother or sister who has trusted God to overcome physical hardship, abuse, feelings of worthlessness and despair, loss of family… it goes on and on.  Some of the things I’ve heard would be absolutely heart-breaking – if God wasn’t in it.  He really does make all the difference.

He isn’t just at work in the place where I happen to be at any given time.  He is working everywhere. He isn’t just working through you.  He’s working through everything.  Every trial, every difficulty, every joy, every triumph – all situations, good or bad, whether we see it or not, He’s working.  Working to save us.  Working to put us in position so that we can say just the right word at just the right time, so that someone else can be saved.

“Look at the nations and be amazed! Watch and be astounded at what I will do! For I am doing something in your own day, something you wouldn’t believe even if someone told you about it.” – Habakkuk 1:5

Be blessed…


Teach a Man to Fish… or Farm

One of the many blessings of being here is seeing how missions plays out holistically in people’s lives.  Mapepe Bible College, where I’m teaching, is just one ministry under the umbrella of Zambia Missions.  In addition to the ministry training component in the school, there is also medical missions (particularly eye care – needed badly in Zambia), widow and orphan care through Silent Angels and Kerin’s Kids, and – what this post is about – agricultural training.

Richard Myers explaining the composting pile

The rainy season here is November to April; for the rest of the year it is completely dry.  As a result, agriculture methods that are able to produce crops year round, including when it is dry, are extremely important.  Additionally, many people rely solely on what they grow for their own diet and for producing crops for income.  Sustainable methods of agriculture are the difference between eating well, and getting by; between having some limited cash on hand for medical and other emergencies, and not.

There are two components to the agriculture training program at Mapepe.  The ministry students, who are often villagers who themselves rely on agriculture, are trained in the basics of this agricultural method.  This can help them to sustain themselves after they return home, and gives them a tool to teach others and help them to minister to the entire man.  The other component is that the staff and graduates regularly conduct workshops for surrounding villages.  B and I got to go and participate in one of the workshops the first week here.

I won’t go into all the details, (mainly because I don’t know them) but the basic process of the agricultural workshop is learning year-round fertilization methods (prevents paying for costly mass-produced fertilizer); learning how to make raised beds for seed planting (the process allows for more fertile soil and greater space for the root system, all of which translates into healthier and more viable crop yields); setting up a drip irrigation system (provides water even in the dry season); and learning the business aspect of how the crops can be produced year round, at greater yields, and perhaps sold to increase revenues.

Villagers digging the trenches for raised beds while Mapepe instructors look on

Of course all of this is done to minister to the whole man.  Ultimately, Jesus came to restore all our relationships.  Preaching to people that are starving is incredibly ineffective, and giving people business skills and a source of income without telling them about the Savior does nothing for their souls.  So the staff at Mapepe begin by telling them who they are and why they have come; biblical principles are weaved into the instruction (without preaching at people, because that’s not why they are there); there are spontaneous devotions.

The way it plays out is that by helping villagers to learn these agriculture skills, a relationship is begun that continues as villagers have questions about how to maintain and advance the things that they have learned, and yes, as they have spiritual questions as well.  During the time we were there, several villagers did express interest in knowing more about Jesus.

I’ve probably butchered this; it would be much better to ask somebody at Mapepe if you have questions.  But it has certainly been a blessing for me to see this aspect of ministry and missions in action.


Under a Different Star

The Southern Cross - only visible below the Equator

The first night we arrived in Zambia, somebody pointed out to us the Crux constellation – aka, the Southern Cross.  I’d never seen it before, and every night that we’ve been here I’ve made a point of looking for it.

One night something occurred to me as I was looking up at it.  The Southern Cross is appropriately named – it is not visible in most of the Northern Hemisphere, and where it is visible above the Equator, it’s only seen for a small portion of the year.  It occurred to me, that night as I was looking up, that I was looking at stars that most of my loved ones weren’t able to see.  That bothered me – sometimes I comfort myself with the romantic notion that even though I’m physically separated from many of the people that I love and care about the most, maybe – just maybe – we both look up at night and contemplate the same star.

To all my loved ones – above or below the Equator; half a world away, or half a mile; in Bermuda, Brazil, Lubbock, London, New York, Japan, Africa, or wherever else you happen to find yourself in this big world…

Even though we’ve been separated by time, space, and circumstance, I hold you in my heart.  When I look at the stars, I think of you.  I thank God that I’ve known you, and I hope to see you again.

May you be blessed by the God who calls the stars by name.

dkm


The Multifaceted Experience of Teaching in Zambia

If you come from America and visit a church in Zambia, you’re going to be asked to preach.  That’s just how it is.  (Apparently this is also true if you’re from Bermuda but the plane that brought you originated in America.)  So unsurprisingly, I’ve been asked to preach while I’m here.  Fine with me – nothing I enjoy better than sharing God’s word.

I’ve experienced a few different aspects of preaching and teaching here.   From preaching for a local church, to teaching in Mapepe Bible College, to going door to door in local villages, there are plenty of avenues to share God’s word.

Preaching with the assistance of Moffat Phiri, a student at Mapepe Bible College

Probably the most “uncomfortable” preaching experience was last week when I spoke at Mapepe church of Christ.  Because the congregation is made up of both students in the school as well as locals, not everyone spoke English. (Most people here speak either Bembe, Tonga, or Nyanja.  I speak none of them, and I’m not even sure I’ve spelled them correctly.) So I had to preach with the help of an interpreter, a first-time experience for me.  Funny thing: when one of the brothers was trying to explain where I was from he mimed Bermuda shorts, which produced uproarious laughter.

While I’ve been here I’ve been teaching the students in the college the Epistles of John.  That’s been an awesome time.  My focus has been on getting the students to understand what John is saying for themselves, so they’ve been reading the book every night.  Their insight into the Scripture is astounding.

Then there are door to door visits.  Now, I’ve knocked on a door or two in the past 10 years, in both very well-to-do and very poor neighborhoods. But nothing had completely prepared me for going door to door in a village in Zambia.

Teaching in a local village with brothers Vincent Mulenge and Moffat Phiri

In the first place, it wouldn’t be accurate to call it “door-knocking”; more often we just stood in the general vicinity of the house and said “knock-knock-knock”.  I went with two students from the school, and we were generally well received.  Actually, most people saw us coming and would stop what they were doing and pull chairs or benches out for us to sit on.  Different from most door-knocking I’ve done, where if people see you coming they sometimes pull the shades and turn off the TV.

On our way out of the village, I was talking to the brothers I was with, asking them questions about receptivity to the gospel among Zambians.  Their answers led me to believe that receptivity is highest in places where people have the least, such as the villages.  In Lusaka, the capital, which is just up the road, the receptivity is apparently significantly lower.  That seems to be the same story in most places.

All in all, I am really enjoying the experiences of teaching here.  I pray that God continues to use me to glorify Himself, and that the hearers are benefited.


ABCD

I’m currently reading a book called When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor… And Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.  It’s a good read which is challenging my concept of poverty, and how to deal with it.  I may post a review after I’m finished.

I read one thing today that really struck me – the concept that truly beneficial assistance for the poor will hinge on the questions that you ask them in attempting to help.  In a nut-shell, there are two basic questions that might be asked.  Either:

What do you need?

Or:

What do you have?

The authors stress that while both of those questions are beneficial, there is a world of difference in the underlying assumptions and the manner of response associated with each.

The question, “What do you need?”, implicitly assumes that the person asking the question is superior in a material sense (and sometimes morally as well) and that the person with the need is inferior.  The person in need must be rescued by the superior person – an attitude that reinforces negative patterns of behavior in both parties, which the authors define as poverty.

The question, “What do you have?”, recognizes the God-given resources that every person has, no matter how poor, and involves them in the process of allowing God to work through them for the alleviation of their own poverty.  This process is referred to by some as “asset-based community development” (ABCD), as opposed to needs-based.

Here’s a quote from p.126:

ABCD is consistent with the perspective that God has blessed every individual and community with a host of gifts, including such diverse things as land, social networks, knowledge, animals, savings, intelligence, schools, creativity, production equipment, etc.  ABCD puts the emphasis on what materially poor people already have and asks them to consider from the outset, “What is right with you?  What gifts has God given you that you can use to improve your life and that of your neighbors?  How can the individuals and organizations in your community work together to improve your community?”  Instead of looking outside the low-income community for resources and solutions, ABCD starts by asking the materially poor how they can be stewards of their own gifts and resources, seeking to restore individuals and communities to being what God has created them to be from the very start of the relationship.  Indeed, the very nature of the question – What gifts do you have? – affirms people’s dignity and contributes to the process of overcoming their poverty of being.  And as they tell us of their gifts and abilities, we can start to see them as God does, helping us to overcome our sense of superiority; that is, our own poverty of being.

A good read, so far.