New Life Center Zambia - A ministry of the United Methodist Church
Susan Imes tells her story

“hands-down the best summer of my life!”

He has told you, human one, what is good and what the Lord requires from you:
to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God... Micah 6:8

I came so they could have life - indeed, live life to the fullest... John 10:10

In Summer 2013 I came to Zambia with a group from FUMC Ocala, my home church. I didn’t know what to expect; all I knew was that I had some sort of calling to Africa, so I was going to go. In the two weeks we were there, I encountered God in a way that made the summer I’d just spent as a church camp counselor look like a trip to Walmart. I came back to Zambia this summer because Sandy had mentioned that sometimes young adults come spend a few months with them...and that I was welcome to do that. I don’t know how serious she was; I do know that, deep down, I knew then and there what I’d be doing this summer.

I ended up flying across the world with a badly sprained ankle and a pair of crutches (thanks, trampoline). The trip last year was a nightmare; but this year, I have never had a stronger sense of being in God’s arms than on the plane from London to Johannesburg. Throughout the trip I was able to get extra seats, extra seat room, and I can’t even describe how patient and kind everyone was to me. Once in Zambia, the ankle healed quickly and I was able to get around without any trouble. God is good!

In Kitwe, I had the chance to do some teaching. In the mornings there’s “tutoring” for students who aren’t in school and didn’t pass their ninth grade exam (most students fail the exam their first time taking it). While I don’t know how effective I was with the reading, I was really surprised at how much I liked teaching math. It could be slow at times, and frustrating, and my students ranged from kids who couldn’t really add to those who had started fractions...but it’s an amazing thing to see them improve, and get excited when they do. Later in the summer, I also got the chance to read with a smaller group of students. We had a lot of fun reading through stories and then having me explain/act them out. We even traded a little Bemba for American “slang.”

An unexpected blessing was getting to know some of the teams that came out. They were all very different, but they all had something to teach me. College students spend a lot of time isolated from the adult world or pushed off to work with children, so it was a surprising blessing to hear the wisdom of those who have gone before me. Additionally, I got the chance to know some of the young missionaries working in Kitwe. I knew any friends of the lovely Emily would be great, but the instant love and acceptance they showed me was unreal.

After I’d been there a couple weeks, another girl arrived. I knew that she was coming - but I had no idea what a blessing she would turn out to be. Her name is Savannah Breazel, and she’s one of the best things that ever happened to me. We spent a weekend together before the two of us left to spend two weeks at the Lord’s Mountain Orphanage in Zambezi. We travelled with the inimitable Josephine Mbilishi, who, with grace and good humor, travelled for two days with us on public busses.

That first night we ate dinner with Bernard and Betty, then went to our first devotion with the children. There were thirty-five of them, ranging in age from five to nineteen, and they sang us a welcome song. I’m not sure my heart ever started again.

We had all sorts of fun with the kids. We told stories and sang songs and played a lot of cards. Savannah and I helped with homework in the mornings and at night. We also had a chance to do a lot of evening devotions with them, which were some of my favorite moments. One night we talked about prayer - how you don't have to use big fancy words or talk really loudly, that God hears the smallest prayer and wants us to call him Abba. We gave them each a prayer bracelet and Savannah told them about all the people in the United States who were praying for them. Afterward, David, a junior in high school, came up to talk with us. He thanked us for the devo, telling us he had forgotten that he could talk to God like a friend. He said that sometimes it felt like they didn't matter, and that they were just orphans in some small town who didn't even have parents to care about them. Hearing about all the people who loved him and were praying for him, he realized that he was important...and that even if he didn't have biological parents, he had a Daddy who would never forget him. According to him, Savannah and me coming all the way from the US to Zambezi meant more than anything else could have. "People always think it's best to send money-but if you are in the hospital, do you want for your friend to pay the bills? No! You want him to come and visit you-- it's your friend you want, and he will comfort you more than any money." The kid's going to be a pastor, I'm calling it now.

We also had a great time watching the World Cup with them. They were all really excited for Brazil, and the older boys had followed the team extensively. After about a week, Savannah and I started playing Devil's advocate to get them riled up. We made signs and cheers and got everything ready...just in time for Germany to shut them down 5-0. Oops.

We also got to do a small youth conference while in Zambezi. Lizzie, the youth leader there who had grown up at the orphanage, wanted to start a traveling youth service that would make them obey their parents and stop having sex. Savannah and I helped organize the event and get the food (which involved a very educational, four-hour excursion through Zambezi). The morning message was to obey your parents, because then you're obeying God, and if you fear God he'll bless you and not curse you. We didn’t agree with the emphasis, so after a late lunch I spoke about how God created man and woman to be in an equal partnership, and about the church as the bride of Christ. Savannah and I had talked a lot about grace and freedom, so we really focused on those ideas. Afterward, we had a really great question and answer and storytelling session that I think we all learned from.

Savannah and I had all sorts of adventures, from killing the shower spiders (and breaking some glass in the process) to buying bad water to learning that roosters actually crow all night long. We talked late into the night about stuff back home, what we were seeing in Zambezi, and what we would do for some Chick Fil A. In the middle of it all, though, Savannah learned that a dear friend had gotten hit by a car and died. She had to deal with it all in a faraway place, with not much internet or phone and in a culture that didn’t really understand her grief. I have never seen such strength as what she showed in still moving forward and giving so much of herself to the kids.

When we returned to Kitwe, we had less than a week until the youth team from my home church arrived. It was great to see some familiar faces - especially my sister’s! They worked hard at painting the Hawk building, helped teach in the mornings, and put on an awesome Vacation Bible School. It was great to see them find joy with the children. While they were at New Life, I also had the chance to preach in a church near Kitwe - it was an incredible blessing and a total blast! When the team went back to the United States, however, I returned with them.

Although I missed my family and friends, it was heartbreaking to have to leave after two months in Zambia. I know that God has plans for me here, though, and I pray that what I saw of his Kingdom there will shape how I see life back in the States. Special thanks and love to Sandy, Delbert, and Emily for their amazing hospitality and encouragement. Glory to God for what has been “hands-down the best summer of my life!”

Susan Imes

Click below for all the pictures.

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