Thoughts on Zambia
By Eric Barker
I returned recently from a mission trip to Zambia. Our team came to serve with New Life Center Ministries in Kitwe. It was truly an amazing experience. We were hosted by Delbert and Sandy Groves, 2 truly wonderful people who have been living and ministering in Africa for 30 years and in Zambia for 13 years. Our team came to build church pews and install a door for our sister church in the remote village of Mutenda as well as to conduct VBS for the children in both Kitwe and Mutenda. Of course, the team put in a lot of work getting the pews built and planning the details of the VBS, but I am sure each of us received much more than what we put in. Organizing and conducting VBS for hundreds of children in Mutenda was certainly chaotic; stressful for some, but rewarding for us all.
But before I could receive the blessings and that God had in store for me on this trip, I had to get right with God. You see, I have been to Africa once before on a mission trip to Malawi, so 100% of my experience and expectations for this trip to Zambia were born 5 years ago on that trip. And that trip was awesome. We did a ton of relational work with the villagers as well as the children at the orphanage. That stuff is right up my alley: playing with kids, hanging out with a particular family in the village, getting to know them, seeing and learning about their culture, etc. The mission work besides establishing relationships was hosting clinics on AIDS awareness and premarital sex. We were immersed in the culture as soon as we hit the ground.
However, when our team arrived in Kitwe, it was much different than I expected. Kitwe is a fairly big city and we went right to the New Life Center. Everyone spoke English. There were a few Zambian employees there, but I wasn’t seeing any culture. And there weren’t any kids to play with. The housing accommodations were great: (very nice 5 bedroom house with tile floors, bathroom with hot water, full kitchen, etc.) but it certainly didn’t give the “I am in Africa and experiencing African culture” vibe. What was going on? What was I doing there?
After getting settled in, the team mosied on over to the Groves’ house for some dinner and fellowship. We had a small team- there were six of us, 3 guys and 3 girls. At some point, Delbert mentioned to one of the other men in our group that it was time to talk “guy stuff”. “Great”, I thought, “we are going to grab a beer and talk sports, I can do this, let’s go.” Much to my disappointment the guy talk was a conversation about power tools, measurements, and general “church pew engineering”. This is stuff I know nothing about. Give me a shovel and I can dig, a paint brush and I can paint, but don’t ask me how to design or construct anything- its way out of my league. So now what do I do? I’m hanging out with the guys, but feeling like an outsider as I merely stand on the perimeter, adding nothing while wondering if the Orioles are winning and how Dolphin training camp is going. Oh, well, let’s go see what the girls are talking about….
Now I’m really starting to wonder, “Am I in the right place? Is this the mission trip I am supposed to be on?” Then it hit me. Did I go on this mission trip to serve God, or to satisfy my own personal wants and desires? I quickly decided that I came to serve, and prayed for God to give me a servant’s heart while putting my own selfish desires aside. We came to complete a project that was needed for our sister church and if that was how I could serve God, I am just humbled to be able to help. OK, thank you God, attitude adjusted, let’s get this thing rolling. And yes, the beginning of the trip involved power tools and we had no contact with children, ( except for an hour or so “assisting” Sandy at the CHE feeding program), but the blessings from God were abundant. Working on the pews gave me time I wouldn’t have otherwise have had to get to know the other members of the team. And having the opportunity to get to know Delbert and Sandy while staying at the New Life Center is an experience that I am definitely the better for. And you know what? Sleeping in a nice bed that is all warm and cozy, showering with hot water and eating delicious food offered up at the Groves’ household really isn’t all that bad once you get used to it. And as mentioned previously, the trip did turn “relational” once we traveled to Mutenda to conduct VBS. We were greeted by excited villagers and had our opportunity to play and interact with them. (You know you’re having fun and getting dirty when even the kids in the village come up to you and start brushing the dirt off you.) And once I could see first-hand the need for the pews we were building and who would be sitting in them, it made all the work building them so much more worthwhile and satisfying.
And then, on our way out of town, the really cool God thing happened. We met a young boy in the village with clubbed feet. He can’t walk. We helped him out temporarily by delivering a PET to him so he could get around easier. But, as God would have it, a few nights later on our way to Livingstone, our team just happened to spend the night with Dr. Mutale, a pediatric specialist. He just so happens to operate on children who have deformities so they can have a better life. We showed him a picture of the boy. We thought that maybe his condition was too bad to be corrected, but the good doctor looked at the photo and said, “That’s easy.” He offered his services and said the boy and a parent could come and stay for rehab.
The “mission” portion of the trip ended and we were off to some sight-seeing after that. But as I reflect on my time in Kitwe at the New Life Center, I know that I gained a lot. I learned of God’s grace, I met new people and fellowshipped with them as well as my team members. I learned that serving God and loving others is a life mission and that while the process may not always be pleasant or what I selfishly want to do, it is always worthwhile.