I was asked to write down some of my reflections on my three trips to Zambia for an upcoming newsletter. Figured I might as well post what I wrote here as well. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Up until about three years ago, Zambia was not among the number of African countries that I was aware of. That all changed when my friend Steve and his family felt a call to leave our town and the ministry that he was a part of there to go to this unknown country as a missionary with ACTION Zambia. Truth be told, I was not only ignorant but also fairly indifferent to this continent. Not that I didn’t have a heart for missions; my wife and I had spent the first couple years of our marriage living in Japan while teaching English at a Christian school for Japanese kids. It’s just that I wasn’t interested. If anything, I wanted to return to Japan – not just for the people and the culture, but also the food.
Anyway, Steve had promised from the beginning that he intended for me to come over at some point to teach pastors and church planters among whom AZ was working. That promise became realized this last year when I made the first of what would be three trips in a 13-month period to this country. Now I can’t get this place and especially these people out of my head or heart. In fact, I would even go so far as to say I really need Zambia.
I need Zambia for what it teaches me about the power of God working through the preaching of His gospel. It is a humbling thing to speak before a group of pastors and church planters only to realize that many, if not most have not only been pastoring for many years but have planted at least one or two other churches. Even more remarkable, is that they’ve done so without the training and resources (including Bibles!) that I have so easily taken for granted. The parable of the talents has taken on new meaning for me here, because I see men and women who have had scarcely a single talent but have through God’s grace more than doubled it through tireless faithfulness. I have great hope for the work of the gospel in Zambia because of the character of God’s workers that I’ve found here. They are eager to learn as much as they can – far more than I’ve seen anywhere else – and they have a wonderfully uncomplicated reverence for the Word of God as authoritative and true. If that sounds like a subtle indictment against the American church, I apologize. I meant it to be stronger.
I need Zambia for the perspective it gives me as an American pastor and citizen. These words of John keep coming back to me: you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. This verse, if anything, captures exactly the state of American (and Western) Christianity. I promise you, until you come here you will never understand how rich you and I are. We have no vocabulary for the poverty and suffering that are a part of the day-to-day life of most Zambians (except for politicians and far too many pastors). We are indeed rich, but in reality we are incredibly poor because we do not ask why we have been so blessed with all that we’ve been given. God does not give us all that we have to spend on ourselves, but to share with those who have nothing. Even Zambians – most of whom live on less than $2/day – understand this and because of this they are far richer than us. What’s more, Zambia has shown me how much our prosperity has become a substitute for relationships. There is nothing in the world like walking through one of the many compounds surrounding Lusaka. And let me tell you it is one thing to see poverty like this in the pages of a National Geographic, but quite another to actually walk in it. And yet, what is so striking to me is how much the people who live here seem to be content and even joyful in spite of circumstances that would ruin most if not all Americans. I believe a big part of that is due to the fact that they know something that we don’t – family and friends are far more important than any other possession and, equipped with those relationships, any suffering is made bearable. This high view of relationships also makes the friendships that I have now with a number of pastors and even churches all the more precious.
I am very encouraged by the work I have seen being done here by ACTION Zambia. I especially love their focus on befriending and equipping Zambians for the work of the gospel. In another year and a half, the first class of 15 pastors will graduate from the PLD (pastoral leadership development) training and already they are putting into play the things that they’ve learned with great enthusiasm. I am also very thankful for the missionaries whom God has called here. Each brings their own unique abilities and personalities to the team, but all are united in their love of God and the Zambian people. It may not be all that long before the fruit of AZ’s work will be such a harvest that it will be time to move on to new ground, of which there is still plenty out there. In the meantime, please join me in continuing to support AZ with prayers and support. Better yet, go and see for yourselves what the Lord is doing here and the servants He is working through to accomplish His purposes. You may just find me there.
Revelation 3:17 (ESV).