Friday, August 25, 2017

ZAMBIA CHRONICLES 2.0 - The Farming Cooperative, Mr. Phiri

One of the real highlights of this trip was meeting Mr. Edward Phiri, a native Zambian and the owner of Lutawo Paradise Garden. Mr. Phiri is a master grower of tree seedlings, ornamentals, and fruit trees. It is from his farm that I acquired our strawberry plants and fruit trees. He’s remains extremely humble despite enjoying enormous success in his business.
Since he was a young boy, he has been fascinated with trees, and he has the real heart of an entrepreneur – he sees potential where others only see impossibility. Just seven years ago he started his business with a handful of trees. Today he has two farms and thousands of plants. Groups from all over the world visit his farm to seek his counsel. The day I was there he was planning to host a group of Peace Corps volunteers from Australia and Britian. We were privileged to have him come to our farm for an on site visit. He was such a motivating voice of inspiration for everyone in attendance at the meeting. He encouraged all the members of the co-op about the potential of our orchard and garden to grow beyond their imagination. His enthusiasm was infectious, and I believe the women, in particular, caught the “bug.” They continued to talk about his visit for the remainder of the week. 

Visiting Mr. Phiri's farm and holding 2 orange tree seedlings I had just purchased.
The entrance to the orchard. He has thousands of trees and has started a new project growing macadamia nuts.

ZAMBIA CHRONICLES 2.0 - Farming Cooperative

I was disappointed to see that the 7 members of the original co-op hadn’t fully utilized the resources of land, seeds, water, fertilizer, pesticides, compost, etc. that were provided for them to create a prosperous garden. As a result, I decided to transition the men from farming into the enterprise of bee keeping. I challenged the men to take the initiative and do some research on their own before I committed any financial resources to this new project. It will be great to see how they fare. When I return next August, I’ll look forward to my first taste of honey!
We started a new co-op with 9 women, and they have really taken the bull by the horns! In one day, these women organized themselves and cleared more than 1000 square meters of our property with simple garden hoes. They worked quickly and efficiently. Through the generosity of several stateside donors, I was able to provide a brand new pair of gloves for each woman. I could only smile with delight as I watched them attempt to insert their hands while determining which glove fit the left hand and which fit the right. This was the FIRST time any of them had every donned a pair of gloves as evidenced by the fact that they didn’t know to do with their fingers. What a gift!
Every time I walked down to the farm to check their progress I was amazed! Zambian women are some of the hardest working women that I know personally. They have incredible supernatural strength and ability. Beginning at sun up, I worked with these women as each of them dug out three, 60 cubic centimeter holes in which we intended to plant the new trees for our orchard. If you have trouble converting metrics like me, the holes were approximately 2 feet deep, 2 feet long, and 2 feet wide. I wish you could have seen them really putting their backs into breaking up that ground. The work was so exhausting! We were going to plant papaya, lemon, orange, mango, and neem trees. After digging 27 of these holes, we moved to the original garden plot, and dug out 50 planting holes for the new strawberry plants. What I would have given for some automated digging equipment! I have the bruises on my knees and legs to remind me of the experience of hours of shovelling. By the time we finished our work for the day, the sun had set on the horizon, the sky was turning pale shades of orange and pink and dusk was upon us. We were all so tired, but the satisfaction of looking at those glorious plants in the ground made our hearts feel lighter. We gathered in a circle, held hands, and prayed for God’s blessing on our efforts. What I wouldn’t give to capture the expression on their faces when they get their first taste of a fresh strawberry!
Digging 50 planting holes for the strawberries. Notice the mom with a baby in one arm and a hoe in the other? That's how they's inspiring!
The beginning of our new strawberry patch
One of the 27 holes the ladies dug for the trees
The ground was rocky, hard, and disagreeable but PERFECT for growing citrus, mango, and papaya trees
Satisfaction! One orange tree planted. Only 26 to go!

ZAMBIA CHRONICLES 2.0 - The Sewing Program

Eight months ago I introduced everyone to a talented young woman named Matolase Lungu (Ma-toe-la Loon-gu) that was one of the original five members of my first sewing class in the village. I asked you all to pray that the Lord would move in her heart, and she would agree to become the permanent teacher for our tailoring program. I’m so pleased to tell you that Matolase has accepted the position. Praise the Lord! Because many of you donated fabric and supplies for the sewing kits, I was able to open the class to 15 additional students. We have 20 students enrolled in the program, representing 9 surrounding villages. I love that there is representation from so many parts of the community.
I began the class instruction with a simple embroidery hoop made from popsicle sticks and taught them how to hand sew several lines of the running stitch and backstitch. The former students also received a lesson in hand quilting. Each lady came to the class with a different level of skill. It was wonderful to hear testimony in church at the end of the week from one woman named Siberia Sakala. Siberia testified that before starting the sewing class, she didn’t even know how to hold scissors. Now, she has finished two sewing projects and knows how to sew by hand. Siberia is so excited about her new skill, and is looking forward to attending class and learning more. I set up the program to run for one year. Next August we’ll hold our first tailoring program graduation ceremony. It will be such a blessing to see all the wonderful items created by the students.
The ladies created stuffed dolls for their children, quilted toiletry bags, and over the shoulder tote bags. I heard from Robert Zulu this week. Matolase has assumed her role as sewing teacher with great enthusiasm and the class is running on schedule. My heart was especially blessed as the former students testified about the impact those original sewing kits have made in their lives these past 8 months. God is using this program to really make a difference in this community. I can only praise him.
SEWING MACHINES – I actually purchased two sewing machines from town and arranged to have them transported to the village. It is a bumpy and tenuous 45 kilometer ride over terrible roads. The machines appeared to arrive in good condition; however, I couldn’t get them to stitch consistently. One of the machines was a floor model that had a problem with the hand wheel motion. The other machine was brand new out of the box, but the bobbin winder mechanism was completely defective. I eventually received a refund for both machines from the store owner, so we’ll try to make a second purchase once construction at the resource center is complete. Thank you for giving!
She said "Yes!" Matolase has agreed to become the permanent sewing teacher. She is so excited about creating weekly projects for the students to create. For the next year, she will run the program. I covet your prayers for Matolase, the students, and this new endeavor.

Matolase is leading the class while I worked in the fields with the members of the farming co-op. The class was so orderly. I am thankful for the school desks at which each woman is seated. Many of you gave the funds so these could be constructed. The woman seated in the front row at the center of the photo is Siberia Sakala. She did a phenomenal job on her projects. Before she came to class, she didn't even know how to hold scissors. Praise God for equipping these women and putting the desire in their hearts to learn something new.

Our whole group - 20 women ready to embark on a new learning adventure.

Don't you love these faces - not to mention the poses. These cute skirts were made my the mother of these little girls. Her name is Shebita, and she is one of the original members of the sewing class last year. Shebita wanted to show me what she has been doing with the resources that were provided to her. I couldn't have been more proud of her effort and stewardship. To God be the glory! 

Doreen showing off her finished doll and toiletry bag.

ZAMBIA CHRONICLES 2.0 - Building Projects

I have learned many valuable lessons through the process of leading this transformative project in the village. God is growing me, challenging me to trust in him – knowing with bold assurance that he has called me to this work. I must keep my hands to the plow despite the onslaught of negative commentary and disbelief that comes from the naysayers (remember Nehemiah as he attempted to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem).
God is also teaching me great lessons about his faithfulness. He is so patient as I learn about how life and community work in another culture. During this trip, especially, with the loss of my phone, I better understand the challenges that are imposed upon a ministry and a society when there are limitations with transportation and communication options. The best laid plans are often executed at a snail’s pace, BUT praise God for steadfast fortitude to stay the course. Faithful is HE who calls you, who also will do it (I Thessalonians 5:24).
The Resource Center is still under construction. Lord willing, the building will be finished by November 1st. The first time I approached my “little school in the village” my eyes welled up with tears. Our builder was plastering the inside of the literacy schoolroom, and a cart being driven by a team of oxen was delivering sand for the plaster. The scene was surreal. I unveiled the new Community Resource Center banner my first Sunday back at Big Tree Baptist Church. The people cheered and clapped when they saw it. There was a real sense of “community bonding” when I hung the banner across the ring beam of the Center. The people are beginning to embrace our motto and are finding such positive identity in these words: pang'ono pang'ono ndi mtolo (translated- little by little makes a bundle). Everywhere I walked in the village, people would repeat those words to me. It had become a special greeting. As Robert Zulu said, “It’s a great motto because it describes perfectly what we’re trying to accomplish.” The people realize we are starting a great work from humble beginnings, but little by little things are really taking shape.
Here are the practical lessons I learned about building construction in the village:
1. Never start building at the beginning of rainy season (November). Wait until May/June to begin. It'll save time and money. 
2. When your builder is a full time farmer and part-time builder, the construction will only progress after his crops have been planted, then harvested, and then sold at market. We’re moving slowly, but we’re getting to the finish line.
3. When your project manager, overseer, and builder don’t have “talk time” on their phones, communication efforts are greatly hindered.
I’m so glad to have discovered these challenges exist because more effective methods can be developed to address the issues. That’s what I’m doing, so I appreciate your prayers for wisdom. 

Look at my "little schoolhouse in the village."

I unveiled this banner at Big Tree my first Sunday back in the village. It pleased me so much to hear the people cheer and express their pleasure. God is doing great things!

Mr. Manza (my builder) and his assistant, Mr. Blackwell hung the banner for me. I was just securing one the corners that had come loose.

Zachary Tembo and I discussing the progress of the building construction. I LOVE my glass window panes. They were totally unexpected, and I was so happy to be able to wash them. It is such a beautiful structure to me, and will be made even moreso when the ladies from the sewing program hang curtains and add their special touches to the inside. 

ZAMBIA CHRONICLES 2.0 - Literacy School

Four years ago in January 2013, the missionary pastor of Big Tree Baptist Church in Malongwe Village started a literacy program for the members of the congregation. Church members had access to bibles written in the native language, but very few people could read them. The first classes were taught by Doreen Zulu, and there were 18 students in attendance. I was blessed to be an early supporter of the program, and I’m so pleased to see the way the Lord has continued to grow this ministry. Over the years we’ve have different teachers volunteer their time to teach the classes. As the program has grown the need for additional teachers has become more evident. I’m so thankful for the two new teachers that have made themselves available for the literacy school. It was wonderful to meet Mr. Silimbana and Mrs. Phiri. I had the opportunity to share my burden for the people of the village and they, in turn, expressed their desire to minister. Two different classes are being offered: the English class is taught by Mr. S, and the Chichewa class is taught by Mrs. P. There are 23 students enrolled. It was a blessing to share all of the resources with our new teachers that I had shipped in barrels back in March. Thank you to everyone that donated school supplies. They were so pleased to receive all the teaching materials they needed to get their classrooms set up. I want to extend a special thank you to Robert Futrell of Trinity Christian Academy in Jacksonville, Florida for donating a library full of hardback, early reader books and English dictionaries.
Mr. S and Mrs. P have great resolve AND patience. The literacy classes meet on Monday, Thursday, and Friday at 3pm. Both teachers walk to our village after teaching their regular classes in the neighboring villages. They welcomed me to sit in on the classes so I could observe their teaching techniques. Even though the Resource Center is still under construction, the classroom is already being used by Mr. S for his English class. He uses the Bible as his primary textbook (can somebody say Praise the Lord!), and the day that I observed his class, he was teaching on the story of the Good Samaritan. After looking through the library of books, he discovered that I had brought a book about that same parable, and he invited the students to read the story using the primary reader. God’s timing is ALWAYS impeccable!
Mrs. P’s Chewa class has 13 students, and they are all learning at different levels. Most of the students are completely illiterate, but she is very patient with them. Please continue to pray for this worthy program. God is blessing in a great way. People from the surrounding villages have heard about what is happening, and so many more students want to attend classes. The teachers and I agreed that we need to put a cap on the classes, but I feel confident that by the end of the next term (December) we could have as many as 60 students enrolled in the school. To God be the glory! 

This is a picture of most of the literacy school students. Mr. Silimbana is taking the photo. Thank you for your prayers for these students and the teachers. A whole new world of literacy is being opened to them.

My lovely classroom. There is so much I love about this picture. First, it looks like a classroom. When I first observed Mr. S teaching class, the room was covered with ladders, scaffolding, and plaster debris all around. I love the desks that we had built, and the students love them, too. This room is serving double duty. Our sewing class also meets here. The sewing/cutting table is propped up against the wall on the right. The storage rack on the left side of the picture holds all of the student sewing kits as well as the library of books and all the school supplies. We're making such good progress. Thank you for being a part of this great work! 

ZAMBIA CHRONICLES 2.0 - God's Unexpected Blessings

Ireen Banda Reads to Me
One of the lovely truths about being a child of God is that you can share the gospel with anyone, anywhere, and at any time. It was such a great blessing to my heart to be able to gather early one morning with the women from the farming cooperative before they began their work in the orchard. I asked everyone to sit down near the bore hole (well pump) that our ministry had installed the year before because I wanted to tell them a story from the Bible in John, chapter 4 about Jesus’ meeting with a Samaritan woman at the well. The majority of the women had never heard the story before that moment. What an opportunity the Lord was about to give me!
I must tell you honestly, there is something that came alive in that Bible lesson because the imagery was so vivid. Here was a group of women sitting at a well pump that each of them visited a couple of times a day because their need for physical water needed to be quenched constantly. What a blessing to show them and tell them that Jesus had an intentional appointment with a woman who was considered an outcast among the Jews, yet she was special to the Lord. What a blessing to tell them that God is no respecter of persons, and it didn’t matter if you came from the bush, the village, or in town. It didn’t matter if you were an orphan or a neglected and abused wife. Jesus came to offer himself as living water that would quench a woman’s spiritual thirst forever and always. What a blessing it was to be able to tell them that Jesus wanted to provide the same thirst quenching, everlasting life for them. I encouraged them to think about Jesus and the love he had for the woman of Samaria and the love he had for them as they continued their work.
A couple of nights later, at about 10pm, as everyone that was staying in Atnes’ house was getting ready for bed, Ireen came to me and asked a question. She was speaking in broken English but she asked me where that story was in the bible that I had told the women about. In my broken Chewa, I told her it was in John, chapter 4. With her Chewa bible in hand, Ireen sat down on the floor next to my chair. She put on her thick lensed glasses, clicked the light on her small flashlight, opened the Bible to John 4, and began to read. My eyes filled with tears as I listened to her. You see, four years prior to that moment, Ireen was one of the original students to attend our literacy program. At that time she couldn’t read or write. Now, here she was sitting at my feet, spontaneously reading the story to me that I had told her only a day before. I didn’t have a phone so I couldn’t make a video, but the Lord whispered to my spirit and said, “Enjoy this moment, Phylicia. Nothing you have done in my name is in vain. My Word will never return void.” This was a personal gift from God meant to lift my soul.
As Ireen continued to read, I just looked down at her smiling, and followed along in my copy of the scriptures as best I could. She got to verse 9 when Doreen came in the door. She asked what we were doing, and I told her Ireen was reading from John 4. Doreen said that she had just come from visiting the home of a woman from the farming co-op that was also reading John 4 that night. God was DEFINITELY up to something. Doreen and Ireen read to verse 14 which says “but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”
Then Ireen spoke to me in Chewa and Doreen interpreted. She said, “that story is just like you told us. Sometimes when you go to church and you listen to the preacher you don’t know if what he’s telling you is true or not and you don’t always understand because you only hear what he says one time. It’s so good to be able to go home and read the scripture yourself.” I could have run around the village shouting hallelujah!! That lead to a discussion about the Bereans from Acts 17 who received the Word of God with a ready mind and searched the scriptures daily. Ireen had come so far in her literacy training, and God has a great plan for her life. He is doing a great work in this village. What joy there was in the house that night! What joy there is in my heart right now as I reminisce! I hope you’ve been encouraged, too. 

Ireen attending literacy class 4 years ago. She is 56 years old now.

Ireen holding up her school papers for me to see. She was just learning how to hold a pencil.

ZAMBIA CHRONICLES 2.0 - Bernard Zulu, from literacy student to future teacher

The first time I met Bernard was 4 years ago. I was observing one of Doreen Zulu's literacy classes. Bernard had been a student in the literacy program for 6 months, and he was just beginning to learn to write. He has been a faithful student these past four years. He's 58 years old, but his face lit up like a little kid when he showed me his penmanship notebook. His handwriting is BEAUTIFUL! Four years ago he testified that he hoped one day he would be able to stand up in church and read a passage of scripture from the Bible for himself. Not only can he read the Bible, but he aspires to teach others one day. PRAISE GOD! 

This picture was taken 4 years ago when Bernard and I first met.

The video dialogue may be a little unclear. Here is a transcript of what is being said:

Phylicia: "This is Bernard Zulu. He's 58 years old. He was one of the first students in our literacy program, and this is his testimony. God ahead."
Bernard: "Thank you very much. Because Mrs. Zulu provided the foundation encouragement for me to know how to read and write. For her to encourage me to become literate, this time I am happy. I can read. I can write. I can even teach."
Phylicia: "Oh, Amen! Alimeke Zeke (praise the Lord).