Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Day 11 - Until We Meet Again

There is a first century, historical account recorded in the Holy Bible of Jesus of Nazareth’s invitation to a zealous, uneducated, salt-of-the-earth fisherman named Simon Peter.  The invitation called for Peter to leave his fishing business and follow Jesus to points unknown for an unspecified period of time.  The only hint Jesus gave about the adventures that lay ahead was that Peter would engage in an alternate form of fishing. Peter was a married man with community and business obligations.  Knowing that what he was asking of Peter would require a radical step of faith, Jesus said to him, “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.”  What was Peter’s response?  Scripture records the following:  And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.   You see, Peter had a couple of business partners who also received an invitation from Jesus to follow him.  They, too, uprooted their lives, stepped out of their comfort zone, and accepted the call.  What followed was a three and a half year life-altering, gut-wrenching, chain of events that would influence the course of history for the next two thousand years.

As I lay in bed that Saturday night after meeting with Marco, it seemed like weeks had passed since I boarded the plane to Zambia by myself.  The circumstances that characterized my arrival in Chipata helped give rise to a cloud of sadness that had consumed my thoughts.  During the entire plane ride, my mind was filled with nothing but questions.  Most of those questions were focused on why events had transpired the way in which they did.  Strangely, eleven days later, lying on my bed at Kevin and Savannah's house, surrounded by mosquito netting, it didn’t matter why my plans hadn’t been executed the way I envisioned.  I was no longer the focus.  The people of Chipata were most important.  Finding a way to help meet their needs, assist Kevin, Dan, Doreen, and Mable while showing the love of Christ was foremost in my heart.

Although I had gotten little sleep, I was in ‘full speed ahead’ mode my last Sunday in Zambia.  God had given me a glimpse of what the future would hold for Sisterhood Of Servants and our ministry to the people in the bush villages of Chipata.   I was giddy with excitement as I rode to church with Kevin, Doreen, and other members of Big Tree.  There is a lovely view of the Chipatan landscape as you drive Northwest on the Great East Road toward the bush villages.  The mountains rise in the backdrop and stand as sentry guards overlooking the houses and shanty buildings in the valley.  A bit of fog had settled around the mountains, and I began to imagine the colors of the valley that next Spring.   The landscape would look stunning in shades of green.  I couldn’t wait to see it.  I smiled within myself knowing that I would be returning someday soon, Lord willing.  As we drove, Kevin and I talked about future plans.  I asked him about the possibility of acquiring land near Malongwe Village so that a primary and secondary school could be built for the villagers in the area and the members of Big Tree Baptist Church, specifically.  I asked him what he thought about implementing a vocational training and agricultural program that would provide secondary students and adults with a marketable trade that would help to sustain their families economically.  My heart beat faster as we talked, and I kept thinking of Aylid’s testimony of her desire to learn to read the bible for herself and someday even be able to help her children and grandchildren learn to read and write.  Kevin told me that all the land in the bush was divided into ‘chiefdoms.’  Malongwe Village was located in the Mnukwa chiefdom and under the custodial care of Chief Mnukwa.  He would be the person that would give final approval as to the allocation of land to a foreigner.   There were so many factors to consider in an undertaking like this.   At that moment the scope of the project seemed enormous, complicated, and well beyond anything that S.O.S. could ever hope to accomplish, but I wouldn’t allow myself to be discouraged. 
We arrived at church and had to wait longer than usual for the villagers to arrive.  They began to trickle in a few at a time, and eventually the church building was full.   There was still a chill in the air, and Dan’s 10 year old daughter, Savannah, snuggled close to me, trying to get warm.  I missed my girls back home, and was more than happy to be a surrogate mom to Savannah that morning.  Kevin preached a wonderful message on being faithful to run the Christian race to its end and not give up when it becomes more difficult to run.  I let his words burn into my heart.  At the end of the service Robert Zulu and Kevin asked me if I wanted to say anything to the congregation.  I honestly didn’t want to because I knew I would end up crying like a blubbering idiot.  I cast aside my pride and stood before those beautiful people.  They had become my extended family in just a few short days.  I simply encouraged them to live their lives for Christ because he is worthy, and there is no greater joy in life.  I told them I needed to get home to see my husband and children, but I hoped to see them all again someday.  Praise the Lord I didn’t cry!  After many Zambian and American hugs were exchanged, I said goodbye.  We wouldn’t be staying to observe the literacy class that day, but I was so grateful that Doreen would be in her place, faithfully teaching.  Savannah and Kevin had planned to have a backyard barbeque with the Jalowiecs and Tsoukalases that evening, but Analiese and Gabriella had come down with fevers.  The party was moved to the Jalowiec's house.  I just loved being around these missionary families.  When Kevin and Savannah moved to Chipata, I began to pray, along with many other people, that the Lord would send co-laborers that would be of help to Kevin in the ministry and provide fellowship and camaraderie for Savannah.  What a delight to see God’s answer in the faces of these dear folk and hear his answer in their laughter as they joked with each other.  Jan blessed my heart again with her thoughtfulness.  She had baked a cookie especially for me. It was in the shape of the Sisterhood Of Servants logo.  I was at a loss for words and could only manage a simple, "thank you."  

 It was good to be in Chipata, but home was beckoning.  An enormous task lay before me on the western side of the Atlantic Ocean.  There are few similarities between the journey the Apostles embarked upon with Christ and my adventures in Chipata, but the Lord was requiring me to step out in faith, fearing nothing while forsaking the nay-sayers, in order to walk in obedience.  I was ready to jump into the challenge with both feet.


Julie Tsoukalas had graciously offered to drive me to the Lilongwe Airport in Malawi.  Jan and Micah were coming along to see me off, as well.  We stopped at the curio shops about 45 minutes from the airport to do a little shopping.  I hadn’t spent any time in the markets, and the only souvenirs I had acquired were some pieces of African jewelry for my girls.  It’s my custom to always purchase a hat for Harden on my trips abroad (he looks GREAT in a fedora style), but sadly, none of the vendors had anything really eye catching.  The trip wasn’t wasted, though.  Micah should really consider a career in sales.  He has an incredible ability to barter and dicker about prices, and usually comes out on the winning side.  He came away from the shops with multiple treasures.  Even though I was empty handed,  I did get an opportunity to tell one of the curio vendors about Christ.  His name was Leafton.  Right there in the middle of the market, in the midst of his persistence in trying to get me to buy some of his goods, I shared with him God’s love and Christ’s sacrifice on his behalf. Leafton said he was already a Christian, so I encouraged him to be a witness and share the good news of his salvation with others.  As I was walking away, I beckoned to one of Leafton’s business comarades to go over to Leafton because he had some great news to share with him.  As we drove away, they were still engaged in conversation.  Praise the Lord!

During the week I had tried on numerous occasions to retrieve my airline confirmation number for my return flight home.  I wasn’t having any success, and fear was beginning to creep up inside me again.  I didn’t want to end up stranded at the Malawi airport, so I continued my search.  I had no fewer than six different alpha-numeric combinations of confirmation numbers from all the correspondence I had received from the airlines and the travel agency when I booked my original flight.  The night before I was to leave for the States, I finally entered the correct code.  I was able to check-in online with a confirmed seat.  Good grief!  I think airlines love to see people sweat!   The flight home was uneventful but extremely long.  Praise the Lord for leg room.  I got a front seat by the exit door, so I could stretch my legs at will.  My flight itinerary looked like something out of an Indiana Jones movie as the plane traversed from country to country (Lilongwe, Blantyre, Addis Ababa, Rome, Toronto, and finally Atlanta).  It took more than 30 hours, but I finally touched down on American soil.  I was covered from head to toe with dirt, and somewhere along the journey I picked up an unwanted travel companion.  A biting insect of some sort was having a feast on my skin, but I couldn’t find it.  I was made aware of its presence during my layover in the Toronto airport, yet I tried not to scratch.  I was bone tired when I arrived in Atlanta.  I got my rental car, drove the 40 minutes to my parent’s house, dumped my luggage in their garage, and headed straight for the shower.  My dad saturated my suitcase and its contents with spider repellent.  I thought about burning the clothes I had been wearing but decided that might be a little excessive.  I had ten bites on my body.  I didn’t know what the little critter was called, but it worked quickly on its victims!  ☺

Needless to say, my family reunion was incredibly sweet.   Once I returned, I had purposed to give my family my undivided attention for several days before I resumed my regular schedule.  However, before I began my hibernation period, I had one more important task to complete.  Kevin and Savannah were returning to the States for an extended furlough.  They planned to leave ten days after my departure from Chipata and wouldn’t be returning to the country until March, 2014.  I told Kevin before I left that I would put together a proposal outlining the plans we discussed.   I would address the proposal to Robert Zulu, Doreen’s husband, and ask him to serve as my emissary with Chief Mnukwa.   I went right to work on the document, praying for just the right words.  My fingers trembled and my heart raced as I typed.  The first couple of paragraphs are listed below: 

RE:  Malongwe Village Education and Vocation Initiative

Dear Mr. Zulu,

As founder and chairman of Sisterhood Of Servants, it is my desire to implement an educational and economic outreach ministry that will benefit the residents of Malongwe village and members of Big Tree Baptist Church, specifically.  Pursuant to previous conversations that I have had with Kevin Pestke in regard to expanding the literacy program at Big Tree, I would like to ask your assistance in helping me answer some questions that will determine the direction of this project.    Some of the broad components of the plan I am proposing are listed below. 

OVERALL PLAN:  Build a school that will serve the educational and vocational needs of the people living in and near Malongwe village.   In addition to traditional primary and secondary schooling (kindergarten through 12th grade), this outreach program will include a vocational training center for those in secondary grades as well as a school sponsored agricultural program.
l. to r. Dan, Robert Zulu, & Chief Mnukwa (photo courtesy Dan J.)

I received an email from Mr. Zulu a week later, and I was humbled by his response:

Hi Madam Perry,
On behalf of the of the people in and around Malongwe village and the Big Tree Baptist Church, I am  delighted. Actually, I do not know how the people will receive this news.  It’s overwhelming:  Glory to God.  I cannot imagine how the wounded man on the Damascus road appreciated the love of the unchurched Samaritan. Agape is supreme and has the power of God to accomplish things that will go beyond this human plane.  It overcomes everything in Jesus Name.    
I am more than willing to do everything possible to get this project done in Jesus name. I went to the Ministry of Education, and I met the Chief.   The Chief and the government are more than ready to provide their input, the land and any other guidelines or information…  

I honestly couldn’t breathe for a few moments.  Harden was sitting next to me as I read the email.  I couldn’t respond to him right away.  I just kept whispering ‘thank you, God.’ I don't know what was said during Mr. Zulu's conversation with the Chief, but I praise the Lord for His divine intervention.  Three weeks later I brought all this news before our Board of Directors, and we voted unanimously to move forward with the Initiative.  The board also voted to adopt the Chinunda Rural Health Clinic as an outreach ministry of Sisterhood Of Servants.  With Robert Zulu’s invaluable help, we have begun the process of registering Sisterhood Of Servants in Zambia as an official non-governmental organization.  We will have all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities afforded an international company operating in a foreign country.   A title deed will also be issued to us for the land on which to build the school and training center.   I have written a tentative five year vision plan, and what will follow in the months to come will be organizing a local board of directors, writing a Christian school charter, acquiring the land,  the development of architectural blueprints, training and agricultural programs, and a great deal of fundraising.  Lord willing, we’ll have a groundbreaking ceremony  in April, 2015.  I am so excited!

Well, this marks the end of my Chronicles of Zambia.   I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the posts, and I would ask that you pray for Sisterhood Of Servants.  Our leadership team needs the Lord’s wisdom like never before as we proceed forward with the Malongwe Village Education and Vocation Initiative.  We endeavor to impact the lives of others, motivated by a deep and abiding love for Christ.  We want to finish well the race that is set before us, always looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.  To God be the glory! 

Blessings to you,
Phylicia ☺

If you would like to receive our quarterly newsletter, simply send me a message with your email address to sisterhoodofservants@yahoo.com.  I’ll continue to post updates on our progress, so that you can enjoy the journey with me.