Friday, June 27, 2014

Day 6 - Walking the Land

After the conclusion of our second ZSOS board meeting on Saturday night, I finally had the chance to spend some time in the Pestke’s home again.  Savannah prepared a lovely dinner for the Jalowiecs and me.  It was Analiese’s favorite – chicken and rice with carrots and bread.  After dinner, I changed hats and put aside my role as Chairman of the Board and instead became ‘Miss Phylicia,’ Analiese and Gabriella’s playmate for the evening.  Oh, what a joy those girls are!  Rolling around on the floor, playing ‘house’ and ‘school’ with them was such fun, and it brought back sweet memories of the many hours I spent playing with my own daughters when they were just wee lasses.   The evening came to a close, and the Jalowiecs and I said our goodbyes.  Kevin and Dan had a big day planned for Sunday services out at Big Tree. 

Everyone was scurrying about on Sunday morning getting ready for church.  The trip out to the Bush is always eventful, and I love the ‘bush-bus ministry’ that Kevin and Dan are running!  We always begin the journey out to the church with just 4 or 5 of us in the vehicle.  By the time we reach our final destination, there are at least double that many bodies packed into the truck.   Since my last visit, the Jalowiecs and Pestkes have started a children and adult Sunday school class.  The church is really growing, and it is so exciting to see the Lord at work.  Kevin taught the adult Sunday school class, Doreen taught the children, and Dan preached during the main service. I was sitting next to an elderly woman while Kevin was teaching a lesson on discipleship.  I broke protocol and took a picture of her hand during the lesson (I’m a naughty girl ☺).  That hand represents so much of what Zambia means to me:  strong hands weathered from years of hard labor, yet gentle, too, like a grandmother’s that has loved and cared for many.  Her left hand was resting atop a copy of the bible that was written in her language, praise the Lord!  I watched her as she wrote down verses with her right hand, and I prayed that she had the ability to read God’s word for herself and was developing an intimate relationship with our heavenly Father. 
Church is packed with people listening attentively
Saying goodbyes after the service

I hated to stand up and walk around while Dan was preaching, especially since his message was about having a distracted heart from the things of God, but I was still feeling the effects of sitting through the five hour graduation ceremony on Thursday.  Lil’ Savannah and I were seated near the back of the church, so I don’t think we were overly distracting when we both stood up and walked outside.  It felt great to stretch.  The church was packed with people, and there was an overflow crowd of children and adults sitting near the rails outside the main structure.  PRAISE THE LORD!  At the closing of the Sunday service that I attended last August, I commented about how wonderful it would be if the church grew so large that there were enough members to wrap around the building.  There were approximately 40 people in attendance at that August service; I counted more than 80 on this day.  GLORY!  Big Tree had doubled its attendance in just 9 months.  I was so thrilled to see the people and felt wonderful knowing that they were being fed the word of God by such faithful servants.  The service concluded, and I shook hands, gave hugs and said farewell once again to many of the church members. I felt differently about my goodbyes this time because I knew that they were really just a ‘see you later.’  Lord willing, I would be returning soon. 
Billy Goat Stew

Lunch was served immediately after the service, and I sat down to eat with a little fear and trepidation.  Billy had been kept at the Zulu’s house until the designated time of sacrifice, and someone in Doreen’s family was going to perform the dirty deed.   When we stopped to pick up the Zulus that morning, I asked them where Billy was since I didn’t see him in the yard.  I was hoping against hope that he had been given away to someone as a
pet.  With a twinkle in her eye and a wry chuckle in her voice Doreen said, “He’s been slaughtered.”  My head dropped, and my heart sank.  Robert and Doreen laughed out loud at my reaction.  I knew that Billy had been lovingly stewed in a rich, brown gravy all morning long.  So, in his honor, I ate a small bite of the meat.  I can’t say that I enjoyed the experience.  Not because the meat wasn’t skillfully prepared, but because I usually don’t name and ‘pet’ my food before I eat it!   Once lunch was finished, I excused myself to go and change my shoes.  I was going to be joining Kevin, Dan, Robert, Doreen and a fairly large representative group from the villages surrounding Big Tree on a walk-about of the property that had been designated for the MVEVI project.  We were going to be traipsing through rural bush country, and I had packed my rubber garden boots for the occasion.  If I had any snake encounters, I wanted to be sure that I was on the winning side of the fight!  I had left my boots in Dan’s vehicle.  Right near the truck was a mama goat and her newborn kid that was only 3 days only.  Hearing his sweet, little bleat was music to my ears and seemed to lessen my sadness for Billy.  Such is the life cycle of a goat in Zambia.  

Village headmen and reps. in the back row

Our group gathered together, and we were ready to begin the walk.  My heart seemed to beat faster and faster as my excitement grew.  This walk represented the culmination of many hours of paper filing, negotiating with the Chief and village headmen, and most importantly, prayer.  Robert Zulu explained that we were going to be guided deep into the bush by several of the village headmen that were donating their village’s property for our project.  Without giving a long dissertation on customary land procedures in Zambia, I’ll explain the process briefly.  Chief Mnukwa has custodial authority of several thousand acres of land in the Bush region. This is called customary land.  His chiefdom is divided into approximately 30 villages, and each village has a representative that is responsible to oversee the affairs of the people in his village.  Included in these duties is a responsibility to oversee land acquisition.  We made our original request to the Chief for 10-15 hectares of land for our MVEVI project (24-32 acres) back in August.  However, the Chief doesn’t arbitrarily give land away to foreigners for their development projects.  The village headmen have to willingly ‘release’ the land for one’s use.  This is where Robert Zulu has been most instrumental with his mediation and negotiation skills.  He had been meeting with the village headmen weeks before my arrival, explaining to them the nature of our project and the long term benefits to the community, at large. Four of the village headmen had willingly released a portion of their land and were making it available to us for the building of the school and vocational training center. 
Robert Zulu leading the way for me

Making our way through the wild.  PTL, no snakes in sight!
We started walking in a northwesterly direction at a pretty brisk pace.  I was trying to count my steps, take pictures/video, and watch out for snakes at the same time.  About 300 yards in, I stopped counting and just enjoyed the walk.  Unfortunately, my words won’t be adequate to describe the landscape.  Parts of the land are rocky, some parts are wet.  Some parts are level, and others parts are slightly undulating.  Ninety nine percent of the land is overgrown, and much of the lush foliage and native grasses are shoulder height.   In other words, IT IS BEAUTIFUL! There is so much work to be done with development, but I felt a contented peacefulness as we continued walking.  I kept thinking to myself that this must have been what it was like for pioneer women in the old west once they crossed the Mississippi River and ventured onto land that had only be occupied by Native Americans.    At one point during the walk we passed a beautiful field filled with a tall, native grass that looked like pink-tipped heather.  Everyone walked on ahead, but I paused for a moment and asked Robert about the field.  We started walking again and this is what Robert said to me:

"The field belongs to him (he pointed to one of the headmen).  He is giving it to you as part of all the land for the project.  It’s no problem."

Well, what could I say?  I actually couldn’t and didn’t say anything.  I just shook my head as the tears welled up in my eyes.  I walked in silence and my thoughts turned to the children of Israel who willingly brought an offering to the Lord from their personal possessions so that the tabernacle could be built and furnished.  I knew that what we were attempting to do paled in comparison to what those Old Testament warriors had done, but I just couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with gratitude toward everyone that was making this vision become a reality.  We walked for 45 minutes and finally arrived a little bit south of our original starting point.  One of the village headmen asked Robert to ask me what I thought of the land.  I wanted to frame my words carefully, but I was finding it a little difficult to speak because I had a lump in my throat.  All I could manage to say was, “How do you say so much more than thank you?  It is beautiful, and I am so grateful to you.”
I was silent for most of the ride home back to the Jalowiec’s house.  I felt like I was living in a dream,  and my mind was spinning with logistics, and details, and committees, and the work that needed to be done.  I kept thinking back to what Robert had said about the village headman and his field.  At that moment I felt like a very, very small piece that was being used in God’s amazing and grandiose plan to further his kingdom.  The feeling was overwhelming.  Long before I’d had that conversation with Lord on the plane ride home from Zambia in 2008 when I vowed to surrender myself to do whatever I could to minister to the people, God already had a plan in place.  He saw the events of 2014 even though my sight was completely blinded.  I can look back over the past six years and testify that the Lord is indeed able to do exceeding abundantly above all that I can ask or think, according to the power that worketh in me, Unto God be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end.  Amen.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Gift from the Chief - Billy, the Kid

Conversation with the Chief's wife
Before leaving the palace compound to go on the tour of Mnukwa village, we had a brief photo session, and pictures were taken of our group with the Chief.  During that time, I was able to speak briefly with his wife (I don’t think I ever asked for her name).  Our conversation revolved around the needs of her people and young women, in particular.   She assured me that the work we hoped to accomplish in the village through the MVEVI would be most welcome, much needed, and greatly appreciated.  She encouraged me to stay in touch with the Chief and even gave me his cell phone number!  I gave her my pledge that I would be diligent to attend to the details of our project to be sure that we accomplished our goals.  As we were traveling back to the palace having completed the tour of the Resource Center, Kevin stopped to pick up a large bundle of malasha (charcoal) for Robert and Doreen.  He’s become more fluent in Chichewa and was able to converse with ease with one of the village women while the transaction for the charcoal was being completed.  I could only smile and wave and say, "Muli bwanji (how are you?)" I made a mental note to myself:  “Phylicia, you have got to get a phrase book and practice learning more of the language between your visits to the country.” 

The Meeting Tree
Once we arrived at the palace, we all resumed our seats under the meeting tree.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw two of the Chief’s advisors walking toward us, and they were carrying something really special.  A goat had been tied by its hooves with rope, and it was bleating in protest.  Robert Zulu was sitting in one of the chairs positioned in a circle around the tree, and the men placed the goat near his feet.  Praise the Lord the goat stopped crying.  Chief Mnukwa’s senior advisor came forward.  He sat down on the ground in front of the Chief with his legs crossed and addressed him respectfully with a bow from the waist.  I was so impressed with this man.   I don’t remember his name, but I’ll never forget him.  He is several inches shorter than I am, has all of his original teeth and an infectious smile, is well into his 80s, and has the mobility of a teenage boy!  I love the fact that his posture is always one of gracious humility when he addresses the Chief in a formal setting.  He spoke briefly to the Chief then he rose, walked a few feet, and sat down in front of Robert.  This dear man began explaining the purpose of the goat.  I found it a little difficult to hear the translation of the conversation, but this is the gist of what was said:  every time that Robert and Dan made an appointment to meet the Chief to discuss ZSOS business or Big Tree Baptist Church business, they never asked for anything in return, not even a drink of water.  Because of their testimony of selflessness and desire to minister to the people of Malongwe Village, the Chief wanted to present our group with a gift.  Hence, the goat.  I was astonished and speechless. 
Can't you just hear him crying?
As if on cue, the goat bleated again, and I suddenly felt a little squeamish.  It took me just a minute, but I realized that the poor little guy (I’ve since named him Billy) was being given as an ‘offering of thanks.'  I silently prayed that he would be kept as a ceremonial pet by someone in Chipata.  My hopes were dashed when the Chief began to describe the delicacy of roasted goat meat.  He spoke very graphically about how the belly meat was prepared and wrapped in a casing of the small intestine.  I felt like I would throw up, but I kept smiling.  I didn’t want to offend the Chief in any way, and I tried to engage in the conversation as he and his advisors joked about eating the freshly cooked goat sausage only to discover an unexpected ‘gift’ in the meat because the intestines weren’t cleaned well.  Oh my word!  The thought of eating goat poop really made me a little sick to my stomach.  We prepared to leave, and Billy was loaded into the back of Kevin’s truck.  Billy cried and cried.  I thanked the Chief and his wife, and they both encouraged me to stay in close contact.  I shook hands with everyone in the Chief’s entourage, and his senior advisor approached me.   He looked me in the eye and said that he would be praying for God’s blessings on me, Sisterhood Of Servants, and the projects we hoped to accomplish.  I could only offer my heartfelt thanks; it was an overwhelming moment.
Saying my goodbyes and apologizing to poor Billy
  I walked to the back of the truck.  Billy had quieted down.  I patted his little head, and my motherly instincts kicked in.  I apologized to him (really) and told him how sorry I was about what would be happening to him in just a couple of days.  Kevin laughed as he rearranged the cargo in the back of the truck.   Plans were made to have a feast after church on Sunday for the members at Big Tree, and Billy would be the main course.  I had to keep telling myself that his sacrifice would bring joy to many.  Later that night Dan joked with me about how I was going to carry Billy home in my carry-on bag.  If only I could.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Day 5 - Face to Face with Chief Mnukwa

Friday morning arrived much too soon because I hadn’t gotten a good night’s sleep.  Nonetheless, I was looking forward to the events planned for the day:  I would have my formal introduction meeting with Chief Mnukwa, and I was nervous as a cat!  I had been anticipating this meeting for more than 8 months.  In August 2013, I received correspondence from the Chief indicating his willingness to work with S.O.S. in developing land for the Malongwe Village Education and Vocation Initiative (MVEVI).  Even though the Chief had given his permission to implement all the components of the MVEVI, cultural protocol required that I introduce myself to him formally as the representative of S.O.S. and share my vision for our work in Zambia. 

It is customary to bring a thank you gift to the Chief when he grants a meeting at his palace.  Before driving out to the bush, Kevin, Dan and I drove to the Down Shops to purchase the gift.   I would be presenting the Chief with rice, sugar, cooking oil, and washing powder.  Yes, I thought it was an unusual offering, too, but when in Rome… ☺  The total cost of all the items was 405 kwacha (about $80 American dollars).  I prayed the Chief would be pleased with the gift. 

We picked up Doreen and Robert Zulu on the way to the Chief’s compound.  Once we arrived I was really surprised to see an enormous cell phone tower that had been erected on the property.  I chuckled inside and thought about how modern convenience was making its way to the Bush.  Surely, electricity and indoor plumbing were just around the corner!   

Our entire group: Kevin, Doreen, Robert, Dan, me, the chief's wife & Chief Mnukwa

Before the meeting began, Robert gave me some counsel on the topics I should and should not mention.  He told me just to share my heart and overall vision with the Chief, steering clear of the specifics and minute details of our plans.  We walked a short distance from where the truck was parked to an enormous tree.   I was told that this was the ceremonial gathering place for residents of Mnukwa Chiefdom when they wished to address the Chief and seek his counsel for answers to their troubles.  I looked off into the distance and there were at least a dozen villagers that were sitting and waiting for an opportunity to do just that.   The whole scene reminded me of an open air throne room, and I thought about the children of Israel seeking an audience before Moses when they needed his counsel.    Chief Mnukwa and his entourage of advisors arrived.   There were two chairs placed beneath the tree for the Chief and me to occupy, and there were several others chairs and reed mats placed around the tree for the advisors, Dan, Robert, Kevin, Doreen and the Chief’s wife.  All eyes were on me, and I was given the floor to speak.   
Sharing the vision of S.O.S. and my burden for Zambia

Only the Lord himself knows just how nervous I was.  I wish I could write that I had the confidence of the Apostle Paul when he stood before King Agrippa and shared his testimony of life change through the grace of God.  That kind of confidence escaped me, and I felt like I was speaking with gravel in my mouth.  However, I know that the Lord was guiding my words.  I shared just a brief part of my salvation testimony and how I had come to be interested in Zambia (you can read my bio here).  I shared with him how our organization had grown, and the desire that we had minister to our brothers and sisters in Malongwe Village through the MVEVI program.  After I finished speaking, Chief Mnukwa was so gracious in his comments and said the conversation was very inspiring.  I was overwhelmed!  That sounds like a boast, but I was humbled.  I praise the Lord for His favor and the positive response we received! The Chief then addressed our entire group and gave us a brief lesson on Zambian history and a ‘state of union’ address about economic conditions in Mnukwa Chiefdom and the vision he had to improve the lives of his people.   I didn’t realize the Chiefdom was so large.  It is made up of 30 villages with more than 20,000 residents.  The plans we hoped to implement centered around Malongwe Village, where Big Tree Baptist Church is located.  Chief Mnukwa had a much larger vision in mind for the entire chiefdom.  He invited us to be part of that overall vision and took our group on a short tour to see some of the projects already in place near the palace compound.  

Resource Center Building
Land surrounding the Center
Water is already available

This building shown above is located near Mnukwa palace and is a Resource Center for the community. It was built in 2011 by a non-profit group from England for the purpose of providing the youth of Mnukwa Chiefdom with vocational training in marketable agricultural practices. It comes equipped with 3 large classrooms that are powered with solar electricity, the foundational structure for 4 staff houses, a bore hole for water, and plenty of arable land. It is a GORGEOUS piece of property.  After we’d finished the tour, the Chief announced that if we, Sisterhood Of Servants, had the vision and could develop a program to utilize the facility to better the lives of the people of Mnukwa Chiefdom we could take possession of the building and all its resources.  I almost fainted on the spot!  We've many questions that have yet to be answered concerning this property, but the potential is incredible.  Our group was invited back to the palace for just a few minutes.  I assumed we had more official village business to discuss, but the Chief had a special surprise waiting for us.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Day 4, part 2 - Sisterhood Of Servants Goes Global (ZSOS)

Robert and Doreen Zulu, such faithful servants of the Lord

After having served as the Chairman of S.O.S. for the past four years, I have had an opportunity to meet incredibly interesting people with diverse personality traits.  Many of these encounters had yielded positive working relationships – others have been negative.  I know the cliche that ‘it takes all kinds of people to make a world go round’ is true, but when you’re endeavoring to accomplish a task whose scope is so vast and you know you’re venturing into uncharted territory, you need to have someone on your team that is empathetic, sees the big picture, cares about the details, asks questions, is fully invested in the success of the mission, and is never condescending.  Praise the Lord such a person exists for Sisterhood Of Servants, and his name is Robert Zulu.  Robert has been my emissary from the time I came home from Zambia last summer and began working on a proposal that would be given to Chief Mnukwa to secure the land in Malongwe Village for our school and vocational training center.  He and I correspond back and forth regularly between Chipata and the States.  I always get excited when a call comes in, and I see those 13 digits across my phone screen.  Robert and his wife Doreen (the literacy school teacher) have been invaluable contributors to the work that is taking place at Big Tree Baptist Church.   Robert is the Vice Chairman of our Zambian Board of Directors.  He and Dan Jalowiec, secretary of the Board, worked so diligently to see that all necessary paperwork was filed in a timely manner with government officials so that S.O.S. could have representation in Zambia.  Because of their persistence, Sisterhood Of Servants now has a branch in the country (ZSOS).  Robert and Dan were also instrumental in coordinating the details of my trip and getting together the prospective candidates that would serve as members of the Board. 
The new Board of Directors for Zambia Sisterhood Of Servants. Seated L to R: Justinah Kayela, Me, and Josephine Chirwa. Standing: Davis Mwanamoya (treasurer) Dan Jalowiec (secretary), Robert Zulu (vice-chairman), and Kevin Pestke
The time had finally come for me to preside over my first Board of Directors meeting for Zambia Sisterhood Of Servants (I just love typing that out).  Thursday night after the graduation ceremony, we gathered around the Jalowiec’s dinner table.  I called the meeting to order and we began our Board business.   I enjoyed hearing the personal testimonies of the members and learning a little more about them.  We addressed several items listed on the agenda and had tremendous discussion.  I loved the creative, intelligent, insightful, and thoughtful collaboration that was taking place around the table between all the members.  Even though we redeemed our time and packed so much into the meeting, there was more to be done before I returned to the states.  Dan, with his great foresight, had already made plans to schedule a second meeting on Saturday afternoon.  What resulted from both meetings were the following:

        1.  We adopted a Vision/Mission Statement for the organization 
  2.  We reviewed the Bylaws, Conflict of Interest Policy, and Code of Conduct     Policy for ZSOS  that will serve as our governing documents as we move forward  
   3.  We discussed the roles of each board member and officer
      4.  We decided on a regular meeting schedule for future board meetings

      5.  We established 4 separate committees that would be responsible for overseeing the work of ZSOS.
  6.  We made chairperson recommendations to lead each committee
I was so excited about our progress and felt like we had laid a great foundation toward accomplishing our short and long term goals.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, ZSOS wouldn’t function as a 50 year old, seasoned organization in a few short months, but we had made the first necessary steps to lead us in that direction.  To God be the glory.  Great things he is doing!