how to talk to girls

Day 18 and being sick in Africa has officially set in. It’s just a head cold, but I don’t sound too great and my nose will not stop running which is just really annoying. I also cough quite a bit and that’s just not fun at all.

So while the teams went out with the WHIZ staff yesterday to some different trusts, I stayed back and did office work. All over Zambia last year there were about 2600 people in primary school (grades 5-9) and in different communities that went through the Abstinence and Being Faithful program. They have all of the class lists from the local schools that are handwritten and bound together in this little book. So what did I get to do? Yep, you guessed it. I plopped myself down in an office chair at a computer and began to enter all of those names and ages and schools and whatever other information they needed. It gave me a lot of time to think and it was interesting seeing all the different names of kids across the country.

I finally went to town with Melinda the other day and we walked around. I bought a pair of shoes that I can hopefully wear with everything and they were pretty inexpensive. I also bought some chitenge material and we can have skirts made by the women of the community and help out the trusts with their projects so I am hoping to have that done too. The material here is so colorful and fun. Our style is way too boring in America sometimes.

The students are still reading a lot. You do that when you have no television at all. We sit on the porch in the amazing weather and watch the rain. We eat our amazing meals together all the time. We truck down to where the Garners are staying to get on the internet when it works. We have loud and interesting discussions. We sleep whenever we can. We share thoughts in devotions and pray together every night. And I couldn’t have asked for a better group of students to live with for three months. How blessed am I to be here.

Ethan is our resident storyteller. For the first week we were here, he read us a chapter every night from the nine year old author Alec Greven’s first book, How to Talk to Girls.


chitenge stall

Well, I’ve found myself reading a lot. The students are being very studious and so I can’t have any fun without them. Besides, I’m trying to fulfill a life goal in reading the unabridged version of Les Miserables. So now, out of 1463, I’m on page 428 and I keep on trucking through. Although, I’m still amazed at how Victor Hugo could write 59 pages on the Battle of Waterloo. Oh well, he was getting paid by the word.

We had class Wednesday and today and they both went extremely well. It’s fun to sit back and hear from the students and see their ideas come out when they talk together. I hope they are learning. It seems to me like they are.

Thursday was another day of adventure. We did a trust visit as a group and traveled up to Nakabanga. At one point, I got to ride ON TOP of the land cruiser with Bratcher and it was beyond fun, like, I can’t even describe it to you. It was that amazing.

But anyways, Nakabanga. It will be hard to find another group of people so incredibly welcoming. They were beautiful people, so full of joy and so happy to have us there with them for the day. It was just wonderful. They taught me how to make cabbage, and it’s pretty good. They made shima for us (the staple food of Zambia) and also cooked up some chicken and goat. Goat is really dark meat by the way and quite chewy but it has a pretty good flavor. We played with the kids, did some work on their piggery and also paid a visit to two different families.

This is where it got hard again. We saw so much joy in the faces of these people as we spent the morning with them. But our moods changed when we visited a little girl of seven who has been sick her entire life. I can’t imagine never being able to run or play with other kids. Never going to school because you simply never feel good. It was heart wrenching, again. Heartache and joy go hand in hand most days here. There’s no getting away from that.

We visited another mother who was 26 and a widow. She had just lost one of her three children and was in the hospital for several weeks. Now she’s living with her other two children and goes many days without food simply because they have nothing. We brought them some ingredients for shima and some sugar, but it still doesn’t feel like enough. Most days, I find myself wishing I could do more.

This morning we had class and this afternoon we visited the work site and pitched in where we could. I was painting some window shutters when one of the workers started working and painting close to me. The following is our conversation.

Him: What is your name?
Me: Margie, and yours?
Him: Fred. How old are you?
Me: 21, and you?
Fred: 23. What are you guys doing here?
Me: Working with World Hope. We came from the university in America.
A few moments of silence
Fred: Are you married?
Me: No.
Fred: Are you single?
Me: Yes.
Fred: I am looking for a partner.
Me: Oh really?
Fred: Yes.
Me: Well, I’ll keep an eye out for you.

Then we had to leave to go hang out with the World Hope staff. I could not stop laughing though, it was so funny. My first proposal. What do you guys think?

Chitenges are pieces of fabric that women wear that can be used for anything, including bathroom stalls when you have to pee in the bush.


pink toilet paper

We have yet to have a day where we get to “sleep in.” On Saturday we had a guest lecturer from the University of Zambia, located in Lusaka, come and speak to us about Community Development. The rest of the day was quite relaxing. I parked it on the front porch with a blanket, some music and Les Miserables and read all day. (Mom, I am now on page 173 and the students all think I’m crazy but they all think I can finish it before the trip is over!)

On Sunday we split into our church groups and went to church. I am attending Mochipapa church for the entire time we are here and so my team and I went and worshipped with the congregation. Sunday school starts around 9 and the service normally goes from 10-12 or 12:30. Some of my favorite things about church are the choir (they all wore red shirts this Sunday), how we all get to dance, and how they pray. During worship and pray time, everyone prays out loud at the same time. And they pray with such sincerity. Most times I just stand and listen while everyone pours their hearts out to God. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever heard.

We were all invited to Bible Study at one of the church member’s home Sunday afternoon. Most of the kids had schoolwork to do, but Michael and I went with the vice pastor of the church. It was basically an extension of the sermon, a chance for people to sit around and discuss and talk about what the sermon was about. It reminded me a little of Exit 59 and the Sunday school like group that met after church to talk about the sermon. It was nice. One thing though that is very different is that in the Zambian culture, everyone is very soft spoken, and silence within groups is extremely common. So there were points during the Bible study when it felt a little awkward to an American, but in reality, it was a perfect picture of their culture.

We had to make our first trip to the doctor that is down the street from us. Elijah (I knew he’d be the first one to have to go) has had different red marks all over and we’re pretty sure now he’s allergic to mangoes and our mango tree that we have. (Yes, we have a mango tree, and they are amazing! We eat them all the time.)

Monday morning we did some home visits with the Home Based Care branch of World Hope. We had been briefed about these, but I know no one was fully prepared for what we really saw. We drove out into the villages, where people live in little compounds in huts and there are kids running all over the place. They chased after our car yelling, muguwa! Muguwa! (white person) We are used to it by now, everywhere we go, people, especially kids, are yelling muguwa.

We visited two homes. At the first, we met a young mother who found out she was HIV+ in 2000. Since then, she has had two children. But her husband and children don’t live with her and her mother is her caretaker. She barely looked at us and wouldn’t really answer any of our questions. We talked with her mother a little bit and then sang a song and read some Scripture to her. Leaving was hard because we really had no guarantee that visiting was worthwhile. I know it was in my mind, but that doesn’t take away the things you feel. From the moment I walked in, all I wanted to do was give her a hug. But they don’t hug in Zambia, and I knew it wasn’t appropriate. It was just hard to see, as are so many things here.

The second person we visited was an older guy who was so welcoming and couldn’t wait to share his story with us. He knew English and so he told us everything and even showed us his medicine and log book of when he takes everything. He is currently living alone, but has a sister that checks in one him a few times a week. After he got sick, his wife left him, which is unfortunately an extremely common occurrence regarding HIV and AIDS. It breaks your heart to watch people go through so many trials and not even have a support system. That is why this Home Based Care system is so important. They try to visit the clients at least once a week and provide them with comfort and hope.

It’s hard to look some of this stuff straight in the face and wonder how people survive. I guess I’m not as strong as I thought I was. I don’t think I could handle going through the many things that these people go through. And yet they trust God and have hope in him. It’s amazing. These people amaze me and put me to shame all at the same time. I have so much to learn.

Mrs. Bota is the most amazing housekeeper and cook ever. She has done a wonderful job at taking care of us day in and day out. Monday was her birthday and so we bought her some cooking pots and a gift certificate so that she could buy something for herself. The look on her face was priceless and she hugged us all afterwards. It was such a fun moment and blessing to be able to give her a gift for all the hard work she’s done for us.

It rained all night Monday night and we were supposed to travel out to the trusts on Tuesday to do a few more assessments for World Hope. We all piled in the bus but soon got a report that the roads were going to be too bad to take the bus. So we all quickly piled into two land cruisers and headed out. After riding in the back of a truck all summer long, I was looking forward to a little adventure. And that is exactly what I got. I sat with several of the guys in the trunk of the land cruiser and had so much fun. We plowed through huge puddles and put on the four wheel drive in order to drive through a river. Not kidding, it was one of the coolest things I have ever done. I’ll put up some pictures as soon as I can for all of you.

The trusts were good for us to experience and we also got a chance to stop by Pemba Pilgrim Wesleyan Bible College and view the campus. I think they have 26 students right now, most of which are married and their families also live with them on campus. It is a three year program and missionary couples often teach the students which come from all over Africa.

More later. I promise.

We use pink toilet paper here.


tomato soup

I am incredibly unworthy.

We made it to Zambia. Almost a week ago, in fact. Life has just been so crazy that I haven’t had time to blog and tell the world about what’s going on. So grab your cup of coffee and an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie or two and sit in your most comfortable chair for a while.

I have never been on a plane that long in my entire life. We traveled for three days straight, got on four airplanes, the best bus ride of my life, saw the mist of Victoria Falls from the airplane and slept whenever and wherever we could. The most amazing blessing was sitting in the 69th row, which was also the last, on the airplane from Amsterdam to Johannesburg. Four seats for me and another student so I got to LAY DOWN and sleep and it was so wonderful.

It felt so good to land in Zambia, see Chief Jeff Johnson (Community Health something for World Hope) and Maureen (an amazing World Hope International Zambia employee) waiting for us and load up to drive three hours from Livingstone to Choma. We stopped in Zimba (about half-way) to visit a missionary at the local Wesleyan mission and give us a little break.

We reached Choma around 6 at night and finally got to see where we will be living, for a little while at least. The building we were supposed to be staying at is not done, so we are currently in temporary housing. This “temporary housing” involves Dr. Garner and his wife staying with Jeff in a house near the WHIZ offices and the other 14 of us crammed together in a little house with three bedrooms and only one shower! The students, though, have been more than incredible at being flexible and willing to go and do whatever. And really, for the most part, they have gotten along extremely well.

Sunday was our first full day in Choma and we all went to the Mochipapa church, where I will be staying with four other students for the rest of the semester. The people were incredible and it was another reminder to me that worship in another country is always better to me than a normal Sunday in America. We heard some of the Sunday school service, danced during worship and attempted to sing in Tonga. It was wonderful and all of the students loved the experience.

It got me emotional again, big surprise. And I was reminded of something that someone told me during Christmas break. In America, the motto is, “I think, therefore I am.” And that’s what I was living. But as I prepared to come on this trip and now being here for a few days, I’ve come to see that this man was right when he said that Africa’s motto is, “I feel, therefore I am.” I realized that it’s time for me to feel, really feel, again. I’ve been broken before, but I have this feeling that Africa, in all of its glory and suffering, is going to break me again.

Monday was spent allowing the World Hope staff to train us and explain the different departments that they work in. It was long, but I was blown away by their organization and their passion for the people of this country. Chief Jeff claims that these people are his heroes, and I totally see it now.

Thanks to Mr. Tolley, the book of James always comes back to haunt me, and it did again on Monday as one of the committees shared their theme verse with us.

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
James 1:27

On Tuesday we were trained as to how to go out into the community and assess the 75 trusts that WHIZ is in charge of. The afternoon gave us some time to relax and play with some kids here at the compound who are incredibly beautiful.

God had been pressing on my heart to be completely open with these students. For relationships to be built, openness is key. So Tuesday night I was thinking about what I was going to share with the students later in the week when Jeff asked who wanted to share with the whole WHIZ staff the next morning. I kept my mouth shut, but when I do that God always uses someone to call me out. So Ethan (this team’s James Davenport), volunteered me to lead devotions for everyone the next morning, and I knew that God wanted me to talk to everyone, not just the IWU team.

So Wednesday morning, I did the devotions for everyone, and I have to admit I was a little nervous. I simply shared what God had placed on my heart, how no matter where we live, we all experience suffering. Despite all of the suffering we may endure, God is still ALWAYS faithful. Since then, several people have told me that what I said made an impact. It’s a humbling thing, being used by God. Many days, I feel so unworthy.

Thursday was EARLY. I’ve been doing really well at giving myself time in the morning to read and gather my thoughts for the day, but we were on the bus a little before 7 on Thursday morning. We went back to Zimba for the day to help the WHIZ staff with some of their trust assessments. So we loaded on the bus and drove along this amazingly bumpy road (my personal favorites if I’m not driving) and my team stopped at a small church in Dunka village to meet with the workers there.

These people were incredible. They have next to nothing, but they use all of their resources to help each other. The trust has started a piggery and will use the funds from that to start a garden, help send kids to school, and gather resources so that they can make home visits more often. It’s amazing the commitment you see in the villages from the people. They care so much for everyone around them. They are the true pictures of community.

We had some time to kill because of the rain and so they got out the drums and we sang and danced with them for a long time. It was also the right time for two of the pigs to mate, so we saw some real-life discovery channel action. As I danced there in the church with them, I had another one of those, “I’m never going to forget this” moments. God is so good.

Today we finally got around to doing some classwork. Nothing real strenuous, some relaxation and time to process and wind down after a crazy first week.

It became extremely clear last night as I sat on our Tonga stool and was prayed for how incredibly blessed I am. God has taken me through a whirlwind journey in the past four years to bring me to this point, with these insanely wonderful people, to serve him. It is amazing to look back and see his hand guiding my steps, both hard and joyful.

He is faithful.

When it rains, the ground looks like tomato soup.


one week

One week is all that separated me from two dear friends. I put them on a plane today for a crazy four month adventure in Dubai, knowing full well that had Africa never worked out, I would have had my passport in hand and said goodbye and gone through security to some B gate in the Port Columbus airport with them.

But for some reason, there is exactly one week between our different flights to different places where God is going to use us in different ways.

I have no way to describe how I felt as I hugged Emma and Anna today and stood there watching them as they walked through security. It was a different and strange feeling knowing that the next time I see both of them, all three of us are going to be completely different people.

I think I am okay with that.

“How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart, you begin to understand, there is no going back?” - Frodo