Happy New Year from Zambia!

Happy New Year from Zambia! Please pray for the cholera outbreak that is currently happening here to stop soon…!!! #isthisreallife #tia

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5 Lessons from Zambia (thus far)

I’m four months in to my six-month stint in Zambia and just realized that I’ve only posted on here once…oops! (In my defense, I’ve shared regular updates via email so please comment if you’d like to be added to my mailing list!)

Here are 5 lessons I’ve been learning from the Zambian culture thus far:

1. Generosity

In Zambia, you are born into a culture where sharing is a given. Because it is a collective culture (and not individual like the U.S.), people are more concerned about the group’s needs as a whole than the individual’s needs.

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Source: The Economist

That means if you are walking into a group setting and have any kind of food in hand, it is better for you to either finish it before you enter the group setting or make sure you have enough to share with everyone than to walk in eating your food. Similarly, if you’re already out with a group and become hungry, you should either stop and buy food for the whole group or not eat at all. It would be better for you to endure the hunger pangs with everyone else than to pull out your own little snack and eat it in the presence of others (unless you have enough to share with everyone else).

If someone stops by your home, you should offer them whatever you have in the house to eat. If you don’t have any food, the least you can do is to offer them a cup of water. This out-of-the-way generosity is exemplified even more in Tanzania, where people are known to invite passers-by over to share meals with their families if they pass by during meal time.

When you invite a friend out for a meal or an event, it is automatically assumed that you are treating them. Not everyone has disposable income to spend on luxuries like eating out or going to the movies, so you’d better make sure you have enough money to pay your friend’s way before inviting him to join you! An exception to this is if you discuss it beforehand and agree that everyone will chip in a certain amount of money for the event…but even then, you are equally sharing the bill. Splitting bills isn’t even an option here!

I’ve been on the receiving end of this type of generosity from many Zambians and it is always so challenging and convicting to see some of them offer me the best of what they have. If the whole family is eating a meal, they will give me double the portion of meat than everyone else. If they only have a few chairs in their house, they will get up and offer one to me. If I stop by to say hi and they’ve just made some food, they will insist that I stay and eat with them or pack me some to-go if I can’t stay.

Whatever little they have, they share with others.

I’ve been trying to exercise this level of generosity with those I’ve met here, and it has truly been rewarding to give and to share from what I have. Admittedly, I’ve found it a little easier to give here since $1 USD = 10 ZMK, but I’ve been challenged by my Zambian friends’ quickness to give from their lack instead of from their abundance. Would I still be willing to give this generously if I was back in the States??

Jesus said, “It is better to give than to receive,” and I think the Zambians are onto something with their generosity!

2. Community

People here spend time together…in person!! Whaddya know. Maybe it’s because not everyone has a smart phone yet or that internet is expensive, but people are often found sitting outside chatting or playing games with each other! Since everyone knows and trusts their neighbors, children are able to freely roam around without parental supervision. The community takes care of itself.

This sense of community is especially evident during funerals. Sadly, death is much more commonplace in third-world countries, where people often pass away from ailments or illnesses that would be easily treated in first-world countries. Sometimes it seems like there is a funeral every day–I went to three in two months and saw firsthand how the community comes together to support its members.

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View from inside a funeral house while others are singing praise songs outside.

A funeral here typically lasts three days–the first day for visiting the family, the second day for the burial and ceremonial tributes, and the third day for the immediate family to get together and discuss family matters. During the first and second days, friends, family, and members of the community all intentionally take time out of their schedules to visit the grieving family at a designated “funeral house,” one of the family members’ homes. The women gather with the family of the deceased in a mourning room where loud cries and wails are rampant (and almost expected). Though sometimes it does feel a little disingenuous because people are laughing one second and wailing the next (without tears), I can’t help but think about how Romans 12:15 says to “weep with those who weep,” or in other translations, to “mourn with those who mourn.” This, compared to the sterile and structured funeral homes in the U.S., seems like a more natural and comforting way to share the pain and burden with the grieving family.

At the burial site, the men of the community dig the grave and bury the casket, and then the women come to pack the dirt into the grave as an act of love. Then family members and close friends of the deceased pay their respects by planting flowers in the newly formed mound of dirt, which I think is a beautiful representation of new life found in Christ. Praise songs are sung throughout the whole ceremony and the crowds of people walk from the funeral house to the gravesite and back in song. It’s heartwarming to see the community comfort and support one another in this way. The power of presence is truly healing.

3. Relationship is King

In America, Time is King. In Africa, Relationship is King.

In Zambia, when someone makes plans with you at 11am, they really mean they are starting off at that time. I’ve found that Zambian time is at least 45 minutes–2 hours later than they tell you, which can be really frustrating for someone who comes from a culture that values punctuality and basically has Time as its main currency.

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I think it’s safe to expect people to show up at least one hour later than they say they will in Zambia!

Apparently there is a two-hour grace window for being late to an appointment because everyone knows that life happens. After that two-hour window, it’s safe to say that your plans have been canceled. If you bump into a friend on your way to another appointment, your top priority is your relationship with the person in front of you. It doesn’t matter if you are running late to a work meeting, a hair appointment, or a meal with another friend. The person directly in front of you is more important than your schedule…even if your schedule involves other people!

Honestly, I struggle with this one because although I do see the value of putting relationship above one’s schedule (Americans could use a good reality check every once in a while when they freak out over being late or missing deadlines when no lives are actually at stake), we still need to get things accomplished and this approach to life seems inefficient for my western time table, not to mention disrespectful to the other people whose schedules are affected by your delay! Needless to say, I’ve had to learn a lot of patience here, ha!

4. Culture of Honor

Similar to Asian culture, the African culture is one of honor and respect. When greeting elders (or anybody in positions of authority), you’re supposed to curtsy and shake their hand while holding your forearm with the other hand. You do the same thing when receiving something from someone. Their language even has different pronouns you use when addressing those either older than you or higher than you in societal position! Something very different from the American culture where we call our elders by their first names!

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Some of our students greeting the Headwoman and other leaders of a village they visited.

Romans 12:10 says to “outdo one another in showing honor,” and this automatic humbling of self is something that I think America could really benefit from…it creates a societal hierarchy that values and respects elders and leaders. Children don’t step all over their parents or teachers and are less likely to become the self-entitled brats that we so often see in the U. S. of A.

5. No Fat-Shaming!

This is one of my favorite things about Zambia…there is no fat-shaming! The word “fat” is solely a descriptive word and nothing more! It’s not an insult, it’s not offensive, it’s not negative in any way…it’s just the same as any other word you’d use to describe someone: “tall,” “short,” “young,” “old,” etc.

When I first heard people describing others as “fat” here, often in front of the person they were describing, I’d laugh in shock at the speaker’s bluntness. How rude! Strangely enough, nobody else ever seemed to react the way I did, including the person being described. When I asked if it was offensive, everyone responded in unison, “Not at all!” Huh!

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I’ve noticed that it’s always a very matter-of-fact statement that some people are just bigger bodied and therefore, able to eat more or are more prone to tiredness than their smaller-bodied peers. In a country where probably half of the female population would be considered plus-size by U.S. standards, this is a great thing! They celebrate people exactly the way that God made them! God made people all uniquely and purposefully–some are tall, some are short, some are skinny, and some are fat! It’s just the way things are and there is no one body type that is better than another. To shame a whole percentage of the human population based on their body type is an insult to God Himself!

My initial reactions to these seemingly offensive fat comments showed me just how much of a problem it is that Americans have made it shameful and undesirable to be fat or big-bodied! How is it that we’ve allowed “fat” to become an insult? How is it that we’ve allowed Hollywood to dictate our standards of beauty? The highly enhanced and edited images that are thrown at us through the media are not real nor attainable and leave society reeling in insecurities and comparison issues. This is why so many people struggle with body image in the States! Interestingly enough, eating disorders are not prevalent in Africa. I attribute that in part to the lack of body shaming here, something I wish America could implement and embrace.

So there you have it!

Five lessons I’ve learned from four months in Zambia. What do you think? What are some things you’ve learned from being in another country??

 

Lending to the Lord

It’s been two weeks since I landed in Zambia and I’m still not sure the reality of me being here for the next 6 months has really sunk in yet. I am actually living in Africa! What a whirlwind the last two months have been. More thoughts on this journey and transition to come, but first I wanted to share what God’s been teaching me lately.

“If you help the poor, you are lending to the Lord –
and He will repay you!
Proverbs 19:17

The other day, my new friend/neighbor asked me to do a favor for her and pick up a pack of chicken for her from the store while I was there. She said she’d repay me the next day. I hesitated at first because I really don’t know her well and foreigners are often taken advantage of because of their naivety to the culture, but I decided to just help her out. My mom always taught me to give without expecting to be repaid, and a pack of chicken is really not that expensive anyway, ha!

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Zambia’s currency is called the kwacha and $1 USD is worth around 9.5 ZMK.

Anyway, she paid me back the next day and there was no problem. But after reading this verse, I realized how this concept of lending and being repaid rests a lot on whether or not you trust the person involved in the transaction! You can lend to someone whom you trust because you know that they will pay you back. (Or you can make them sign a binding agreement and put your trust in the agreement instead.) It’s easy to sacrifice for someone you love and care about because you know they won’t cheat you or take advantage of you…and if you really love the person, you are even able to give sacrificially without expecting or even wanting a return! You forfeit the expectation to be repaid and see the act of lending as a gift to the person, which frees you up to lend and give joyfully!

I never thought that we as people could lend anything to God until I read this verse. Why would we have to lend to God if He owns everything in the universe?? Why would God need a favor from us?? He’s God!

The Greek word for “Christian” means “little Christ” – someone seeking to follow and imitate Christ in their own life. Before Jesus left the earth, He charged His followers to go out into the world to do the things that He did. He told them that they would do even greater things than He did and He taught them that anything they did for the least of those in the community would be as if they did it for Him.

When Christ was on earth, He loved and cared for people, especially the least of these. It makes sense that He would want His followers to continue doing that even after He left the earth. Though Jesus is not physically on the earth now, many of His followers are, and it is our charge and responsibility to go out into the world to represent Him and love the least of these on His behalf. This is a tangible way that we can lend to God!

We can confidently lend our time, love, and resources to people around us on behalf of God and rest in the promise that He will repay us, because He is a trustworthy God who keeps His word. Do we really believe this??

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I think of Mother Teresa and how she sacrificially gave of her time, energy, resources, and life to serve and love the least of those in India. Who was paying her for her service? Who was compensating her for her time? Many of the children she helped could not even smile or make eye contact with her, let alone utter a “Thank you.”

I see Jesus in every human being.
I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him.
This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene;
I must wash him and tend to him.
I serve because I love Jesus.
Mother Teresa

Being in Zambia for the past two weeks has already been challenging my faith. Virtually every single person I’ve met or interacted with here so far has lost one or both of their parents. People younger than me, people my age, people older than me. Like seriously, I think I’ve met one person who still has both of their parents. ONE!

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Zambia has one of the highest per capita orphan rates in the world, and over 75% of the population lives below the international poverty line of $1.25/day. It seems like there are more opportunities to “defend the weak and the fatherless [and] uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed” (Psalm 82:3) here.

Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). He gave up His life for ours, so our lives aren’t even ours to begin with. The fact that we could lend our lives for His service and that He even promises to repay us for this service is an extension of His grace that truly does not make sense. This is amazing grace.

Jesus loves refugees.

I wish more people could see that God calls us to care for the orphan, the widow, and the foreigner among us not just because they have a special place in His heart, but because we do! In allowing us to know and love those whom He cares so deeply about, He spoils us with a deeper experience of His love, joy, provision, and grace–through them!

Hau and her husband came to the States as Burmese refugees in 2011. I met them 2+ years ago through my time with Loving All Peoples. We prayed in her apartment on a regular basis and I witnessed firsthand what the prayers of someone who truly believes in the power of prayer looks like. She would cry out to God without abandon and together in faith, we thanked God for the house He would someday provide her family. We ended each prayer session with a delicious Burmese meal and some play time with her kids.

Two years later, God answered our prayers above and beyond what we asked for by providing them with a wonderful 3-bedroom house where they can freely pray and worship Him. Written across their fence in both English and Zomi are the words: “GOD IS GOOD.” Indeed, He is!

They invited me over to spend the night last night and I was, once again, on the receiving end of their hospitality. As the night went on, we discovered that Hau had forgotten it was her birthday!! We quickly got a birthday cake from the nearest Walmart and sang, “Happy Birthday to Mommy” before her kids ate all the frosting their little bellies could handle.

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I look at this family and see a glimpse of my family from 25 years ago. These kids will grow up fully American, without any lack or awareness of what their immigrant parents went through to provide that kind of childhood for them. Befriending Hau and her husband has taught me to appreciate my parents more. It has taught me to thank God for His provision and to be more generous with what He has given me. I am better for knowing this family.

Today, I’m grateful that the invitation stands for each of us to engage with the orphan, the widow, and the foreigner among us. It’s not a “die-to-yourself-because-it-will-be-so-difficult” invitation but a “taste-and-see-that-the-Lord-is-good” one. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me! #JesusLovesRefugees

Jesus loves strangers.

I look at these pictures from today and just shake my head at how cool God is.

I met Elizabeth years ago when we both used to work at JCP Headquarters. I was trying to learn Spanish at the time so every time I saw her in the hallways or cafeteria, I’d spit out the only sentence i knew: “Hola Elizabeth! Cómo éstas? Estoy aprendiendo Español!” I only said it a few times before she started finishing my sentence for me and we laughed at how I clearly wasn’t aprendiendo Español if that was all that I knew! We ended up getting lunch a few times and somehow were able to communicate solely through hand gestures, Google Translate, and lots of laughter. That was when I discovered that language wasn’t entirely necessary for communication.

A year after I left JCP, Elizabeth texted me saying she was also no longer at JCP and that she had just had a baby daughter! I went over to her apartment to meet her baby and we relied on Google Translate once again until her 9-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter came home from school and translated for us.

That was two years ago.

Today I drove out to Elizabeth’s house for some delicious homemade tamales and she showed me the beautiful piñatas she makes in her garage. Her now 9-year-old daughter ran out to hug me and recalled in detail the games we played together two years prior. Her baby is now two and her son is becoming a little man. We reminisced about our lunch dates at JCP and marveled at how we’re still friends all these years later.

God is cool because He sees great value in each person in front of us and sometimes if we’re paying attention, He lets us see it too. #JesusLovesStrangers

 

The time I prayed for Mother Teresa.

I believe that Jesus loves everyone. I also believe that when people accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior, He shows them how to follow Him, which often leads to loving the people whom He loves. Based on these two core beliefs of mine, I’ve had the honor and privilege of experiencing moments where I see people through God’s lens. When this happens, I’m usually moved to engage in conversation with total strangers out of this strange love for them–what I believe is a glimpse of God’s love for them.

Which brings me to Teresa.

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I was getting work done from a Panera Bread this afternoon and saw Teresa bussing the tables around me. We made eye contact a few times and smiled, but I had my earphones in and was focused on my computer. She walked past me a few times and then it happened–I felt God’s love for her. The next time she walked by, I took my earphones out and said hi. She stopped and we made small talk for a bit. Then I said, “I saw you working and just wanted to ask you if there was anything that I could pray for you about today.” She looked at me, smiled, and said, “You’ve asked me that before.”

Uhh what? I had never met this woman before.

She continued, “I thought it was you! That’s why I kept looking at you before, but I wasn’t sure. Then when you asked me that just now, I knew I was right. It was you! You asked me that same thing before!”

Ha. What?? Surely she was mistaken. I had never seen her before in my life! I asked her where we were when that happened and she said, “At Walmart. You came through my line and you walked back to ask me that. It was you! I remember.” I asked her which Walmart and she said, “The one on 30. I know it was you. What’s your name?” “Sang.” She nodded, “Yup, it was you!”

I felt bad because I was certain she had me mistaken for another Asian girl she must’ve met before. The Walmart on 30?! I’m never anywhere near 30! That’s 20-some miles away from where I live!

Then I remembered…I spent a few months at a friend’s house near 30 two summers ago and would occasionally swing by that Walmart. I asked her if it was a while ago and she said yes. I asked if she remembered what we prayed for and she said for her work and a new job. Wow, and here she was working a new job!! I started to believe her that we’d met before. How crazy!

I asked her how I could pray for her this time and she shared with me that she recently took in a 19-year-old girl who was homeless and prostituting herself in order to make ends meet. She said she hesitated with that decision at first because she and her daughter live in a one-bedroom apartment and don’t really have any extra room, but she felt like God wanted her to take her in anyway so she did. She brought the girl to church with her and the girl just accepted Jesus as her personal Lord and Savior two weeks ago and is going to get baptized in a few weeks! She shared how the girl thanked her for bringing her to church because ever since she stepped foot in the church, she felt a huge weight lifted off her shoulders. Teresa said, “I told her, ‘That’s God, hija [‘daughter’ in Spanish]. He brings people into our lives like that.”

Yes, Teresa. That’s God!

Picking up hitchhikers for Jesus.

According to the Bible, God’s two most important commandments to us are to:
1. Love God with all we’ve got, and
2. Love your neighbor as yourself.

When a religious leader asked Jesus one time who this “neighbor” in the second commandment was referring to, Jesus shared a story with him to explain. One day, a Jewish man was minding his own business traveling in-between cities when he was suddenly attacked and robbed by a bunch of crazies. He was left to die on the side of the road. Bummer.

Lucky for him, a Jewish priest came along. Yay, right? Nope. Because the priest purposefully crossed to the other side of the road to avoid the dying man. Then another Jewish guy who worked at the Temple came along and did the same thing as the priest! The poor beat-up man was still left to die on the side of the road.

Then a Samaritan man (a member of the Jew’s most hated enemy group) approached. And whaddya know, he had compassion for the dying Jew, bandaged up his wounds, and brought him to an inn where he even paid for the man’s care before continuing on his journey and promising to return for him.

Jesus tells this story and then asks the religious leader who in the story he thought was a neighbor to the man who was attacked. You guessed it, the Samaritan. Actually, “the one who showed mercy to him.” Then Jesus tells the guy to go and do the same thing as the Samaritan.

I read this story this morning and thought about how counter-cultural Jesus was. He demonstrated how our “neighbor” is often the person who is the most different from us, the person who is in need, the person who we don’t typically associate with. That’s uncomfortable and challenges me! I asked God, “Will you show me who my neighbor is today?” and then went on with my morning routine.

An hour or so later, I got in my car to get work done at a local coffee shop and drove past two women walking on the other side of the road going against traffic. It was cold and raining. One of the women was pulling a suitcase. What the heck? I thought. They are walking on the wrong side of the road, there’s no sidewalk, and it’s cold and rainy. That sucks.

Give them a ride, I heard God whisper.

Umm…what? No thanks, God. It’s cold and raining and that’s weird. I kept on driving.

Didn’t you ask Me to help identify your neighbor today?

Ugh. No, God. That is weird and I’ve already passed them. I need to go get work done.

Okay, it’s your call!

Haaaa. I knew that feeling too well. That feeling of disobedience. I got in the left lane, made a U-turn, and headed back up the road to find the elusive pair. It took me a while to find them since I had driven that far past them (ha), but I finally found them at the top of a small hill. I put my blinkers on, rolled down my window, and asked if they needed a ride.

“Oh, thank you so much! We are just headed over there past the highway. The closest stop the bus could take us to is still a few blocks away from where we’re going so we thought we could walk there from the stop but we didn’t know it’d be raining!” the middle-aged daughter explained for her and her elderly mother.

As I drove them the block or two down the road, I discovered that they were heading to an imaging center to get some tests done for the mom who had recently discovered some short-term memory loss. “They think it might be a blood clot,” the mom explained.

“Man,” I shared, “Do you know how much God loves you? I drove past you and felt like He told me to turn around to pick you up. I actually passed you guys a while ago but it took me that long to finally turn around and do it! I hope you believe that God sees you and is watching out for you!” They were so appreciative and kept thanking me. I prayed for the mom’s health and then hugged them goodbye when I dropped them off.

I couldn’t help but smile as I got back on the road. Not because I’m such a great person (because clearly I didn’t want to help them) but because God is such a great God! He is so compassionate and kind, y’all. And He wants to use us to love our neighborsthe people who are the most different from us, the people who are in need, the people who we don’t typically associate with.

Who is your neighbor? Will you pull over for them?