Sunday, August 21, 2016

An American's Observations on a Zambian Youth Conference

I am writing this blog carefully, but I am writing it honestly.

In May, I shared at our Staff Ladies' Retreat that I felt that God was calling me to work more with teenage girls, as that is my heart and my passion. I vowed to be open to whatever He might send my way. About one month later, Blu was asked to be the speaker at the Southern Province's Annual Baptist Youth Conference. He agreed to do it, but only if me and the kids agreed to come. Camping = yuck, but ok, I agreed. A few weeks later, he mentioned that he'd love to do a True Love Waits presentation with me. It has been 12 years since we've done that presentation, but I have a passion for sharing abstinence with teenagers, especially girls, and I thought it was neat that that was our original ministry in Zambia way back when, so I agreed. Wait a minute! I just agreed to camping for 3 days in the bush, and to standing up and speaking in front of 200-300 youth???!!! Fast forward to August 18th, and I found myself driving to Mapatizya, Zambia with my family, loaded down with camping gear!

Cambree absolutely hates car trips, so about 5 minutes down the road, she looked like this...

We drove past Choma to the town of Kalomo and then turned left, and for 3 hours, the road looked like this...

And this...

And this...

And FINALLY, we reached the town of Mapatizya. When I say "town," I am using that word lightly - there was absolutely no grocery store, no electricity, and one community borehole for everyone to use. There were a few shops, a police station, a market, and some churches. The town, however, is very unique. It is set on the top of a hill surrounded by other hills. Very pretty!

Mapatizya is known for its amethyst mine - here it is. Blu wanted to climb it so bad, but security guards were posted at the bottom.

Amethyst were all over the ground - amazing!

Caedmon & Cason spent a lot of their time treasure hunting!

Their collection, that they are hoping to sell to our unsuspecting white neighbors (Staci, Diana, Carolyn, Mama Dee & Grandpa, Debbie......)

Preparing their treasures for the ride home!

Once we got there, there was much debate over where we should set up our campsite. The leaders seemed a little confused that our children were going to sleep outside in hammocks, but we finally chose a spot that we thought was a little out of the way... (we were wrong.)

First class sleeping arrangements!

Fun with Daddy around the campsite!

Cason was our little fire builder! (This made me nervous, as it was VERY windy, and some of us do have somewhat of a reputation where fires are concerned.....)

Day 2 at the campsite - I'm surviving!

Trying to find some time alone to prepare for his message (He was told he would preach 3 times..instead, he spoke 6 times!)

Some visitors at our camp...

Speaking of visitors at our camp.... So according to the other Zambian adults around, we were the first white people these young children had ever seen, and very few of them (adults included) had seen white children. To say we were "celebrities" would be an understatement. Kids were at our campsite ALL DAY LONG, yelling at us, staring at us, throwing rocks at the kids, trying to touch them, rubbing Cambree's arms and hair, etc. This might sound fun and exciting, but it wasn't. It was very uncomfortable at times, and our kids struggled. They are not used to being "different", because they live at New Day where they are treated (for the most part, some exceptions of course) as one in a family of 32 kids. Caedmon did ok, but it frustrated him that they kept asking him over and over what his name was and following him around. Cambree handled it VERY well, as she loves being the center of attention. But she did NOT like them throwing rocks at her while she was reading in her hammock! And our poor introverted Cason struggled. I felt sorry for him! He wants to play like any other kid, but this was just behavior he had never seen or experienced in our years in Zambia, and he did not handle all the attention well at all!

More of our "watchers"

Cason's face says it all... ;)

Another visitor at camp...and a photobomb by Mama & Cambree (like mother, like daughter, obviously!)

The True Love Waits presentation the first night went so well! I was VERY nervous, and Satan had really tried to fight me the days before (sore throat, bee stinging my eye, etc.), but I knew so many people were praying for me - my mom, B-Maw, Staci, Debbie, Diana, and Laurie, along with others. As we were speaking, I realized why Satan was fighting so hard - this presentation is my heart. It is the only time I feel 100% confident that I am doing what God has called me to do and what He created me for. I wish I had some pictures - I know Elizabeth took some - but that's ok. When it was over, poor Blu still had 5 more times to speak, but I was done!

Blu preaching during an afternoon session

A morning breakout session with one group

And another group

The New Day Church sent 18 youth, including 4 of our "own" - Ben, Machila, Sisi, & Cynthia - who are age 12 and qualify as youth. They did a great job singing and won 2nd place in the Bible Quiz! They were the youngest there by far, as in Zambia, a "youth" is anyone aged 12 up to about 35.

Mealtimes were interesting! Cambree loved everyone staring at her and seemed to fit right in as a Zambian!

I (very awkwardly) ate with the male leaders for each meal...because in Zambia, women do what they're told!

We left after Blu's message on Saturday morning - target departure time was 9:30am, so I figured we'd leave by 11am. I was so surprised when we were actually packed up and pulling out at 11! Until....the truck wouldn't start....and we noticed a flat tire...

After putting on the spare and a jump start, we were on the road 45 minutes later...and our backseat soon looked like this...

First stop - Choma Museum for a meal that was NOT nshima!

I wanted to share some observations that I had over the weekend. I spent a lot of my time observing and reflecting. Throw an American woman into the middle of the Zambian bush for a few days, even one who has lived here for almost 9 years, and she will probably (hopefully) come away with some lessons learned.

Toilets: We used the absolute, most disgusting outhouse I have ever used. 200-300 people shared this outhouse, and there was an inch of standing urine on the ground. It was horrible.

American Observation: This is disgusting. I'm going to cry. How can anyone use something so disgusting?

Lesson Learned: I survived. Will it matter next week that I had to use a disgusting outhouse? No. Did I appreciate my plumbing when I got home? YES.

Showers: There were 3 "bathing stalls" for the boys, and 3 for the girls. When I say "bath," I really mean a "bucket bath" - filling a bucket up with water and splashing it on yourself to get clean. To do this, people would have to heat up water, fill their bucket, carry it to the stall, get clean, and then dump their water, passing their bucket to the next person. Zambians are NOT modest, so most of the time they bathed in groups.

American Observation: There was NO privacy so I didn't take a bath while I was there. The leader kept asking us when we were going to bathe, and if we wanted water brought to us. Zambians pride themselves in being clean, so I'm sure he was confused by our refusal to take a bath! (Baby wipes were my best friend).

Lesson Learned: I had a hard time picturing junior high boys in America carrying their own buckets of water into a stall to take a bath. As I watched them carry their water and somehow figure out how to take a bath using 3 stalls when there were about 150 boys there, I realized how patience is such a core virtue of Zambians!

Sleeping Arrangements: The conference was held at a school, so the girls slept in 2 classrooms, and the boys slept in 2 classrooms. Everyone has to provide their own bedding - cement floor is the only thing you are "given."

American Observation:
Everyone seemed comfortable, and Zambians love the group atmosphere. It was funny to notice how our New Day girls were the only ones who complained, because they are NOT used to sleeping on hard ground!

Lesson Learned: Their blankets were so old and worn, but I knew that most of them would have brought the best that they had.

No Electricity: There was NONE. None in the town - just some huge solar panels fenced off. At night, the sessions were run by a generator that lit up a few bulbs and a microphone.

American Observation: A few had flashlights, and most of them had cell phones with lights (though I'm not sure how they charged these??) My biggest observation was that when the sun went down, it was DARK. Blu & I were shocked at how easy it would have been for kids to run off, etc....

Lesson Learned: Electricity, at night, at a youth conference, would be a good thing.

Supervison: There was none. When the "youth" age ranges from 12-35, most of the "youth" were older. I guess it would be hard to tell a 28 year old what to do, where to be, etc. So there were no requirements of attending sessions. During a lot of the sessions, we saw people taking baths, visiting outside, etc. People seemed to be allowed to just do what they wanted.

American Observation: This drove me crazy!! I wanted to go and tell them all to go inside and listen to the session!!

Lesson Learned: Zambians have to be very responsible at a very young age, so I wonder if this is something anyone else even thinks of - like if the thought of "requiring" someone who is 28 to go into the session is just foreign to them...??

Time: Nothing started on time. There was a schedule of events, but if mealtime was supposed to be at 6pm, it might be at 8pm, or later. If the evening service was supposed to start at 8:30pm, it might start at 10pm.

American Observation: AAAAAAHHHHH. This can make a scheduled person very crazy. In the American value system, time seems to be more of a value representing integrity. If you say you will be somewhere at a certain time, and you're not, it speaks to your character/integrity. SOOO much hinges on time in our culture.

Lesson Learned: Does it matter, in the grand scheme of things, if supper is 2 hours late??

Meals: Everyone had to bring their own plates and cups. When the food was ready, a bell was rung, and everyone got in line. Someone served them food (nshima with some relish), and when they were finished, it was their responsibility to wash their own plate and put them back with their own things.

American Observation: Wow. It was so interesting to see everyone's own plates, and cups. One girl had a small pot, and that's what she used as a cup. Going to a camp and having a tray/plate and cup to use is something I have never once even thought about.

Lesson Learned: To own a plate and cup is very important in Zambia, and something that must be purchased with care, as they will have to travel with it from place to place as they visit family/friends, or attend conferences. Interesting.

4:40am Prayers: Yes, you read that right. At 4:40am every morning, a group gathered in the "tent" (grass-enclosed area) to sing praise songs and pray, over the microphone, very loudly.

American Observation: The man who prayed every morning shouted at the top of his lungs. It was the loudest praying I have ever heard. I couldn't help but think that it seemed to be more for attention than actual talking to God. (I mean, seriously, if the President or the Chief came to your house, would you scream at him like that?!)

Lesson Learned: On the other hand, to have the dedication to wake up that early, after services the night before went until past 11pm, shows that you are really there to focus on God, and to start your day with your focus on Him.

Activities, or Lack Thereof: The youth conference pretty much consisted of choral groups singing, preaching/sessions, and...that's it. There was 1 day out of the 4 day conference where they were given 2 hours of sports time in the afternoon.

American Observation: Oh my. Picture an American youth camp, and think of how many activities there would be. You have to pretty much do flips, use the newest technology, etc. to keep a teenager's attention in America. I do admit though, I wondered if some of the kids there were bored.

Lesson Learned: Would it be possible in the USA to do a 4 day youth conference with only 2 hours of games/sports? I honestly don't know.

Water: One community borehole. Enough said.

American Observation: I couldn't even begin to figure out their system...all those ladies with all those buckets - there had to be some kind of system for who goes first, etc. All day long, ladies walked by to get their water for breakfast, lunch, supper, dishes, baths, etc. My heart broke for them.

Lesson Learned: So many stories in the Bible using water...there's a reason for that. Water is life-giving, and it reminded me so much of the story of the woman at the well and what she must have thought when Jesus promised her water that would cause her to never thirst again!

Privacy: As mentioned above when talking about the kids gathered around us all day, or the bathing situation, there was no privacy. Zambia is a group-centered culture. Everything is about the group, or the family. There is no concept of "This is your space, this is your campsite, and I shouldn't come here. What's yours is mine, what's mine is yours - why wouldn't you want to share all of this with me?"

American Observation: Even after 9 years, I don't handle this part well. Having grown up in a me-centered culture, where everything is about "self," it is almost impossible to change my mindset - to not feel frustration at being stared at openly all day, to having people drop by at all hours wanting/needing things, to feeling pressure from the expectations of everyone around me.

Lesson Learned: Can this ever be overcome for an American living in Zambia? Ask me in 10 years - I'll let you know!

Overall, God taught me so much through these 3 days in the bush, and I wasn't expecting it. I was physically prepared - baby wipes, banana bread, and plenty of blankets were packed. Spiritually, I had my heart right, my prayer warriors fighting for me, and my mind on Him. But mentally, oh mentally, I wasn't ready. I wasn't ready for the warfare in my mind between my perceived rights and the needs of those around me. I wasn't mentally ready for the fact that my actions might shape the way children view white people/foreigners for the rest of their lives. I wasn't mentally prepared for the thoughts that I must be the worst missionary in the world for still feeling such cultural frustration after so many years of living here.

Please hear me: I am not saying that Zambia is a perfect culture, and that America is terrible. Trust me, it is the pet peeve of most missionaries when people tell them how awesome Zambia is, how awesome the Zambian people are, how blessed we are to live here, and how America has so much to learn from Zambia. Those words are very easy to say when you don't live here. (Not wanting to offend anyone, but speaking truth here.)

What I am saying is that I do a LOT of ministry, but God revealed to me this weekend, that even though I am ministering in this 3rd world country of Zambia, I am most often ministering on my own terms, from my own comfort level. This weekend, I was so far out of my comfort zone, I couldn't even see it. It was uncomfortable. It was filthy. It was HARD. But it is where I hope God continues to push me, because it is where I learn the most, and where I see His hand at work in my life.

Life Lately

Well, the main drawback of getting an iPhone back in June is that I am on the computer way less, which means I think about blogging way less! Sorry about that! Here is a look back at some goings on of the last 2 weeks!

Blu & I in Lusaka at a certain country's Embassy getting visas for our upcoming vacation! It was a 2 hour long wait... #35days

Blu being silly with Kefbert!

Caedmon and the "Big Boys" went to Blu's Monday Bible study and helped shuck maize

Cambree has been doing a lot of sewing during the school break!

And sleeping...she sleeps with her light on and an eye mask... ;0)

Cason has been doing a lot of TV his shark mask...

Blu took all 32 of the kids to the big pit nearby to play one afternoon...and somehow my son was the only one who came home like this...!!!

Working hard on the Prosthetic Clinic - almost done!

And....I got stung by a my eye...

So I spent the day in Choma buying groceries with Blu like this...

I have spent some time working with Blu on my parents' roof trusses!

Deb is always working hard, but not always wearing shoes!

A Sunday afternoon game of Settlers!

We had a little "moving party" to move Justin over to the Luumuno House! He liked the cake!

Everyone helped out by carrying his stuff over!

He thought it was so exciting!

He loves his big brother Muchoni!

He was like the "Chief", walking behind as his stuff was moved and the girls danced in front of him!

A little Kids Club chaos...

Mulenga has spent a lot of his time up on Mom & Dad's roof as well!

Lots of cooking from scratch, as usual - nachos!

Had to take a picture of this sign we saw in town...

Purity is here visiting Mama Liz - the 3 Musketeers are together again! :)