Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Million Places: Farwell Zambia

A Million Places

One never really says goodbye to Africa; it simply lives on in your heart. Somehow it captures the very best and worst of the human condition; its immensity and complexity is enough to keep one fascinated for a lifetime. Flying home we passed over the great rivers of its central heart, the dense tropical forests, the geometrics of its sand dunes, the length of its coasts, and knew that there is no other place quite like it. It stretches the human imagination and then pulls at it again in the quiet moments of memory.

In September 2005 National Geographic did a special issue on Africa; it contained a section on Zambia and is a helpful resource for those interested (www.ngm.com). These quotes struck me:

“Africa isn’t really a place; it’s a million places. Its history is as deep as Precambrian bedrock, its landscapes more diverse than those of any other continent on the planet.”

“If you stand on an anthill almost anywhere in rural Zambia, it feels as if the trees and grass and land must go on forever, at least as far as it would be possible to walk in a day or two.”

“Given what’s at stake, African particulars deserve special attention from the rest of the world. Africa’s glories and successes deserve special attention too. Despite all travails, African peoples produce magnificent art, graceful cultures, terrific music, great works of the mind, and astonishing acts of political and moral courage.”

A Mighty Vision


It was vision that brought us to Zambia--not ours, but another’s. After hearing John Enright speak years ago we had determined that someday we would visit the work that he and his wife, Kendra, are doing in Africa. At the time we knew that we had met people of remarkable and sustaining vision. Articulate and extremely capable, their persons and work had a quality that intrigued us enough to bring us to Africa to learn more. And we have not been disappointed.

John and Kendra believe in a God that fully involves himself with the needs of human life—and here in Central Africa those needs are gargantuan. Although typical missionaries have often preached a message for the afterlife—going to heaven when one dies—it is not common to preach a gospel that provides real help for the current life. It has been a great disservice here in Africa and people have suffered for it.

The beauty of Kafakumba has been its weaving of the spiritual and the socially responsible. Here real effort has been made to stop the cycle of begging that has become Africa’s mantra. Firmly committed to their core values based on the teachings of Jesus (what they call the Kingdom Principles of community, servanthood, focusing on the least, love, trusteeship, nonviolence, and unity), John and Kendra believe that new models based on these principles are Zambia’s—and all of Africa’s--best hope.

I have written elsewhere about Kafakumba and its attendant ministries, including significant work in Christian education, training, church and ministerial development, as well as growing ministries for women and children, healthcare, and more. I have also written about the philosophy that partners economic development with this work. For Kafakumba it is simple: the vision is that the work will be sustained by money raised in Africa and dedicated to Africans. The dignity of such a plan is compelling.

Here is one example of the Enright’s remarkable vision. When a piece of land became available for purchase near the Training Center, they bought it so that they could expand their agricultural projects in fish, cattle, chickens and bananas (these projects provide ongoing funds to sustain ministries). However, as is common in Zambia, the land was inhabited by 125 families of squatters. Rather than chase them out, John and Kendra instead deeded over 4-5 acres to each family, reducing their total property by almost a third. This gift of land is unheard of generosity—yet perfectly in keeping with the principles of love and service to the very least. It is hoped that many of these families will become partners or employed in fishing, beekeeping or any of the other projects, as a way to make a living. This compassionate approach is just the sort of community development that Kafakumba strives for. Is it easy? No. This is very hard work and it has a magnificent messiness about it-- as does all real community work.

No, we have not been at all disappointed by our eight weeks in Zambia. Perhaps you could even say we have been more fully alive, more aware, and more inspired than we had thought possible. We leave grateful for so many things:

- The generosity of time given to us by John and Kendra Enright
- The friendship of so many people, especially recognizing that these include black and white and a multiplicity of nationalities
- The long stretches of time in which we could read, write, think and talk
- The opportunities to make small differences for others by the work of our hands and hearts
- The challenge to live our lives more authentically Christian
- The chance to see a beautiful country and participate in another culture

We also leave knowing that there is much unfinished business at Kafakumba. Indeed, one could say that the future is just now starting. It is a grand vision that drives this work in the heart of Africa; it is a vision of which the wise King Solomon spoke: “Without vision the people perish.” Long live Africa.

Dark Realities

Dark Realities

I would not have believed it if I hadn’t seen it: the raised hands, that is. I was listening to John Enright speak to a group of Zambians and Canadians about sustainable missions. The group included three Zambians who run an orphan project, each of them leaders and graduates of esteemed mission schools, and three Canadians from the sponsoring Board of Trustees of the project. Each was listening and observing carefully as we walked through the story of Kafakumba amidst its fish ponds and chicken farm. Suddenly John turned to the group and said, “You think you know and understand each other, but you really don’t have any idea.” Puzzled looks asked for more, so he asked this question: “How many of you believe that witches cause lightning?” To my utter amazement, the three Zambians raised their hands; the Canadians and I declared our disbelief in the statement. Yes, we were assured by the lovely young Zambian woman in charge of the orphanage, that is what Africans believe causes lightning--and no amount of education or dissuasion can shake the belief.

There is a worldview in Zambia and greater Africa so totally foreign to Americans as to defy description. Just writing about it begs the accusation of sensationalism. However, it is part of my learning and experience there, verified by Zambian and Congolese natives, and part of the greater conversation about Africa. It helps me to understand how a continent so incredibly diverse and rich in natural and human resources, remains barely surviving at the edges of the global community.

The rational Western mind can barely comprehend the African fixation on the occult, witchcraft, sorcery, fetishes, and curses that form reality for its people. The Copperbelt Museum in Ndola includes a section on witchcraft that tempts a person to laugh at its absurdity, yet cry at the profound impact of such beliefs. The fetishes on display were believed to provide power to do all sorts of unbelievable feats, or to protect oneself from another’s perversions.

This worldview (at least what I have learned so far) includes the belief that life includes the physical world which we experience now and the spiritual world which is just as much a part of current existence as daily life. Birth and death are seen as simple transitions between these worlds and continue to cycle in an endless circle of incarnation/reincarnation. Natural occurrences are thus seen as both a current physical reality and a spiritual reality full of meaning and messages from that other world. In this worldview, then, people with the supernatural power to cross between these worlds (witches), can indeed strike lightning—and can be called upon to cause that lightning to strike a person or cause damage to someone who has been cursed.

This view also leaves people at the mercy of the curses of others and the continual search for fetishes to provide them with protection or supernatural power of their own. When bad things happen, the African mind does not dismiss them as a natural occurrences or the result of poor decisionmaking or actions; instead they are seen as punishments, curses that have been placed by enemies, or mysterious activities of the underworld. When illness and death is viewed this way, it becomes very difficult to treat the horrific illnesses of the continent with western medicine or prevention. (This is simply one complicating factor in the prevention and treatment of AIDS which is devastating sub-Saharan Africa.)

Fetishes and curses are simply reality for many in southern Africa. Does your boss take gross advantage of you or are you treated wrongly at work? Instead of seeking a consensual solution to worksite ills, you will instead seek out a sorcerer to place a curse on the offending person. One would never voice a negative thought about another for fear of their reprisal against you. The Zambian workplace, then, becomes a hotbed of hostile undercurrents that prevent success.

What about families? The child who resembles a dead relative becomes the reincarnation of that very person—back to wreak havoc on those who wronged them. Or returning to bear the curses of others in an almost caste-like system of retribution. It is not strangers that families fear. It is instead, their own friends and families who present the greatest threats. When a man dies, for example, his extended family descends on his home, stripping it of what is considered theirs—and leaving widows and orphans destitute. In the matriarchal culture of Zambia, children belong only to their mother and her brothers—the only family lineage provable (that is without DNA). This makes little sense to Americans, but it plunges many women and children into destitute poverty every day in Africa.

A pervasive jealousy colors life in Zambia. A worldview that is very fatalistic can hardly imagine a view that fosters imagination and optimism. The Zambian view that the world is finite—or that the pie is only so big—creates a twisted view of success. That means that the more pie my neighbor gets means that there is less for me; my neighbors success must be prevented or stopped by all means so that my own chances for success increase. We saw this demonstrated by the electrician who refused to train his workers, fearing that their success would limit his. Instead he gave them only enough information day by day for them to continually rely on him for their livelihood and for him to retain all the power of his knowledge. We saw it in the destruction of the homes and businesses of others, in the stealing of produce, in the continual sabotage of employers and families. The fear created by this jealousy is toxic in Zambian culture.

Fetishes also fester another unspeakable activity: cannibalism. Because Ndola sits on the border with Congo, knowledge of this practice is not uncommon. Stories of the cannibalization of Pygmies in Congo is well-known; however, the cannibalization of people for the power they may provide is also known in the region. Does one covet youthful strength and courage? Eating a young person’s flesh may provide that power in a supernatural way. The continual war in Congo, the greatest human disaster since World War II with its loss of millions of lives, provides many examples of atrocities barely imaginable in the Western mind but part of the reality of central Africa.

We should not turn away from Africa because we don’t understand or don’t care. Indeed, it is as if life and death are exaggerated in this immense place. To talk about this destructive worldview is to understand it better; it is also a challenge of my own worldview and the dark corners of its reach. When I read about the growth of the church in Africa I wonder how that Christianity is similar and/or different from my own understanding of faith. Our experiences at Kafakumba inspire us to believe that true faith transforms the destructive power of worldviews and builds on their strengths. We are optimistic that radical transformation is possible and that there is hope for the children of Africa.
Photo above is of a Makishi costume which is worn at the time of a girl's initiation into adulthood; the night of the Makishi it is believed that the spirits of ancestors return to communicate with people of the village.

(In)Glorious Excess

(In)Glorious Excess

One word comes readily to mind when I remember our time in Zambia: excess. There is just so much of everything here it seems. The natural world is not unlike other parts of Africa where we have been; its dirt is filled with diamonds and other gems; here in the Copperbelt its copper and amathysts that lie right at hand. The array of plant life is stunning with its many exotic and flowering trees, shrubs, flowers, and tall thickened grasses. You can simply stick a stem into the dirt and soon a plant emerges. Snakes of all sorts live here, as do a dizzying array of flying, crawling, burrowing, slithering, and dancing life-forms. We have watched the geckos chase each other playfully across our walls, ignoring the humans in their habitat. We have seen the flying termites erupt from the ground on long, gossamer wings that look like flower petals—a fitting garment for their final hours. The space around us is filled with nature gone crazy in its exuberance for life.

But there is another excess here too. The pure pleasure of the surrounding beauty is matched only by the sharp pang of the pain and suffering also evident here. It is probably no accident that the termites are most beautiful just before their final acts of love and death. Or that every snake can be considered poisonous. Or that the same dirt that nurtures lovely flowers also harbors destructive weeds or harmful parasites. Or that the precious minerals that bring jobs also bring greed and violence. Or that the abundance of water breeds malaria-carrying mosquitoes. The beauty and abundance of nature is both wonderful and terrible.

It is also true of humanity. The beauty of the human spirit, its capacity for music, love, art, dance, joy are matched equally with its capacity for darkness. Zambian music is wonderful; Zambian witchcraft is terrible. Under the fa├žade of poverty is a very harmful world view that keeps its adherents enslaved to sorcery, occultism, and fear. The village of Baluba (of which I wrote earlier) lies in a beautiful valley with a river running through it. Its people enjoy sunny days, clean air and blue skies, space in which to grow a garden, and Kafakumba right next door. Many of its people huddle instead into tiny, airless, windowless houses, fearful of their very families and friends. In a world of incredible natural beauty, they experience instead the fear of witchcraft and its attendant terrors.

Yes, excess is a fitting word by which to remember our time in Zambia. So much beauty; so much pain. So much potential; so many problems. So much richness; so much poverty. Such fertility; such barrenness. Rainy season and dry season—the only two seasons that exist here. My prayer is that the exuberant excess of God’s love and mercy will simply fill this land.

The Smoke That Thunders

Victoria Falls

They are called “Mosi oa tunya” or “The Smoke That Thunders” by locals, “Victoria Falls” since explorer David Livingstone named them after his queen. Whatever you call them, they are magnificent! One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, Victoria Falls is truly an astonishing place where the mighty Zambezi River plunges down 93 meters across a wide expanse of rock into a winding chasm. The spray that is thrown up towers above the falls like smoke from a huge fire; this year the spray towered up as a huge cloud. Near the Falls, the spray falls back to earth as a torrential rain, soaking people, ground, and plants and running off in continual smaller water falls. It takes three months for water from the head of the Zambezi to make its way to the Falls, so this year’s record-breaking rainfalls will continue to thunder until at least May.

We left Kafakaumba to spend a couple days unwinding at Livingstone before returning to the States. Our friends, Ken and Deb Vance, longtime missionaries in Congo and Zambia, came with us to enjoy their favorite spot and spend a little time together. They were expert guides in the Falls area and took care of so many details like getting our tents (yes, we tented there, but they were on permanent concrete platforms and had regular beds), arranging a sunset cruise on the Zambezi, making an early morning game drive in the Park, and driving the bone-jarring road to Livingstone. Their sharp eyes helped us see giraffes, zebras, wart-hogs, elands, gazelles, birds, baboons, and more on our game drive.

Here we were also able to do that important task for all grandparents: finding little gifts to bring home for the grandchildren. We spent part of a hot afternoon haggling with the many artisans of the ramshackle curio village near the Falls. I was managing to come off as a “local” and getting “local prices’ in my anonymity until shopkeepers began to address me by name, state of origin, and goal of buying gifts for grandchildren. Yes, my cover was blown by my chatty husband who had gone ahead of me and talked to everybody on his way to securing his own souvenir: a beautiful ebony walking stick.

Our couple days at Victoria Falls was a wonderful time to unwind and reflect a bit on our time in Zambia. We met people from around the world there, several young people out traveling for extended periods of months to a year. There is a fellowship among those filled with wanderlust and a realization that we share so much in common. It’s not that the world is so small, but that it is big enough for all of us and that this family we call human is really one after all.
Pictures above from top to bottom: At The Falls, zebra in the wild, the spray from Victoria Falls rises like smoke into the sky.

These People We Have Loved

These People We Have Loved

It will be hard to leave these people we have come to love. Alan has spent his days at the “chair factory” with a group of men who have affectionately called him “The Commander” since he came 8 weeks ago. His role there has been primarily advisory since he is a skilled woodworker, and leadership and workers are already in place there. However, his technical and people skills have come together here in a way that endeared him to the Zambian workers—and moved the chair factory to a whole new level of efficiency and productivity. His designs for new lines of custom furniture, prototypes for production, systems and procedural changes and friendship with the men will leave a long-term impact on this work. The little factory will soon spin off into an exporting custom furniture business using the exotic local woods—at the same time providing work for a group of men and profits to be shared with a local orphan feeding program. This is heart work at its best and Alan will genuinely miss these guys. (Incidentally, this same group always called me “The Queen,” endearing but totally absurd. It’s part of why we grew to love them.)

I, too, will leave a circle of friends that includes black and white Africans associated with Kafakumba. This is a broad range of people that first includes our Methodist family of John and Kendra Enright, Nathan and Brian, Ken and Debby Vance, Dru Smith, as well as Ian & Emily, JJ and Karin, Stefan and Caroline and all the children who called me “auntie Gina” in their charming British accents. It also includes Patricia (cares for facilities/cooking at Kafakumba), Mama Ilunga (directs women’s programming), the Kilembo family (Terese works with women and Robert with Kafakumba), Josephine (who kept us in fresh bread for the duration), and a host of black Zambians who called us “Mama Gina” and “Papa Alan” as is their custom for those of a certain age. I leave the wive’s clubs—both the expat wives and the worker’s wives--whose groups provided friendship and admiring audiences for my pictures of grandchildren. The women in the kitchen taught me how to prepare pumpkin leaves, the worker’s wives taught me Bemba even as we learned English, Dru showed me what loving the unlovely looks like, others taught, shared, demonstrated, and loved me as I dedicated myself to an eight-week exchange of ideas and culture.

Yes, we leave Zambia different from who we were when we arrived. We return to our home, family, and friends with cherished memories of another home and other family and friends. Already we are making plans for when we can return.
In the pictures above you see (top to bottom): Mama Ilunga (directs women's programming) and Mama Gina, Josephine (L) and Patricia (R) outside kitchen, the Lendrum family (Ian, Emily, Beatrice and Oliver), and "The Commander," Alan with workers. These are only some of the wonderful people at Kafakumba (check other posts for some of the others).

But You Don't Speak English

But you don’t speak English

I wrote earlier about visiting government schools in this region and seeing their total inadequacy in schooling local children. That teachers don’t turn up to teach and students don’t turn up to learn is a sobering reminder of why Africa remains left behind. One day my friend Emily and I took a tour of Zambian private schools, where anybody who has any money at all tries to place their children. Even then, the Zambian private schools were still quite inadequate—although much better than the public schools. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems a can of paint would go a long ways in brightening up these classrooms. The final school we visited was Simba, the International School in Ndola where ex-pats and white or Indian Zambians send their children. Here the walls were very colorful, the teachers well trained, and students focused on their British-based curriculum and bright futures.

One incident stands out in our visit of the Zambian private schools. I stepped into a courtyard to speak with students of mid to upper elementary age students. They were a bright and cheerful bunch in their snappy green uniforms and were eager to talk to a visitor. After talking for a little while I asked the group if they could guess where I was from. The UK was first on the list followed by South Africa, Australia, and Zimbabwe—followed by a repeat of the list a couple more times. I asked them to think of another large English speaking country, but the group remained completely stumped. Not one student guessed the United States or, even, America. We are simply not on their radar screen….humbling. I told them to ask their teacher to look up the United States on a map…later to learn there wasn’t one map in the entire school.

Later I shared this story and my dismay that not one student thought of the United States as an English speaking country. My South African friend laughed… “but you don’t speak English,” she said. Hmmmm.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

A Heart For Learning

A Heart for Learning

I have so enjoyed my afternoons with the women’s group here at Kafakumba. We are a new, small group of five or six who meet three afternoons a week under the leadership of Terese Kilembo. Three of the women are young—the oldest being 29—one in her thirties, and two of us in our fifties. A nice range of ages. An amiable group. The three young women carry babies on their backs to each session: Elizabeth has Rose, Precious has Maxwell, and Pricilla has Grace. Each of the babies seems to be about 3-4 months old, still constantly carried or nursed as is the custom here.

One afternoon is dedicated to learning English, or reviewing it since English is taught in schools but not its proficiency. The women share a lesson, then carefully write down the sentences and instructions in their worn little notebooks for study at home. They also have taught me many Bemba words, laughed at my pronunciation, and appreciated my attempt at learning a song in their language. They are much better at the language lessons than me.

Other days are dedicated to learning handcrafts. First there was sewing, beginning with making a handkerchief to practice basting and hemming stitches. Quickly they moved on to sewing fabric dolls and dresses. Their backstitches were so even and small one could almost imagine they were machine sewn. Now the lessons center on crocheting and they are quickly mastering the slip, chain, and triple stitches of what we used to call “granny squares.” Each will make a multi-colored baby blanket for their little one, sharing the quiet afternoons in the company of women and the common concerns for family.
I am simply amazed at the dexterity of these women’s hands and the quickness of their minds. They do really good work. One instructor made this comment: “They have a heart for learning.” Indeed. Their creativity, simple humanity, and friendship will remain my treasured memories.

Urban churches

Urban churches

I have written about visiting the little rural church of Fisenge. About its village setting, the sound of worship under rain pelting a tin roof, the appeal of native worship in Bemba music, the illumined life of Bible stories understood in a rural setting.

We have also visited urban churches. In fact, John and Kendra Enright started several churches in the urban sprawl of Ndola, a city of over a million people. Five of those thirteen churches meet in former bars, curious places indeed for worship, especially in Zambia where tradition places all churches on the same street. But it remains a really good picture, don’t you think, of the transformed life?

The largest of the churches in size is called the City Center Church. It has a large gathering room with a foyer on the side—with “the bar” still in it. A perfect place to practice hospitality it seems. Another large room remains in much disrepair, but carries the vision of a place where young people can gather off the streets. An attractive location right on the main highway, with a store attached to help support its ministries, committed leadership and a city in need—all are pieces of what can be exciting ministry in Ndola.

We also visited two other churches that were former bars. Both (as is true of most of the Methodist churches here) serve the really desperate people living in sprawling townships (in the city) or compounds (outside the city). These are truly marginalized people, often migrating toward the city in the hope of jobs, but ending up instead in the crowded squalor of township life. These are the falvellas of Brazil, the slums of India, the townships of Africa; they are the picture of life at the surviving edge of the Majority World (or, as we like to call it, the Developing World). Here in the very center of this dangerous pulse are churches occupying the former center of town life, the tavern. It is poetic justice.

Pmodzi Church is one such place. Its potential is yet being realized, but the large mural of the “Tree of Life” gracing its walls is a hopeful symbol of the life it brings. Unfortunately, the pastor seems beaten down right now—and who can blame him? He is almost as hungry and desperate as his neighbors, his congregation without funds to support him and jobs illusive at best in the township.

Ndeke Church (ndeke means bird; this church is near the airport) is a lively congregation in the very center of the noise, dirt, and crush of humanity of Ndeke’s market. It is literally surrounded by market stalls (some even attached to the church) and noisy bars. Its young pastor, John Pintu, and his wife, Rhoidah, live in three small rooms in the building along with their toddler son, Gift, and new baby. I was truly moved in this place—with tears of admiration for the courage and love of this pastor and tears of pity for the plight of his poverty. He shared his story of the call that caused him to leave a job in Congo and journey to Zambia for school and a pastorate. That inner call obviously sustains him in the difficult work of urban ministry and the oversight of his congregation of over 200 bursting out at the seams of their little building. I think John Pintu’s ministry here will fly, much like the “ndeke” for which the community is named.

These and hundreds of other churches in simple settings are also the story of Kafakumba. It is important to know that its reach is beyond the walls of the Training Center, Pastor’s School, its varied businesses that support ministry, its United Methodist connection, or the many people involved in the work here. Its reach is into the very heart of African communities with what looks like, sounds like, feels like, tastes like--Good News.

Monday, March 3, 2008

It Was Jesus

It Was Jesus

I was spending a few days with my new friend, Dru Smith, in the Copperbelt city of Kitwe. As was her custom, we would greet the children walking to school in the morning with a cheery hello, a hug, and a procession like a Pied Piper to class. Starved for affection, the children clamored to hold our hands or arms or clothing as we walked up the street. I couldn’t understand why some children simply pushed their little bodies wordlessly against me. “They don’t know how to hug yet,” Dru smiled. I knew it wouldn’t be too long until they could respond to a loving human touch, but it broke my heart anyway.

One day at school a tattered little boy cut some fingers badly and needed to be bandaged. Dru brought him to her house and set about bandaging him with bandaids and extra pieces of tape. He loved the attention so much he continued to find old healed cuts on arms and feet for her to bandage or to simply cover with tape. He was a typical student in this school for vulnerable or orphaned children—tattered, dirty, smelly, and starving for love and attention. At one point Dru left the room and the little boy sat down on the sofa next to me. All of a sudden he lunged his head--hard--into my chest, wanting to be held. I recoiled back. Even now the moment haunts me: Was it the little boy with ringworm and a bad smell I shrank from ? No, it was Jesus. I could have held Christ himself at that moment if I had reached out for one of the “least of these.”

P.S. The next day Dru went to check on this little boy’s cuts. His tape and bandaids were nowhere to be seen. They were, instead, all over his classmates! She rebandaged his finger. I wonder: did he give them all away again for the simple smiles they brought to others?

Remarkable Dru

Remarkable Dru

She doesn’t look like Mother Teresa at all. She’s taller; graying reddish hair tops a middle-aged face with eyes that light up with her smile. Her mid-west twang betrays her Peoria roots. I had to ask: “What’s a white woman doing alone in Africa, living in a simple house in a dangerous city, and working with street children?”

Dru Smith is a formidable woman behind her loving and gentle demeanor. I am told she could walk in the dangerous Kitwe streets in the dark of night and no one would dare touch her. The street boys she cared for in years past are now mostly grown, many remaining homeless young men, but fiercely loyal to the woman who cared for them in earlier years. Eight very special street boys continue in school and have homes because of her continued care. The programs she started have expanded and continue under the able hands of others as Dru has turned her attention to other areas of need.

It was my privilege to spend three days with Dru. During that time I glimpsed perhaps the most genuinely loving spirit I’ve ever known. I watched her hug the unhuggable, hold the unholdable, and love a group of outcast children into humanity. One day at the school where she works we saw a little girl squatting in the long grass outside a building. The little girl was retching up an empty stomach, fevered by malaria, smelly and tattered and wary about the eyes. Dru simply gathered her up and placed her in her car for the trip to her home in Zambia Compound, a wretched slum if there ever was one. Our car crept along the rutted dirt road, people pressing against it and a drunk banging on it much of the way. Dru was unfazed and got us in and out of the dangerous compound—just another part of the job for her.

Dru’s are no “random acts of kindness” such as we pride ourselves in doing. Hers is a purposeful life of continued love and generosity over a long period of time. I cannot leave Zambia without paying tribute to her. Now that I think about it, if it weren’t for the height and lack of wrinkles, she does look like Mother Teresa.
P.S. In photos above you see Dru with a former street boy, albino Dowdi (Arabic for David), who now lives and thrives at a School for the Blind sponsored by the Lions Club. His red tie indicates that he is the "head student" or an equivelent of school/class president. Children greet Dru each morning like the Pied Piper as they walk the lane to school.

Going to the Market

Going to the market

Going to the market is a regular occurrence here. Without refrigeration, people buy their vegetables often and so there are many places one can shop along the way. Busy highways always have markets. They consist of a row of women sitting on the ground alongside the road with their wares on a cloth in front of them. It looks like terribly boring work, just sitting there; maybe that is why they all rush up to the car windows when we pull up. I don’t quite know who I’m actually buying from. I’ll say something like “one kg tomatoes” and hand some kwatcha out the window. Somehow it gets into somebody’s hands who then fetch some tomatoes and, finally, my change. There is a gift to sitting alongside a road day after day, month after month, hoping someone will choose your tomatoes over your neighbors’.

Another type of market crowds into rickety wooden stalls, generally under some type of cover. These kinds of markets sell all sorts of things…much more than vegetables even. Alan has gone hunting hardware sorts of things in this jumble. I went to one that sold curios/souvenirs, but it was a hot day under the black tarps and I just wasn’t up to the extended bargaining and close quarters that the situation called for. I did, however, enjoy the indoor vegetable market with my friend, Emily. The produce looked fresh and fine. We went to the fish section where she likes to buy kapente—a tiny dried fish—for her domestic help. The kapente are about two inches long and the size of your little finger. They are soaked and rehydrated before being cooked. There were many selections of dried fish, a good idea when one doesn’t have refrigeration. The moapani worms were looking quite fine that day too; I am told that they also have to be rehydrated and then cooked. I tried to eat some once but just couldn’t put them in my mouth. Alan says they’re chewy like octopus; I’m happy to let him have the privilege of having eaten them.

Finally, there are these tiny little kiosks along the road at odd places. One I saw had the sign “Cheap Shopping Stand.” It’s not a creative name, but all the words were spelled right and it was pretty clear what it meant. None of these stands carry much, perhaps a few single-serving bags of maize, or perhaps a bit of oil. Mostly it looks like people just like to hang out and visit. Sometimes I think that’s why people go shopping back in the States too—just to hang out and visit while they’re thumping the watermelon or perusing the Mall.

Language Lessons

Language Lessons

Most places I go I try to learn a Bemba word or two in relation to what is happening. The people we meet are patient teachers; they take some gleeful pleasure, however, in our mangling of the sounds and struggle with the words. The men don’t let on so, but the women downright giggle. They have sounds that we never say—and I have yet to get the very soft “b” that is barely there. One makes the sound by barely closing one’s lips and blowing air through them. My pronunciation of a hard b will send grown women into paroxysm of laughter; I really try on this one.

The first words I learned came from the kitchen, since that is where I was spending a bit of time each morning. I learned to strip the strings off of pumpkin stalks and leaves (somewhat like the strings of a celery stalk) while learning to say “chibwabwa.” It almost sounds like the name of a miniature dog, except it has that tricky, windy “b” in it. Another hard sound to get is an “n” before another letter, especially a consonant. The staple of the Zambian diet is a stiff corn porridge called “nsheema;” one has to listen very hard to hear that n in front of sheema, but it is definitely there. It’s also there in front of nkonde—banana. However, I really like the sound of strong words like nkoko (chicken) or katapa (cassava leaves). Avocados are called kotapela, which sounds remarkably like “caterpillar,” another gastronomic delicacy here.

There are some very good nouns here. I am told that our last name, Riendeau, sounds just like the Bemba word for love—luyando (love that sound). I am a grandmother—mbuya—and Alan a grandfather—shikulu. We have grandchildren—abeshikulus. Our house is called an Ng’anda (pronounced inganda) and we live in the icitente (community) of Logansport. We serve Lesa (God) who is Bayawe (Lord) of our lives.

Perhaps more helpful, we can at least greet people with the typical greeting of ‘Mulishani?”--How are you? The response is always “Bwino,” which means fine and is used just like we use it—whether we are fine or not. Bwino sounds like bweeno with that breathy b again. However, you can tell someone you’re sick by saying “ndelwala.” Thank you is “natotela” to which you will reply Eya mukwayi.

Okay, enough is enough. I have two last favorites that I may take back to the States with me. One is to call out “Odi” instead of knocking on someone’s door (either the door will already be open or there won’t be a door, which makes a greeting much more effective). The other is Uli kapuba—“you’re silly.” I’m sure there will be lots of times to use that.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Twelve is Enough

An Amazing Dozen

This is not a philosophy of “cheaper by the dozen” but that a dozen working together can create something really big. Gathered around Alan and I on the porch that day were about a dozen Africans in leadership at Kafakumba: three were women (all widows) and the remainder men. Here were amazing stories of success and changed lives. Here were gathered a diverse group: some had come to Kafakumba with college, technical, or seminary degrees. Some had come with no degrees—as day laborers or pieceworkers. All had come to work, but none was quite prepared for what happened.

Although each of the people gathered on the porch that day were supervisors or in leadership of some sort, it struck me what a great equalizer their experiences had become. Hassan was a boy of the bush, readily admitting to “knowing nothing.” “I never knew what I could become,” he smiled. His dream was to someday perhaps be a policeman. Instead he became a laborer and then went on to supervisor of the sawmill. His original dream came true though, and he serves also in the reserve police force. He visited the United States and toured wood companies with a Kafakumba team, a reality he had never even dared to dream. Now he wonders where his dream will go next, certain that there is still much ahead of him.

Kabinga came from a different world than Hassan. A tall, thin, rather elegant man, he came to Kafakumba from the world of non-profit and NGO (non-governmental organization—generally humanitarian) administration. Schooled in England, he provides expertise in import/export regulation, human resources, and other administrative tasks. He readily admits to his shock at being asked to hoe bananas and work in the fields when he first arrived at Kafakumba. But he has learned to appreciate the sense of community and equality that everyone is expected to share. “We have no boardroom; we are equal. There is not a class structure at Kafakumba; John and Kendra are not masters,” he added.

Then there is Charles, supervisor of Ukupanga Timber. A native of Congo, he started at Kafakumba as a pieceworker. He caught the vision for building a community on spiritual values and continues to emphasize character issues with his employees as they continue to develop their minds, attitudes, and workmanship.

There are more stories: Katonga was eking out a living making charcoal when he came to Kafakumba to work in the banana fields. Now he is in charge of all the gardens and readily admits that both he and his family have been changed. Aggie was a government worker—not known for their industry and hard work. Her entrepreneurial spirit fits into Kafakumba beautifully, and she believes that learning to take responsibility and working together as family build character automatically. Patricia administers the housekeeping and kitchen responsibilities at the Training Center. At a former job she had worn the initials “SS,” meaning “saved to serve.” However she will also tell you that until she came to Kafakumba she didn’t really understand what that meant. Kilembo came to Kafakumba as a seminary-trained minister—with all the pride and puffiness that this exalted position carries with it in African culture. Two years of manual labor at Kafakumba (shoveling chicken manure and removing wood scraps) radically changed his perspective on serving others. Now he oversees banana sales and marketing, as well as pastoring a church, but with a whole new view of servant leadership.

The stories on the porch continued in recurrent themes: servanthood, community, equality, character, empowerment, transformation. All agreed that this new style of mission—practical application of lessons learned from the life of Christ—had a profound effect on them personally and on the community at large. In both individual and corporate ways, they valued their move from continued dependency on others to a new independence—“empowered to be useful,” said one. Kabinga summed up the thoughts of many: “Africa was always begging--money was always consumed, never invested. Missionaries have traditionally left people as they found them.”

Initiative. Imagination. Investment. Independence. Ideas. These are more than words for this group of leaders at Kafakumba. Rooted in *Kingdom Principles/Core Values taken from Scripture, they take on powerful life. These twelve could change the world. Indeed another group of twelve who taught Kingdom Principles did just that.

Sister Josephine, Brother John

Sister Josephine, Brother John

I have written about the Franciscan nun, Sister Josephine, and the Methodist preacher, John Enright. I like to think of them as Sister Josephine and Brother John. Although I have written at some length about the idea and organization called Kafakumba, it takes on a little more character when I think of these two. In a normal world they would be the most unlikely business partners. Actually, it would be downright scary to go into business with either of them, let alone the two of them. Neither has any formal business training—I mean what do you learn in seminary or the convent? Neither has a lick of common sense it seems. They are instead full of crazy ideas—like feeding 2,000 children every day? Like training hundreds of ministers from all over Africa—and pastoring a church and starting 16 businesses all at the same time? In some crazy way this all works. No one said God doesn’t have a sense of humor. All it takes is one look at Sister Josephine and Brother John and you know this Kingdom of God is upside down, backwards, and catty-wompus (is that a word?). Here the last are first, and the first last and the least likely become the most likely. It’s somehow wacky and completely wonderful—all at the same time. And it works.

The Book List

The Book List

For my bibliophile friends (book lovers), you may wonder what books might be interesting to read to learn more about the ideas and philosophies that anchor Kafakumba. Here is a list:

The Upside Down Kingdom by Donald Kraybil
The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder
The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard
Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon
The Way by E. Stanley Jones
A Community of Character by Stanley Hauerwas
The Peaceable Kingdom by Stanley Hauerwas

I also brought a few books with me to Africa and have read this group (along with a couple of the above):

The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman
The Next Christendom by Philip Jenkens
The New Faces of Christianity by Philip Jenkens
Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations by Robert Schnase
A Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren

I wouldn’t recommend any of these books for a day at the beach, you might want to pack the Reader’s Digest for that. However, I would recommend them for thoughtful inquiry and for an expanded view of faith and global culture. The list is quite incomplete…you will want to check out the many new titles emerging in this area and develop your own reading list.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Chair Factory

The Chair Factory

Down the road from the Kafakumba campus a little road—a driveway really—leaves the highway and twists back to an old homestead. This property is owned by the Sisters of Saint Francis of Assissi and is primarily dedicated to a partnership in chairmaking. The Sisters provide the place; Kafakumba provides the manpower, equipment, and supplies. They will split the profit in such a way that the ministries of the Sisters and Kafakumba can be supported.

The Chair Factory uses wood pieces from the scraps of Ukapanga Timber. They are painstakingly cut, finished, and assembled into very attractive folding patio chairs. The factory employs 15 previously unemployed men of the community. They are now expanding into production of decorative patio tables to complement the chair design.

Finally, this location is also home to the current production of beehives, as well as a small business in creating wood writing pens and other decorative objects. The beehives are being constructed of scrap wood no longer usable by a local sawmill. The pens use up the final and smallest of the valuable wood scraps. Nothing is wasted, nothing discarded.

Agriculture Projects

Agricultural Projects

In addition to timber and woodworking, Kafakumba is focused on several agricultural projects that began with bananas. These now also include aloe vera, chickens, fish, cattle, macadamias, and honey. In the near future they expect to expand into palm oil, center pivot irrigation, and more. Each involves partnering in some fashion—with individuals (such as the banana farmers) or groups (such as the Franciscan Sisters). Each project is chosen for its cultural and ecological fit, profitability, sustainability, practicality and the need for such a product or food.

Raising fish is a good example of sustainable economic development. Much marshy and abandoned local land is available for building fish ponds. In addition, fish is a staple in the local diet. With almost four million people within an hour of Kafakumba, fish farming is a natural fit. In addition, local workers can easily learn basic skills necessary for fish farming (with the highly technical aspects cared for by someone else). Kafakumba intends to turn squatters on local land into fish farmers instead of charcoal makers—and by doing so will enhance their income greatly, provide food for hungry people, prevent deforestation, and provide funds to further develop Kafakumba’s outreach.

Chickens and cattle provide another example of Kafakumba-style development. It is their long term goal to provide enough cattle each year to feed the children in the Sisters of Saint Francis’ nutrition program (about 2,000 AIDS orphans). The money to develop the cattle business is being generated now by chickens, which are able to turn a quicker profit than cattle. Little by little, chicken profits are buying Brahmin cows, which will in turn provide food and profit for both the children and Kafakumba. In the meantime, several African workers make their living tending to the poultry and livestock.

Aloe vera is replacing some of the banana trees in local fields. It is very popular as an immune-boosting drink….helping to strengthen people against malaria and the effects of AIDS. If ever the need for aloe as a health supplement is exhausted (which hardly seems likely), it is in big demand by the cosmetic industry. Aloe is not completely replacing bananas, however. Bananas, even with their short lifecycle in Central Africa, provide fruit and employment for many.

Honey is a new venture for Kafakumba; the swarm boxes and bee hives are being built as we are here. It is very appealing as a food, requires little processing, and bees thrive on the richness of Zambia’s tropical plants. Propolis, a by-product of honey production, is another important immunological agent. Best of all, gathering honey is a simple task that can provide employment for very remote groups of people with limited modern skills.

Down the road there will be continued expansion of all of these projects….and more will be added. Life-giving jobs will provide for life-giving families and communities. For example, Kafakumba wants to provide medical care for the local village of Baluba and surrounding communities. The cost? Perhaps the profit from about three fish ponds? Let’s see: The cost to build and stock a fish pond? $12,000. Multiplied by three, a $36,000. investment should create the mechanism to provide healthcare for the indefinite future. Sustainable, local, empowering, enriching. It’s really a brilliant idea.

So what will it take to continue and grow the Training Center? Build the school? Provide a Youth Center? Build churches? Feed the hungry and widows? Care for the sick and disabled? What is the cost of being disciples of Jesus and living out the Kingdom of God? That’s what it will take.

Ukupanga Timber

Ukupanga Timber

Since you have had a brief tour of the businesses related to Kafakumba, I will tell you a bit more about each of them, beginning with the timber business called Ukupanga Timber. Ukupanga Timber includes a sawmill, a small factory making wood flooring and decking, and a larger factory making high-end windows, doors, and a lesser amount of ceiling moldings. It employs 54 people at the moment. The large planer is audible from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., every weekday, even at a distance.

Trees arrive marked by the government foresters, and are squared up into “cants” and further sliced on huge machines called Wood Mizers (a brand of logging equipment). After careful drying—in kilns created ingeniously from shipping containers—the lumber is cut and assembled into Ukupanga’s various products. Any waste or left over scrap is also used to make smaller wood projects such as coffee or patio tables. The beautiful tropical woods create products in high demand in South Africa or in local industries such as the copper mines. Local mining companies build housing for many of their workers and prefer the high quality products produced at Kafakumba.

The question sometimes arises about the cutting of trees and whether it is environmentally sound policy. The answer is a resounding yes! The careful culling of trees is actually preserving forests, protecting their demise to charcoal-making, and using only those trees which will soon rot and fall naturally anyway. Not only does it harvest only those at the maturity of their life cycle, it also returns a just profit to those who fell them—much more than their cutting for use in charcoal. Environmental trusteeship is important to Kafakumba, as is the fairness of recompense to those living in the environment.

One Day in the Life

One Day in the Life

If you were to visit Kafakumba Training Center and Development Project for just one day here is what I would show you:

First, you would meet John and Kendra Enright. Without their leadership and vision none of these dreams could happen. John was born in Africa and has lived here all of his life, except for the college years spent getting one Bachelor’s and two Master’s degrees. Kendra is a Hoosier, a Bachelor degreed nurse, who has lived in Africa the many years of their marriage. Their two grown sons, Brian and Nathan, also make their home here. You would certainly be invited to share a cup of tea with them, and you would be reluctant to pull away from the intensity of the vision they cast.

You would hear the constant sound of a huge wood planer and so your first visit would be to the next-door shops of Ukupanga Timber. Here you would see many Africans at work in the saw mill and in the shops making doors, windows, ceilings, or decking and flooring. Ukapanga Timber is a major economic development project of Kafakumba.

You would see women carrying large loads on their heads as they head off to market. The bright yellow “Banana Pops” building bustles every morning as these women load up on bananas and make their way to markets throughout the region, including southern Congo. Behind the sales is the serious business of growing bananas, an exacting science of cultivation, planting, irrigation, and ripening.

You would hear the sound of construction and so you must walk and observe the buildings going up around the Training Center. Normally the Training Center is in use every day of the year; however, because of the construction that must be completed before this year’s Pastor’s School, conferences are suspended until current phase construction is completed. First there is another dormitory to hold those who come for Pastor’s School and other conferences throughout the year. Its walls are now up and ready for trusses. There is the fledgling Women’s Center foundation going in, the third Guest House walls quickly climbing, plaster going on the Children’s Center, and a home separate from the Kafakumba offices being built for John and Kendra (it has to be difficult living in the middle of all this commotion). When all these buildings are done, there will certainly be the start of more—more guesthouses/dorms, a dining hall, more space for this dream called Kafakumba.

As you walk, you will see fields of aloe vera in their orderly rows of succulency. They are a beautiful, tidy, rather small plant with a big future. Their juice strengthens immune systems and is sold before it is barely ready. If ever there is a lessened need for its health properties, it can be sold for use in cosmetics and lotions.

Cross the road and you will find much more agricultural enterprise at work. Here you will smell chicken manure—valuable fertilizer for fields and fish ponds. Chickens are thriving here, growing quickly and selling as soon as they are mature. Their profits are helping to establish a herd of cattle, primarily Brahmin. The cattle will provide profit to be shared with the Franciscan sisters and food for their huge community feeding programs. Turn around from the chickens and you will see fish ponds. These teeming Tilapia will sell and profits will be shared with Kafakumba for continued mission projects. All are cared for by African overseers and laborers. You will hear another saw mill at work here providing lumber for the wood business. You will see bee hives stacked and ready for placement.

I will take you on down the road a few miles and you will find another woodworking business. This group makes foldable patio chairs from beautiful local lumber. They are also expanding into patio tables. Two men are also busy making swarm boxes and bee hives. A prototype bunkbed is ready for production for the new dormitory. Profits from the chair factory will also be divided with the Franciscan Sisters for their work in feeding orphans and caring for disabled children.

We will drive around the Copper Belt and you will hear about more plans—plans for more partnerships--perhaps in sawmills, fish ponds, cattle, chicken, crops, Palm Oil, circular irrigation systems, macadamia nuts, retail, eateries, and more. By now, your head would be swimming with all of the possibilities that are Kafakumba. If you haven’t caught the vision of abundance yet, you would at least know that something very special is happening here. Although the business development is easy to see, it’s relationship to building community, providing ministry, being the Church, is also obvious. You will leave Kafakumba and remember the sounds of people at work and worship; the smell of chickens; the sight of aloe vera and friendly smiles; the taste of honey and bananas. You will remember the warmth of the African sun and the sense of community. In the remembering you will know that this is the Church at work.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Core Values

The Kingdom of God

Core Values. You’ve heard of them, maybe even helped create some. Everybody has them it seems: business, education, religion, healthcare, institutions of every sort and stripe operate according to their defined core values. I’ve become rather dismissive of the concept of core values over the years, experiencing them as hopeful, but not real. Idealistic, but not implementable, and rarely lived.

Here at Kafakumba core values are not only articulated, but lived. They call them “Principles” or more accurately, “The Principles of the Kingdom of God.” These principles are based on the teachings of Jesus and provide the spiritual base upon which all of Kafakumba is built. Listed simply they are these seven:

1.) Community
2.) Servanthood
3.) Focusing on the least
4.) Trusteeship
5.) Nonviolence
6.) Love
7.) Unity

Practicing these seven, living them, building them into systems, teaching them, articulating and continually reinforcing them….if you come to Kafakumba you will not only hear, but will experience, the Seven Principles in tangible ways.

This is why we came to Kafakumba. It is why we believe that something unique and wonderful is happening here. After all, the result of living the Jesus way is to live the abundant life. And who can argue with that?

What is Kafakumba?

What is Kafakumba?

Get comfortable if you intend to read this entry through in one sitting. Here I am going to begin to tell the story of Kafakumba….

The Kafakumba Training Center

No description of Kafakumba is complete without understanding its history and the philosophy behind it. Mostly Kafakumba is an idea, a vision for transformation of a people and a place. The name itself is not particularly significant. Years ago a center for training United Methodist village pastors was created at Lake Kafakumba in Congo (then Zaire); Congo’s continued war forced the leaders of the school to relocate in Zambia. John Enright and his father, Ken, simply named the new school in Zambia Kafakumba Pastor’s School to signify its continued role in Central Africa. However, the vision of the school expanded to include a broader training center, the creation of a place where education and empowerment can happen every day of the year. And so Kafakumba Training Center was founded in 1999.

The center of programming at Kafakumba Training Center remains the two-month Pastor’s School held every May and June. About 120 pastors (mostly, but not exclusively United Methodist), gather from villages throughout Central Africa over the course of eight years. These community leaders represent regions in Tanzania, Zambia, Congo, and Senegal. Teachers come from around Africa and the United States, providing almost the equivalent of American seminary training in an African setting. During their last four years, pastor’s wives and children join them, providing important opportunities for training and fellowship. This support for the village pastor and the burgeoning indigenous church is critical to the vision of Kafakumba.

During the off months, the Training Center is open, without charge, to any groups who wish to use the facilities in a conference setting. Although many groups are Methodist, they are not exclusively so. The new Women’s Center and the just-finished Children’s Center will also provide programming and opportunities in this area throughout the year.

The Training Center is foundational to the expansion of Kafakumba into community development, mission and ministry, and the economic development that supports them. It is here that the core values of Kafakumba are articulated. Here one can hear the words of Jesus taught in simple, applicable ways. Here foundational doctrines about character, servanthood, and love find themselves fleshed out in classrooms and workshops.

The complimentary arm of the Training Center is the Kafakumba Development Project, developing primarily to provide the funds to sustain the mission and ministries of the Center. Although the Training Center is a United Methodist mission, it does not receive nearly enough funding from the West to survive. Creating the funding in Africa became the only way that its founder, John Enright, could envision its sustainability. Thus began Kafakumba’s venture into economic development.

Kafakumba Development Project

A big question for Africa—and other missional areas of the Christian church—is how ministry remains sustainable over time. Funding can be capricious if left to churches and individuals in the West. In fact, monies have become less and less available, sometimes being cut off altogether. Those who had depended on those funds were left stranded, without resources and without any means of generating them. Decades, even centuries, of always waiting on money from American and European churches had created a sick dependency that stifled imagination and innovation. Its result was a Church and its People living as beggars, even though surrounded by the most incredible natural and human resources.

In order for the Kafakumba Training Center and its ministries to prosper, another way of funding had to be discovered. How do you begin to generate the money needed in Africa? How to do it in spiritually and socially responsible ways? The answer for Kafakumba took the form of bananas and timber to begin with. With personal and family funds, the Enrights planted bananas and used the profits to fund the Center and more banana plants. They talked neighbors into planting bananas in a partnership that divided profits between the growers and Kafakumba (which had supplied plants and training); again the Kafakumba funds went to the Center and more plants for more partners. Banana partners enjoyed higher incomes than other plantings had provided, and Kafakumba received valued funds for its ministries. At the same time, generous donors and banana profits provided woodworking equipment for the fledgling woodshop that would become Ukupanga Timber. Hiring local workers, a team of craftsmen has emerged from unskilled labor, providing jobs for many who had none before.

And so a pattern is emerging: businesses will be developed that focus on partnering, employing local workers, making profits that will be shared with people and community, serving others. John Enright remains the primary source of ideas for new businesses; his continual research fuels the ideas that shape development now. In the future, however, it is very evident that the talented people at Kafakumba, including its own workers, will generate the ideas and innovation necessary for survival.

So how is Kafakumba moving from bananas and woodworking to its many other projects? One might say very carefully, except that there is a certain wildness and wonder to this whole idea. Investment capital is still in short supply. Small businesses begin with only enough planning and funding to get them started...long-range planning might be a stretch for this thoroughly African innovation. In some wonderful, even mysterious way, it’s working.

Kafakumba as both a spiritual and economic base is still developing. Capital is still needed to start the businesses that will create jobs and generate funds for continued ministry. There is so much to do….healthcare, education, leadership development, orphan and widow care, feeding programs, church development, urban and rural ministry ….the list goes on.

Kafakumba presents a unique model for doing mission. Its long-term goal is to see ministries become self-supported by monies raised locally. This can happen as people partner in traditional charitable gifts, in investments both short and long-term, in local partnerships working together. It moves from simple charity to investment, from consumption to growth, from hand-outs to community development. Some call this model “Business as Mission” or sustainable mission, Bill Gates speaks of “Creative Capitalism” as necessary to alleviate poverty, I think of it as ‘entrepreneurial humanitarianism” or “innovative mission.” Here at Kafakumba they call it simply “The Kingdom of God.”

Sunday Night Sing

Sunday Night Sing

The Sunday night hymn sing is fun. As quaint as it sounds, this old-fashioned hospitality and English hymn-sing is important to life at Kafakumba. Here is where I feel most at home: seated at the piano and singing the familiar hymns of our faith with a group. There’s never enough time to sing all the songs selected. We barely finish two verses of one song and already several numbers are called out for the next. I can count on little Maria calling out for “Freely Freely” (Freely you have received, freely give…), for old songs like “Victory in Jesus” and “It Is Well” as well as new ones like “I Danced in the Morning” and “I Will Go, Lord.” The singing is hardy and good, especially since Africans learn to sing in multiple parts and the harmony resounds in the small space. If you are reading this blog and not familiar with hymn-singing, just know that it is a very renewing practice and a good way for Christians to learn and understand the faith they live.

The pattern for Sunday night sings is very simple. You don’t have to dress up and you don’t even have to be able to carry a tune. Just arrive at seven, have a cup of tea and a light refreshment (maybe cake or popcorn), find a seat in the rather crowded living room (2-3 dozen may be there), sing for about a half hour, and then listen to Kendra read a simple devotional from the work of William Barclay. Most linger to visit a bit, but since the children must be up early for school all are gone by 8:15 or so.

As I look around the living room I can’t help but think that this is a little bit of Heaven on earth. Here are gathered blacks and whites. Old and young. Rich and poor. Africans, Australians, English, Americans. Here we are equal and experience oneness. And I get to play the piano.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Women Matter

Women Matter

Women matter at Kafakumba. It’s as simple as that. There is a strong belief here that empowering women inevitably empowers families, communities, and the whole broader culture. Taken to its logical conclusion, empowering women eventually empowers the entire human family.

You can experience this philosophy in a number of ways here. I have already written about banana marketing and the very intentional focus on providing bananas at lower cost for ordinary women to market in local communities. These women are considered just as much banana partners as are the growers. The same thing happens with fish. Fish that are raised in Kafakumba fish ponds make their way into the women’s baskets as quickly as they can be harvested. As further agricultural projects are developed, I suspect that one won’t have to look very far to find the hands of women involved.

Another area critically important to the mission is the inclusion of spouses (generally wives) and children when pastors come for their annual two months of training at Pastor’s School. Staff work to have regular programming, lessons in many topics—both in Bible and in practical skills-- and fellowship for the women. Elunga Munza, a Congolese pastor’s widow, provides programming for the women of the School.

Right outside our door a Women’s Center is being built while we are here. John and Kendra have shared their dream for a sewing center, complete with professional equipment that will not only allow for lessons during Pastor’s School, but also provide a place for local women to come and sew throughout the year. The dream is for local women and the international pastor’s wives to learn and interact at the Center during the annual School. However, local women could also use the Center as a launching pad for entrepreneurial ventures in sewing year round—such as making school uniforms, clothing, knitting, handcrafts, etc…. It could also become the center of any number of kinds of training and classes for local women. Already a small group of worker’s wives are meeting for English lessons and practical skill training in a number of topics. This kind of programming could be greatly expanded at Kafakumba with good local leadership and a place dedicated for their use.

Even before the Women’s Center is completed, though, I have observed a number of women’s groups meeting at the larger Kafakumba Center building or in smaller classrooms around the facility. United Methodist Women are thriving in the African context and they busily plan and carry out any number of meetings and events throughout the year. Each country’s United Methodist Women wear a little different uniform; here it is a yellow headscarf and green patterned dress. The other day when I was in Ndola I noticed a group of women from another denomination wearing their look-alike uniforms of maroon dresses with large white collars and matching head scarves. The women wear these uniforms with a great deal of pride; to be part of a women’s group requires vows and a certain maturity and is a coveted position.

Another project in the works is the use of circular irrigation systems that would allow women to farm beneath their life-giving spray. Not only could food be raised for themselves and their families, but the irrigation system would allow them to expand into marketable produce. The circular system can be sustained without electricity, using a diesel-powered pump. For remote tracts of land or those without access to power, this could be very successful.

I have heard it said that one critical measure of a family’s well-being is the mother’s education level. A mother’s literacy level corresponds to her children’s success in school and vocation, their social adaptations, and to her own and her family’s resilience. Unfortunately, there are too many places where young girls don’t get an education, where their presence is required at home, where they may be caring for an extended family of AIDS orphans, where they are preyed upon even by their own family members, where their own dreams just don’t matter. The sad cycle continues as many girls are married by 14 or 15 in local villages. Because of AIDS, many, many women will be widowed-perhaps very young-and left to care for children alone. More sadly, they may fall prey to the virus themselves and leave their children orphaned.
But the sound of construction on the Women’s Center moves me toward optimism. At least here, at least now, at least for the women of Baluba and Fisenge, and the pastor’s wives, there is hope. At Kafakumba, women matter.

Spirit of the Land

You will want to check out the beautiful work of nature photographer, Stephen Robinson, in his Spirit of the Land Project. His website is filled with stunning pictures of Zambia, which he seeks to present in a particular style using panoramic photography. We visited his gallery in Kitwe and were very impressed by his work. Although you can order from the website, it is really just a pleasure to simply look at this beautful country we are in. The website is posted on this blog or you can click directly at www.spirit-of-the-land.com.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Going Bananas

Going Bananas

Bananas were the first experiment in economic development and mission here at Kafakumba. Some call this model “business as mission;” Bill Gates calls it “creative capitalism” on behalf of poverty elimination; I call it “entrepreneurial humanitarianism.” Whatever you call it, Kafakumba is a vast experiment in alleviating poverty and teaching people about new life in Christ--the Kingdom of God. To this lofty end, John and Kendra Enright started partnerships in banana growing with over 100 local farmers and small entrepeneurs. The partnership works something like this: a small local landowner receives tissue cultures of banana trees, learns to prepare the soil, care for the plants and how to market them in training seminars, and finally shares monies from their harvest with Kafakumba, which then uses the money to enable more banana farmers to get a start. The percentage worked out to be 40-40-20, with landowners keeping 40% of their profits, 20% being dedicated to the on-going expenses of the crops, and 40% returned to Kafakumba for continued economic development. The training and community building of the banana partnerships proved that people could enjoy higher incomes, support smaller indigenous markets, share of their increase with others, and build community as well. Instead of selling to the larger grocery stores, Kafakumba bananas are provided at lower cost to many women, who go out and sell them at roadside and other local markets. This income is a steady step-up for these women and the families they support. Focusing their crops on these ordinary people is part of the philosophy of John and Kendra and a key principle of “serving the least” that they are building into Kafakumba. The amazing thing is how huge these bananas grow and how profitable they can be. However, since bananas have only a five year life-cycle, Kafakumba is diversifying into many more agricultural projects. But for jump-starting this whole idea of business as mission, going bananas was a great way to start.

Going to Public School

Going to Public School

I think about my grandchildren going to school today. They get on a bus that picks them up at their home and delivers them to their school every single day. Their classrooms are a bright mixture of stimulating colors and shapes. Their teacher greets them warmly and they slide into their seats for the beginning of a varied and useful set of daily lessons. Interspersed in their week are music, art, physical education, trips to the library, and more. After about seven hours they climb back on the bus that takes them safely to their home. Hopefully, they will have books at home and what is left of the afternoon and evening may be spent playing, reading, finishing homework, or helping with chores. Maybe they will participate in some extra curricular activity planned for them by their school, church, or community.

A school day for a child in Zambia is very different from the world of my grandchildren. If they attend public school (most do), they will be assigned to one of three sessions for the day. If they are in elementary school their schedule may be from 7 a.m. – 10:30 or from 10:30-1; if they are in grades 7-9 they may be assigned from 1:30-5 p.m. No bus picks them up; they walk—and sometimes from punishing distances that can take 1-2 hours. Especially for the little children, the rainy season with its mud and downpouring rain can be extremely hard, aggravated also by darkness. The children emerge from paths in the long grass or along the road, coming from local farms or villages scattered throughout the area.

Their classroom will have no electricity but be lit by only that light available through the windows. They will share the space of their table or bench with many other students; their classroom will be full. The teacher-student ratio varied in the schools I visited from a high of 80:1 to a low of 35:1. It looked like an average of about 60-70:1. The classrooms, however, were orderly and quiet, even with this many students. In each room that we visited with the Headmaster (Principal), the class would stand and say “Good Morning, Mr. __” as we entered, and “Good Bye, Mr. __” when we left. Absent from the walls were colorful collages or bulletin boards or anything else of color; I imagine that paper is not available for such displays, nor would it hold up well in the elements. The front of each classroom had a full-width chalkboard and the teacher would generally have it covered with lessons that students were dutifully copying into their little lesson books. Curiously absent at every level were books of just about any kind.

Neither school I visited had water available except for one outdoor pump. The Baluba School had 1,130 students in three shifts, averaging 50+ students per classroom in its 8 rooms. There was one outdoor pit toilet with a side for the girls and a side for the boys. Hopelessly inadequate for these numbers, another pit latrine was being constructed and at least a third needed.

On the day I visited, a nurse was at the schools from the Ministry of Health to take donated blood. Evidently they draw not only from the teachers, but also from students. Frankly, none looked like they had much to spare; Lord knows I hope they have very tough screening standards. I also noted other health programs in place for the children, including instruction in hygiene, regular de-worming, and provision of a tiny amount of food to be taken home twice a week (consisting of an egg and small fish).

Education is “compulsory” through the 9th grade. At that point an exam is given and only those students who have the highest grades will go on to high school. If everyone achieved high grades there would simply not be enough room for them in existing high schools. And so a perverse sort of system is enforced that does not expect too many to advance to higher grades. Actually making it to 9th grade would be an achievement for many; making it with any sort of quality of education would be huge. Many children do not even go to school for many reasons: they live with an old grandmother who cannot afford even the dollar it might take; the very long walk becomes impossible; they are hungry; they must help the family in securing food; they see no reason to go. Absenteeism is endemic. It is hard to experience the hope that comes with education when one is simply too sick, too hungry, and too tired to put forth the effort.

Teacher training consists of a two-year post high school certificate to teach primary grades. This consists of one year of intensive training and one year of student teaching in a school. Those teachers who teach in the upper grades specialize in a two-year diploma. Evidently there is now a move to have primary grade teachers also work toward a two-year diploma, do-able through distance learning from the University of Zambia. To boost their teacher’s capacity, the Department of Education broadcasts varied lessons by radio into classrooms—a good use of simple technology and standardized lessons. English is the official language of Zambia and is introduced in the second grade. However, it is not taught or practiced in a manner that creates fluency. Most public school students do not speak English well enough for basic conversation, even after years of instruction. I am reminded of the Hispanic students entering our schools back in Indiana and the fluency that they develop after only months of immersion in English-speaking classrooms. There is simply no comparison between these two cultures in terms of language acquisition, nor of the promising future that English fluency brings.

One principal, Mr. Buyungwe, lamented his inability to teach “life skills” to those students who would not be progressing from grade 9. His dream would be to provide practical instruction in marketable trades for the many who would need them. However, this system does not provide for vocational training, as it does not provide adequately for academic training. In a continuing cycle of grinding poverty and inadequate public education, Zambia has little hope of moving up in the ranks of developing nations. Pity, because the people are good and the country is beautiful and filled with plentiful and valuable natural resources.

Fisenge Church

Fisenge Church

Each Sunday morning we have gone with our hosts to the Fisenge United Methodist Church where John Enright pastors with a young Zambian pastor-in-training. The village of Fisenge is an old community and well off the beaten path—or a distance from the tarred highway at least. As is the custom in Zambia, all the churches are located on the same street. Their close proximity to each other, and their lack of windows, means that you can literally hear the neighboring church at prayer, song, or preaching.

Fisenge United Methodist is a tiny church in a former home with about 80 in attendance. This is a new congregation, started in very recent years by John’s father before his death. Simple plastic chairs or benches seat adults in one section, with children seated in another section at a right angle to the adults. The children sit under the banner “God’s Kids” with pictures they have drawn and colored. God’s Kids is a program for children started in varied localities by Lorraine Enright, John’s 83 year old mother who spends half of each year in Zambia. Instead of Sunday School, Fisenge has its children’s programming on Wednesday afternoon. Local church members carry on the God’s Kids programs when Lorraine is in the States during winter months.

We have been surprised by the length of the Fisenge service: about 1 to 1-1/2 hours and short by African standards. Evidently the shorter service is intentional as people often have difficulty with the more traditional and longer services. It includes a time of singing, a choir number, simple preaching, and an offering and prayer in closing.

The church is a simple brick and plaster structure with uncovered openings for windows. The inside has a concrete floor, plastered walls, and a tin roof. No soft surfaces muffle the sound of singing or speaking or falling rain. One Sunday it rained too hard to even hold church—the noise against the tin roof would have made hearing impossible. Another Sunday the rain fell while we were there, creating a predicament for the speaker. The congregation simply sang and sang until the rain let up and speaking could be heard again. The sound of the singing and the pounding of rain upon tin created quite a din, a noise I’ve never heard before.

The choir is made up of about 5-6 people, three of them nursing mothers. They keep their babies on their back or nurse them openly, as is the custom here. The choir’s combination of music and simple dance is very pleasant. Their young director even writes most of their music. Congregational singing is from a hymn book (words in Bemba but no music), with many of the tunes familiar from Western hymnody. The best, though, is when they break out in African-styled rhythms and harmonies, accompanied by intricate claps, dance, and much repetition. Perhaps this is considered African “praise” music (or African gospel, as I’ve heard it said).

We have enjoyed the simplicity of the Sunday sermons. Stories about widows, oil pots, hunger, healing, orphans, miracles, and more take on a new life in an African setting. There is an immediacy and urgency to faith that one simply can’t experience in the West. We are reminded that Christ was announced by the angels as “Good News” at the time of His coming. And He is Good News indeed.