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

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.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Baluba village


It’s the smell of smoke from charcoal fires. It’s the sound of children, laughing and following you in droves. It’s the feel of mud, ruts, and raw grass beneath your feet. It’s the sight of women peering from doorways, cooking, nursing babies. It’s a typical village, in this case Baluba. Poverty has its smell, its sounds, its sites, its feel.

It is impossible for me to understand, let alone describe for others, what life in a village must be like. It is life in the present, day by excruciating day. It’s a hopeless circle of going nowhere, except to the end of one’s expected life of 30-some years. It’s marrying at 14 or 15, birthing babies as nature allows (although with Zambia’s high infant mortality rate, many will die). It’s living with gnawing hunger. It’s living with the air filled with spirits and curses; it’s a life of fetishes and sorcery, living life equally among the living and the dead—yes, even though all would say they go to church.

Life in the village is lived without electricity. That means that the equatorial sun’s pattern of 12 hours of darkness and light brings long hours of darkness to these tiny houses. Long evenings and long nights, some passed mindlessly at the local bar whose satellite and electricity provide the village’s only entertainment. Children gather and peer into the windows to watch television, mingling with the drunken in the yard long into the night. Pubescent girls are continually in danger of rape, wives of violence against them.

Water is drawn with bucket and rope from tiny shafts of wells. Generally one will serve several families. The water is not potable, but must be boiled and chlorinated for use. The village does not have a common sewer system, although at least it does not have ditches where human waste flows in the streets. Instead, there are pits for human waste, generally behind a home, and moved as necessary. With the tiny spaces surrounding these houses, one can only imagine the condition of the ground water in the shallow wells…especially with the heavy rains of rainy season.

The tiny rectangular homes are typically Zambian. They may have a roof of grass or of sheet metal, or both. Their lack of windows are for security, from thieves and others, especially for widows or homes with single mothers. Tiny triangles let in only slivers of light. Building materials are either mud brick (unfired) or fired blocks. The mud bricks are susceptible to collapse in the heavy rains, evidence we saw at several places. Sometimes a cloth is hung to create a doorway. Inside, only a fragile cloth separates the sleeping spaces of parents and children, too many for the tiny floor spaces given them. Rats and vermin are constant companions, chewing even on callused feet at night. Sometimes homes fill with extended family, leaving no space for children. Cooking generally occurs outside over a charcoal flame; some homes have a small awning of grass designated for cooking.

Baluba has a police station and a few tiny stalls to sell maize or tomatoes. Children walk to school, about 1.2 miles on rutted paths and in the rain of this season. An international organization began a project here to provide space for the town council and other offices; however, continuing theft of building materials brought the project to a halt. Its shell remains a darkened reminder of the difficulties of trying to help. About 3,000 people live within the immediate boundaries of Baluba, about 6,000 including the surrounding farms. Two buildings stand out in Baluba: the police station and the clinic. Kafakumba helped build the police station by providing fired bricks, and an important relationship was developed. The clinic was a gift of a church in the U.S. Kafakumba was required to provide electricity for the clinic, a project just now being completed (this included erecting the poles and wires that bring the first electrical power into the village). However, there are not yet ongoing funds for staff or medicines. It is hoped that economic development projects at Kafakumba will provide the money for basic ongoing medical care here.

Life in Baluba is much better than it used to be. Hope lives here now. The gospel of Christ is “Good News” indeed for its people. Good News for the possibility of working, of earning a living wage that means food and schooling and more, of Kid’s Clubs that nurture children, a youth organization that creates hope for its young adults, care for the hurting and ill, a Women’s Center to teach sewing and entrepreneurial skills as well as more traditional training. Crime has dropped around Baluba, testament to the fair wages provided by the businesses associated with Kafakumba. The word “empower” is an overused word in English; however, here it takes on a whole new meaning as people are indeed empowered to live a new life beyond the bitter despair of hopelessness. Kafakumba—its Training Center and its many businesses—are bringing very Good News indeed to Baluba.

Give Us This Day

Give Us This Day

I am developing a real sense of living in the present here. It begins perhaps in the kitchen. My refrigerator is very small (and I’m fortunate to have even that!). That means that I grocery shop a couple times a week and buy fresh produce often. Vegetables and eggs often remain at room temperature and are eaten quickly enough to prevent spoilage.

Treats are not saved for a more special time—they are savored immediately. Kendra taught me this early on when she immediately shared a gift of luscious hazelnut chocolates upon their arrival. She told me that her former ideas of saving things for later ended as she learned that saving for a better time meant just giving goodies to ants or spoilage. I am learning the same thing in our pantry.

I learned something about daily living in our tour of the village of Baluba. Tiny stalls sold small packages of mealie-meal (white corn meal), just enough for one day. Our friend, Reuben, explained that for many of the day laborers, these tiny packages were the only food that they could buy on their piecework wages. One day wage, one meal of cornmeal sheema. The prayer of these workers is indeed, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

For the children who are fed in daily food programs run by the Franciscan Sisters and others, their noon meal is their only meal of the day. As they gather in an open space, smelling the food being prepared, lining up to wash their hands and waiting their turn to sit at the table, this is, indeed, a daily provision of food.

How can they think about, let alone care about, tomorrow when today is so precarious?

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Snails and Roses

This dewey rose and curious snail were right outside our door after a recent rain. It reminds me of the old song "In the Garden."

Things That Go Bump in the Dark

Things that go bump in the dark

We have the sense that we are immersed in the strangest place we have ever known. There is an incredible richness of plant, animal, insect and other life. This richness also presents threats and many unknowns….those fearful sorts of things we call “things that go bump in the dark.”

The biggest threat seems to be malaria. The rainy season has made the proliferation of mosquitoes a real hazard. We are seeing the white workers—who sleep under nets—falling ill one after another. White and black children alike are suffering from it. It’s talked about as commonly as the flu back home, but the threat is much greater.

Then there are the spiders. This morning Alan pulled out his shoes and a big, brown, flat spider ran up his arm. I had seen one of these ugly monsters earlier in the week; Kendra assured me that “flat is your friend.” Evidently we should be on the lookout for the hairy spiders that stand up higher on their legs. These are the hunting spiders, such as scorpions.

We must be careful to dry our clothes for 15 minutes on the dryer’s hot setting in order to kill the larvae of putzie flies. These flies will lay their eggs on clothing hung out to dry (which we do) and then the larvae hatch into worms (otherwise known as maggots) under your skin. We have been careful to do this.

Alan has several boils on his skin right now; the question was whether they were bites of some kind, or putzie flies, or something else. It looks like this is something else, some systemic infection or allergic reaction working its way out of his body. If these do not stop, he may have to see a doctor.

For me, being here means being much more watchful of my feet. I tend to walk without paying much attention to my surroundings, generally thinking about something else. I am learning to watch for bumps and holes in the ground, as well as to remember that our cottage is on a couple levels. Our second night here I pitched head first down two steps, falling hard on the concrete floor. Fortunately the only damage was a discolored knee and shin.

But there are worse things than falling: snakes. We are told to not go out after dark. Evidently there are large, black, and very dangerous snakes that move about after dark—especially in the rainy season. I do not care to meet one; this is the sort of thing I would much rather just observe in a zoo.

Then there are ants. Little as they are, they can pack a punch here in Africa. A little red ant (it’s black but called red) has a painful bite and draws blood. They can swarm a person and then on some unknown signal bite at the same time. The army ants can be seen marching along; you really don’t want to get mixed up with this bunch. Swarming and painful, they can kill small animals with their ferocity. Knowing how painful these ants can be, I try not to get annoyed with the swarms of tiny ants that make their home with us. The pantry and kitchen have been a real problem, but they also swarm in other places—my least favorite is on the bathroom sink and my toothbrush.
Our home is also home to lizards, flying termites, small (& large) spiders, big, black millipedes, toads, and who knows what else. We sleep under nets, use a flashlight at night or turn on lights, tap our shoes before putting on, shake out clothing, continually battle the little ants, turn on outside lights at night (there are other threats than insects and spiders in this tucked away cottage); we watch and wonder what else might be out there going bump in the dark.

Farewell Sister

Sister Josephine

You met Sister Josephine in the Dagama Home and Shanty Compound entries earlier. This week the children, caregivers, and nuns of Dagama Home and the Nutrition Centers said goodbye to Sister. She also stopped at Kafakumba to say goodbye. Although generally joking and laughing, that day she was very subdued. “We had many tears at Dagama Home,” she simply said. Brave, loving, and accepting of her new assignment in Lusaka, Sister will bring her special brand of love to the new venture. Evidently she will be training new novices there, but she was already talking about the large shanty compound near the convent, the many people who are suffering, and the small home for disabled children nearby. I can see her already: stooping to tie a child’s shoe, clapping her hands and singing with the little ones, stirring the sheema, checking the records, training the novices, joking with a visitor, whirling around from one job to another, serving others with the total devotion with which she would serve Christ himself. I hope I will get to see Sister again in Africa; if not, I know our paths will cross again.

The Catholic Church is very active in Zambia. I have heard that it makes up about 26% of the population. They do a lot of really good work here. Friends of ours who had lived in Kenya for years also commented about their admiration for Catholic charities there and the loving devotion of the nuns to marginalized people. The gift of their lives is really a humbling example of servant-love.

Ladies of the Club

Ladies of the Club

Yesterday I joined the Ladies of the Club. Well, that’s what I call it anyway. The weekly gathering of white mothers and their children for social and play time is really called Play Day or something like that. It was just so properly British. The women were from South Africa, Zimbabwe, England, Belgium, Australia. The table was covered with tea cups, saucers, quiche, carrot cake, cheesecake, and two kinds of tea (roibus and black). While children played inside and out, the moms nibbled and visited, catching up on the week and admiring the two newborns among the group. Malaria was a topic on everyone’s mind, since children are so susceptible and the rainy season has been bad. One little guy got into army ants and literally had ants in his pants (or nappy if you will); his mommy had to quickly strip him and quiet his cries from the painful bites. After eating, some really fine South African wine appeared and it, too, became part of this afternoon tea party.

The group was made up of women married to men who worked for mining companies, owned farms or businesses, or were professionals (teachers) in their own right. Zambia can be very isolating for these women, most of their extended families were in another country. One young Belgian mother had three small children under four; her little family had lived in Senegal for several years before being moved to Zambia. They seek each other’s company, commiserate and listen to each other, love each other’s children, share advice and friendship—not a bad thing to do over a cup of tea or a glass of wine on a Thursday afternoon in the Zambian sun.