In a certain sense, single moms in Zambia are similar to their American counterparts. They work, they do the best for their kids, they worry about the future, and they get very little sleep. However, there are some very real, very sobering differences. Most single moms in America don’t have to decide between prostitution and starvation. In America there are a lot of social programs, after school care options, and subsidies available to help make ends meet.
In Africa, the choices are much, MUCH more limited.
Follow me to the ITMI blog and meet Rachel, a single mom and amazing lady…….
This post is motivated by my continuing frustration with the worldwide (and maybe particularly the American) media. They report what “sells papers” in a way that makes you…. want to buy more papers. Or read more or watch more or buy more…………. You get the idea.
After several kind and concerned inquiries, it has come to our attention that we should clear up a matter of concern:
No, we do not have ebola.
No, we will not bring it with us on the plane and release it on the innocent and unsuspecting public.
First of all, we are thousands of miles away from the “ebola nations”. Zambia sees little to no traffic from there. Actually, most of Europe is closer to Liberia than we are!
Two African countries have beaten the virus and have been officially declared Disease Free through stringent international protocols.
Very interesting to contemplate:
#1: WHO and the CDC have not released either the stat report of deaths that coincided with HIV+ patients, or the ages of the persons who died. (And if any of you can find that information for me, I would be extremely grateful- I have tried!) While ebola would obviously still be the “cause of death” it would be very significant, especially from a containment and treatment standpoint, to know how many of the afflicted/fatalities fall into these extreme risk categories.
#2: while the media is getting a total joy ride out of fear mongering the public, the WHO and the CDC have realized that the threat of infection is extremely SMALL. Think I’m lying? Go check the US State Department Travel alerts! These are probably the most stringent and paranoid alerts in the world. Traveling to Liberia? Don’t plan on touching any dead bodies? Your threat level today will be: LOW. No joke. You should look it up. Even I was surprised. Now, I’m not exactly signing up for a cruise off the West African Coast any time soon… but it did allay my fears that “we’re all gonna die!”
Some people are getting sick- really, REALLY sick. Some people are dying. Let’s join together to pray for the brave men and women who are risking their lives to physically serve those afflicted with ebola. THAT is a grave health risk and the ultimate act of selfless service. Let’s pray for the families who are left behind after the death of a loved one.
And when I come to the US next month, you don’t need to go into hiding, run in fear, or secretly bathe in hand sanitizer. In fact… you might want to save that for your European friends. They are much, much closer to Liberia than I am!
“You, WHAT?!” Imagine the stunned look on the face of my fellow missionary mom, as I replied,
“Yeah. I really love it here. I mean it. This is home.”
Long, incredulous pause……………………………………………………….
We went on to discuss things we missed like family, quality chocolate, Amazon.com, and Costco. But it was one of those defining moments for me. I realized that somewhere in the last few years I transitioned from thinking of Zambia as where I am “stationed for now” or “where I live” to truly feeling like it’s my home.
As I contemplated this unexpected development, I discovered three utterly insane reasons to love this wild, backwards continent.
1) It’s exotic. I mean, let’s face it, do YOU get to go see wild zebras, spy on rhinos, or walk rehab cheetahs on YOUR vacations?? Didn’t think so.
We are surrounded by different cultures. There are dozens of languages whirling around our lives daily. Some men working outside are speaking Bemba. A friend in the other room is on the phone speaking Nyanja. My kids are outside in the yard and their friends are screaming at them in Afrikaans. The English accent they are most acquainted with outside our house is, well… English. Like the original one from England. Exotic people from exotic places are part of our every day lives. I LOVE it. I never know who is coming to get-togethers or what interesting food they will bring. Amazing people from far-off places just drop in to have tea.
Of course… “exotic” has a dark side. We try all kinds of food that, frankly, we’d rather not (dried, fermented, fried fish, anyone?) The diseases here are also exotic. We just had a family encounter with Amoebic Dysentery. For Tim this was on the tail of a years-long round with Chronic Giardia. We sleep under nets faithfully to avoid mosquitoes and the malaria parasites they carry. Some kinds of exotic… I could live without.
2) It’s beautiful. I know, I know- Niagara Falls is beautiful too. So is the Grand Canyon, the Pacific Ocean, and the mountains behind my parents’ house. They are. I love visiting all of those places. But I find Africa absolutely captivating. Every evening God paints a stunning, unique watercolor sunset with colors you would never expect- bright purple, dusky pink, and green. They span over fields of maize, giant anthills, and tall, branching flamboyant trees.
The people here work hard to create beauty. When you can’t run into a store to buy wall art or rugs, even the simplest object can create beauty. Squatting inside a hut to avoid the rain, an old lady will peel carrots and glance at the one picture she has of her son, taken many years before when he finished school. It’s badly faded and the edges are worn from the many times she’s caressed it, but she would never consider taking it down. For one, it’s the only picture she has. More importantly, it’s a beautiful expression of what she cares about most- her now grown boy.
The beauty comes with savagery, poverty, filth, and a lot of hard work. But it’s there. And it’s incredible.
3) It’s a free country. No I haven’t gone crazy. Yeah, there are all kinds of weird rules here and permits or fines for a lot of things, but I have come to the realization that it is NOTHING compared to the Western World. I home school my kids. Nobody cares. I grow whatever trees I want in my yard. Nobody cares. I have 2 dogs, a cat, and I’m about to have chickens. Nobody cares. We built an addition to our house and Tim’s wiring it himself… yep. Nobody cares. Now, this is not limitless… there are LOTS of rules here. Just not as many as a lot of other places!!
I don’t think Africa is actually better than anywhere else. I’m a “have suitcase, will travel” kinda girl so I’d pick up and shift for an Australian experience or a sabbatical in South America. I’d love nothing more than a fieldtrip to Russia, roadtrip through Canada, or backpack through the Andes. But for now, this is my home. And I love it here.
For years my tummy felt splendid-
But from bad water, it up-ended.
I spent a week in bed;
I thought I was dead.
Amoebas have come, and I’m bested.
Still I can really eat nothing.
Broth is no longer enticing.
I’m still in my bed.
So bored I feel dead.
All I really want is some ice cream!!!
an original limerick by Ashley Keller (who is operating under the influence of bowel-enforced house arrest)
Yesterday was “Africa Freedom Day” in Zambia. Some of our holidays here are nebulous at best (Youth Day and Unity Day are at the top of my ???? list). But I actually like this one. I’ll admit there’s a side of me that does a real eye-roll, though. After living in Africa for 8 years I can tell you that there is still a LOT of work to be done before real freedom is achieved, especially in the political, police, and military corruption sectors. That being said…. Zambians have come a long way since achieving their independence from Britain in 1964.
First accolades would have to go to LOCAL GOVERNMENT. They are no longer ruled by a foreign power in an entirely different hemisphere. While I appreciate a lot of what Britain did with infrastructure and development in Zambia, I do not believe that you can understand a country and her people from thousands of miles away. The Zambians really own their government now. They have taken control of their country and they truly want to be a great and prosperous people. (Unfortunately, many of the government officials have zeroed in on the “prosperous” bit…).
I also love how Zambia as a country is working to empower women. This is still a very real issue in Africa. Women are grossly under-educated and badly mistreated. I can tell you from personal experience that the average grade achievement for women is grade 7 in the towns and grade 3- THREE- in the rural areas. And this is African grades 7 & 3, not equivalent to what we see in Westernized nations. In the bush women are still chattel, sexual merchandise, and slave labor. I love that Zambia has so many programs to improve the lives of her women.
But I think it would be a mistake to spend the day celebrating Africa’s “Freedom” without contemplating a few things that have gone wrong- and I mean really, really WRONG since Zambia’s independence nearly 50 years ago.
Dependence- While the theme of the holiday might be liberty, the unofficial motto of the government is something like “Trust in me…. only me……” Political candidates here secure votes by passing out mealie meal (grain for porridge) and promising schools, houses, cars, etc to people in poorer districts. The medical clinics and government schools are free to extremely cheap. The care and instruction are less than abysmal but most of the local people don’t know any better and the officials take great care to make sure everyone feels privileged to receive anything at all. The maize prices are set at a rate that keeps the farmers at a subsistence level (which means they need government loans and subsidies every year) and gives the people cheap staples. This perpetuates dependency because there is fear of independent farming and selling- the “cheap maize” would go away. Zambians depend almost entirely on their government for food, education, and care. They have few options since they are not taught to seek anything else.
Education- I have noticed that many of the older Zambians can read and write in 2 or 3 languages. They achieved British equivalent certificates in school and could have transferred to British or European universities. That is no longer possible. I know a guy here who nearly finished his degree in architecture and wanted to transfer to a university in the UK. He barely, BARELY passed the entrance exam for Year 1 at a British university. He was shocked and dismayed at these results. Then he started the course and was utterly horrified. The uni was generous to let him in at all. The education he received in Africa was woefully deficient.
Corruption- there is no longer a strong system of accountability for the Zambian government officials. No “checks and balances”. No auditing. Nothing to stop those with power from exploiting those beneath them. It’s bad. You can’t get anything done without “making a contribution toward expenses” or “helping” things along. We don’t participate in that method which means our applications and permits move a lot slower than if we “helped” the department out.
Medical care- look this up online and you will find a wide array of opinions. Sure, there are more rural clinics. But believe me when I say that for the most part they do more harm than good. The hospitals are FILTHY. I was privileged to save a baby at a local hospital… he nearly died of dehydration from diarrhea. They refused to put in an iv. Best I can figure, the mom couldn’t afford the “fee” (bribe) required by someone on the hospital paperwork chain. The medical situation is BAD.
Africa Freedom Day. There is indeed more freedom. But it came at a very real cost to the generations that followed. Zambia’s hope lies in God’s grace and in the determination of her people to keep going and their ability to look on the bright side.
Thank you, God, for the freedom that you’ve brought to Zambia. Thank you that you have brought them closer to “a hope and a future”. Please guide these amazing people into your embrace- into a walk that honors you and in turn creates a culture of Christ, a culture of humility, honesty, and hope.
It’s easy they said!
Before I tell you my sad tale, there’s something you should know about Africa. Everything is bigger here. The trees are bigger. The animals are bigger. The insects are bigger. Everything that can be bigger IS.
Then there’s something you should know about me. I can’t grow anything. At all. Horticulture hates me. Bring me the vegetables and I’ll give you an entree that Jamie Oliver wouldn’t turn down. Bring me the plant and it will shrivel on the way in the door, begging for mercy all the way.
However, I firmly believe “nothing ventured, nothing gained” and this last year I determined to conquer my nemesis: the vegetable garden. After talking to a variety of home gardeners I found a general consensus: Carrots. Anyone can grow carrots. After considering the fact that preschoolers even grow carrots from carrot tops, I decided even I could not screw this up. I sallied forth with seeds: carrot, onion, and cauliflower (because I am a masochist at heart). I cleared, mulched, and tenderly planted those tiny seeds in the soil. I’ll confess that I was skeptical. After decades of failure (my preschool carrot didn’t survive the week) could I hope to see those seeds germinate? Survive?? Produce some FOOD?!
While I waited to see if Tim’s fond epithet “the Minus Touch” might be overcome with a little care and patience, Monica planted some flowers. Apparently the plant kingdom does not hold one’s unfortunate genes against them.
With time, water, and sunshine my carrots did grow. And much to my surprise they actually looked… great. Lacey green fans promising a juicy, crisp harvest before long. As the carrot tops began to expand I decided to take a little sneak peek at my gardening victory.
Apparently the nematodes are bigger in Africa is well.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained. At least we have flowers!!
Please share your gardening failures so I don’t feel like such a loser. You know… unless you don’t have any of those stories… in which case you can just go away and enjoy your garden.
Recently there has been a lot of talk around the internet and blog-osphere about MISSIONS. Mostly I’ve seen people hashing out the million ways it’s being done wrong: wrecking culture, producing dependency, maligning the name of Christ, etc. Really bad stuff- and really going on in some places.
Naturally, I find the whole discussion fascinating.
There is certainly and undeniably a reason why the Church at large is having a second look at missions. And this is possibly one of the most positive aspects of the whole discussion- people are looking at missions. I’m hoping this has the same effect that a movie production does for book sales. Let’s face it, few of us read the classics until the movie comes out. Maybe this spotlight on missions will propel a new wave of missionaries into the world. As people have the opportunity to consider and critique world missions, maybe they’ll feel compelled to head out here themselves.
The thoughts expressed by interested bloggers have been really interesting. MORE interesting have been the comments these posts have generated. Everyone has an opinion about how Missions should be done- and this is (usually) a great thing. HOWEVER, one observation I’d like to throw out into cyberspace (let’s go ahead and call it my “two cents”):
It’s no more possible to generalize Missions than it is to delineate parenting and project the definite outcome. Or the future. Or war. Or the working out of our faith in Christ. Because those things make up missions. And adding the aspect of cross-cultural to Missions means increasing the variables and uncertainty.
Let’s absolutely dialogue about Missions and how to do it better. But let’s bear in mind that Missions is about people and people don’t fit well into absolute formulas.
I challenge you to look- really look at world missions. Look at what is being done poorly. Look at what is being done well. Then ask the hard question:
“God, how should I be involved?”
Guess I’ll go eat worms!!
Remember that song from summer camp? So cute.
“Long, thin, slimy ones; short, fat, squishy ones; itsy-bitsy, fuzzy-wuzzy worms!!!!!!”
Well, it’s all fun and games until you see them in the toilet!
Ah yes. While parasites are common in EVERY part of the world (yes, friend, you too could have them!), they are a particular menace in Africa. Parasites seem to cling to every leaf, rock, crevice, droplet, hair, and fiber.
But, wait! There’s more!!!
So what’s a mom to do? Well, there are a few great anti-parasitic medications out here, but you just can’t take them as often as you get exposed (infected!) with the nasty little buggers.
Fortunately there are many other safe options. We’ve tried all kinds of herbal concoctions and have our favorites.
Down goes the first one, down goes the second one……….
oh how they wiggle and squirm!
Actually, though, we’ve been pretty lucky. We have our occasional outbreaks of ringworm and pinworms, we’ve had a few rounds with giardia and amoebic dysentery, oh, and I suppose Tim has had roundworms a few times. And tapeworms… but considering our level of exposure…. I’m grateful it hasn’t been worse.
Missions is so glamorous. We get to do all kinds of awesome, world-changing activities everyday, dynamically affecting every person we meet. When we get sick we are at least consoled that the diseases are exotic (read: involve diarrhea)- no humdrum headcolds for us! We regularly enjoy flavorful, indigenous foods like boiled cornmeal and okra. We live right alongside magnificent and dangerous wildlife like
lions spiders and giraffes snakes. We get to tell thrilling stories about parasites, broken vehicles, and cultural disasters. It’s the dream life, baby. Why don’t more people sign up???
“Wait, I sense sarcasm. Do you mean you aren’t actually riding around on an elephant, passing out tracts and singing ‘I’ll Fly Away’ in the local language?? I’m so disillusioned!”
Ok, so if it’s not everything that the big fund-raising gigs and missions conferences crack it up to be, then what’s the real story? If every day is not a Billy Graham crusade, then what is it? Do we not chase down every man, woman, and child in Kabwe and ascertain their stance on Christ and eternity? And what about the starving? The orphaned? And AIDS, yeesh, shouldn’t that issue alone take up at least 2 or 3 days of my week?? “Reaching the lost”, “discipleship”, “building relationships”… what does it all MEAN?
The short version? It means we work our butts off against a daily list of challenges and difficulties, and we do it because we’re crazy. Wait… that’s not right. We do it because it makes us feel good about ourselves. No, that definitely doesn’t apply to the last 5 weeks of my life. One last try:
We work in Africa because it needs to be done and because the Lord loves the poor. Serving pleases Him so we do it (those are Tim’s words, I couldn’t figure out how to say it without sounding oh-so-hyper-spiritual and la-di-da). Serving others, making disciples, and increasing His kingdom makes God happy, whether it’s through the “daily grind” in your community in the States or in the great Battle Against the Elements in Africa. As the Body of Christ we are (or should be) working with a “kingdom mentality”. Ok, there I go again, what does THAT mean?!
The bottom line is: we, the Kellers, work and serve in many ways. Sometimes it’s teaching Zambians about Christ or how to evangelize. Sometimes it’s preaching, teaching, discipling, leading, training or preparing for those things. Sometimes it’s spending three days trying to get the correct pipe for our water tank because the local “shops” all carry EXTREMELY cheap Chinese-made GARBAGE and you have to find it in their backroom yourself under piles of other cheap garbage (after waiting in line for hours on end). Ok, done ranting now.
In my experience, “making a difference for Christ” is never easy. And here the “devil is in the water” so to speak (well giardia and E.coli are anyway). The physical challenges are daunting. Overwhelming, occasionally mind-crippling, frustrating, discouraging- these are all part and parcel of our work. Disease (not just germs, I’m talking real disease), parasites, heat, language barriers, cultural barriers, government finagling, financial restrictions, distance from loved ones, poor food, bugs, rats, thieves…. the list can go on and on and… anyway….
And WHY? “Why did I sign up for this again???” Is a question I ask myself
every once in a great while at least once a month week more often than a woman on a mission should. Why? Well, I can go super-spiritual and tell you that the devil has a foothold in Africa (which would be true). I can be practical and tell you that this continent has not had the benefits of millennia of civilization like Europe has (and even North and South America to a lesser extent). This would also be true.
But the real problem? The actual reality? The difficulty, the challenge, the issue we deal with in missions? It might surprise you. In fact, I bet you can relate on a personal level:
It’s a fallen world. It’s a world that does not embrace Christ and grace.
Being a part of the Body of Christ means taking on the bad with the good. And there’s a lot of bad here. But there is a lot of GOOD too. A lot. There are a lot of people who respond JOYFULLY to the news of redemption- true forgiveness and grace. We so take God for granted in the States, but in Zambia, enslaved by animism, people shake off the shackles with incredible joy.
So there it is. We’re in Africa because…
oh come on, we’re here because we are definitely, positively, at least a little bit crazy.
And we like it here.
God bless Africa.