or The Kellers in Africa
This is part 2, part 1 is How Did That Happen?!
The morning of the President’s arrival we scrambled to have everything ready. Many of the Zambian dignitaries and leaders came early and lined up to greet the President and his wife. Most of them were sent home to change from their suit and tie to work clothes, with the injunction to dress appropriately for working. Their perplexed faces were, I’ll admit, quite funny to observe. In the early afternoon, the President’s twenty-four car motorcade pulled up to the clinic. I stood at the end of a line of Zambian VIPs, now dressed in work cloths, to meet President and Mrs. Bush. Some of the Zambians were visibly taken back by the fact that we were all, including the President and his wife, dressed in the most informal clothes imaginable.
Over the course of the morning we reminded the steady stream of arriving volunteers that the purpose of this time was to work and not to dress up and chat. That we were serious became apparent when the President stepped out of his car, briefly shook hands with everyone, and then asked for his paint brush. Culturally Zambians view manual labor, especially dirty work, as the job of the lower class, the poor, and the uneducated. Seeing a world leader hard at work was a tremendous shock. Because we regularly teach Christ’s example of servant leadership, it was gratifying to help a leader of such significance set a godly example of service. After watching the President for a few stunned moments, many of the volunteers followed the President and Mrs. Bush’s example of dignity in labor and began working with exceptional diligence.
Since I had carried out the preparation work, I was asked to partner with George Bush’s contractor in managing the volunteers’ projects. This was a challenge as over 30 people showed up to work the first day, all requesting direction and supplies. This number did dwindle over the following days as the volunteers realized this really was a working party and not a photo-op. Those who remained worked hard and required less management as we all got into the rhythm of our various responsibilities.
Because the project took place over the weekend, I asked President Bush’s coordinator if I could be excused on Sunday morning to attend church. I was apprehensive that this request would cause consternation from the team (or the President). I don’t think a lot of people keep the President waiting while they go to church. However, it was important to me to put God first. The Coordinator’s response was not what I’d expected at all! Surprisingly, he wanted to know where I went to church and if I could take the Secret Service agents to examine the possibility of an “off the record” attendance by the President and his wife. After seeing the church, the Secret Service felt it would be a safe venue, but I was strictly told not to share the information with anyone. Thus on Sunday morning we were able to welcome President George and First Lady Laura Bush to our small church in Kabwe. What a shock it was to the people who came that morning! It was incredible to worship the Lord with this couple and their team of aids and servicemen, many of whom were becoming very good friends. We were blessed with a great message that morning and many of the members of the team shared how touched they were by the service. I’m glad the Lord gave me the courage to ask for the morning to go worship Him!
Everyone worked really hard over the next few days, and we watched the dilapidated clinic transform into something attractive and serviceable. I had several opportunities to talk to President and Mrs. Bush. I appreciated how down-to-earth they were and enjoyed the President’s dry sense of humor. He even took as much hassling as he dished out.
I asked President Bush why he came to Kabwe to renovate a rural clinic. He replied that he didn’t want to just be “president”, but wanted to roll up his sleeves and really help people. I have to say, regardless of political opinions or affiliations, I appreciate anyone who is willing to work with their own hands to help the underprivileged and suffering people in Africa. It was an honor to work alongside someone with an appreciation for good, hard work.
On Tuesday there was a re-opening ceremony for the clinic and their new cervical cancer program. The local and international media finally had their chance to take photos of the President and Mrs. Bush and interview them about the project. I was asked to open the ceremony in prayer. Before everyone, I was privileged to give glory to God for everything that He had done to bring about this event.
After the ceremony, the President and his staff, many of whom I’m proud to call friends and brothers in Christ, returned to Lusaka. As he left, we exchanged thanks and I gave him one of my favorite books of prayer, Valley of Vision.
It was a privilege to be a part of this clinic renovation project. The opportunity to serve our community alongside President and Mrs. Bush and their incredible staff was both unexpected and incredible. I’m not sure why the Lord allowed me to be a part of all of this, but I’m glad He did!
More photos of the clinic project from The Bush Institute on Flikr
Why Kabwe? Hear it from him.
More information about the Bushs’ trip to Zambia:
Ashley’s experiences are also recounted in Not My Average Week