Monday, December 27, 2010

A Heart-Opening Experience

November, 2010
If it is the middle of November, then it is time to plant the crops in Zambia. Our team of Drew, Steve, Scott, and I traveled to Serenje, Zambia to work with the staff at Hope Children's Center (HCC) on agricultural development. A variety of crops are produced at HCC to feed the orphans, both at the Center, and at the villages of Kamena and Teta in the bush.

The drive from Lusaka to Serenje is always interesting. There are overloaded trucks on the highway, people selling mushrooms from the forest, and 18-foot tall termite mounds that are fun to climb.

On Saturday evening we arrived at HCC and were warmly greeted by Navice and his wife Kettie (shown below with Festus). Navice had prayed for many years that a center could be developed in Serenje to care for orphans.
On Sunday we worshiped at Kamena church - 22 miles out into the bush from Serenje. The congregation was packed to the walls of the mud brick church with the corrugated metal roof. The congregation sang beautiful songs to the rhythm of wood drums.
Not everyone could squeeze inside, so many children peered through the ventilation bricks in the walls.
Afterward, we gathered outside to meet the children and other church members.

Scott remarked, "Well, I haven't been to church like that before. They had nothing else to do but worship God." Drew noted, "James 5 says if anyone is happy, sing songs of praise. They are always singing and smiling." It was true - the Zambians always had a smile for us.

Monday through Friday we focused on agricultural development with the staff. Maize is a major crop and the fields are prepared with conservation tillage techniques. The old cornstalks are left on the soil surface and only the rows where the maize will be planted are tilled. The fields were almost completely ready to plant when we arrived.
We enlarged the maize field and additional ground needed to be tilled. We used a narrow hoe, called a chaka hoe, to till the soil, which was very hard because the seasonal rains had not yet started.
When all the hoeing was finished, lime was spread along the rows. And then we waited for the rains before we could plant.
HCC also has a large irrigated garden that produces sweet potatoes, tomatoes, onions, cabbage, eggplant, and rape (a leafy green vegetable, similar in taste to broccoli).
School ends before noon for most children, after which they come to HCC. Brookside Church (Omaha) has constructed swings and the children love playing on them.
The children sing Bible songs before lunch and recite the Lord's Prayer. Lunch often is a plate full of nshima (boiled white maize) mixed with soybean meal, and boiled rape.
Thursday is "kapenta day." Kapenta are the sun-dried minnows that are stir-fried and served to the children as an alternate source of protein. The children love kapenta, but we flinched hard while trying to swallow the greasy little fish with buggy eyes.
The Lord really blessed last season's maize harvest at HCC. In addition to the daily feeding of 60 orphans, HCC also provides supplemental food to the orphans at Teta and Kamena. One hundred and thirty orphans were each given a 110-pound bag of white maize.

The caregivers were very appreciative of the Lord's blessing. There was singing and high-pitched tongue trills. Some loaded the sacks onto their backs and disappeared into the bush. Others precariously strapped the sacks to bicycles.

The caregivers at Teta greatly appreciated the gift of maize and thanked us by giving Kettie a chicken.
On Saturday we took a day off and enjoyed the sites of the countryside. We drove 65 miles to Kundalila Falls - a spectacular 225-foot high falls that makes a hard right turn at the top, slices through three narrow slits of rock, and then cascades into a beautiful green pool below. Drew, Scott, and Festus even enjoyed a swim.

Then we drove to Kasanka National Park where we saw dozens of antelope, a small troop of baboons, a mother and baby hippo walking along the lakeshore, and a family of 12 warthogs that ran off into the woods with their tails held high. But the highlight was the 7 million straw-colored fruit bats leaving their tree roosts to fly out to feed. These squawking bats, with their 3-foot wingspans, filled the evening sky in all directions. In 20 minutes they were all gone. It was absolutely awesome.
Sunday morning we drove back to Serenje. From our camp, the way out of the park was 12 miles of dirt track. We saw more antelope and a single set of very large oval footprints crossing the track - a bull elephant! We got out of the van to look for the elephant, but we could not see very deep into the thick woodlands. We had just missed him.
On Sunday morning we worshiped again at Kamena church. Steve delivered a message from Philippians 2:3-11 regarding service being about demonstrating Christ's love to others, and Navice interpreted. This morning there were 191 children inside the church, along with about 40-50 adults and babies.
Pastor Saviourse thanked us for our visit and the maize, which was given to the 103 orphans in his church. The children seemed to be healthy, and they were happy. Navice later commented about the children, "They don't look so skinny." Two years ago many of them were emaciated.
It has become tradition that we climb the 440-foot high granite dome called Chinuma (meaning humpbacked) after church service at Kamena. On the walk through the bush, we spotted a slender green snake in a tree. I took photographs - the Zambians thought I was way too close. I asked Kettie if it was poisonous. She said, "It is not poisonous...maybe!" Turns out it was the highly venomous boomslang.

Navice and Steve stopped part way up Chinuma to catch their breath. The climb was a challenge up the smooth-faced granite mountain, but we were rewarded at the top with a spectacular view.
Our last night in Serenje, we sat on the front porch of the guesthouse, in the darkness of the African night, and prayed and thanked God. Steve said, "It was an eye-opening experience." Then he correct himself and said, "No, it was a real heart-opening experience." And so it was.

The seasonal rains started two days after we left Serenje. By the end of the week, all of the maize had been planted.
Be of good cheer,
Marlin Rice (for the team), December 26, 2010

Friday, July 30, 2010

A Week of Smiles

June - June, 2010

A smile needs no translation! Our team went to Serenje, Zambia during late June and early July to love and serve at the Hope Children's Center. Although Zambia may be a poor country economically, it has a wealth of smiling faces.

However, we weren't exactly smiling when we arrived at Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C. fifteen minutes after our plane had left for Johannesburg, South Africa. Our flight from Chicago had been delayed for two hours because of bad weather. We then waited in line for nearly five hours to learn the outlook wasn't good for all 11 of us to find another flight to South Africa anytime soon. But God was good and our courteous and creative ticket agent "miraculously" got all of us re-routed on a flight to London the next day. We would have a 14-hour layover before we could continue on to Johannesburg and then on to Lusaka, Zambia, but the team did not seem too disappointed about an unexpected stay in London.
John, Amy, Stephanie, Allison, Susan, Becca, Michael, Jessica, (front) Stacey, and Kay at Tower Bridge, London.

Despite being almost two days late, we got off to a great start with the children on Monday morning. God answered our prayers and provided four translators to help us interact with the children on a more personal level. The Hope children attend the local school and are taught English, but their knowledge is still limited and they are reluctant to speak it. We studied the Holiness of God, Obedience, Prayer, and Evangelism (HOPE).
The children arrive at different times during the day at Hope, so our team was either teaching or playing with the children most of the day. The games always produced lots of smiles.

In the afternoons, we also taught the children gardening techniques. The children help care for the large community garden, which provides food for their noon meal each day. But we also helped each child prepare their own individual garden, which would be totally their responsibility. They loved the idea of having their own garden.

Near the end of the week and after the children finished planting their gardens, they were each given sunglasses. This, of course, brought many smiles and laughter, and occasionally an "attitude!"
Hope also has large fields for growing maize and peanuts. A bountiful crop was harvested in April consisting of 205 bags of maize - nearly 11 1/2 tons - and 600 pounds of peanuts. This will help feed the children at the Center during the coming year.
Pastor Navice Kalunga had been praying that the children at Hope, and the churches at Teta and Kamena, would get Bibles. His prayer was answered when the 180 youth group at Cornerstone helped provide the funds to purchase the Bibles. These were the first Bibles the children had ever received and most likely the first Bibles in their house. We came to Zambia with 165 children's Bibles and what a joy it was to place their first Bibles in the hands of these children.

Our week culminated with a trip on Sunday to the Teta church (about 7 miles outside of Serenje) where we distributed dry beans, fleece blankets and children's Bibles to 13 orphans. The fleece blankets were made by the 4th grade D-6 class at Cornerstone and the gifts brought many smiles.
Then we traveled to Kamena church (Pastor Navice's home church 22 miles from Serenje) where we worshiped and handed out Bibles to 87 orphans or children-at-risk, and gave each 15 pounds of dry beans to supplement their diet.

Almost as quickly as it started, our trip to Zambia was over. It did include some frustrating moments, but our firm conviction that we were where God wanted us to be never wavered - we had a wonderful opportunity "to look after orphans... in their distress" (James 1:27). The team of young men and women who accompanied us were faithful workers and smiling servants, and they were rewarded with the priceless smiles of precious children.

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' " Matthew 25:40

Kay & Marlin Rice