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