Mazabuka training group
Last week we were in Mazabuka for a TEEZ Tutor Training course. It had been a while since we had conducted a training. The trainings scheduled for April and May were postponed until later in the year so the host churches can be better prepared. That means that I had not been out on a training since April and in the mean time had traveled with folks from MAPC and my parents. It was tough for me to shift gears back into training travel mode, especially since I was still recovering from my bout with malaria and a persistent cold. The first couple days of the training were very challenging for me, but I was feeling better by the end of the week. We had a good group of 22 students from the United Church of Zambia, Reformed Church in Zambia, and Anglican Churches around Mazabuka.
Women in a study group
Mazabuka is in the Southern Province, two hours southwest of Lusaka by road. The Mazabuka area is the major producer of sugar in Zambia and the church hosting the training is right next to Zambia Sugar, Zambia’s leading sugar producer. This sugar is used all over Zambia and exported to neighboring countries. Recently there have been strikes and riots over wages at Zambia Sugar, including employees burning fields of sugar cane. Fortunately things were calm when we were there and the company and employees seemed to be moving toward a resolution. We heard that the employees had been asking for a thirty five percent increase in wages, which was not possible, but that the company had agreed to increase wages by about fifteen percent for permanent workers and twelve percent for seasonal workers. Despite the recent turmoil, the fields are beautiful and I enjoyed the view of sugar cane swaying in the breeze all week.
Students meeting with sugar cane fields in the background
On our way back from the training we spent a night in Lusaka. I had dinner with the Ellingtons and a few other internationals around Justo Mwale - and they surprised me with a birthday celebration! Sherri made an awesome Zambia themed cake and I was serenaded in many different languages as birthday songs were sung in English, Spanish, Korean, and Afrikaans.
Today is my birthday and I can no longer say I am twenty-something. I spent the last week of my twenties mostly on my couch and in bed. A week ago Saturday I caught a mean cold – one of those sinus aching, face melting colds. Then just as I was starting to feel better I came down with malaria on Monday afternoon. I got a strange headache, my body was achy too, then came the chills. The chills were the worst part – like shivers times one hundred and uncontrollable. Fortunately one of my friends came over and confirmed my suspicion that it was malaria and I started on the medication right away (I have had some on hand since the first week I arrived). In a couple days I was feeling much better and now just have a residual cough from the cold.
Birthday party crowd
Fortunately the week ended much better than it started. We had a party on Saturday evening to celebrate my birthday since I am leaving for a TEEZ training today. We had a potluck dinner, played games, and even had cake and ice cream. It was a really wonderful evening and I was so thankful for my friends here. I celebrated this morning with a cup of special hot cocoa my mom had sent for Christmas. Since it was hot at Christmas and I knew it would be cold in June I had been saving it for today – it was delicious! I will spend the rest of the day in the TEEZ truck traveling to Mazabuaka, which is about two hours south of Lusaka. Please pray that I will continue to get better and that our training goes well this week.
I had an almost encounter this past week. It was Tuesday and I was in my kitchen making chocolate chip cookies to welcome my friends home. The windows were open and I was enjoying baking and the fresh air. Then I noticed a rustling in my garden. At the back of my garden is a trash pit - it is literally a pit in the ground where I throw my trash. I thought it might be the cats that hang around back there, but then I noticed a little head bobbing up and down. I knew that people sometimes looked around in my trash, but I had never witnessed it before. I didn’t know what to do. Should I shout? Should I go out and see? Should I just carry on making cookies? I didn’t do any of those things. I walked into my bedroom which is on the other side of the house. I didn’t want to see someone digging through my trash. Who am I to be baking chocolate chip cookies while someone is going through what I threw out? After a minute I regained enough composure to go back into the kitchen. As I stood there I realized it was a small boy, probably six or seven. When he got up out of the pit he had a plastic bag and several cans – he wasn’t after food, he was looking for toys!
I was still pondering this episode three days later when I came across a journal entry in a book I am reading. The book is by a young woman named Katie Davis, who lives in Uganda, has adopted several Ugandan children, and runs a ministry called Amazima. Her book, Kisses from Katie, was sent to me by my mom and I have slowly been making my way through it. Her reflection at the end of chapter six spoke to me in light of what I had witnessed in my own back yard. I hope her wise words touch your heart as they touched mine.
“I cannot, no matter how hard I try, convince my children not to play with trash. They love it. We have some simple toys at our house, and we certainly have plenty of clothes. They still prefer to play with old pill bottles, margarine containers, and boxes, and they prefer to wear plastic bags and old towels that we use for mopping the floor. I do not know why they do this, and much to my dismay, I can’t get them to quit.
I recently dewormed all the Amazima children. Much to the delight of my own children, the medicine comes in individual boxes, which are perfect for use in building all sorts of little cities in the backyard.
Sumini has all kinds of adorable dresses, but she chooses to dress in leaves and a towel I use as a mop. Scovia could have a cute little purse, but she chooses to make one out of an old plastic bag and used dental floss.
I looked outside a couple days ago and noticed that the biggest bush in our front yard was completely covered in things I had thrown away over the last several days. When I asked Sumini why the bush was covered in trash, she said, “That is my shop. Will you come play?”
I proceeded to pick up some stones from our gravel driveway to use as currency and bought lots of trash off my tree. For six stones, I got an old pill bottle, a milk carton, a toilet paper roll, and a used calling card. What a deal!
My children are Ugandan to the core, and I would never seek to change that. At the end of the day, we use a whole lot of soap. But when you have this many children and over a hundred more bathing and eating and hanging out at your house, the phrase “Don’t sweat the small stuff” expands to include letting your children play with trash and sometimes letting the laundry pile into a stack that towers over your head. If today is the only day I am promised, how could I not play Tree Shop?
My goofy, trash-loving children are constant reminders of God. They look at things that I see as used, broken, and dirty and they see treasure. Can you imagine? God looks at everyone, broken, old, dirty, probably not a whole lot more exciting than an old toilet paper roll, and sees treasure. Something He loves dearly, something He would die for. Wow.
Thank you, God, for my trash-loving, treasure seeking children. Thank you for so much laughter in the midst of a difficult week. Thank you that when I feel old and used-up and broken and no more exciting than a cardboard box, You whisper that You love and value me, and that in Your eyes, I am shiny and new.”
From Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption by Katie Davis
Baobab at sunset
This week I want to share a few more photos with you from my time in Botswana. We spent an incredible three days in the rugged beauty of Chobe National Park. Some of the animals fill me with awe and wonder, while others remind me that our God has a great sense of humor. I hope you catch a glimpse of this majestic place and that your eyes are opened to see the wonder of God’s creation in your neighborhood.
Under the Botswana sun