This is Annie, the House Mother to Agape Village children (and that’s Moses, reading aloud).
Annie is a mother (and kind-of father) to 60 children at Agape Village. We believe she was sent by God to Agape to be a comforter, a teacher, a nurse, a psychologist, a disciplinarian, a nutritionist, a choir director, a gardener, a housekeeper and a world-class diplomat, capable of keeping the peace between 60 typical, rambunctious children.
Most of all, she is a Disciple of Christ, doing her best to teach Agape children (and all of us) what it means to love God’s most vulnerable lambs and teach, by word and her glorious example, what God’s word looks like in action.
We love you Madame Annie and thank God He brought you to be a mother-figure to Agape children while they grow and flourish at Agape Village. They are your most beautiful garden.
One of the best parts about visiting Agape Village is the singing.
The children, led mainly by Annie, the housemother, create the most beautiful music you’ll ever hear. I will forever remember sitting at that big wooden table in the big hall at the orphanage listening to them sing; thinking that their bold faith and pure voices serve as a beautiful centerpiece anchoring Agape Village to its little spot on this earth. Their voices can be heard throughout the village when they sing, and you feel like you’re sitting in the middle of a gorgeous blossoming flower, soaking up the sun and experiencing a little bit of heaven on earth.
I put a few videos of the children singing on Facebook, and one of my friends had asked me what the words were to the song they were singing. I sat down with Judith one day and asked her to tell me the words to “Go and Tell The People.” I had tried to look it up on the Internet, but had no luck.
It was slow-going. Between Judith starting and stopping and waiting for me to write it down, she finally called over a little one (Beatrice) and gave her directions to fetch something in her room.
Beatrice came out with a tattered and worn notebook.
It practically came apart as we opened it up.
But inside, hand-written with the doodlings and lazy-day drawings you’d expect from a tween girl, were the words to the songs the children sing.
Judith was the keeper of the Songbook.
Filled with the beautiful words to all the songs they sing, the book also offered a glimpse into the life of Judith and all the children and how seriously they take their gifts of songs to God. The words to each song were carefully written, with hearts drawn here and there, butterflies, stars and other illustrations strewn throughout the pages.
If I understood it correctly, the songbook belongs to everyone, but Judith is responsible for getting words to new songs written in it and she keeps track of it among all the children.
The songs aren’t just entertainment. They’re a gift to God from Agape Village, and on a much smaller scale, a gift to us when we visit.
Of all the gifts I received while I visited Agape Village, watching and hearing the children singing is one I treasure the most.
I saw this photo on my phone, the day after I took it. It is a precious picture of a precious girl and it has taken me a good week to be able to look at it again and write about this treasure.
The hard part about going to Zambia and meeting all the children, is leaving all the children. The little girl looking at me in this photo is Mary.
I remember that pink shirt and her purple dress from that day, when I took this photo. I remember she had started out barefoot walking over to the school, and she got called back to the main hall to put some shoes on.
I remember being impressed by how she out-maneuvered some bigger kids in getting beside me so she could hold my hand.
I remember after we kneeled down in the rocks to pray, she knew me well enough after a week of sitting and laying in the grass, to give me a hand up.
In this photo, we were having a Blessing of the School ceremony, with local pastors and village VIPS present. We all held hands and thanked God for the blessing of the school and asked for His guidance and wisdom in the coming days and years for running the school and leading many many children to a better life through a good education.
After the ceremony, we headed back to the main hall for a cookie party. Mary caught up with me and held my hand as we walked.
“Jenny, you are not going to be here tomorrow?” she asked me.
“No, we’ve got to go back to America,” I said, squeezing her little hand.
“Yes,” she said.
Mary had this quirky thing she would do whenever we talked; she would always situate herself in front of me, so she was right in front of my face whenever we were talking. When she was plaiting my hair, when she had something to say, she’d bend down and over and be RIGHT IN FRONT OF MY FACE as we talked. Then she’d go back to plaiting.
At his point in our walk back to the main hall, Mary skipped a little ahead, still holding my hand and does the looking-right-at-me while she’s talking thing.
“I will pray for God to bless you and your family,” she said walking backwards. “And I’ll thank him for letting you come here.”
I stopped walking, smiled and hugged her close.
I pulled my sunglasses down to cover my eyes. No crying allowed.
“Same.” I managed to say.
Now that we’re back, people ask me what was it like, in Zambia.
The country itself is beautiful, especially now at the tail-end of the rainy season. Everything is lush and green. It has many features that resemble rural North Carolina – minus all the agriculture. While some farms and cattle ranches dot the landscape, there aren’t as many as in NC.
In Lusaka, the capital city, you see a mixture of panhandlers and professionals. People are shopping in stores, working in stores. The hotel we stayed in was like an American hotel, bustling with people meeting for business, celebrating a wedding, traveling.
But once you leave the city, the crippling poverty present for most Zambians is obvious. So many of Zambia’s citizens seem to be left out of the advent of modern conveniences seen in the capital city and eek out whatever life they can, living in huts without electricity or water, sending their children to sub-par schools and having to walk miles to get to closest hospital. The sides of the roads are typically dotted with people walking, as most have no transportation. Kids walk miles to get to school. It was not unusual to see kids that looked like they were in kindergarten, walking along the edge of the highway, in their school uniform.
I remember the first time I saw some small kids walking along the road, in the grass that was taller than they were. One had a baby wrapped in a scarf, riding piggy-back on his back. They couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6 years old. They were alone, with no adult in sight. I was shocked. But this is common in Zambia — sometimes the older children take care of the younger children, even if the oldest child is five. The name of the game for many in Zambia is survival, and everybody has a job to do.
Even with all that poverty, Zambians are quick to smile and reach out to shake your hand. Zambians are warm and friendly, have a strong faith in God and have a flair for what we would call, “southern hospitality.”
It was humbling to meet and see people that had so little, but were so faithful and sure of God’s gifts and blessings in their lives.
I learned so much from them all, and am beyond grateful that God led the way for me to come to Zambia and see the beautiful love story of Agape Village.
I’ll be posting more blog posts in the coming weeks, as I unpack all of my thoughts and treasures from Zambia.
Sunday we went to celebrate Easter at a large service the United Church of Zambia was holding in a field, not far from Agape. There were probably over 500 people there from small and large villages, near and far.
There were very few cars there, so I’m not sure if they all walked or rode a bus. I think they walked.
The Zambian people are very friendly and showed some southern-style hospitality. We met many new friends, including the grandmother of Lillian, one of the Agape Village children (Lilian is the one that typically sings the solos when the children sing). No surprise, she’s a longtime leader of a beloved choir.
While many dress in the few clothes they have, many were dressed up like we’d be at church in America. We saw Joseph, one of the employees at Agape Village, looking very smart (he has a red tie).
The sermon by the Rev. Daniel Kambita was incredible. A great example of how thoughtful and nice Zambians are: The Rev. Kambita used a Bemba/English translator for his sermon, so we could understand it. For the entire sermon, Rev. Kambita would say a sentence in English, and this equally charismatic young guy would say it in Bemba, for all the rest of congregation. The way Rev. Kambita worked together with the young man was incredible. I think they got mixed up twice during the hour long service – Rev. Kambita spoke in Bemba by accident, and the kid, without missing a beat, said the sentence in English for us. The crowd loved it!
The sermon was based on the scripture about the women going to the tomb to prepare Jesus’ body for burial.
“How would these women roll away the heavy stone?” asked Rev. Kambita. But it wasn’t anything they needed to worry about, because God had already rolled away the stone for them.
Rev. Kambita went on to tell us all that there are no obstacles in our life that God will not “roll away the stone” for us, to help us overcome whatever we’re facing.
He also said the fact that the women were the first to know Jesus had been resurrected is significant and it shows God’s love for women and that they must be respected. This is a much needed – and unusual –message in some Zambian villages. Today, when we were at the orphanage with the older girls, Jackie and I reiterated the Rev. Kambita’s message to the older girls. In many Zambian families, girls are not treated as equal to boys, for a variety of reasons.
It was a great service and the Zambians’ kindness and faithfulness in the midst of so much need and poverty was humbling. After the service, these sweet people were scrambling to find enough food to cook for us to feed us, as a gift. We gently and honestly said, no, we were fine and that we needed to get to the orphanage.
Is used to always think the verses below were about me helping others. But on Easter Sunday, I was the stranger welcomed. I was the one offered food. I was the one offered a drink. These beautiful people, living in huts and gathering up their scarce vegetables and greens to quickly cook up for us, were some of the richest people I’ve ever met.
Matthew 25: 31-40
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
“Let Christ be lifted up till all shall serve Him and hearts united learn to live as one…O hear my prayer, thou God of all the Nations.” —Methodist Hymnal #437
President Fredrick Chiluba, declared Zambia a Christian country in a speech in early 1992. Agape Village practices Christianity enthusiastically and boldly.
Please pray with us,
We pray that you will continue to watch over the children and staff of Agape Village. May your abundant and abiding love dwell in their hearts, and ours, as we are pilgrims together striving towards everlasting life with you. Cover us now with your Holy Spirit and grant us thy peace.
Amen and Amen.
Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
John 20: 10-18
He is risen!
Tomorrow we will celebrate the greatest miracle of all at a Methodist church here in Zambia.
I feel like I’ve been at church all week long.
I always feel melancholy on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, thinking about the suffering Jesus had to go through. I know it was part of the plan and that God was in charge at all times, but I hate to think of Jesus weeping in the garden and asking God, if maybe, there wasn’t another way to do this?
And though I did think about the days before the Jesus’ resurrection this week (with Jane’s help who kept me straight on what day it was), it was easier to remember the big picture, being in Zambia.
God has a plan. He always has.
Jesus was the sacrifice to atone for our sins. The lamb on the altar.
But I think that’s only one part of God’s miracle for us.
God sent Jesus to teach us, to be an example of loving everyone – sinners, lepers, tax collectors, people of different cultures, people of different colors, people that are hard to love, orphans half-way across the globe in a teeny-tiny village in Zambia.
I think it’s significant that when Jesus began his ministry, he didn’t go into fancy temples or spend a lot of time with the pharisees or rabbis. He hung out with the poor, the sick and the doubters. The people that needed him most.
This week, I wondered how long God had planned for Jackie and Mickey to end up here in Zambia.
Did he always know Jane and Gerald would end up together, here in Zambia, putting a school together this week?
Has God always known I would spend two weeks with Peggy Perry, soaking up her wisdom and generous spirit? Being loved on by these beautiful children?
God has a plan. He always has and always will.
I don’t know exactly what the plans are, but I take great comfort in knowing God knows. Being in Zambia and seeing the miracle of Agape Village underscores the point that we are not in charge of things. God is. And if we love God with all our heart and love our neighbors as ourselves, the plan unfolds.
Mickey likes to say, “You have to just be in neutral and see where God wants you to go.” Jackie is always quick to tell people “This was God’s plan for Agape Village, we just had to be obedient and bring it to life.”
Mickey and Jackie were so sure of God’s plan, they didn’t let a little thing like the Zambian bush or 24 hour plane rides or having no land and no building stop them from finding a way to take care of the children, now safe, loved and sleeping soundly in bunk beds tonight at Agape Village. Now, that doesn’t mean they didn’t have doubts and questions. But they didn’t let those stop them. They knew God had a plan.
It’s Saturday night here. Tomorrow we will rejoice that Jesus has risen and his Holy Spirit is with us always. May we always remember the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus was God’s plan to illustrate to us the depth of his love for us, and his hope that we would accept his love and gift, and pass it on to others.