Missing Agape Village

By Jenny White

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Mickey and Jackie are preparing to return to Agape Village in October and I am wishing I could go.

I come across the photos of my past trip on my phone all the time, and I usually pause for a moment to take in a few images, smile and remember, and then the busy-ness of current day-to-day operations interrupts me and I move on. But Agape Village is never far from my thoughts.

My mother says my smiles looked more carefree than usual, in the photos that I posted from Zambia, and that I looked a lot less stressed. I did feel less burdened in Zambia. Not just because I wasn’t taking care of my family every day, but also because I just felt closer to God while I was there.

For a long time, I’ve imagine God has a safety rope, coming down from Heaven for me to grasp onto. I imagine I need to touch it to keep God at the center of all I do, all day long. Some days, I grasp tightly, usually when I’m scared or stresssed out. I will cry out to God to help me.

Other days, I get distracted and forget the rope is there. Maybe things are going really well, and I think, “I’ve got this.”

I let go of the rope.

Or sometimes when nothing is going well at all, my fear and anxiety will poke holes in my faith and I turn away from God. Somehow I listen more to the voices that tell me I’m unworthy, than to the voice of God in my head.

I let go of the rope.

When I was in Zambia, it was like the rope disappeared completely and I felt enveloped by God. God was the breeze, the blue skies, the children, the singing, the air. He was everywhere.

He was closer.

You can just feel Him in every texture, molecule, fiber and voice.

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God’s presence seems more simple in Agape Village. You observe, you pray, you love, you listen, you see Him all around you.

Sure, the distractions of real-life weren’t there. Wi-Fi was iffy. There’s a disconnect with the outside world. I didn’t have (my) needy children pulling on me. But it’s more than that.

There are complications in Agape Village. Two women running an orphanage with 65 children is not done without stress. Keeping the water and electricity working with no real infrastructure or repair companies to call is a daily chore. BUILDING A SCHOOL IN THE AFRICAN BUSH. These are all tasks that take herculean efforts to accomplish.

But, in Agape Village, EVERYTHING is about this: Love your neighbor as you love yourself.

It’s a simple concept that typically gets complicated by our own egos, fears and doubts.

But in Agape, it’s crystal clear and just easier to do. I  felt closer to God. I felt such a sense of thankfulness. A more intense sense of awe in what He is and means to this world.

That’s what I miss most about Agape Village.


One thing many people ask me about Agape Village is, “Who adopts the children?”

We call it Agape Village Orphanage, but really it’s a home for children. The children come from many different circumstances and situations. Some have family or guardians that just can’t afford to feed them. Some have family that can’t afford to send them to school. Some of the children have no guardians and have been completely on their own. Others  have been taken care of by elderly guardians that can’t do it anymore.

Nyawa recently sent me some photos of a “Visiting Day” held at the orphanage. Relatives or guardians of the children at Agape got a chance to come visit the children and tour the new school.

Nyawa said it was a very happy day at the orphanage.

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Sylvester and his father.

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Visiting Day at Agape Village.

I pray that God offers peace and comfort to all the visitors at Agape Village. Peace, to know that the children they came to visit are thriving and comfort in knowing we are all a family; brothers and sisters.

Please pray for Jackie and Mickey as they make plans for their upcoming trip in October. After going with them, I now realize all the pre-planning it must take for all of that to go as smoothly as it did. Pray for the teachers for the new school and for a new volunteer, Sarah, who is going with Jackie and Mickey to help train the teachers.

Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water.
— Genesis 21:19

 

 

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Fruitful Blessings

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By Jenny

“Taste and see that the Lord is good” — Psalm 34:8

In addition to the growing and flourishing children at Agape Village, God blesses us in other ways too.

A ridiculous, seemingly impossible miracle that occurs at Agape Village is the beautiful garden and farm that grows out of Zambia’s harsh landscape.

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A food garden to help provide vegetables and fruit for the children has been well-established. There are onions, tomatoes, pumpkins, squash, eggplant, cabbage, zucchini, orange sweet potatoes (something new to Zambia), bananas, pawpaws, guavas, etc. — all grown to feed Agape Village children, and to share with employees as well.  The large garden is irrigated with a drip line system, as well as hand watered — especially during the dry season when the area will go eight months without a drop of water.

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Orphanage Director Nyawa and House Mother Annie are prolific gardeners and this has been a blessing to the children.  Both have horticulture experience, and we are so fortunate to have such knowledgeable leadership in keeping Agape children well-fed and nutritionally stable. Additionally, the Agape staff works diligently to nurture and take care of the bounty in the garden and the fields.

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A few years ago, over the course of a few growing seasons, Agape employees cleared  20+ acres of land behind the orphanage.  Agape employees now grow 10 acres of soybeans and 10 acres of corn.  There is also a smattering of groundnuts grown.

Another way Agape has been blessed is with the gift of a tractor from Rocky Mount Rotary, in partnership with Rotary International.   The tractor enabled Agape to move from just having a garden to, also, having a farm.  Agape has a corn sheller and a hammer mill, also provided by Rotary, that use machine power to turn corn into mealy meal.  No more doing all of this by hand!

Seventy-five percent (75%) of the food consumed by the children at Agape Orphanage is grown on the premises. The surplus of soybeans and corn grown is sold to offset some of the additional food costs. God is good!

Agape Village recently had a display at the Chitambo District Agriculture Show put on by the Ministry of Agriculture.   We are so very proud of Nyawa  – it is not common for a woman to be in charge of a display at one of these shows – who developed and oversaw a display representing Agape Village so that others could see we are doing and growing to provide so abundantly for our village.

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The bounty at Agape reminds me of the story told in Matthew 14 about Jesus and his disciples and the large crowd of hungry people following Christ as he preached. He instructed his disciples to feed the crowd, but they were a little doubtful those two fish and five loaves of bread would go far enough.  Annie, Nyawa, Jackie and Mickey have all told me of moments in the beginning of Agape Village, when they would look out at the barren landscape and the job in front of them, and think, “God, are you sure about this?”

Their faith always got them through their doubtful moments and God provided — more than anyone ever dreamed possible.  Agape, like in the story in Matthew, has leftovers. The village shares its bounty with others, when needed.

We thank God for his attention and love to Agape Village and his continuous, beautiful, glorious blessings!

 

The Ladies

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By Jenny

Agape Village employs about 14 people and the caregivers  work in the kitchen and help to keep the orphanage clean and tidy. These ladies are some of the children’s favorite friends.
 
When we visited last month, every time I walked through the rear open-air room where these ladies work, there was usually always a child sitting on a stool, hanging out, or one of the ladies was getting someone a cup of water, or they were refereeing a disagreement, or they were supervising some chores the children were doing.The children like to play right outside the the open kitchen area and these ladies always have an eye out for them. Kind of like…mothers.
 
I regret I didn’t get to know  these ladies very well, because they seem to be important to the children. Like big sisters, aunties or a favorite babysitter, these women offered a haven in the rear of the house where the kids could go when a change of scenery was needed.
 
Besides all the care and comfort these women offer the children, they are also always working. They cook the meals for the children in GIANT pots over a hot flame, “swatting” (stirring) most of the time. And they are washing clothes or linens ALL THE TIME! (Can you imagine 60 KIDS’ laundry?!) They hand wash the laundry in a tub outside or in the oversized sinks, and hang everything out on the line to dry. Usually there are some kids that help with the hanging.
 
These ladies are an important part of Agape Village. God has many hands and feet that look after the children in the orphanage and we are grateful that He brought us Agness, Sylvia, Mary, Patricia and Bridgett. Please pray for God to continue to bless Agape Village, and these sweet ladies.

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Annie

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.

The Songbook

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By Jenny

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.

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Judith and me.

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.

 

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Of all the gifts I received while I visited Agape Village, watching and hearing the children singing is one I treasure the most.

My heart, O God, is steadfast, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music.
Psalms 57:7

Same

By Jenny

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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.

“Same.”

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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.

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Easter Sunday in Zambia

 

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By Jenny

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.

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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).

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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.

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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.’

 

 

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