Archive for March, 2018

Rejoice!

By Jenny

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

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Rejoice!

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.

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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.

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This week, I wondered how long God had planned for Jackie and Mickey to end up here in Zambia.

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Did he always know Jane and Gerald would end up together, here in Zambia, putting a school together this week?

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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?

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

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Ms Kunda comes to visit

By Jenny

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In Zambia, the country is divided into 10 provinces, similar to what we would call states. Each province is headed by a minister who is appointed by the President. Provinces are further divided into districts, with each district having a commissioner.

Agape Village is located in the Central Province, which has a population of about 1.3 million people – a little over ten percent of the total Zambian population. We are located in the Chitambo District.

Today, Chitambo District Commissioner Catherine Kunda visited the new Agape Village school. It was kind of a big deal!

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Chitambo is lucky to have Ms Kunda; she is smart, gracious, warm and genuinely enthusiastic for the people in her district and how Agape Village can contribute to the growth of the area. I really enjoyed meeting her and her staff.

After her tour of the school, we gathered outside under our new Zambian flag in front of the school. Mickey and Jackie, excellent diplomats in their own right, thanked her for coming and for her support of Agape Village. Then, Ms Kunda looked at Mickey and Jackie and told them Agape Village was a blessing to Chitambo and a gift from God.

She looked earnestly at Mickey and Jackie and continued, “To have such a nice school in our  towns would be wonderful, but to have something like this school, in the middle of the Zambia bush is unheard of and I thank you, truly thank you for being obedient to God and listening to him when he told you to come here, to do all of this,” Ms Kunda said. “What you are doing for the children here and in Chitambo Village is a miracle and will really change their lives. We thank you so much.”

There was more, but I wasn’t writing it all down and I was feeling weepy. It was one of the most heartfelt, moving monologues I’ve ever heard. We all were crying and if we could come back and vote for Ms Kunda we would (and I think she’s appointed, anyway).

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Zambia declared itself a Christian country in 1991, and though I’ve seen multiple religions observed where we stay (and heard the call for prayers from the local Muslim mosque), the overall intention was to commit Zambia to operating under a Christian umbrella of values. These include, love, dignity, integrity, honesty, hard work and patriotism. Ms Kunda openly talked about how God had provided for Agape Village to be in Chitambo Village, in a place where kids pretty much had little hope of getting a good education. She thinks Agape School can change that and maybe, Agape children can do great things for the country of Zambia.

“These children are our future,” Ms. Kunda said, “This school and all they learn here will open up the whole world to them.”

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Every time Ms.Kunda tried to thank Jackie and Mickey, they would respond with their mantra, “God directs us, we just try to follow his lead. This is all God’s doing, not ours.”

I have never gotten the word from God to build an orphanage in the middle of the Zambian bush, but I imagine I would probably just tell myself I was hearing that wrong. And if I did think I was hearing that, after I learned about the long trip, the lack of roads, the lack of equipment, the woods, the immigration issues and just in-general lack of black and white on-paper instructions on how to do such a thing, I probably would convince myself I could find a little project to do closer to home.

Like Ms Kunda, I am so thankful Mickey and Jackie were obedient. But that’s the beauty of God. He knew exactly who to ask to come to the Zambian bush and help him show his love. I’m pretty sure God had it planned for a very long time.

Agape Village is one miracle, after a miracle, after a miracle, after a miracle. It doesn’t make sense, when you see the landscape and the resources available, for this orphanage, the abundant farm and now the beautiful new school to exist. But it does.

Earlier this week, Beatrice, who is in grade 3, told me her favorite verse was “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you,” from Matthew 7:7.

Thank you God for having such awesome plans for Agape Village. May we continue to ask, seek and knock, and see you in all that we do.

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Love. Embrace. Repeat.

 

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Today, I felt the kids were feeling more comfortable around me.

So I ruined it by constantly hugging them..

I grab them in a hug as I walk by them. I motion for them to come sit by me so I can put my arm around them and I make them hug me before I will take their photo. If I wasn’t hugging them or putting my arm around them, they were holding my hand.

With each embrace, I say their name to myself as sort of a prayer. By just saying their name in my mind, I had an understanding with God that I am asking him to look after that child and I was promising to be His hands and feet by loving them.  All day long today, I embraced, said this new name-prayer thing and repeat.

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These verses were part of a meditation exercise in a recent bible study I did and I found the handout this evening in my notebook.

I love these verses from 1 Corinthians 13:1-3: If I speak in tongues of human beings and angels but I don’t have love, I’m a clanging gong or a clashing symbol. If I have the gift of prophecy and I know all the mysteries and everything else, and if I have such complete faith that I can move mountains, but I don’t have love, I’m nothing. If I give away everything that I have and hand over my own body to feel good about what I’ve done, but I don’t have love, I receive no benefit whatsoever.

Then the authors (it was a Covenant bible study class, I’m not sure of the authors’ names) offered this interpretation of the verses and I just love it:

Without love, the rest of our gifts and talents can’t be fulfilled. No matter what else we may offer others, if we don’t extend love, our offers are incomplete. Tonight tell someone you love them, even if you’ve already done so today, because love is to be shared over and over again. Let your words and actions of love be your prayer.

It’s hard not to pray a lot here. As we travel the Great North Highway every day for about an hour there and back, the sights outside our windows can seem pretty grim. I have stopped looking out the window as much as I did when I first got here. I can’t hug them all, that would be weird (and Mickey and Gerald would not let me do that).

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So I find comfort in pressing a few of these people I see from my window each day, into my mind like a pressed flower, just for the night. And at night, I open of the pages and look at my flowers, and  I think about each one of these people and say a quick “I love you” to them, through God. It seems crazy, but I think it might work. Here are some of their photos. You can do it too.

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Good Morning, Friend

By Jenny

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The impact of Agape Village extends well past the bunk beds with colorful sheets and matching mosquito nets you’ll find in the bunk rooms at the orphanage.

While the real mission of the Agape Village Foundation is to provide loving care in a Christ-centered environment for orphaned Zambian children, the acts of faith associated with all things Agape Village go far beyond raising and educating the children.

The Agape Village is a mecca of employment for area villagers – good jobs. There are several women who cook and wash the clothes. There are tutors that come to the orphanage to supplement their school studies. There are many young men that take care of the grounds around the orphanage, do building maintenance and take care of the farm crops.

During harvest season for the Agape Village corn and soybeans, another 20-25 villagers from the surrounding area are hired to come in and help.

Today, Jackie and Peggy were on day two of interviewing applicants for four teaching positions for the new Agape Village School.

Agape Village Foundation is always in close contact with other village churches and helps out with community needs as they can. The local hospital received a new water tank a few years back, thanks to the Foundation.

As the saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child,” and Agape Village Foundation frequently finds that helping others in this corner of the world will directly or indirectly have a positive impact on the children. When you plant seeds of kindness and gentleness, it tends to spread.

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I’ve always know Mickey to be an affable guy, but on this trip I’ve discovered he has the perfect demeanor to navigate the sometimes quirky Zambian ways of doing things. Mickey is part Southern gentleman, part professional diplomat and part crazy-like-a-fox.

When we come up to the daily Zambian military checkpoint on our way to Agape every day, he rolls down the window and greets the officer like a long-lost best friend.

“Good morning, friend!” he’ll exclaim, like he’s just found a long lost Zambian cousin. “How are you this morning – isn’t it a beautiful day?”

Zambian people seem to be a friendly kind of people, so usually the officer smiles and shakes Mickey’s hand. I’m not sure if they think they might really know Mickey and have just forgotten him, or if they’re just getting sucked into the kindness that is emanating from this tall crazy guy driving a soccer mom van around the Zambian bush.

Usually Mickey will engage this MILITARY POLICE OFFICER in some kind of talk about their family, whether traffic has been busy, or about where we’re going. This past Sunday, our MILITARY POLICE OFFICER  – who did look suspiciously at the giant load we had strapped to the top of the van – ended up having a brief conversation about Agape Village with Mickey. As we’re getting ready to be waved through, the MILITARY POLICE OFFICER, asks Mickey for a Bible. Straight-up, shakes and holds Mickey’s hand and says, “Can you give me a Bible?”

We had about 4,000 pounds of stuff in that van, but no Bible.

Mickey held on to that guy’s hand and said, “I’ll get you a Bible. When will you be back here?”

Fast forward to that night as we’re trying to track down a Bible to give to Mickey’s favorite MILITARY POLICE OFFICER. As I’m about to suggest we could “borrow” the one from my motel room, one of the members of the team offered to give him her Bible. Jane is like that. “If someone is going to ask for a Bible from us, we’re going to give them a Bible,” she said.

And today, we did. It was very climatic.

In the van, we had Jane’s well-worn, much loved Bible ready.

At first, we didn’t see our guy.  It was a new MILITARY POLICE OFFICER for Mickey to win over and he was working his magic.

We were feeling disappointed.

And then, from the side of the road, our favorite MILITARY POLICE OFFICER came towards us, with a smile on his face.

Mickey and our favorite MILITARY POLICE OFFICER shook hands.

“Brought you something,” Mickey said smiling. “I told you I would.”

The guy’s smile got bigger. And OUR FRIEND waved us through.

It was just like a movie.

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Today when I was talking to Annie, Agape Village Orphanage’s housemother, I was really struck by something she told me.

“I tell these children, they must get a good education and work hard and make something of themselves because one day they will be successful and come back and help us as we’re taking care of more young orphans,” she said. “I want them to do great things, but I want them to remember the blessings they’ve received and understand God wants all of us to love and take care of each other. One day, it will be these children, taking care of others and not just making our village better, but making Zambia, our country, better.”

When you plant seeds of kindness and gentleness, it tends to spread.

1 John 4:11-12 Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.

 

 

A Joyful Window

Like most children, the Agape Village children start out a little shy around adults they don’t know well.

I think it’s safe to say they’ve come out of their shell.

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All of them are so precious and I see why others who have come to Zambia to volunteer  get so attached to these beautiful little faces and generous souls. They are worth the long trip and more.

They speak with an adorable British accent and most are pretty fluent in English. The ones that aren’t fluent never have to ask for help because their Agape brothers and sisters are quick to jump in and help them when they stumble on their English words. This is a theme with these children and their kindness to each other is very humbling.

But they also are just like kids in America, and in my house. I’ve witnessed some pretty typical sibling rivalry for my attention  — and use of my phone to take photos. It’s just like at home!

Today was a great day and I got to sit down with some of the third grade children for “interviews.” I had a few age-appropriate questions for them and they were very excited to be part of a story I was going to write. (They were even more excited about the photo to go with the story – ha!)

Here are just a few:

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This is Moses. His favorite thing to do at Agape Village is swing on the swing set. His sister Iris is also at Agape Village and he said his friend Lewis is what makes him most happy. He wants to be a teacher one day.

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This is Mary. Her favorite subject in school is social studies and she wants to be a pilot one day. She has two siblings at Agape Village, Danny and Janet. Her favorite song to sing is “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

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This is Beatrice. Her favorite Bible verse is Matthew 7:7 – Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. Her favorite thing to do at Agape Village is sing and she wants us to pray for her so she can be a teacher. Her brother is Lewis.

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The children spend a lot of time practicing their music and singing. One of my questions I asked them today was, “What is your favorite song to sing?”

They all had ready answers. But some of them speak softly and I had a hard time understanding some of the titles. After I asked a few times and still wasn’t sure what to write down, a few of them would start humming it, trying to help me out.

And it would just blossom like a flower.

Soon, the humming of a few turned into a few flat-out singing quietly and then they were all singing.

Other times, when one answered with a favorite song, they would all nod and get excited and they would ALL break out into singing that song. I felt like I was sitting in the middle of an African Gospel Fame School TV show. More than once I had to concentrate on my paper and writing so they wouldn’t see my tears. It wasn’t loud like they sang on Sunday when we arrived, but quiet, and joyous just the same. It was like they just couldn’t hold it in, once they started singing a few bars. They would end up singing me the whole song.

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The children are so authentic in their faith and their love for God is like a window of which they look out to see the world. It’s a beautiful view they have.

Sunday, when I was talking with one of the older girls (I think 9th or 10th grade), I was trying to explain to her what a journalist is and how I write stories about people.

“It is your gift?” she asked me

“My what?” I replied.

“Your gift. God gives us all a gift. This is your gift from God? How you can write the stories?” she asked with the most beautiful, earnest face.

“Well, yes,” I said, “I guess it is my gift, Lillian. Thank you for putting it so beautifully – I don’t always think of it like that.”

She smiled and reached out to hold my hand and scooted a little closer to me.

And then she asked if she could borrow my phone to take a photo. Of course, I said yes.

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Tonight, I am humming “What A Friend we Have in Jesus,” a favorite song of the children. I didn’t get a video of it today, probably because I was too teary. I will try in the next few days to catch them singing it and post it for you all to hear.

It’s a beautiful song, even more so when they sing it. Adjust your view and get ready to get the tissues.

Miracles. Everywhere.

By Jenny

Jeremiah 32:27: I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?

I wish I could somehow package up Agape Village and send it out into the world.

How I’d love for everyone to experience the beauty and love of the people in this place. Mickey told me a few months ago that I could not fully understand the magnificence of God’s care in creating this simple, but miraculous place, without seeing it for myself. And he was right.

The hour-long journey to get to the orphanage is helpful to fully appreciate the miracle of Agape Village.  As you ride the rudimentary road, the unforgiving nature of the Zambian bush is in full view. Many people literally live in the woods off of the roads in their huts or roughhewn, one-room homes. They grow their food or scavage for it. They hand-cut trees, downing them to make charcoal, and to create a clearing in which they can erect some type of shelter. Most have no water, no electricity.

When Jackie and Mickey committed to answering God’s call to create Agape Village Orphanage, there was no cleared land for developing this project. It was 100+ acres of woods. There was not even a real map to figure exactly where the land was located.

There was no path into the woods that was Agape Village Foundation property. There were no bush-hogs, no bulldozers, no chainsaws to clear away the forest to make way for an orphanage.

But by the grace of God, and with his infinite love for all his children, today we found ourselves right in the middle of a miracle called Agape Village, deep in the heart of Zambia, Africa. Not just one miracle, BUT ONGOING MIRACLES. It’s hard for Mickey and Jackie to remember them all. And they keep coming.

In these pictures, you can’t see that this area used to be a woodland area, which was cleared by the hands of nearby church members and villagers and Agape Village volunteers.

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Many of these beautiful thriving kids were malnourished, not going to school and barely scraping together sustenance each day – some living on their own.

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And these photos don’t come close to explaining the miracle these two women are to Agape Village Orphanage. Nyawa and Annie were, without a doubt, sent to this place and to these children by God.

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And then there is this. The latest miracle in Agape Village.

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God has provided a school for the Agape children.

A new school for the children attending primary school, is now on the campus of Agape Village Orphanage. Built debt-free by generous friends, family and donors, the Agape Village School will be a vital asset we can use to educate our children to help them  be successful and self-sufficient adults.

You can read more about how the school came to be, here.

In the next few weeks, we will be working to help prepare the school for students and attempting to find the right teachers. Will you pray for us? Pray for us to recognize the teachers God would like at the school and pray we finish a long list of tasks to further ready the school for opening. Pray for us to clearly discern what God wants us to do while we’re here, pray for safe travels on the road each day to the orphanage, pray for the children and, please, add your thanks to ours, for all God has done in Agape Village.

We will pray that today, YOU find a miracle to witness. We wish you all were here with us,for they are easier to see here. But miracles are everywhere.  You just have to look for them.

 

Into Africa

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By Jenny

After the longest journey ever, we are here in Zambia. Serenje, to be exact.

We left Lusaka this morning and made the about-eight-hour drive to Serenje where we stay for the next two weeks. The Agape Village Orphanage is about an hour away and I’m so excited to travel there tomorrow and meet the children and Nyawa and Annie.

The ride through the Zambian countryside on a long, mostly-paved road was thrilling, beautiful and slightly heartbreaking all at the same time.

The thrilling part was – well, I’M IN AFRICA! The generosity of Mickey and Jackie to take me with them is something I will probably spend the rest of my life trying to pay it forward. I hope my work to help them tell the story of the children and the people involved with the orphanage serves a good purpose and adequately tells the awesome story God has created here.

Also thrilling was the constant motion in Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia. The city is teeming with fast-moving cars, people walking and congregating everywhere you look and scarcely a spot left where you could build another building. It reminded me of a less glitzy and modern New York City. And Mickey totally reminded me of the tour bus driver we had in New York, as well. The universal driving habits of people in Lusaka are insane and highly skilled, all at the same time.

The beautiful part was the gorgeous lush landscape after we left the city behind and the vibrant people we passed on the way.  I noticed that most people are in groups and their bright clothing is sometimes in stark contrast to the kind of depressing buildings they’re standing in front of.  The women (and some of the men) balance bowls of fruit and other heavy-looking stuff on their heads as they walk around. Children are everywhere, food stands dotted all the streets we passed and there seemed to be many business fronts  – some looking more open and operational than others.

The landscape was green and flourishing and Jackie said this is because Zambia has just come through the rainy season and has seen plenty of water for the past four months. She said from now on, the rain is tapering off and soon, Zambia will go months without a drop of rain.

I can’t wait to take some photos of the trees and see if my forestry-loving father and husband can identify any of them.

Heartbreaking was all the poverty. I particularly remember seeing two kids too young to be sitting on the side of the road, sitting on the side of the road, almost hidden by the tall grass. No adults in sight.

The little communities of shacks, houses and sheds we could see from our van was shocking at first – it’s hard to believe people have to live like that. My friend and traveling companion Peggy, who is very wise, told me to remember that yes, the poverty here can be hard to believe and it breaks your heart. But she has learned the people of Zambia have such a joy for life, a love for their neighbors and friends, and strangers like us, that she feels like she receives as much or more from them when she visits. Peggy says she has met some the richest people she knows, here in Zambia, because their love for God is something that is hard for us to replicate in America. Things move slower in Zambian bush and there are less distractions from holding God at the center of your life. She assured me I will come away from this trip feeling like I was the one that received a gift and sustenance from the people we get to love and be loved by, on this trip.

Peggy wrapped up her afternoon devotion to me with this from 2 Corinthians, 8:9 — For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

“Don’t think we’re the only ones out here with a mission,” Peggy said. “The people you’ll meet, they give just as much to us, as we think we give to them. I am so thankful to THEM.”

It’s a message I’ve heard from Jackie and Mickey for weeks now and I’m thankful God put Peggy beside me in the ZAM van on the way to Serenje to tell it to me again, as I looked out my window. I don’t think I’ll NOT see the poverty, but I have to remember to see PAST it. I think God’s gift for me in Zambia is in the relationships I’ll forge, the way my heart will grow and remembering more often to grab tight to God’s hand as He leads us to love and take care of our sisters and brothers here in Zambia, as they take care of us.

Please pray for Mickey and Jackie, Gerald and Jane, Peggy and myself to be looking for God’s lamplight as He directs our steps, and our hearts, while we are here.

Check back for more posts and photos from our Zambian trip. We’ll try to post something every day.

 

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