9 o clock in the evening is beginning to get on in Zambia. The sun sets at 6 pm and at this time of year the temperature drops, it actually feels cold and there is vibrant chill in the air. Even a muzungu (white person) from England like me feels it.
Yet last tuesday, things were only just beginning.
Yet last tuesday, things were only just beginning. Around 25 people were still on buses all over Northern Zambia. The thought that I may have over-cocked the organisation ‘this time’ was more than going through my mind. You see, 25 villagers, those overseeing our work in Zambia were all coming to a conference organised by myself. The distances are vast. to give you an idea, a place called Kapiri Mposhi is considered ‘just down the road. It is in fact 75 miles away, about the width of North Wales, or from Manchester to Birmingham. No-one thinks twice about going that distance.
Earlier in the day some pastors had been stuck in Kitwe (some 4 hrs away) as they had underestimated their travel costs. At the time, I was getting a fuel filter in my car unclogged, so I was a little stuck. They were thinking that maybe only two of them could come to the conference, how would I get some money to them? Good ‘ole Western Union came to the rescue. A lesson learnt for the future I think.
I was on the ground at 7 pm, I ‘found’ some pastors in a bar at 10 pm in Mkushi. It was so cold they had overcome their usual hesitancy at entering such places. I must admit a little wry smile came over my face, I’ve been trying to tell them for years they have no need to fear such places. The others arrived around midnight after a 12 hour journey to Mkushi, the base from which we work here in Zambia.
The fact that 25 people had come was staggering enough. A few txts and phone calls were all it took to arrange the conference (and a few frantic phone calls whilst they were on various buses). These people are not just simply a part of what we do, they are what we do here in Zambia. If I’m honest I secretly hold a fear every time I come to Africa that it will have all fallen apart. It doesn’t however, God is doing something long lasting and real here!
These 25 people, represent maybe 100 leaders and probably a thousand people who are part of the groups we have begun in the villages in Zambia. Some groups are as small as 10, and I’ve heard reports of groups as large as 50 or 60. They are grappling with issues such as how to make an impact in their villages, how to overcome conflict, how to work as a community and how to work inter-denominationally. It was these issues that our leadership conference was to address. However, as usual, I didn’t take the usual route to get there…..
We held the conference at Ndubaluba Outdoor Education Centre
in Mkushi, Zambia. The conference was a mixture of seminars, discussion and fun! For many years in the UK, we’ve used the outdoors to teach people teamwork, endurance, lateral thinking and the value of others. All of us remember at school going on such things. Our whole education system is based upon solving problems and finding solutions. It teach us to express ourselves. The education system (if there is a one) in rural Zambia is not like that. It is more directive, people give standard answers to questions and problems. That has defined the church, defined leadership and defined the way people approach ministry, life and well everything. It’s like the potential of rural Africa is held in an airtight container of missed opportunity and lack of vision.
“If you want things to change you begin with God working in people. “
If you want things to change you begin with God working in people. You then help those people to grasp hold of everything that God has for them. So, if the future is people, you sow as much in to them as you can. We talked about sacrificing our lives for the greater causes of God, we talked about provision and that God can provide for anyone. Then, we spent the afternoons solving problems. I will never forget the sight of Ranger, Joel and Vincent up Jacob’s ladder, some 10 metres above me working together to get to the top. Cornelius leapt 2 metres in the air when his team finally dropped a ball in a canister using no hands. Even the women, who are usually sidelined were fully involved. The impact of these times are brought home to me, because I have seen the difficulty of people beginning to move in this direction, I’ve seen the arguments, the dependency and the poverty.
This can really change the world. To have hope in, to trust those who have nothing, whom with a loving and powerful God can change their world. You could build a thousand mission centres and buildings and get nowhere near the impact of this.
Friday morning. Time for reflection, time for talking and a time for planning. What would the result of our time be? I’d laid some items before our friends, some ideas if you like. Perhaps for me the most important to me was that they for the first time ran their own training for the Life! Initiative. I asked them if they would consider forming a group of leaders in a neighbouring area, if they would mentor them, if they would train them. Going round the groups, they all had different ideas how, different ways to get to the same goal, all of them were excellent and valid. That excites me so much that it is hard convey here. In each of the three areas I would expect another cluster of groups to form in the coming months, and more importantly they are going to do this themselves. I certainly don’t want to intervene and rob them of the confidence, strength and exhilaration they will get from this.
So, friday lunch time, they went home. The truck arrived to pick them up and I watched them leave the centre singing and dancing on the back of a Canter truck. I do believe that the hopes and prayers of their areas go with them, certainly my hope and prayer does. On such people, we will see real transformation, real change and a future for rural Africa that is vibrant and real. Nothing and I really do mean nothing could and will tell me otherwise.