Friday, October 19, 2012

A Serenje Adventure

This is a very long and newsy repost of a blog I wrote about my trip to Zambia for the Hope Children’s Center blog at  Check that site out for the history of Cornerstone’s involvement in Serenje at the Hope Children’s Center.

On September 27, 2012, a team of seven members from Cornerstone Church plus two from Harvest Vineyard Church (Jeff Dodge, Tim Day, Derek Quam, Jacob Overman, Sarah Stevenson, Kathy Houseman, Tori Haverkamp, and Paul and Patience Lueth) left Des Moines en route for the Hope Children’s Center. After nearly thirty hours of travel to Lusaka, (did you know they serve dinner on a 2:30 a.m. flight?) and a death-defying 6 hour ride in our rented van to Serenje, we finally reached the guest house, exhausted, but excited to start our week in Africa. Here are some highlights from our time there:

While driving to the guest house in the dark on our first night, Jeff misjudged where the road was and started driving through the adjoining field—all the while complaining about the upkeep of the road—until two local Hope Center kids came and rescued us from our folly and put us on the right road—which was actually fairly well maintained. After getting settled into our new home and putting away the groceries we had purchased earlier in Lusaka, we ate a quick meal of peanut butter sandwiches and finally got to sleep in actual beds (not airplane seats).


                 Jeff driving our rented van on the actual road…

Bright and early on Sunday morning (our first full day in Serenje), we piled into the back of the big flatbed truck, along with about 37 African friends, and made our way to the church in Kamena. The ride was long and bumpy with several stops to pick up more people along the way; just when you would think they couldn’t possibly fit anyone else onto the truck—more would pile in on top of the others. When we arrived at the church, we were greeted by lots of children and families who were eager to meet Americans; and as the honored guests we were taken in the side door of the church and seated on wooden benches on either side of the pulpit. The African men sat separately from the women during the service, and the children all sat very quietly in the front on the floor. Navice introduced us to the congregation, and then allowed his wife, Ketty, to pray to begin the service. After her prayer, Navice invited Jacob to come up and give the message for the day while he (Navice) interpreted. Jacob encouraged the people “to not become weary in doing good” and to keep training themselves to be godly so that they will finish the “race” of this life well. After Jacob’s message, we all sang several songs in which everybody but us (little children included) knew the words and the actions. God made the Zambians very musical—it is a huge and beautiful part of their culture and church. At the close of the service, Navice invited several of his children to come forward with a gift. Since it was Tim’s birthday, the church presented him with a live chicken as a present. Tim, not accustomed to receiving birds, said something like, “I’ve always wanted a chicken for my birthday”, and everybody, even the Zambians, laughed. When the people had dispersed and we had socialized outside for awhile and taken pictures, Navice and Ketty brought us back into the church where they had prepared lunch for our team—chicken (not Tim’s), rape (a cooked form of Kale with onions), and nshima (the staple food in Zambia, made of boiled cornmeal)—a meal that would become very familiar to us before the week’s end.


                   A very traditional Zambian meal of chicken, rape, and nshima


           Paul and Patience surrounded by the children at the church in Kamena

Before leaving Kamena for the day, we drove a few miles up the road to some falls, where we spent the rest of the afternoon with several of Navice’s family members and numerous village children, just playing in the water and getting to know one another.

On Monday morning, we gathered at the Hope Center for music and devotions and introductions of the pastors and their wives. 15 Pastors had come to complete their 3 year training track—hoping to graduate at the end of the week. Many had traveled several hours by bus or by walking to attend the conference. The wives that attended with them brought their youngest children (babies and pre-school aged), usually leaving many children with friends or family at home (most of the couples had between 6-10 kids!). After introductions, we split the men and women up for teaching; the men stayed with Tim, Jeff, Derek, Jacob, and Paul at the Hope Center, while the women went with Sarah, Kathy, Patience, and Tori to the guest house porch.

The next four days followed this pattern, with the pastors staying with the men to study Revelation and the wives going with the ladies teaching team to learn how to be Biblical women. When the Hope Center kids were around, Kathy spent time teaching them about Jesus and helping them make salvation bracelets. We found that the men and children had the greatest command of English, while the women spoke the least. We were very thankful for our fantastic interpreters who helped us to teach God’s truth in Bemba. We also learned a little Bemba through songs and interactions with the people. Often times, during the women’s sessions, someone would break out into spontaneous song or powerful prayer—it was truly amazing to be surrounded by African sisters and brothers yearning for the same truth and the same God we know in America.


                                    Tim teaching the pastors at the Hope Center


              The women on the guest house porch showing off their salvation bracelets

Also during most of these days, and sometimes into the evening, Jacob, a dentist, was pulling teeth and checking out the dental health of numerous pastors, wives, Hope Center employees, and villagers. One local boy had an abscessed tooth that was so infected that the infection had penetrated his jaw bone and was draining out of his lower chin. Jacob was able to pull that tooth and give the boy antibiotics to clear up the infection—possibly saving his life. We awarded Jacob MVP status that day.


    A pastor pointing out to Doctor Jacob which tooth has been hurting for months

Thursday was graduation day for the pastors and the ceremony was a grand affair with the local, purple-robed choir and pink and white toilet paper streamers, and many important and influential community people in attendance. The pastors and wives (who danced in together to take their seats) were dressed in their finest. Because of this, Jeff and Tim quickly visited the market (earlier that morning) and purchased suits to help them look “official”. Jeff was looking fine with his gray suit and black tennis shoes and Tim sported a dark suit with both a plaid shirt and a patterned tie—all in all, they looked very Zambian, plus, they were able to give these suits as gifts to some of the pastors at the end of the week. 15 pastors graduated and were presented with a bicycle and an Iowa State backpack in which to carry their Bibles and other evangelism tools. It was a great day.


                                                                     Graduation day!


                      Tim shows off his fancy duds and poses with a graduate and his family

Friday was our last day in Serenje, and since our work was done with the pastors and wives, we decided to visit Kundalila Falls, which is within an hour’s drive or so of HCC. The hike to and from the falls was somewhat arduous, but, we all made it and were amazed at the beauty of God’s creation. The guys even decided to swim in the ice cold water and make their way underneath one of the water falls. Since it was National Teacher’s Day in Zambia, we were joined by several off-duty teachers who were also taking in the falls. One of the young Zambian female teachers decided that she would like to swim under the waterfall, and she dove in the icy water. Shocked by the change in temperature and the pressure of the swirling tide, she immediately began going under water and gasping for air. Seeing that she was drowning, the women of our team called for our guys to save her (since her male Zambian friend was also near drowning), and Jacob swam over and helped her out of the water and onto the rocks—saving the life of yet another person that week. He got MVP that day too.


The falls were amazing!

While heading back to the guest house Friday afternoon, Jeff recalled a national park he had visited on an earlier trip, so we all decided to try to get in our last little bit of Africa by visiting the Kansanka Trust Lodge. We stopped here and were told that we could get an evening Safari if we waited around awhile. While waiting, we enjoyed chatting with Sam and Heather—a young British couple in charge of the lodge, sitting on the porch watching for hippos in the lake, and eating amazing, home-made pizza. When Safari time arrived, we piled into an open air jeep with our soft-spoken Dutch guide, and his driver, Steven. Although we saw lots of Puku on our ride, most of the Safari was uneventful, save for the biting Tsetse flies and the bush rabbit. We were glad we had at least seen some baboons on our smooth drive to the lodge. At the end of the evening, we loaded up the van and drove back to Serenje to prepare for our departure on Saturday.

After another harrowing drive to Lusaka the following morning, we flew out at almost midnight Saturday, Zambian time, direct to Amsterdam, where we were supposed to have a connecting flight Sunday afternoon. As it turns out, the connecting flight was cancelled, so we all got to spend one more night together as a team (the airline put us up in a fabulous hotel), touring downtown Amsterdam and being amazed at the millions of bikes in that city.


Walking along Canal Street in Amsterdam

We arrived in Iowa on Monday evening, October 8th, a full 24 hours after our originally scheduled arrival, happy to finally be home, and thanking God for His favor on our trip to the Hope Children’s Center in Zambia.

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