An African Journey: Post Six – The Gift of Sight

A continuing series of reflections built around newly-scanned photos from long ago. From 1966-1968, we lived in Choma, Zambia, teaching school, running a ‘book-room’ (a small book store with a surprising reach, providing educational resources to the entire southern province), living in close quarters with missionaries and other volunteer workers and enjoying wonderful opportunities to travel and explore the great continent of Africa.

We were so young and our eyes were not as finely tuned as they are now. Too often, we didn’t know what we were seeing, we didn’t value what came to us as gift and treasure because of the remarkable place in which we were living and the truly gifted and committed friends who shared that living space with us. 

But when we took the time to move out from the schedules and the commitments, to travel and see the sights — that’s when our eyes finally began to open and we enjoyed brief moments of insight, clarity and wonder.
Driving through a wide variety of ‘game parks’ was a visual delight, a smorgasbord of color, imaginative creative detail and environmental adaptability.
From long-necked giraffes to graceful gazelles,
to the realities of ‘nature, red in tooth and claw,’
a beautiful impala, recently killed by a mama cheetah who had three hungry cubs to feed
we developed a deeper appreciation for God’s created order
and for the realities of wildlife conservation and its importance.
Almost our first weekend there, we traveled out into the bush for a baptism ceremony, staying overnight in this grass hut.
One night.
My husband was sick the entire night
and I was pretty much terrified.
Yet people around the world live in spaces like this all the time. How blessed we are to live with the creature comforts we do — and how valuable it is to experience even a little bit of what everyday life is like 
for so many people in this world. 
Watching a crew of strong African men create the building blocks for homes and hospitals brought the sober realization that our friends could not take a trip to the nearby home improvement center and purchase everything they needed for a DIY project. These adobe bricks required hard work, several days in the sun to harden up, and then the actual building could commence.
We were newlyweds while we lived in Zambia and it was important for us to remember that from time to time.
When our friends lived nearby, we took a couple of short trips together, just for fun and exploration.
This one was to the capital of Lusaka, enjoying the closest thing to a department store within a couple of hundred miles, admiring ‘curios’ being sold by the side of the road and making a stop at a beautiful roadside garden.
This is the president’s mansion just outside of Lusaka. Kenneth Kaunda was the first president of this new land and he remained in office for nearly 30 years.
After Lisa was born, we took that corrugated dirt road a lot further into the bush for a weekend with a sports-master friend who lived and worked 100 miles into the back country, near the Kafue River.
Dick was the sports-master at Choma Secondary School.
He also taught civics and a beginning business class called ‘commerce.’
This kind gentleman (whose name we have forgotten) came from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to work and support his family.
His family, however, did not make the move.
We enjoyed a great soccer match and a wonderful curry dinner, which he made for us in his small kitchen.
This bridge crosses the Kafue River, either just south of Lusaka or out further into the bush. Since the road is paved, I’m guessing we’re nearer to city life in this picture.
But this is a river shot from further in the back country
and this cheerful young man played us a tune somewhere off the paved road.
Early in our time there, we went with our friends to see Kafue Dam, one of the more modern wonders of this new country.
We were too naive to realize that swimming in a reservoir is not a great idea AND that the waters in this place contain really harmful parasites. Fortunately, we did not become infected.

While he worked in the bookroom, before he began teaching, my husband took a trip to the mining towns of Ndola, Broken Hill and Kitwe.
Copper mining was hugely important and the rise and fall of copper prices has wreaked havoc with Zambian economy for decades.
When he did begin to work at the secondary school, it turned out that my husband was an excellent teacher, investing heavily in his students. He found a series of exams published in Britain, designed for commerce and business students, and he helped his small class of about a dozen students prepare for and pass them. This provided them with some important certification of excellence as they prepared to move out into living in the 20th century, finding a job and supporting a family.
He also took his students on some excellent field trips.
A larger group went in the back of a big truck to see Victoria Falls, almost all of them for the first time in their lives.

And he took his civics class to the capital city to tour the governmental buildings and see first-hand how their new democracy was working.
It was his job as the sports-master, however, that brought him the greatest joy and enabled him to travel to a variety of different secondary school settings in our district. We had two champion distance runners, pictured below — and their names were Hercules and Samson. No kidding. 
And they were great runners.
We have tried several times to discover what became of these young men and others of those we loved while we lived among them. We kept track pretty well for about five years. And then the AIDS epidemic began in southern Africa and many of the students we knew were lost to that dreadful disease, most of them in the earliest years of its scourge-like impact on the continent, before we even knew what it was.

To this day, we are grateful for the experiences of 45 years ago, and we have been marked in deep and significant ways by our time living 
and working in a cross-cultural setting. 
At some point, I hope to write more reflectively about the missionary sub-culture and its impact on our thinking 
about how we did church in the mid-20th century.
There is much to criticize and regret.

But there is also much to celebrate and treasure,
chiefly the faithfulness of previous generations who came and built schools and hospitals as well as churches and chapels. Workers who believed that to be true to the gospel meant living it out in a holistic way, taking the good news to people who needed to experience it as well as hear it, 
who deserved education and health care 
as well as gospel tracts and evangelistic sermons,
servants who took Jesus’ own stated commission from the pages of Isaiah, who brought sight to the blind, health to the sick, hope to the downhearted.
The good work that continues in that place is built on that sturdy foundation and we thank God for it, and for them.

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Comments

  1. Carol J. Garvin says:

    Wonderful photos, and what a life experience! My mother urged me to go with her on an African safari but at that time my children were very young and I couldn’t envision leaving them and my hubby for such a trip. She wouldn’t go alone, so my refusal deprived both of us. She’s been gone almost 30 years now and I still think about it.

    “How blessed we are to live with the creature comforts we do.” I love my comforts, but I’m not sure my life is better for them. I’m sheltered by them from the realities of a harder yet simpler life where dependence on faith would be so much more important than it is amidst my comparative luxuries.

  2. Yes, it was a very formative life experience for both of us. And it’s been such fun this year to see all these pictures again for the first time in about 30 years! A 14 year-old grandson scanned them all for us and now I’m trying to organize them around blog posts. It takes a while!

    I think you’re probably right about the excess of comforts – but I do thank God for clean water to drink, for hot water to bathe, do laundry and clean dishes with, electricity, heating and fans and for access to and the means to buy (or grow) all the food we will ever need. These are pretty basic and so many people do not have even this much. I think the basics make for a richer, more layered life – not for a less meaningful one. Of course, everyone’s definition of ‘the basics’ will probably look different. :>) And I still depend on faith to survive a lot of what life throws my way.

    I think maybe you should stop reprimanding yourself for saying ‘no’ to a trip which would have been very difficult to do. Leaving young kids is not easy – and it was even harder 30+ years ago. And If your mom truly wanted to go, she could have gone without you or found a friend to go with. We all have to make hard choices some times – I think you made the right one.

  3. It is fun to read of your adventures, see the younger version of you and enjoy these pictures of Africa. The night in the grass hut … does sound terrifying.

    Looking forward to your new blog look.

    Fondly,
    Glenda

  4. Thanks for reading, Glenda! It has been fun to look again at this time in our lives. And I think you’ll like the new look – I LOVE it. Hopefully, January 1.

  5. I keep looking at the photo of the students standing on the rocks by the falls, hoping the water was a lot further away than it looks – it looks as though they’re about to fall in!

    • They were quite close, actually, but they were across from the main part of the falls. I remember being astounded that there were NO guardrails of any kind. Don’t know if that’s still true or not.