Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Zambia: The Plot & The Conclusion

The Esther School in Nyangwena, Zambia began as the dream of Chief Bunda Bunda. He saw the GEMS Girls Clubs staff & volunteers training the women of his village to be counselors and to teach the girls about Jesus. He saw them making a difference, one smile at a time. He asked GEMS Girls Clubs, "Will you build a school? Will you help to bring my village out of poverty?" And he gave the organization 25 acres on which to do this. GEMS Girls Clubs considered this with much prayer and joyfully accepted God's call to continue to work with the villagers of Nyangwena. Prayers were offered, money was raised, volunteers and missionaries were sought out and finally, in September of 2012, this Christian school for under-privileged and orphaned children began.

I have felt called to The Esther School since it was only a vision in the Chief's & God's eye. God placed this village and these children in my heart and going there was a dream He gave and granted. Not only is The Esther School part of God's plan, but the privilege of going there, for me, Sarah, Bethany, and everyone else who has already gone and has yet to go, that privilege is also part of God's plan.

While we were at TES, we were so, so blessed. We went there to meet and love the children, to teach the children, to learn, and to serve God by serving these people. But exponentially more than we gave, we received. Our days were filled with singing, worship, playing tag, teaching, hugs, working alongside others on our team, cooking, games, and the complete peace & joy that comes from serving God whole-heartedly and loving His people.

His people. This is one of the things that hit me square in my heart while I was there...these are HIS people. It's something I knew intellectually, but it hadn't transferred entirely to my heart before I went to Zambia. Just as surely as I am one of HIS people, and my family members, and my GEMS, and my students...every one of those villagers is also one of HIS people. The same sun that shines here in Lynden shines in Nyangwena. The same moon circles the earth. Yes, we could see different stars there than we do here in the northern hemisphere, but it's the same universe. It's easy to imagine those people "over there in Africa" and not understand that God's personal connection to them is the same as it is to me! He is the same God here and there and He shaped each one of those children in their mother's womb JUST as He shaped my children in my womb and me in my mother's womb. It's one of those things that sucks the breath out of you when you really, really get it.

In Zambia, life is hard. But God is there. He is working, and He will continue to work there until He redeems them all fully and we all rejoice forever with our Lord & Savior. And while we wait for that day, The Esther School is working and praying and coming alongside 175 children (next school year, Lord willing) to begin to bring hope and stability to a village trapped in poverty. Is it a long process? Of course. Is it a terribly difficult calling? Absolutely. But with God, all things are possible.

Look at these faces. Pray for these faces and the other children there and ask God how you can help. By the way, some of these kiddos still need sponsors. :)

Are our chapters with The Esther School completed? No, I don't believe so. We all left a piece of our hearts there as well as children we dearly love...and especially those we sponsor. It was hard to say good-bye to them. It honestly felt a little like leaving Sarah at college last fall, and I pray God allows us to see each of those sweet children again here on earth.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Zambia Slideshow

I haven't written my next chapter in the Zambia series due to having family visit and also because we were preparing for our time to share in church about our trip.

Today we were given time to share a little snippet of our experience at The Esther School. The link below will take you to a video that will give you a glimpse that experience. We want to share it here because so many of you have supported us in so many ways as we planned, prepared, and prayed for this trip and we are so grateful! To God be the glory!

TES Slideshow

Friday, July 7, 2017

Zambia: The Characters

Disclaimer: I am CERTAIN I will neglect to mention someone or something about someone in this post. Please do not take it personally if I don't mention something about you that you expected me to mention. Our brains & hearts are still swirling with memories and lessons and experiences and relationships and even in my humble attempts to organize those things enough to share on this blog, I will not get it all right. I just won't. I do, however, want to share these things and so I'm willing to take a chance and share what I can, despite my imperfections. I am praying God gives me much grace as I type so that I share exactly the people and relationships that would honor Him the most.

1. The girls: As you know, Sarah & Bethany joined me on this trip. For Bethany, it was an affirming trip that God used to deepen her desire to be a missionary and to introduce her to more people and opportunities for that future. For Sarah, it was a trip that allowed her to experience great joy, no stress, God's love, and many other things that are sometimes hard to experience in the midst of a stressful college life.

2. The Team: We met up with several people from a church in California (connection to TES was that a daughter of their congregation is a teacher there), a couple college girls from GR (cousins, and the late mother of one had been instrumental in starting TES), a couple teachers from GR (friend had a sister who taught at TES), a teacher from Montana (who had taught preschool at TES during its first 2 years), a college student from Ontario and one from South Carolina who didn't have much connection to TES, but were invited on the trip by a friend of a friend, a young woman from Nova Scotia (her mother has been in GEMS since forever, kind of like me), and another young woman from GR who will be going to work at TES for 2 years as a sponsorship coordinator beginning in August! We grew to love these people that we worked alongside and I do pray that we get to meet again this side of heaven. 

Jean, Naomi, Renee. These three were other teachers on the trip and I really loved getting to know them, talking shop with them, and living life in Zambia alongside them. Teachers at heart, they taught me so many things, probably without even intending to.

^^A couple of the college girls. Bethany got pretty close to Emily (on the left) since they were on worship team together and are very much alike and Sarah got close to Cheyenne (on the right) through their time playing with the sweet kiddos on the playground. Emily was great as a worship leader and continually helpful. Cheyenne is a young woman with many life experiences who was willing to share and very fun to be around.

^^Loved being there with those ladies - fun to meet Amanda (I know her mom through GEMS), and learn about her compassion and love for children, and exciting to watch Heather get excited about her future at TES! Tina (on the right) is mom to a teacher at TES (more on HER later) and Tina was an encouragement and comfort to me as well. I miss her hugs and her smile and her love already.

The cousins from GR. We spent a fair bit of time with these two and why they put up with an old lady like me, I'll never know, but it was fun and I was grateful!

Cathi & Liz from CA - beautiful women both with a heart for African children.

Craig was one of two men on our trip and we truly appreciated his pastoral guidance for team building, worship, & personal reflections. 

Tina with Debbie & Kate from CA - two quiet and dedicated women with great courage that I admire.

I had a lot of great helpers with cutting for the cute panda craft I did on my last day of teaching!


Can't see Dan too well in this picture, but he's there on the right with the shadow of my hand on his face. Sorry, Dan! He's married to Tina, father of a TES teacher, and trip coordinator extraordinaire! He & Tina have been to TES many times, and he handled everything from flights to buses to grocery shopping to internet and about a hundred things I will forget to mention. 

Also in the above picture is Carol, whom I haven't mentioned yet. She's third down on the left. Also from CA, friends with Liz, and a compassionate heart for children. She & Liz both knit sweaters and blankets, etc. for refugee children and have had so many life experiences. It was fun to hear about all the places they have been throughout their friendship.

3. The Staff: Much of the staff had gone home on furlough by the time we arrived at TES. Those that remained however, have a spot of friendship carved out in my heart and I have a deep admiration, respect, and love for what they are doing there that I could not have had without this experience. Those people taught me (& the rest of the team) without getting frustrated at my continuous questions, they taught me in love and in service and in both words and actions. I am certain that the other staff members at TES are made of that same, beautiful, selfless, God-loving, people-loving fabric.

^^Dana, sponsorship coordinator; S, son of Facilities Administrator; & Rachel, teacher. Dana is awesome. She is fun, she is authentic, and so giving. She took us to meet our sponsor child's family. S is a great kid, kind and selfless. And then there's Rachel. How do I even begin to share about Rachel? She exudes Jesus. I don't know how else to say it. Her smile, her sincerity, her love for people, her love for children, her GIGANTIC heart. It's just all Jesus. She's Bethany's newest role model. Actually, Bethany would like to simply be adopted by Rachel. It's her parents, Dan & Tina, that were our "coordinators" for our trip.

The couple on the right are Brent & Kathy. Brent is the Facilities Administrator and they have been there for 3 years. They'll be heading back to the states at the end of this month. Brent has done a tremendous amount for TES in 3 years - from building projects to training Zambians in welding and construction, to introducing the families to the concepts of saving money for future needs, like fertilizer. He's a quiet servant. Kathy has worked alongside him and alongside the teachers for the past 3 years. She's so in tune with the Zambian culture and what they need and don't need from North Americans. She's sensitive to the people and able to handle any insect, creature, disease, injury, or catastrophe that comes her way. I think every evening I heard another story about something crazy that had happened to them since they had been in Zambia. And she always ended the story with, "But that won't happen to you, I promise." She made me laugh and she made me feel safe.

Here we have Cecelia - another teacher at TES. She's super fun, an awesome teacher, and a completely selfless human being. 

E is on the right - she's the oldest daughter of Brent & Kathy and was so mature and could talk to adults and kids alike! I don't know too many young teenagers like that!

That's little A - we celebrated her birthday, along with Kate's & Craig's, while we were there. She's the youngest daughter of Brent & Kathy and she was a HOOT! Maybe it's just because 6-year-olds are my total favorite, but I absolutely loved it when I could sit and have a conversation or play a game with her. So much personality in a little body and so much JOY!

Here's the entire family. L is the only one I haven't written about yet and she's a sweetheart. Helpful & kind, a servant of Jesus.

This sweet girl on the left is Miss M. She's Rachel's daughter who is in the process of final adoption...she sparkles JUST LIKE HER MAMA. Those two are two peas in a pod. Please pray for her final adoption papers to go through so that she can come to the states for Christmas to visit her grandparents and uncles and aunts and cousins.

Brent & Kathy opened up their home to us whenever and however. Games, worship, chores, and more games. We were so thankful!

4. The kids: Ah, we are finally to THE BEST PART! All those other characters are vital and important and our favorites, don't get me wrong. But THE KIDS are why we went. THE KIDS are who TES is for. THE KIDS are the ones we want Jesus to touch in mighty ways!

We have about 4000 more pictures of THE KIDS (and that's not really an exaggeration), so if you ever want to see more, just ask. :) For now, here are a few fun ones. I'm sure I will add more to future blog posts.

Kids singing during opening worship. This was one of the best parts of every day. I will never sing "No longer slaves" or "Awesome God" without tears in my eyes of remembrance again.

^^This picture was the morning of the program we invited parents to come to at the end of the summer camp.

Visiting the home of the girl our GEMS Club sponsors was unforgettable and beautiful and heart-wrenching.

Worship at the end of every day was another one of the BEST PARTS of every day! Several of the Zambian staff & teachers helped to lead songs in Bemba or Nyanja. The Zambian teachers were also VITAL to the success of the summer camp we participated in. They know the kids, they are skilled teachers, and they are kind, relational, and wonderful to work with. We were so thankful for all of them and the leadership and assistance they provided.

So again, if I forgot someone, please forgive me. My words for everyone are inadequate, but every word was intended with kindness, love, and grace for everyone who was part of this experience. I truly love you all.