We had the experience of a lifetime in Lusaka, Zambia. This is a country with the highest orphan rate per capita in the world, the 8th lowest life expectancy rate in the world, and 70% of children do not make it past 7th grade. I thought I was going to Zambia to help orphans and vulnerable children, which I did, but I didn’t know I would fall in love with these precious children and the two Zambian women I got to work with. I didn’t realize I was really just along for the ride and that I would get to witness God’s love and power in such an amazing way.
We started our time with a church service with the children that live at the Tree of Life Children’s Village. The Tree of Life truly provides life to the orphans who live there. They are provided a home, healthcare, nutrition, education, spiritual development, and counseling, and a chance to grow up and have a future. The girls I sat by were so dear. After the service we visited with the children for awhile, visited a Zambian market, and then we met our Zambian partners and had training for the week. My two ladies, Susan, and Carol, were so kind, godly, helpful, and loving. I knew when I met them that God had sweet times planned for us.
On Monday, we went into the community of Chaisa and visited a Legacy school. We saw so many children without adults in the compound, little children holding smaller children. Children were just gathered outside of the school property, none with supervision. People were barefoot, litter was everywhere, conditions were dirty and unsanitary, yet the children were still smiling and greeting us. The Chaisa Family Legacy Academy was where a brothel used to be, redemption at it’s best. The vulnerable children who are a part of the sponsorship program attend the Legacy Academy in their community, where they receive an excellent education, a hot meal, and training in God’s Word. When we entered a class, the students stood and recited their rules. As a teacher, I loved Rule #5, “Keep our dear teacher happy.” The students are also given a uniform to wear to school. They also get to attend Camp Life during our summer months. After our tour, we went back to Family Legacy and had the first day of Camp Life with our children, ours being from Lusaka West (they lived the farthest from the Family Legacy property and traveled an hour and a half each way for camp). Each American had a group of 10 kids, and I think we all instantly felt love, concern, and parental pride for them! Just for explanation, the attendees were from 1 of 17 compounds, not the orphanage (those children have their own camp experience the first week). I won’t give a play by play of the entire week – I’ll try to just tell some highlights!
The theme of the week was “God Sees Me.” We studied Hagar and how she felt mistreated, alone, unworthy, had no hope for the future, and suffered great loss. The children all understood these feelings, as they are mistreated, often alone, feel worthless, don’t feel hope, and most have lost parents and other family members. The idea that God Sees Them through these times was comforting for them. To watch them shout out “God Sees Me” and use the hand motions they were taught was beautiful. As the week went on, I think they really believed this. They learned the lessons in a large group time and then we further discussed things as a small group. My partners were wonderful with interpreting for us. Their English speaking/understanding skills varied, depending on the amount of time they had been in school. English is the official language of Zambia, but the uneducated speak a tribal language, Nyanja. 3 of my group and 3 of Avery’s aren’t in school yet (as they are not sponsored). I was really worried about communication beforehand, and just like everything else, God just worked it out. We had something called “Blessing Time” with each child during which we asked some set questions and tried to get a feel for how things were at home. Many of them don’t know when they were born, as they are not celebrated. Most don’t live with both parents, many live with an aunt or grandmother. After talking, I traced their hand to show them I could put my hand on their’s even when I went home. We then prayed, and 5 of mine received Christ as their Savior when we had this special time. Those five girls went from sad and shy to smiling and wanting to be close to me the rest of our times together. Avery had girls trust Jesus too, and she experienced God’s power as she had a girl who was controlled by evil prayed over, and she saw the evil leave and peace come over her. She’ll have to tell you that story in person!
Activities at Camp Life were not as structured as some VBS or camp experiences in the US. These children needed playtime, time to just be kids, and they didn’t need to be “wowed” like our kids here do. We all brought bubbles, balls, jump ropes, chalk, etc. and just spent time playing with the children each day. There were playgrounds and soccer fields, things they don’t normally get to use. All of the children also visited a health clinic at the beginning of the week to monitor growth and check for illness. The physician wrote prescriptions, if needed, and then those children visited there for medication the rest of the week. The physician and his family are American and live there full-time, caring for the Tree of Life children and those in the community. The children were given a morning and afternoon fruit and a lunch of 4 pieces of bread and a dairy drink called “Sip Sip”, which they loved. They were so excited to have the large group time, with singing, the lesson, and a skit. We didn’t have bounce houses, waterslides, petting zoos, elaborate crafts, clever videos, or any of the things I am used to with children’s ministry, yet they had the time of their lives! They loved chanting Bible verses, playing singing games, holding my stuffed animal I brought out for our small group times, and just playing. I learned “tag” is called “touch” and dodgeball is “game”. Most of the kids wore the same thing everyday, and they weren’t allowed to take home pictures drawn, as this could cause jealousy among others. On Thursday, we got to go into their communities and talk with their people, telling them about Jesus, the girls explaining salvation with an Evangecube, and praying. They were so excited to have their American friend with them. I knew they lived in harsh conditions, but actually seeing their reality was tough. On the last day we had a sweet worship time where each group got into its own circle and the adults prayed over each child about certain things. The time ended with the children praying over the adults. I was so humbled and blessed. I feel like God gave me a glimpse of what heaven will be like, as I felt so close to Him during that time. Those little voices, English and Nyanja, whispering in my ear, seeking God on my behalf, hands caressing my back and head. At the end of the last day, they were given some “Blessings” (these were announced daily and they were so excited), including a Bible, water bottle, a certificate with their picture with leaders, their coloring sheet, two starbursts, and a blanket. They treated these reverently, and I wish I could have captured their expressions when I presented each with the Bible. If only we all treasured God’s Word as such a gift!
I could go on and on, and I think I will to those who will listen, but I will finish off this letter. I know this time was ordained by God. I am so glad we listened to stories of our friends the Brydsons from their first visit last year and that we went to the Beards’ home on a Sunday evening to learn about this ministry. I am so thankful we listened to Avery when she said, “Can we go?” We have supported children in different countries through other organizations for years and will continue to and know God has used those prayers, funds and letters to rescue them from despair. The ministry of Family Legacy appealed to me as it offers a Christian education to those who would not be educated, along with health and nutrition, discipleship and life skills training to those in a country of orphans. We began sponsoring a 7 year old, Rosemary in October. She is now in school, growing, and we got to meet her and get to know her this week! I’ve never met a child we’ve sponsored, and I will never forget the moment I saw her and having to say good bye as well. Some of our new friends who were from the US were with kids they have known for years now, and they spoke of such growth and development in all areas. Did I mentioned feeling forever changed? God awoke something in both of us and we now have a fierce love for these girls and their people. I’m excited about what He has for them and for us as we continue to try to walk in His ways. I know they have many hardships and will continue to, but I also know from Romans 8:31 as my girls loved to repeat: If God is for us, who can be against us?
Thanks for your prayers, love, and support and for wanting us to follow Jesus from the start! He sees you!!