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The Watchwomen and Watchmen

Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church - Outreach - Blogs - TEEZing Out The Roots

My first step out of Zambia was into Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, representing MAPC in this beautiful part of the CCAP Synod of Harare. I cannot think of a better way of transitioning! I was welcomed fully into Matabeleland with nsima, worship, fellowship, and love.

 
Rev. Jared and Deborah Mwale, a familiar face to MAPC, send their greetings!
 
 
My last journey into Zimbabwe was a year ago in Harare and Rock Haven, a very different part of the country. Then Andy and I did an African Indigenous Christian Counseling training with adults. This time around I was asked to help lead a conference for the Bulawayo Presbytery youth. I came with very little idea of what the schedule might be, what topics should be discussed, what exactly my role would be, and how many youths to expect. Yet, I was excited for the opportunity nonetheless because after my emotionally exhausting farewell in Kitwe I needed some youthful energy. And of course all things worked out for the good. We managed to plan something together onsite. I was informed that the presbytery youth had an ongoing theme of being watchwomen and watchmen as portrayed in Ezekiel 33. In conversation with the youth leaders I learned that the biggest issues facing Christian youth in Zimbabwe are the desperate economic situation (over 80% unemployment) and the allure of false prophets and the prosperity gospel. Youth are going through school, working hard, dreaming of futures, and then seeing those dreamed-for futures dying because of the impossibility of finding jobs. Add this to all of the complexities of being young in today's world to begin with, and you have an environment that makes it very hard to thrive, very hard to keep faith, very hard to have hope. 
 
 
Hearing this, I developed three sessions. The first was Watching for Jesus, which involved going through Jesus' calling of the first disciples in Luke 5. We talked about how Jesus sees people's greatest strengths when they feel like they are at their lowest, just as the disciples felt with empty nets. So, when we are at our lowest is when we should most fervently watch for Jesus. The second was Watching and Warning. We talked about the attributes that make a real prophet, using evidence from Miriam, the major and minor Hebrew prophets, Mary, John the Baptist, Jesus, and Paul. We used their examples to take a critical look at the wildly popular so-called prophets who dominate Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Zambia in order to figure out how to discern a true prophet from a false prophet. Attributes of a true prophet included always taking the side of the poor and oppressed, fighting against powers of oppression, turning people back to God when they have fallen away, communicating with God, performing miracles that serve a purpose, being despised by the powers that be and maybe even by one's own community, and being human like all the rest of us. The third was Watching out for Each Other. We used Paul's salutations to the Philippian church to discuss how we must support each other in this journey of Christianity. Just as Paul was in prison, Zimbabwean youth often feel stuck behind bars of unemployment, State violence, health crises, and patriarchy. We said we've got to have each other's backs so that we can break these chains. That is the only way we can survive and thrive. As a special privilege, I was also asked to preach this morning. Running with the theme, I talked with members from across the presbytery about Watching Out for the Next Generation, encouraging the Church to listen to the youths and to begin the process of passing the mantle of leadership onto them.
 
 
The Bulawayo Presbytery Youth + Yours Truly at our host congregation Sizinda CCAP
 
 
The highlight of our time together was dubbed "Cross Talk." This was an opportunity for us to have free cross-cultural conversation in question and response format. I was able to share much about my context in the USA, and the youths were able to share much about their context in Zimbabwe. We discussed everything from Beyonce to evangelism (not that those two have to be mutually exclusive!). The most challenging and inspiring topics were the "American dream," U.S. American attempts to force "democracy" on other countries, U.S. American perceptions of Africa, sexuality and the Church's response, the biggest challenges faced by Zimbabwean youth, programming that keeps youth in the Church and indeed makes the youth the Church, true worship, and advice and encouragement for the U.S. American church. One piece of advice that came up is that we should have more cross-cultural interactions between MAPC youth and Synod of Harare youth. I agree completely!
 
With Sarah Gama, Evangelist Ida Banda, and Rev. Rabson Gama at one of several prayer house stands for the CCAP Sizinda congregation. Over 100 people worship at this stand, led by Evangelist Banda. It is placed so that they don't have travel long distances to the main congregation, which is overflowing to begin with. Talk about inspiration for evangelism!
 
 
Posted September 11, 2016

 

The Evangelists

Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church - Outreach - Blogs - TEEZing Out The Roots

I sit here reflecting and writing in the cool winds of a much needed rainstorm.  It has been the bathe-twice-a-day kind of hot lately, of course using buckets of cold tap water.  Thank God for opening up the skies!  

The past 8 days have been a tornado of activity and blessings.  Last Saturday I was invited to speak at a fundraising event for the HIV/AIDS and Community Service work of the Mufulira United Church of Zambia Central Congregation.  Deaconness Mary Mwamba graciously extended this invitation with a request that I speak on the social problems in the United States for the sake or comparison.  Rev. Hopkins Changwe (the TEEZ Training Manager) and I headed to this district on the border of the DRC bright and early.  After several hours of practicing waitience (a term beautifully coined by the one and only Josh Orem while blogging from Kenya years ago), we finally started the event.  It was truly beautiful!  The guests were shocked to hear about systemic racism in the U.S.A., especially since the myth of a postracial society with a Black president has permeated so profoundly across the globe.  As I spoke it was solidified in my soul that the Church in the United States needs to start learning from the community systems that thrive in Zambian congregations.  For, this was not a gathering of the powerful seeking to give conscience-soothing charitable gifts in collection plates.  Rather, it was a community of people laboring together for each other’s wellbeing, with each livelihood being tied up in all others’ livelihoods.  There was no discernible distinction between the service providers and the served.  Imagine if U.S. American mainline congregations flipped the social paradigm from hierarchies of power to communities of righteousness!

The next day Rev. Changwe and I led a Service of Holy Communion at the Buchi UCZ Congregation here in Kitwe, en route to Lusaka.  He had requested that I preach the sermon on our way back from the aforementioned fundraising event.  I thus got some much-needed experience in manuscript-free preaching.  I am sure that such experiences will abound throughout the rest of my time here in Zambia.  Mama Holy Spirit is teaching me daily!  The Communion itself brought to mind the fish and loaves, the water-into-wine, and multiplication of the widow’s oil and meal.  As over 1,000 people came forward, elders worked furiously in a back room to keep up a steady flow of bread and juice.  It is amazing how much I am learning about abundance in a land considered to have such scarce resources! 

Immediately following the service we got into the Toyota Hilux and began our journey to Lusaka.  This was my first time seeing Zambia outside of the Copperbelt.  The Dixie Chicks, Shania Twain, Bob Marley, and Lack Dube made a fitting soundtrack for our ride through the countryside.  Our week in Lusaka was filled with training and many wonderful conversations—both with our students and PC(USA) mission co-workers who reside at the university.  The following is the blog I wrote for the TEEZ website:

This past week we went to Justo Mwale Theological University College (JMTUC) in Lusaka for a Tutors’ Training Course.  Our participants represented the Reformed Church of Zambia (RCZ), the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP), and the Uniting Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa (UPCSA).  All 21 of them are training to be Evangelists for their respective churches at JMTUC’s Booth Centre.

Differing from most of our training groups, these folks have been together for much of the year, taking classes and doing ministry with each other.  They thus had a rich knowledge of the forming, storming, and norming stages of group development that we discuss so heavily in our course.  Over a week of shared classes, nshima, worship, and conversations in Nyanja, Tumbuka, Bemba, Chewa, and English, we also felt very much a part of their group process.  What a blessing this was!

The major mission of TEEZ is to equip and empower lay members to take leadership in the church so that the body of Christ might function at its fullest and so that people’s gifts to creation might be shared.  These evangelists live out exactly that life—leading the church as lay members with myriad gifts.  They minister in the far reaches of the Eastern Province and in the urban centers of Lusaka and the Copperbelt.  Hearing them share their challenges and joys in this work opened our eyes and hearts all the wider to the need for and the beauty of extending theological education.

The Reformed and Presbyterian traditions in Zambia are alive and well!  Their future can only get brighter with the leadership of these 21 evangelists.  May God bless their mission as they add “TEEZ Tutor” to their many roles in the Kingdom!

 

As many thousands mourn in Burundi, the Central African Republic, France, Iraq, Lebanon, Nigeria, Palestine, Syria, and Yemen, may we remember that there is hope in a God who partners with human beings to bring about a Kin-dom of justice and love.  I am honored to meet many such people here in Zambia.

Posted November 18, 2015

 

Being planted in the rich soils of Zambia to inspire regrowth at home. “Other seed fell on good soil and bore fruit” -Matthew 13:8