Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you.” Acts 3:6
My girls and I just returned from a 12-day trip to Ndola, Zambia as guests of a Zambian university called Northrise—a private Christian university in the region. There, we worked alongside Northrise students and other Americans to serve the city of Ndola. My girls helped in a school for underprivileged children, and I participated in a women’s conference as one of four speakers.
Many have marveled at this experience and opportunity, the trip of a lifetime. Indeed. I’m still overwhelmed and humbled by the generosity that made this trip possible. God’s provisions are perfect, my friends.
We started our trip as tourists. At first, I posted pictures of our adventures on social media, from zebras and giraffe on our hotel grounds to helicopter rides over Victoria Falls, one of the putative natural wonders of the world. Some of you might be tired of seeing these picture-perfect, Instagram-worthy shots of our great summer adventure. Look at us! Look at us!
As wonderful as these exotic experiences were, they do not tell the real truth of our trip.
I know some are skeptical of overseas missions, especially to places like Africa. They see some measure of hypocrisy and ethnocentrism in the notion of white, privileged Americans going to poverty-stricken countries to “save the day.” After all, we have poverty here too. Maybe it’s just a modern form of the centuries-old narrative of western, imperialist exploitation.
I don’t really know about all of that. Maybe some of it is true. So let me just tell you what I will remember most about my two times in Zambia, one of the poorest countries in the world:
Zambians smile a lot more than we do. They almost always say hello and ask for your name. They are noticeably soft spoken and gentle in spirit, consistently kind, generous, and gracious. To meet them is to love and admire them.
But when they worship, pray, and sing, they are not quiet: oh no, you feel the vibration of their voices in your bones, a melodious roar from the tips of your toes to the top of your head. Almost every Zambian I know can sing and harmonize in ways that will make the hair stand up on your arms. When they sang hymns and praise songs in Bemba, their tribal language, I wept out loud, despite my Presbyterian reserve.
You see, the Zambians I met love Jesus in a wild, Pentecostal sort of way. They raise their hands and dance in the aisles. They love him because their need is real and their need is great. To them, God is real. They have so much to teach us about clinging to the Cross. As one of the pastors on our trip said, one day soon Zambia will be sending missionaries to apostate America.
Prosperity comes at a price.
The English priest Samuel Wells once said: “Poverty is a mask we put on a person to cover up their real wealth. And wealth is a disguise we put on a person to hide their profound poverty.”
I have returned to my “privileged” life with profound clarity about what to do with what I learned on the other side of the world: serve more, love more, give more. Smile. Dance more often. Sing more loudly, pray more loudly, praise more loudly…be more like Zambia.