To Zambia and Back; A Jamaican’s Journey
By Wendy-Kaye Russell
In the spring of 2004, I set out from my home country, Jamaica, to make a 20-hour journey to Lusaka, Zambia. I did not know quite what to expect from this extremely poor nation of about 11 million people, with 23 percent of all children orphaned, and approximately 21 percent of adults living with HIV/AIDS. In London, I met with the rest of our team – three other adventurous ladies from Dallas, Texas. The four of us desired to make a difference by spreading the love of God to the women of Zambia.
We arrived in Lusaka early on Saturday morning and were warmly greeted by a local pastor and a contingent from his church. This was the beginning of wonderful African hospitality and of a whirlwind adventure that took us to some of the remotest parts of the country. On this day we also had the chance to attend a wedding, to see some African dancing, and to taste the culture. The following day, Sunday, our leader challenged those attending a local church to passionately pursue the destiny Christ had bought for them. We prayed with many that they would experience freedom from fear, compromise, and rebellion. We felt privileged to pray for them and to show them God’s love.
On Monday morning we began a 19-hour bus ride to a region called Mwinilunga (a name which we are still trying to pronounce correctly!) Mwinilunga is located in the northeastern part of Zambia, close to the Angola and Congo borders. We had been invited to minister at a women’s conference hosted at the Sachibondu missions base there. By the time we had driven an hour outside Lusaka, we grew familiar with the scenery: bush, bush and more bush, with the occasional village nestled within, consisting of a few mud huts with thatched roofs in a clearing of reddish dirt. When the road turned from being mostly paved (though bumpy), to only red dirt, we knew we had only a couple hours journey left to go. Travel time was great for bonding, a bit uncomfortable for sleeping, horrible for using the bathroom. When we made it to our destination, we were happy to find that we would be staying in a house at the mission. The house overlooked a picturesque lake that allegedly had a few crocs, and frequently had no running water or electricity. But it had a toilet! No one on the team will ever again underestimate the luxury of what we called a “real toilet.” My roommate Stephanie prayed, “Lord, thank you for making us grateful for things [like toilets], for which we never thought to give thanks before.”
The first evening we saw the women with their children—perhaps about 800 of them—crammed into a small chapellike building, flooding all the aisles and doorways, with many more outside.
Many had walked for up to five days over the Congo and Angola borders and from other parts of Zambia to get to the conference. They had walked those many days with their babies tied on their backs, and carried their food and luggage on their heads. They really desired a touch from God.
The plight of the women was heartbreaking. The poverty and its ever present permeating odor, the oppression of the systems, and the unmistakable signs of the cruel hardness of life were clearly evident in the sea of faces. Each woman could tell her own story that would ever grip our soul, and tug on every compassionate heartstring we did not even know we had. When they sang, it was rich and beautiful—hardly an instrument—but the clapping of hands and perhaps a drum or knocking together of two sticks. I said to my friends, “Surely this must be one of the ends of the earth—one of the remotest ends of the earth.”
We ministered at the mission base over the next two days. We gave it the best we had within, and prayed for the Holy Spirit to do great things among our African sisters for the glory of Jesus’ name. One afternoon, we met the women leaders from various villages. We were able to listen to their needs and concerns and share with them with the help of an interpreter. We led them in intercessory prayer to break strongholds over their villages and areas, as they repented to God for themselves and their people. This was a very powerful time, for in touching and blessing each leader, we knew that we were also touching villages, regions and nations.
Some amazing signs evidenced the work of the Holy Spirit. One story involves a generator, which provided light for the night meeting. The generator could only run for a maximum of two hours, and there was no more fuel available at the mission or in the surrounding towns. Miraculously, it worked for over four hours and went off only when the meeting place was being vacated!
There were also the signs among the women themselves: the tears of some, the laughter of many; the freedom and light of Jesus shining on our sisters’ faces. Our interpreter gave us testimonies of women who said that their lives would never be the same. They said they did now know that God had a purpose for them. One said she did not realize she had potential, and that God could use her to effectively pray for those with needs and encourage others.
The night before we left the mission, I got a mental image of something that really warmed my heart. The power from the generator had gone just as we were getting into our bus. We could see by the headlights of the bus women scattering into the bush, making their way to find a place to sleep. The headlights shone briefly on a woman who had her hands in the air and was dancing and singing on her way home. That evening a pastor had said that God would bring such change in some people that they would dance home that night, and here I was seeing evidence of it. I watched as she disappeared into the bush, dancing. This image will stick in my mind for a long time.
Seeing the children of Zambia will be forever in my memory too. Eleven year olds looked no older than 6, and 14 year olds looked like 9 due to malnutrition and other illnesses. This is true especially in the remote areas. When we sometimes stopped the bus in a school compound to borrow their outhouse-style toilet, we sometimes saw and talked with the children. “Remember me, remember me” they would tell us as we left. The children don’t want to belong to the tribe of forgotten people.
After our 19-hour journey back to the city, we rested a little and then visited the grand Victoria Falls. To experience the power of the sounds and sights of the falls and to know that it was a mere, small thing for an incomparably great God was mind-blowing. As the waters thundered down, I asked God to wash away from me anything that would hinder me from going forward in Him. And the rainbow, an ever-present sign at the falls, displayed a magnificent hope in the midst of an ailing nation and bruised people.
By the day of our departure, we were battling various degrees of illness, but knowing that I would be home soon brought me a sense of relief. As I walked into the arms of my husband in Dallas on Friday afternoon, I felt great comfort. I said good-bye to the others on my team, and began another journey of unwinding and processing the whirlwind of events of the prior two weeks. On Saturday I walked into a store in a mall in Dallas and glanced over with new eyes at the rows and rows of bath towels of every color and hue. The cleanness, the big road I drove on to get to the mall, the restaurants I could choose from, the sweet smelling and fully air-conditioned everything—all a world away from the people who eat caterpillars on the days when they have food, and don’t know what deodorant is. These are the people who brought us a live chicken saying, “Here’s your dinner!” Though I am not with my African sisters in body, I am with them in spirit. I know the Lord is with them also; He promised He would be.
“The LORD hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles. The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:17-18, NLT).