Reflections on this past summer’s mission trip to Lasaka, Zambia.
Introduction by Rev. Stacy Swain
Reflection 1 — Annie Gatewood
Reflection 2 — Grant Gund
Reflection 3 — Jill Goslinga
Reflection 4 — Dr. Dick Bail
Introduction — Rev. Stacy Swain based on John 9:1-12
As a mission and outreach minded church there are many opportunities in our life together to travel to a new place and to see a new thing. Today we are talking about traveling to Zambia, but our mission and outreach travels could also look like look this spring’s trip to Nicaragua, or like driving to the Russell School in Dorchester or walking over to the food pantry or to Waban Health and Rehabilitation Center.
Even though there are many different mission and outreach opportunities in many different places, one thing I think is the same in all of them. And that, I believe, is that regardless of where we go or what we do, at the end of the day most of us would say that we received from our mission and outreach work more than we have given. We may have painted a school, or collected some coats, or sorted some toys, we may have given some project our all, but time and time again we walk away from it feeling like we were on the receiving end of something pretty wonderful, something that may have even changed us forever.
For I would like to suggest like the man in the scripture today whose met and was touched by Jesus, our mission and outreach can help us to meet and be touched by something Holy. And like that man whose eyes were opened in that encounter, we too are gifted with new sight. Our eyes are opened. We see new things and old things in new ways. We are changed.
And while being changed can be wonderful and astonishing it, like in our story this morning, new sight can also bring with it more confusion than clarity, more questions than answers. The passage Wanda read for us to day is just the opening section of a much longer story. The story goes on as the man, his parents, the townspeople, the Pharisees all try to make sense of what has just happened to the man.
But after all the confusion, the story ends where it began, with the man and Jesus – with the newly sighted man seeing Jesus, knowing who he is and deciding to follow him.
So I invite you as you listen to our travelers share their reflections, to met and be touched by the Holy, to see with the clarity of new sight and to open your heart as they open theirs to the questions and the “not knowing” that this new sight may bring. And as their stories become our stories may we too come to know something more of God. May we too be inspired to follow in the Way of Jesus.
An Invitation to Happiness — Annie Gatewood
It has been fun being a Bostonian the past month, hasn’t it? Even if you aren’t a baseball fan it’s hard not to get caught up in the sheer joy of being World Series Champions. It certainly is quite a redemption story: the Red Sox going from last place to first, embodying the city’s resilience and perseverance.
It would be easier to be a Yankees fan – they are far more consistent in their excellence. But the intensity and loyalty of Red Sox Nation is derived from the challenge; the 84 year drought, the heartbreaks of ‘67, ‘75, ‘78, and ‘86, even the seats at Fenway are uncomfortable. We earned our happiness this year and the trying journey made it all the sweeter.
Fellow Zambian travelers, as well as those patient enough to sit through a viewing of my 16 hundred plus pictures, often remark that the people of Zambia seem so happy. Until recently, I thought this perception was misguided, even a bit patronizing. This summer, after I got back from Zambia, my father had emergency surgery and was subsequently diagnosed with appendix cancer. I have been lucky in so many ways and health in my family has been one them. We were all thrown for a loop. This fall has not been easy. My Dad has been undergoing chemotherapy and has had several complications resulting in hospitals stays throughout the fall. But amidst this challenge something has happened to my original nuclear family. We have become closer, talked more, said ‘I love you’ more, and reflected upon on our lives together. This got me thinking about happiness – what makes one happy? Can you be happy when you are suffering? The Beatitudes has always been my favorite passage from the Bible and for me, it explains a lot. The term beatitude comes from the Latin adjective be?tit?d? which means “happy”, “fortunate”, or “blissful”. Jesus said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” and so on.
Why doesn’t God eliminate suffering? Why do bad things happen to good people? For surely, it is of no fault of a small child that she does not have enough food in her belly. The Beatitudes or happiness can only be understood in the context of suffering. OK. So, if you buy the premise that one must experience suffering to really understand true joy, where does that leave us? Does that mean, in our lives of privilege, we can never experience deep happiness? Does that mean we can turn away from those that suffer because they are really setting themselves up for a life of bliss?
Many of you have heard of Mrs. Mbuzi, the head lady of the family support home in Mtendere. She is a woman whose hug can squeeze away pain, whose laughter fills your heart, and whose wounds are deeper than any of us can understand. She is also a wise woman who has taught me more than one lesson. On our last day in Zambia this summer, she took me into the back room where the caretakers work diligently on the jewelry and knitted hats that I will be selling at reception. She pulled out the scrapbook that our Sunday school children made two years ago. It was dirty and worn, loved. She opened it up to a page, handed me a knitted hat, and said that it was a gift for the child whose picture was gazing up at me. She repeated this three times. After thanking her for her generosity, I asked her why she chose these three particular children to knit for. She replied, “Knitting for others makes me happy. It is what I can do. I cannot knit for all of your children. I do what I can. ”
She is happy because she is giving. She is happy when she is surrounded by children because she has experienced the loss of her husband and 2 children to AIDS. She is happy when she eats because shre knows the pain of hunger. She is happy when she dances because he daughter cannot walk. She is happy when she sees the mzungas because she has no money for food to feed the children at the family support home. She is happy because she gives. She is happy because she provides hope. We can give. We can provide hope. We, too, can know what it is to be happy in this most profound way.
Just ask Julia how happy she is when playing a rock game with Febby and Memory; or Dawn when she sings grace at our community Thanksgiving dinner; or Jaap when sharing a sandwich with a homeless man during Common Cathedral; or Nancy when finding a coat that fits perfectly for a young boy at the Russell school coat drive on Friday; or Molly serving communion at the Waban Health Center; or Timmy having a pack of children chase him through the school yard in Nicaragua. We can give and we can be happy.
So join me. Join me today in helping feed the children in Mtendere through our special offering, or come to our Community Thanksgiving dinner next Saturday as we sit side by side with those friends we do not yet know; or participate in the Mitten Tree next month by choosing a special gift for an adult who has no one else. Our life together is full of many ways to give.
St. Francis said that “it is in giving that we receive.” and I have wondered at what exactly it is that we receive. But now I know, it is happiness.
What did I learn this summer? Maybe it is this invitation to give, not just because of other’s need but because of my own need to know what it is to be really be happy.
So I invite you to give of yourself, share your many gifts and blessings with those that suffer. Give and receive happiness just like the good people of Zambia are teaching us to do.
Zambia Reflection — Grant Gund
When Lucy and I signed up to go to Zambia we were excited to learn about a new country and travel to a continent where neither of us had ever been. We were most excited about meeting the people and understanding more about their culture and way of life. Through our trip with Communities without Borders, we fulfilled all these objectives and more.
When you first arrive at Lusaka Airport and you wait to get through customs, you immediately smell burning charcoal. The smell was a constant throughout our time in Lusaka.
The service portion of our days consisted of heading out to one of the community schools and performing tasks such as painting, teaching or helping with health screenings. The one constant in all these activities was the presence of the Zambian children. From the moment you first meet these children you are overcome by their curiosity and desire to connect. The Zambian kids were especially enamored with the kids on our trip and I think Lucy, Julia and the others all made profound connections. The kindness was not limited to the children as we also experienced amazing hospitality from the Zambian adults.
For me, the happiness of the people was surprising given their living conditions. When you are in a Zambian community, you will be hard-pressed to find a trash can, a bar of soap or a balanced meal. The streets are littered with trash and in some areas raw sewage. In many cases the water supply is contaminated with parasites and disease. And the ubiquitous smell of burning charcoal and garbage is especially strong in the communities where trash is routinely burned out in the open.
The community schools where we worked usually had 2-3 classrooms and the entire school was the size of the reception room. Each classroom had one teacher and their classes had 35-50 kids depending on how many could make it to school. The age ranges in a class could go from 6 to 13.
Non-governmental organizations like Communities without Borders are working to help educate children and keep them healthy so they have a chance to rise above the cycle of poverty. The challenges are enormous and the work is difficult but when you meet some of the graduates, you become filled with hope and a desire to help.
The positive stories of kids overcoming the overwhelming odds are some of my fondest memories from our trip. Other things that stick with me are the smiles and laughter of the people, the rainbows and elephants at Victoria Falls, the interesting conversations with fellow travelers, and, most of all, the time spent with my daughter.
Since returning from Zambia, I often reflect on our trip. There are the obvious comparisons between 1st and 3rd world problems which help snap you back to reality. I have an appreciation for the basic services that we often take for granted like water from a tap, sanitation services and our ability to use libraries and other educational resources. However, the biggest impression that Zambia and the Zambians left on me is to find happiness in life regardless of your circumstances.