Friday, November 26, 2010

Success and the R.O.U.S.

“This goes completely against our model,” said the head of SIFAT.
“Ours too,” I said.

It was a recipe for disaster; we’d both seen these sorts of projects crash and burn before, and neither of us wanted anything to do with a fruitless money pit. We knew what most to avoid: top-down initiatives—particularly ones that started with a “great idea” by an American and involving a sudden large infusion of money/resources. Doing so almost always resulted in the community neither taking ownership of the project nor having the political capacity/motivation to effectively maximize the potential of the resources given.

Why in the world, then, did SIFAT accept a group’s offer to help build a SIFAT training center in Lusaka, and then Friendly Planet Missiology agree to help make it happen?

I’ve been procrastinating addressing this question directly hoping that I could find an academic way to articulate what we both had intuited. After all, I do seem to be pulling a missiological version of “Do what I say; not what I do” on this one.

Simply put, we agreed it felt like a force more powerful than us had thrust us into this endeavor—assuring us that we’d been cast as actors in a grand plan. Plus, despite all the reasons why it sounded like a very bad idea, it appeared to be the way forward.

This week I realized that I already knew what to say to such questions. When the wise leader Westley in the film The Princess Bride was told “We’ll never succeed.” he responded,

“Nonsense. You’re only saying that because no one ever has… We have already succeeded. I mean, what are the three terrors of the Fire Swamp? One, the flame spurt. No problem. There’s a popping sound preceding each. We can avoid that. Two, the lightning sand. You were clever enough to discover what that looks like. So in the future we can avoid that too.”

“Westley, what about the R.O.U.S.s?”

“Rodents of Unusual Size? I don’t think they exist.” 
[the viewer know he is fibbing, and they are promptly attacked by one]

I think that about sums up how I feel about the realities of trying to build a SIFAT appropriate technology training center on United Methodist land in Lusaka despite the limited capacity/size of the UMC here and that none of the leaders here knew anything about SIFAT until they were informed by their bishop in DR Congo that the center would be built.

Is this risky? Yup. Can we succeed? With the dream team of SIFAT, Friendly Planet, Bishop Katembo, our new Assistant Bishop, and many local leaders, of course we will. After all, we managed to overcome many of the dangers thus far. Am I’m failing to mention the challenges I know to be ahead? You betcha. Should you try this at home? I wouldn’t recommend it.

However, if you do find yourself stuck in charge of a problematic mission project [Pastors and mission chair folks: I’m especially talking to you], I’ll say to you what my family always says to me: Have fun storming the castle!

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Price of Rocks and the Glamorous Life

Unlike most married women in America, I do not own a diamond ring. Instead of a shiny rock on my hand, there is a delicate pearl (just what I'd been looking for) that I found on sale for $40. It sits next to a simple band that we found in a box of wedding rings at an antique shop.

Don’t misunderstand me; I am a girly-girl who loves getting dressed up and wearing pretty jewelry, and my husband would have presented me with something expensive when he proposed had he not known me better. Fortunately, he knows that when I look at the display windows of a shop that sells gemstones I become physically ill. All I can think about is where the rocks probably came from and wonder what underpaid (or enslaved) person suffered to obtain it. My mind whirls with the testimonies of Congolese friends who have described the horrific conditions of so many of the mines—of Indian slaves locked in containers when they aren’t being forced to dig and of small children risking their lives to find baubles for foreign brides. Why would I want all that blood on my hands, ears and neck? (Yes, I do recognize the irony of me writing these words on a laptop containing coltan, which was probably stolen from Congo and sold to buy more weapons)

You can imagine how I felt, then, when I ended up with a group of American women yesterday on a tour of a jewelry workshop with a mini-lesson on gemstones. I tried to be open-minded and optimistic. Earlier this year I toured one mine in Congo run by an American company trying to operate humanely. They had high safety and environmental standards and had even built houses, schools and clinics for the workers and nearby communities. Perhaps this store would reassure me that they knew exactly where their gemstones came from, and that the miners were well treated and fairly compensated for their work. Instead, the owners talked in circles in response to my questions. Sigh.

After the circle talking ended, the group went back to oohing and ahhing the shiny rocks spread before us. (Was I really the only one disturbed that they never said they maintain a clean supply chain?) We heard all about different kinds of stones, where they are found—turns out Zambia has the most valuable emeralds in the world—and how to tell the difference between a $50 rock and a $50,000 rock. Most of the time you have to look extremely closely and often with a microscope to see the differences. The gemologist placed before us rocks of various values so we could become better at recognizing the quality ones. She even showed us the current prize in their collection. You could buy a decent house for what they’ll probably get for that large rock. (I noted an uncomfortable grimace when I remarked on what the unnamed miner who discovered it would be able to do with his share of the profits.)

Next we were told about various tricks used to fool people—many of which can even trick experts. Did you know, for example, that companies frequently irradiate stones to darken their color, since a darker shade can increase the price by thousands of dollars? We were told to ask stores how long ago their stones were irradiated; apparently they ought to sit for a year for their radiation levels to decrease.

Now here’s the thing: Say what you will about me, but I just don’t get it. If you placed before the average person two trays: one with thousands of dollars worth of cut gemstones and the other with manufactured imitations, s/he would have to look closely to tell the difference and even then might guess incorrectly. The first tray probably involved human suffering and degradation to acquire. The second was made in a laboratory and/or factory by better-paid (but probably still not enough) workers. Which tray do you prefer?

I’d say tray #2, but quite frankly, I’d much rather an option C: like a necklace of reclaimed wood or recycled glass or something. I would wear it with my clearance rack dresses and Chinese-grocery-store dance shoes while eating locally grown ‘real’ food enhanced with fresh herbs from my garden and admiring my collection of handmade art (most of which cost me less than lunch at Burger King).

a) $5 (blue crystal), b) $1,300 (Tanzanite), c) $112 (California Sea Glass)
Which is which, and which would Taylor rather wear?

Let's get this straight: This blog post isn’t about me being holier-than-thou or frugal (although my cousin is the Queen of Free). It isn’t even about my financial situation or some sort of sacrificial abstinence from the finer things in life. I am not sacrificing anything; I have a beautiful home, eat delicious meals, attend elegant functions, travel the world and look fabulous while doing so thank you very much. I am not silently judging you, my dear friend, when I glance at the shiny rocks you are wearing as you tell me how you want to end suffering in the world; I recognize that my purchasing habits are also hypocritical and we're on this journey towards sanctification together.

What I’m really trying to say is this: It is high time we step back and reconsider how we define the glamorous life because the status quo is hurting the world and not making us any happier (yes, I did just rip that off from Annie Leonard). Let's recover from our affluenza by revisiting our views on quality and style. If we don’t, we are doomed to a world where even the most glamorous of our evening functions consist of women wearing the cost of college tuition, men wearing what they wore to the office and the d.j. blasting techno all night. Is that what we really want?  Is it?? Perhaps the only thing worse than saying “Let them eat cake! and Have our old clothes!” is not realizing that our cake is nasty and we're actually naked.

Of course, you should take everything I write in context. After all, I'm just that odd ballroom dancing United Methodist pastor who lives in somewhere in the heart of Africa.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Build Week and Being a Good Friend

Build Week

My last few weeks have been engulfed in the “big build” here in Lusaka. The heads of SIFAT, the Southeast Jurisdiction’s VIM coordinator, a big team from Trinity UMC Birmingham and others flew into town to start putting up buildings on The United Methodist Church’s plot of land. They worked alongside a couple hired professionals and a team of volunteers including several local pastors, pastor’s wives, lay leaders, UMW members, youth—even the Bishop’s Assistant and a representative from the bishop’s office in Lubumbashi came down to help.

The Americans and many of the others have gone home now, but the work is not yet complete. A small local team is pushing to get the caretaker’s home in move-in condition (i.e. walls, roof & doors; electricity and running water will come next year we hope) by the end of the month. I’m taking a break for a few days and leaving it to the local leadership to carry this phase of the project to the finish line.

Other phases of construction will come as the funding is raised, although the Lusaka District won't sit on its hands waiting for another American team to arrive next summer. They’ve already put together their own fundraising plans: crushing & selling stones from the plot’s rocky land and putting in a sweet potato crop come planting season. In addition to the planned SIFAT appropriate technology training center, long-term proposals from Lusaka district leaders include expanded farming, a poultry project, a sanctuary, school, parsonage, clinic, and an orphaned/abandoned children’s center.

For those who have engaged me in lengthy off-the-record chats about my thoughts on various forms of “mission trips,” you may find it odd that I have become so active in a project that involves Americans spending well over $50,000 (per workteam) to fly to Africa and volunteer on a construction site for a few days. Frankly, so do I. It is God’s quirky sense of humor, I suppose that all of this fell into my lap. Or, perhaps, I was chosen because my ambivalence kept me focused on how to make this the start of an empowering relationship that will bear much fruit on both sides of the Atlantic.


For those interested in some of my missiological reflections from this week, then keep reading below. ☺


Being a Good Friend

It happens to all of us: Someone we love has a problem, and we rush in to “fix” it. Is this being a good friend? Sometimes yes; sometimes no.

Sometimes what our friends or family members need is an extra set of hands to lighten heavy burden of an overwhelming task. Sometimes they need our expertise on a subject. Sometimes they need to borrow our power tools. Sometimes money is needed. Sometimes, they could just use a shoulder to cry on.

Other times, however, our help is not only not helpful; it enables unhealthy behavior. Many who have lived with persons with addiction issues or even physical or developmental challenges understand this problem very well. Thus, the acts of giving our labor, advice, objects, money or even shoulders can help our friends or reinforce the underlying problem and ruin an opportunity for transformation.

When my father and I needed a name for our ministry, we choose Friendly Planet Missiology partly because TheoPraxis had already been taken, but mostly because it highlighted the core of our missiology: we assist in the transformation of communities by being good friends to those whom God has called to serve in them.

Much of the logic of how to be a good friend can be applied across the planet. So here’s a quick quiz for you—Which of the following domestic and international “mission projects” are examples of being a good friend and which are harmful?

a) Physically building and/or repairing a house/clinic/school/church/etc.
b) Donating food & supplies for homeless persons/schools/clinics/orphanages/etc.
c) Funding the purchasing of toys/mosquito nets/wells/Bibles/bicycles/boats/etc.
d) Sponsoring a child/school/congregation/orphanage/etc
e) Funding a scholarship program
f) Leading a Vacation Bible School in a poor community

If you answered “It depends” to all of the above, then you are correct. To discern whether an action would be helpful, one should start by studying not just the problem but asking if the solution really requires our assistance. Doing something for people that they can do themselves is rarely helpful unless both parties view the act as an expression of love--not charity. Even this is treading on thin ice when the giver is financially wealthier than the recipient. It is much better to focus on the building of relationships and wait for appropriate opportunities to be a good friend to emerge.

When it comes to being good friends to our colleagues serving in DR Congo and Zambia, the ways in which we could help seem overwhelming at times. They are up against enormous challenges; it is tempting to rush in with every ‘solution’ that we know. However, the roots of these problems are deeper than lack of cash or objects. No amount of bank wire transfers or containers filled with supplies will fix the problem just as $10 million from Bill Gates would not solve the problems in your congregation. Sustainable solutions are messier than that; in every corner of the planet they require the transforming of hearts and minds.

We are striving to be good friends to the folks serving in the trenches who are making disciples for the transformation of the world.

Thank you for being our friend.


D.S. Rev. John Ilunga and family living at the SIFAT center's caretaker's house

A reflection/discussion exercise:

Think of one of your very best friends—someone who is the wind beneath your wings. What is it that s/he does that has made the difference in your life? What has s/he refrained from doing that has boosted your confidence? When this friend helps you out of jam, what do you appreciate most about the way in which s/he offers assistance?

Now think of the well-meaning person in your life who deflates those wings. (If you can’t think of anyone, count yourself lucky—and perhaps reflect on if you are that person) Do they give you help or advice that you never asked for, assuming that you aren’t capable or smart enough to handle things yourself? Do the presents they give you make you feel more ashamed and/or resentful than joyful? Would you have to “swallow your pride” if you ever had to ask this person for help?

What do your experiences suggest about how to be a good friend to people in your community and across the planet?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

House upon the Rock & Explaining Friendly Planet Missiology

The push this month has been to get the ground leveled and the foundations properly poured before the American team arrives in Lusaka. So, I’ve been catching myself humming the old VBS song “The wise man built his house upon the rock…” and this got me thinking about a better way to explain the function of Friendly Planet Missiology

People state-side love financing tangible development projects.  We love knowing that our money bought a bicycle, a mosquito net, a cow, a clinic or a water-well. Like a house, all of these things are intrinsically good. The issue, though, is whether these projects are built on a firm foundation or whether we are being fools building on the sand. When we talk about Friendly Planet making leadership development its #1 priority, what we mean is that we spend time and resources making sure the local leadership has the desire and capacity to support a project before we start pouring money into it. Yes, the projects on the ground that we advertise may sound similar to what other organizations are doing, but the projects we ask you to finance are unlikely to collapse because they are being managed by inspiring local leaders whom we know well.

Building strong foundations can be expensive.  It requires site visits, salaries, training, and follow-up. This is what we mean when we talk about calculating the total cost of a project. Advertisements that promise that “100% of your donation goes directly to purchase an X” may sound appealing, but stop and ask yourself “Where is the money coming from to make sure the X that I donate gets from point A to point B and that it works once it gets there?”  

Friendly Planet cannot and will not make you “no admin costs” promises. Instead, we promise you that the funds you donate will be used to develop strong local leadership and to finance the projects of these leaders. We are very excited about the projects of the Congolese and Zambian leaders whom we have the privilege to call colleagues, and we hope that you will help spread the word about this ministry.  

The Countdown is On

The countdown is on here in the Lusaka district.  The SIFAT execs are arriving this Friday and a large delegation from Trinity United Methodist Church of Birmingham, AL arrives next week.  They’ve come to assist in the building of a United Methodist/SIFAT training and conference center just north of town. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, this project is a big deal and has required a large team effort:

With the blessing and remote supervision of Bishop Katembo (based in Lubumbashi, DR Congo), Lusaka United Methodists have dealt with the headaches of purchasing land, getting permits, researching logistical questions, supervising work, guarding the property, etc.  SIFAT is taking on the fundraising for the construction expenses (including obtaining significant donations from B.L. Harbert construction). Students in University of Alabama’s Engineers Without Borders chapter have drafted building plans and plan to return each year for a work-week (the university gives them academic credits for this).  Trinity United Methodist Church is joining the effort both in fundraising and visits.  And me—I find myself serving as the “middle-woman,” passing messages back and forth across the globe and doing the legwork that others cannot due to barriers such as language/distance/transportation/contacts/lack of internet/etc.    

Keep the countdown in your prayers; I’ll be blogging about how the visit goes!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Wedding, a Funeral and other stuff

It’s Labor Day weekend in the USA as I begin to write this, so I’m reflecting on this whirlwind of a summer (although, technically it has been ‘winter’ here in central Africa). For those of you who don’t follow me on Facebook, I’ll recap:

Shortly after I returned from The United Methodist Church’s (UMC) Indiana Annual Conference session, my parents came to Zambia for a visit. Mom had received a teacher renewal grant from the Lilly Foundation and was excited about having the opportunity to take her first trip to Africa in nearly 15 years. We started the visit off with an extended weekend drive down to the south of Zambia so that Mom could see Victoria Falls and go on a safari in Chobe National Park. We crammed a lifetime of wonderful memories into those few days (see photos on Facebook) before driving back to Lusaka to prepare for the second part of the journey: a family trip to DR Congo to attend the 100 Years of Methodism in Congo celebration in Lubumbashi followed by The UMC’s North Katanga Conference gathering in Kamina.
Sadly, just as we were preparing to hit the road, we were informed that my mother’s father, Grandpa Jim, had passed away. My husband Stuart scrambled into action and managed to get Mom and Dad on the next day’s flight back to the USA; we stayed behind in Lusaka, and I spent the next few days glued to Skype in order to stay connected to Grandma Lois and the family that had gathered back in Indiana. After taking time off to grieve, Stuart and I got in the car and began the long and harrowing drive across the Kasumbalesa border, since people were still counting on (and had already begun preparations for) our attendance at North Katanga’s Annual Conference
Grandpa Jim Thompson

It is hard to express my joy in being finally able to bring Stuart to North Katanga's Annual Conference. There, he met countless friends and colleagues about whom I had spoken for years, but who lived in too remote regions for Stuart to have met them. He also got to meet the kids at our Methodist children’s home. Stuart was so glad to witness first-hand my ministry in North Katanga.  …So here come the confessions:

1)    Stuart confessed that up until that point he had never really comprehended what it was that I did during my frequent trips to Congo. My talk about “leadership development” and “transformation conversations” hadn’t computed. Now having seen me in action (meeting with colleagues, making my daily ‘rounds’ to the clinic, orphanage and other ministry sites, etc) it all made sense to him.  “Great!” I said, “Now that you understand, would you teach me how to describe it to the folks back in the USA?”  Frustratingly, he couldn’t come up with words for it either.

2)     Next, Stuart made an observation that cut through the heart.  “When you’re here,” he said, “you become a different person—someone who until now I’d only seen in glimpses. You radiate with love for each person you meet; it’s no wonder that you’re so loved here, and no wonder you inspire people into action! …But, if you are capable of being like this, why aren’t you like this all the time?”  Ouch. Folks, I stand convicted, and I pray to overflow with love all the time.

Wedding: Since Bishop Ntambo and my Congo family had been unable to attend our wedding in the USA, the bishop declared that he would officiate a traditional (symbolic) wedding for us during Annual Conference. It was wonderful! We even received traditional wedding presents (see below), including a traditional water cooler (pot on far right).  Be sure to ask Stuart sometime about the goat (also a wedding present) that kept us up all night on our "wedding night."   See more Congo visit photos on facebook

Returning to Lusaka, I got to work on yet another project: helping our District Superintendent John Ilunga and his clergy-colleague wife, Mary start a sewing business (The ‘salary’ they receive from the church does not cover even the basic costs of living: Their malnutrition, lack of school fees for the children and frequent eviction notices inspired me to take action).  Check out their photo album on Facebook to see what they have for sale.

August was kept busy juggling Congo communications--including helping a Congolese colleague write a grant proposal for a computer lab for our university in Kamina (I'm very excited about the video conferencing possibilities), Lusaka District tasks, the sewing project, domestic/embassy tasks, writing my lengthy Disciplinary Exam (my new fellow clergy colleagues can feel my pain on that one), and taking a much needed respite in Zanzibar with our good college friends Lou and Ilona, who were celebrating the end of their time as Peace Corps volunteers in Togo.   

As always, there is plenty more to share, but I must sign off now to prepare for another round of house guests. Perhaps the guest will be you someday!  (Did I mention our house has also become a de facto bed & breakfast for our Congolese colleagues traveling to and from Africa University in Zimbabwe?  It seems that when I can't get to Congo, Congo comes to me.)

Much love,


Friday, June 18, 2010

Wanna-be bohemian

Henna & a 30cent boat ride in Dubai (photos from last time I got stranded here)

I love the fantasy of bouncing around the globe on a shoestring budget. There’s a certain thrill and pride that comes with packing light, being frugal and working without a net—to never be certain what town (or country) you’ll be in tomorrow, how you’ll get there or where you’ll sleep once you do. This sort of lifestyle is very glamorous in the movies. In reality, it can be not fun at all. You spend a lot of time tired, hungry and stuck in places/situations that weren’t on the agenda.

It takes a certain personality for this sort of thing. In all honesty, I don’t seem to have it, but seeing that it is implicitly part of the Friendly Planet job requirement, I’m working on it. In fact, I am beginning to wonder if it is the kind of trait that is developed over time (like from Bishop’s Schnase’s new book Five Practices of Fruitful Living).

So here is my step process:

Step #1: Let go of any delusion that you can control the itinerary.
Step #2: Get over your money issues. As some famous guy wrote and my dad always repeats, “If you can reduce your problem to a price tag, you don’t have a problem; you have an expense.” Pay it and move on.
Step #3: If you can’t be where you want to be, want to be where you are. Make every situation an opportunity to learn and/or contribute to this world. (i.e. Channel your inner Pollyanna.)

I’m not sure what the next steps will be, but I’ve still got a ways to go on mastering the first three.

As my Facebook friends know, I’ve been having a lot of airline ‘adventures’ lately. As I write this, I’m stuck (again) in Dubai. Been in this airport 32 hours straight and will be here at least another 24 more. Luckily, it has free wireless, water fountains, quiet rooms, and even showers.

I’ve been trying to focus on what I can learn from this, and there is a lot that can be learned from spending time in a major international hub. The de facto world fashion show alone is intriguing. When I’m having an extroverted moment (I’m an introvert at heart), I ask strangers what they can teach me. Yes, I walk right up to them and ask. Generally they are amused and have given me some interesting answers. I often learn more about their home country or how hard it is to live in Dubai when you are a [insert any low-paying job at airport]. I sometimes even get restaurant freebies just for being someone who noticed that they exist.

So here I am after 5 full days of airport hopping sitting on the floor with an aching back and stale bag of clothes. Not exactly glamour by my definition, but I’m sure 007 and Indiana Jones often had the same problem—except they could skip to the next scene.

Indiana Taylor

World's tallest building (couldn't fit it all in the photo)
locals on commuter ferry in Dubai

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Q&A #3: What's this I hear about a new training center?

Wednesday evening December 1, 2009 I received a path changing e-mail. SIFAT’s Executive Director Tom Corson and International Team Coordinator Peggy Walker were in town and looking for the Methodists. They had come to see the land The United Methodist Church (UMC) was purchasing in Lusaka and discuss plans for the new SIFAT training center that would be built on it. Sadly, their primary contact in Zambia, Rev. Jean Kalonga (Bishop Katembo’s assistant and de facto bishop of Zambia) had unexpectedly died while they were in route. Jean hadn’t had a chance to share his correspondence with anyone, so no one in Lusaka was expecting SIFAT’s arrival. SIFAT’s SOS e-mail bounced around cyberspace until it was forwarded through the Methodist connectional system to me. They only had a couple days left in town and did not know whom to call. This was a disaster in the making, but thankfully my Internet was working that day.

There are things you can do in The UMC in central Africa that are near impossible in the USA. One of them is rapid mobilization. SIFAT wanted to meet with the district superintendent, key church leaders, the lawyer (real estate agent) and see the land. No problem. I made a few “Cancel your plans for tomorrow cause SIFAT is here” phone calls and texts, picked up Tom, Peggy and Isaiah (who is from Bishop Katembo’s office in Lubumbashi) and we all gathered at the District Superintendent’s house by the next morning. Several routine tasks were taken care of while SIFAT was with us (like kneeling before the chieftainess for her approval of the land deal and briefing the member of the Lusaka District on the project’s timeline). What came next was where it got complicated.

SIFAT was able to build this training center because their connections at University of Alabama’s Engineers Without Borders (EWB) had connections with the leadership of B.L. Harbert, the construction company that won the contract to build the new USA embassy complex in Lusaka. Very long story condensed, Harbert would donate skilled labor, use of heavy equipment, and a large amount of construction materials. EWB students would make blueprints for the facility (as graded class assignments) and come in May 2010 to help start building it. The catch was that there needed to be a piece of land to put the center, and the owners of the land needed to have all their paperwork/permits in order. SIFAT turned to The United Methodist Church with an offer: if the church would purchase the land and take care of the paperwork, SIFAT would have the center built on it. The land and buildings would then belong to the UMC and could be used in a multitude of ways on days SIFAT training events weren’t being held. Sound too good to be true?  Well, there was a catch.

It turned out purchasing property in Zambia was the easy part; obtaining an actual title deed is tough and time consuming. Everyone we asked for advice said if we worked hard perhaps we’d succeed by 2011, but we had until April 2010 at the latest or the whole deal would fall apart. From Dec-April, the District Superintendent with the support of district leaders (especially our lay leader’s husband Chris) turned this ‘hopeless’ task into his full time pursuit. As soon as I returned from Christmas and clergy meetings (RIM) in Indiana, it became my all-consuming work as well. I’ve lost track of how many days were spent at the Ministry of Land or the number of road trips made to file forms in regional offices.

At the Zambia Provisional Conference Executive Committee meeting in Kitwe (5 hours north of Lusaka) the end of February, we launched a conference-wide prayer and “who do you know in the government who could help us?” campaign. Not long after this, I finally managed to get a meeting with the Commissioner of Lands who assured me that we would be ready in time for the May groundbreaking deadline. True to his word, our offer letter arrived just in the nick of time. 

EWB, SIFAT (along with a pastor of an Alabama conference congregation that had contributed to the land purchase) and Isaiah (representing Bishop Katembo’s office) arrived the second week of May. Together with a large team of United Methodists from across Lusaka, we began the building process.  There is still a long way to go on this project, but Thanks Be to God we are out of the tunnel.


Build Week Photos:

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Q&A #2: What does Taylor do in Lusaka?

‘Fall’ 2009:

When we first relocated to Zambia in September 2009, I figured that I would be spending most of my time across the border in DR Congo, since that was my primary motivation for moving here. God seems to have had a different plan.

As a protocol abiding United Methodist pastor, I informed the District Superintendent of Lusaka of my arrival as soon as I obtained a phone and his phone number, which took some creative thinking to obtain since no one I initially asked had a clue as to the location of the local United Methodists (minimal signage since they all meet in rented classrooms except for the one Zimbabwean immigrant congregation that still worships in Shona).  To my surprise, DS John Ilunga, armed with only knowledge of what neighborhood and street I lived on, rounded up a welcome team and showed up at my gate the very same day I called him. Unbeknownst to me, his family and the church’s leadership team were feeling overwhelmed and had been praying for God to send them someone to help…and then I showed up. [I know how that sounds to some ears; I eschew reinforcing the destructive belief that salvation comes from America/Europe, but what they were wanting was a flesh & blood mediator, and that role is best played by an outsider]

 Taylor, DS John Ilunga, and Bishop Katembo

DS John immediately put me to work as an itinerate preacher with the focus on increasing morale and the spirit of unity in and between the congregations. Each Sunday I was sent to a different congregation in the district until I had been to them all—and then circuit rider style I started again.  I itinerated with the DS and an interpreter (interpretation is a challenging task in these polylingual communities—even some of our local pastors use interpreters).  A few weeks into this Brian, my main interpreter, told me that he was getting strong feedback from congregations. They suspected that he was telling me their secrets since my sermons were directly addressing their specific issues. He got himself out of hot water by explaining that I was following the lectionary and it must simply be the Holy Spirit speaking through me.  I suppose that this is true; the Spirit has been shifting my worldview for some years now through profound friendships with church leaders from Congo, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. I have been beginning to comprehend the way in which scriptures and stories resonate with the common struggles here.  And, quite frankly, the Biblical stories burst off the page here in a way I had never experienced back in the USA.   

In addition to preaching, I am involved in church, district, and conference meetings and training events (even hosted a district clergy/spouses dinner at my house).  Co-officiating funerals is sadly a regular honor. [I plan to do a separate blog post just about funerals]  The turning point in my work in Lusaka happened in early December right after the death of Rev. Jean Kalonga when I received an e-mail about the arrival of SIFAT. The SIFAT/Friendly Planet/UMC collaboration I'll save for the next post.


See also: Life in Lusaka Part II  and Life in Lusaka

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Q & A #1: Why is Taylor living in Lusaka, Zambia?

 There are several possible answers to this question. With random strangers, I usually just say that my husband is a US foreign service officer assigned to the embassy in Lusaka.

The long answer as I tell it begins almost 20 years ago. It starts with my father, Rev. Dr. Bob Walters, going on a clergy trip to Zaire (now called DR-Congo) in the early 1990s. He returned with a passion for the region and its people. This passion was absorbed my me, his pre-teen daughter, as he made frequent return trips and our family hosted Congolese in our home (One of Senator Bishop Ntambo Nkulu’s daughters became my highschool roommate in order to get a quality education in the USA).

At the request of then District Superintendent Ntambo Nkulu, we launched a fundraising campaign so that the United Methodist Church in Katanga (a region of DR Congo) could purchase hundreds of much needed bicycles for its leaders. When I was 15, I and two other teens accompanied my father as he worked with Congolese church leaders and witnessed the distribution of the bikes. The experience cemented my passion and helped me decide on my college studies—a BA/MA program in International Development focusing on community development and a M. Divinity. I wanted to be a pastor with a holistic understanding of the dynamics of poverty and prosperity so I could be best equipped to support local leadership in transforming their communities.

The horrific recent war in Congo delayed my return until 2005, when Bishop Ntambo appointed me as both director of the North Katanga Conference’s community development department and his personal assistant (overseeing his e-mail correspondence and developing a conference website). I was based in Kamina, and friends like you covered most of my living expenses. During that year I led many workshops on various community development issues and concentrated my energies on the training of trainers, so that church leaders could spread these concepts in their own communities. In my spare time, I hung out with our fabulous kids at the United Methodist children’s home. I even made trips to Africa University in Zimbabwe (in ’05 & ’06) to help United Methodist Communications train UM leaders across Africa in communication technologies. From this, I’ve started coaching UM leaders from several countries.

Much of what I did could be considered seed planting. I have been enjoying watching for the fruit of my work appear—and it has shown up in surprising places. Last summer, for example, when Dad was in Kalemie (far eastern border town hit by the brunt of the war; I have never been there) he was impressed by project descriptions and proposals local leaders had created. When he commented on this, they told him that they had been trained by me! (The itinerancy system has really scattered those seeds!)

In 2006, my ‘quick visit’ to the USA turned into a two-year separation. Bishop Ntambo worried the shifting political climate could lead to another surge of violence in his conference and asked me to remain in the USA to work on raising public awareness of Congo’s plight and the heroism of our church leaders.  I used this period to launch The Kamina Project (, the precursor to Friendly Planet Missiology (, to study at Wesley Seminary, and continued to work with leaders in Congo via phone calls and e-mails. Once Bishop Ntambo gave the green light, I began making frequent trips back to DR Congo.    

In 2007, I married my best friend Stuart Denyer, and he promised to support my call to ministry in Africa. Good on his promises, by mid 2009 (right after I completed seminary) he successfully got a job as close to North Katanga as he could—at the US Embassy in Lusaka, Zambia.

Now I figured Zambia would just be where I lived, and Congo would be where I worked. It didn’t take long to figure out that God had a different plan.

In fact, the District Superintendent of Lusaka and his wife (pictured below) have a very different and shorter answer to why I now live in Lusaka.  They proudly say that they prayed fervently for assistance, and God sent them me.  (I'll write more about that later)


Monday, March 01, 2010

Title Deed and the Cavalry

pictured: DS Ilunga and Bishop Katembo

Taylor here. So while my father, Biking Bob, has been riding hundreds of miles through the interior of DR Congo the past several weeks, I’ve been busy in Zambia with a much less thrilling—although also important—task.

Friendly Planet Missiology has teamed up with the folks at SIFAT, Engineers Without Borders (EWB), The United Methodist Church’s (UMC) Zambia Provisional Conference and B.L. Harbert construction in order to build an appropriate technology training center in Lusaka that will double as our church’s gathering/retreat center in Zambia’s capital city. We are very excited about all that can be done with this new facility.

There is, however, a catch that has become a heavy burden for the church leaders here in Lusaka. The agreement SIFAT negotiated was that B.L. Harbert and EWB would donate all the construction materials and labor if the Zambia Conference could rapidly purchase a piece of property and obtain a title deed for it. The clock is ticking, and the local church leaders and I have been learning the hard way that obtaining a title deed in Zambia is a long difficult process. I returned from my winter visit in Indiana to find our District Superintendent alarmingly thin; his family finances had collapsed partly due to his relentless sacrificial efforts to beat the approaching deadline.

We have refused to give up hope while knowing that in our many visits to the Ministry of Land we have met people who have spent years in their quest for what we strive to achieve in a matter of weeks. It will take an act of God for this project to be successful. Good thing we are witnesses that God is still acting here in Lusaka.

I have hesitated to even blog about this potential heartbreak, but we just gave one more call for assistance, and we’re now told that the cavalry is on its way. Last week at our conference level executive meeting in Kitwe, church leaders from across Zambia pledge to join the effort in pulling every string they can find. This weekend, B.L. Harbert offered to send in their expediter to get things moving.

Taking it to Calvary,