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 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 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 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 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.)