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A letter from Nancy Collins in Zambia

February 2011

Dear Family and friends,

Photo of a woman ironing with an iron that has a very deep container above the ironing surface.

Susan Nyirenda demonstrating her charcoal-heated iron.

A soft tap at my door. Mrs. Susan Nyirenda stopped by between January rainstorms at Justo Mwale Theological University College (JMTUC) in Lusaka, Zambia, to demonstrate to me the iron she used in rural Zambia. Susan is the wife of the Rev. McDonald Nyirenda. Together the Nyirendas have served congregations in rural Zambia since 1993. Susan is a seamstress. She supplements the family income through her sewing. In rural Zambia, where there is no electricity, she used a treadle sewing machine and an iron which was heated by putting a large piece of charcoal inside. According to Susan, the iron works great as long as you are careful that small coals do not fall out of the holes along the sides of the iron and burn the clothing. She knows this from experience with a pair of her husband’s trousers!

Susan and McDonald are fourth-year students at Justo Mwale. McDonald is upgrading the three-year certificate of licensure he received from Zomba Theological College in Malawi. Susan, called by God to ministry of Word and Sacrament, is completing the four-year program at JMTUC. Susan said at a certain point in her faith journey, “God gave me a big burden. I realized I was not doing anything as compared to what Jesus Christ had done for me. I recognized God’s hand in my life. It made me become very close to my husband’s work.”

I became acquainted with the Nyirendas because they are among the students sponsored through the PC(USA) Justo Mwale scholarship program. Recently I spent several fascinating hours listening to their stories about life as a rural pastor in Zambia.

Before coming to Justo Mwale, the Nyirendas, from the Church of Central Africa Synod of Zambia, served for five years in Chasefu South Congregation in eastern Zambia. McDonald explained that Chasefu South is composed of a congregation in Emusa and seven congregations in formation. Munyukwa, the furthest, is 20 kilometers (12½ miles) from Emusa. Like many rural pastors, McDonald has a bicycle for transportation. Munyukwa was a three-hour ride through the hilly Zambian countryside. The Nyirendas bought their bicycle at the beginning of their ministry — with money received at a baby shower!

McDonald’s primary responsibilities involved rotating through the eight locations of his congregation to perform funerals, visit members and conduct leadership training and couples’ seminars.

Lay leaders pick up many of the day-to-day responsibilities of the church. This includes visitation, preaching and conducting funerals. Elders are responsible for people in their sections: spiritual growth, discipline issues, preparation for baptism and marriage, etc. As a result, leadership training is very important. McDonald and Susan conducted workshops two or three times a year. The lay leaders walked from their homes to the training location on Friday; the program ran all day Saturday.

Polygamy and gender inequity are both major issues throughout Zambia. So instilling the concept of Christian marriage in members is a big challenge. Older members were hesitant about attending the couples’ seminars initially but the youth liked them very much. By the time the Nyirendas left Emusa, the seminars had become quite popular.

Susan preached frequently at the church in Emusa. Pastors’ wives are allowed — even expected — to preach. Susan explained that this varies from one ethnic group area to another. Members of the Ngoni group are most hesitant to have a women preach. The Ngoni women would criticize her: “How can she preach like a man? How can she challenge men?”

Photo of a man and women with a boy and girl standing between them

The Nyirenda family.

These responsibilities and the travel involved in the ministry created challenges in family life. McDonald and Susan have three children: Wisdom, Blessings and Elijah. Emusa has a primary school but no preschool, and the secondary school was of low standard. When they first moved to Emusa, 12-year-old Blessings remained in Lundazi, where the Nyirendas had previously been assigned. She lived with the family of an elder of the Lundazi congregation. When she finished eighth grade, she traveled two days from Emusa to live with Susan’s sister and attend high school there. Elijah, who had been in preschool in Lundazi, stayed home in Emusa until first grade, and according to his mother “lived like any other village child.” Wisdom, adopted when he was in grade nine, completed grade 12 in 2007. He is now 27 years old and doing part time jobs while waiting to go to college.

Photo of boys and girls waving to the camera.

Children singing in a rural congregation in eastern Zambia.

Are the challenges overwhelming? Yes, but there are also wonderful rewards. Susan says, “Rural people are very serious. They really love God. They have so little, they lack everything so they really trust God to provide. They join eagerly in evangelism campaigns. Rural people truly know how to live in community.”

After the Nyirendas finish their bachelor in theology degrees, they are looking forward to preaching the Word and administering sacraments, doing pastoral visitation and counselling. They plan to teach congregants skills in carpentry, tailoring and tie-dye to help them increase their incomes. “Our dream is to work in the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) Synod of Zambia until God accomplishes his mission in our lives.” By God’s grace they hope to obtain further education. Please pray for them that God will lead them, protect them and bless them.

On the home front, son Charles celebrated his 18th birthday in February. I am grateful his aunt and uncle made the day special for him.

Please note: I am now planning to spend the fourth quarter of 2011 in the United States speaking in congregations. My dates should be finalized very soon. I will be happy to be nearer to Charles during his first semester in college. And I hope I will have the opportunity of visiting many of you. Please pray for Charles and me as we plan for the future.

Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ.

Nancy

The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 66

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