A letter from Dustin Ellington In Zambia
November 25, 2010
Greetings from lovely Zambia on this Thanksgiving Day. Today is not a holiday here, but it’s still Thanksgiving in the hearts of our family. Our sons went to school as usual, and Clayton even has final exams, but the boys awoke giving wishes of “Happy Thanksgiving.” Sherri made apple pies yesterday and is baking pumpkin pies today as well as the bird and a green bean casserole. I’ve been asked in emails if we’ll be eating fried caterpillars or termites (both quite tasty, we’ll have you know) or lion (!) today. Actually, this evening we’ll gather with a few American friends and celebrate Thanksgiving over chicken; we’ve not yet come across a turkey.
This Thanksgiving I am so thankful for my family and for the particular opportunity I have for service here. When moving to a new country overseas, one never quite knows how things will go for a family during the early period of adjustment. I am so grateful to be able to share that we are all doing well and managing the ups and downs of such a big move. Clayton and Christopher have had a good experience in their first three months of school here. As a family we enjoy living on the campus of Justo Mwale Theological University College. Sherri has friends with whom she takes walks. There’s always someone for the boys to play or spend time with. We are delighted with our yard that’s full of fruit trees, a little garden and a trampoline dug into the ground. I took a long bike ride last weekend in the countryside near the college, something I hope to repeat often (but next time without the getting-lost element). Being in Zambia and at JMTUC reminds me of Psalm 16:6a: “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.”
I also continue to be impressed by what a special opportunity it is to serve at this college. The college is one of the finest in southern and central Africa, and it attracts students who already have very significant ministry and leadership experience, even though most of them do not already have a university degree. For example, two of my students from Zimbabwe — Botomani and Matandakufa — each had about seven years experience as “evangelists” before coming to the college. Evangelists here tend to be responsible for churches that do not have their own pastors, even though the congregations might have several hundred people attending. Other students like the Rev. Vhembo from Zimbabwe and the Rev. Nyirenda from Zambia have been ordained pastors for years but have received only a diploma from a theological college, not a university-level degree. All this experience means that students respect what they bring to the educational process, and they challenge our academic courses to stay relevant to what’s happening “on the ground” in the churches.
It’s a delight to teach students with a deep commitment to ministry. Faces literally light up in class as students discover things that will help with their own teaching and preaching. I have especially observed this while training them to use a “literary” approach to studying the Bible. The idea is to develop the craft of noticing more and more, of observing, what’s there in a biblical passage, relying on clues in the passage itself and interpreting the passage in the light of the whole book of the Bible in which it’s found. One gifted student, Mbao, has shared with me that he’s particularly excited about using this method and teaching it to others. He claims it can “open up the text for Africa” because once the skill is learned, one doesn’t need a lot of other books to be able to interpret Scripture in a thorough and responsible way. It excites Mbao to use this craft and give it away, to help fellow African believers to interpret Scripture for themselves in a place where books (and computers) are hard to get. This ability is crucial for African Christians, since they have grown so rapidly in numbers and now face the challenge of thinking through what it means to live as Christians in their own cultural situation. They need to do this in the light of their own interpretation of Scripture. It’s also crucial as they think through their response to huge issues like AIDS and poverty, again in the light of their own interpretation of Scripture.
I could say so much more about reasons I am grateful to be at this college. “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.” It is a wonderful gift to get to do what one loves to do and to do it for the sake of the gospel. Many of you, through your prayers and gifts and friendship, are helping to make it all possible. Please keep us in your thoughts. Our family thanks God for you, and we wish you a blessed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year!
Your partners in the gospel,
Dustin and Sherri Ellington
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 66