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A letter from Dustin Ellington In Zambia

May 31, 2011Dear Friends,

Dear Friends,

We weren’t sure what to expect at the “Herbs and Married Couples” seminar we went to here in Zambia on a recent Saturday morning. When it was announced at chapel on Friday even the college administration did a double take, making sure they heard correctly what the topic was. We wouldn’t have gone except that a student who serves as something of a cultural mentor turned around and exhorted me: “You should go to this. You will learn a LOT about our culture.” So we went.

Dustin standing in the front of a classroom filled with people seated at tables.

Dustin’s NT 3 class, learning to interpret Scripture together as they study Hebrews through Revelation. Jennipher is seated at the front left.

The class was taught by one of our students here at Justo Mwale Theological University College — one of the few who is not from one of the Presbyterian or Reformed denominations in Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe or Mozambique. Rather, she is a female bishop in a local Pentecostal church.

I had read, heard and seen a bit about herbs and charms and their use in African cultures. There is a section on these sorts of things at the Zambian National Museum here in Lusaka — where the exhibit that stands out most to me is the python skin belt for a man to wear while intending to commit adultery with a woman whose husband is in the same bed with her, to make the sleeping herbs given to the husband keep him asleep. I was sure that was not the kind of thing that would be advocated at a Christian seminar (!), and I also wasn’t sure how much of the museum witchcraft exhibit was relics from the past versus how much is still used today. I also wondered if there is a use of herbs that is deemed acceptable and helpful — medicinal, without being superstitious and relating to witchcraft. As we left for the seminar on Saturday morning Dustin asked me “Should we bring our Bibles, or just grab some leaves from our yard?”

Photo of a boy picking leaves from a tree.

An acceptable use of Zambian herbs: Clayton preparing his homemade acne medicine, made from leaves of a tree that sops poison out of snakebites.

When the seminar began, it soon became clear that Bishop Jennipher was NOT advocating using herbs in your marriage; to the contrary, she touched on different points in one’s marriage when one might be tempted to try herbs to resolve things and how to put one’s trust in God and in one’s spouse instead of in herbs or herbalists. She spoke of not putting powders in your tea or porridge to make you sweeter to your spouse, or putting powders in your husband’s food to make him love you more, but of asking for the Holy Spirit’s help and talking straightforwardly with your spouse about any problems. She spoke of not rolling up a certain herb and smoking it while breathing out your husband’s name with each exhalation — in every direction, up, down, behind you, in front of you and to each side — but rather taking simple steps to care for one another, to pray for your relationship and to trust your spouse, remembering the ability of Joseph in the Old Testament to flee temptation, as a reminder that unfaithfulness is not “just how men are.” In a culture where it can feel that every marriage is vulnerable to adultery and HIV/AIDS, this trust is much needed. The bishop also had the wife of one of our other students — a nurse — give a medical perspective on a particular usage of herbs and the medical problems it can cause.

Photo of a woman standing outside; behind her is green foliage.

Bishop Jennipher Mucheleng’anga

A surprising aspect to me was the question and comment time. It seems that the issues Bishop Jennipher addressed really are live issues. For example, responding to her teaching about increasing loving actions toward one’s spouse rather than turning to charms, one pastor shared how impossible it can feel, because of cultural pressures, to give a hug or a peck on the cheek to one’s wife in public. And Bishop Jennipher specifically exhorted everyone in attendance to throw out our herbs and our charms that we may have hidden in various places in our homes.

As Jennipher artfully wove between a Scriptural view of marriage and temptations in the local culture to resort to superstition or witchcraft when things are difficult, I was keenly aware of how powerful it is to train people like her to be ever more effective in interpreting Scripture and preaching truth to their congregations and the broader community. She was authentic, culturally appropriate and steadfast in the truths of Scripture. We were impressed and so thankful to be a part of educating Bishop Jennipher Mucheleng’anga and others like her here in Zambia. Thank you for YOUR support, which makes it possible for us to be here among our Zambian brothers and sisters in Christ.

Some prayer requests::

1. For marriages in Zambia to be strengthened by the Holy Spirit, by partners’ trust in the Lord and by an increase in culturally relevant Biblical teaching on marriage. And, as Bishop Jennipher urged, that Zambian men would be able to follow Old Testament Joseph’s example of fleeing temptation (Genesis 39),and women would be able to follow New Testament Mary’s example of saving herself for her husband.

2. Financial wisdom and breakthroughs for students. Even though they have full scholarships for their tuition and housing, a number of students find it quite difficult to pay other bills and keep their families fed. Students say that hunger and inability to pay bills are the biggest struggles on campus. It saddens us to learn these things. These students need the Lord’s provision and also wise financial habits for the long run, since when they are full pastors most will still have very small incomes with which to support their families. Our family also needs wisdom to know what role to play in all of this.

3. For us to have perspective and strength as many ministry opportunities are put before us and we face choices about what to do and how much.

Many blessings,

Sherri and Dustin Ellington

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

A new way to contact us:
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has given us new email addresses to use for mission-related communications. Dustin uses his more consistently than I at this point, since so far we can only check them while actually online (meaning at his office, since we don’t have Internet at our home). Feel free to use them to contact us:

We continue to check our personal email addresses, too, so no need to erase those.


Give to Dustin and Sherri Ellington’s sending and support. (You can always give online. See the Give box in the left corner of every page. &mdashEd.


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