A letter from Kari Nicewander in Zambia
There was no food, no water, no power, no gas, and my front yard was on fire. I curled up under a mosquito net, with a solar lamp, a book, and the hope that things would be better when the sun rose. The next morning there was still no food, no fuel, and no power, but the front yard was no longer on fire and I was given a bucket of water, so I was feeling optimistic. I prayed, asking God for strength for the day, and prepared for an evaluation visit with community health workers.
Almost 30 people showed up at the church, walking from outlying villages. They shared stories of brand-new pit latrines, refuse collection, safer homes with less disease. One woman spoke up, saying, “It was like we were asleep, but now we are awake.” They spoke of spiritual renewal, the enormity of God’s love, and the blessing of working together.
But they also spoke of pain. One woman proclaimed, “How can we teach people to wash their hands when they do not have any soap?” They continued to elaborate overwhelming challenges. “We want to help people to be healthy, but there are no resources!” “We dig the pit latrines, but there is no cement for the walls!”
Finally these community health evangelists asked the one and only question that I could answer: “We feel like we are alone. Who will do this with us?” The answer, for me, was simple. “I will,” I said in faltering Chichewa. “I will walk with you.”
I knew it was not enough. I did not have cement for the latrines, or soap for hand washing, or medicine for the sick. I didn’t have anything to give but myself. And so that was what I offering. “I will walk with you. Ndidzayenda ndi inu.”
By the time the meeting ended we were discussing income-generating projects to provide seed money for the latrines, the sanitation programs, and a new well. We prayed for each other and said our good-byes. I prepared to set out on the seven-hour drive home, knowing that I had no fuel. A group of women declared that they could help, and before long a number of men approached, carrying plastic jugs full of fuel.
The drive began uneventfully, but about an hour into it, I stopped at a roadside stand. As I got out of my car, a young man approached. He had been involved in the previous day’s training. His mother needed a ride, he explained. She was bringing a baby to Lusaka, and with the fuel shortage, there were no buses. The baby needed to get back to her parents. I was worried about whether or not I would even make it back, but I could not say no as I looked at Catherine’s hopeful eyes, as I saw baby Mary strapped onto her back.
We had only been driving 20 minutes when the car stopped. It just slowed down, like it was running out of gas, and wouldn’t move forward any more. I sat on the side of the road, trying not to panic. Catherine was silent, but I could tell she was praying. I decided to try again. I turned the key, and the car started. We got on the road again. Catherine quietly stated, “I am praying that we get there.”
We continued on, but about 30 minutes later it happened again. We were further out in the bush by this time. There were no villages around and we were approaching some twisting mountain roads. Catherine whispered, “You know what to do.” And so I turned the key, and the car started. We continued on. Thirty minutes later, the car stopped again, and I carefully pulled it over to the side of the mountain road. Again, I turned the key, and again it restarted. For the next four hours this happened about every 30 minutes; my stomach churned with terror. The gas began to run out as well.
But every time I got close to the point of panic, every single time the car simply stopped running, I felt Catherine’s prayers behind me, I heard her gentle words of encouragement, and I knew that I was not alone. I could keep on driving, keep on moving forward, because there was someone in the car, journeying with me, praying me forward, getting me home.
We made it back to Lusaka, and as I said good-bye to Catherine, we thanked each other profusely. We had needed each other in a way that could not be expressed. She needed to get to Lusaka, to bring baby Mary to her parents, and I had needed Catherine, to pray me home, to remind me that I was not alone.
When we journey together, beautiful things can happen. The people in those villages do not have what they need, but I do believe that together we can work to create healthier communities. The Church of Central Africa Presbyterian, Synod of Zambia, our partners, believe this, too, and they are moving forward in powerful, faithful, beautiful ways. When we travel together, we can do amazing things.
It is true that the car may stop every 30 minutes. It is true that tears might flow and frustrations mount. But it is also true that God creates miracles when God’s people journey together.
There is an African proverb that I learned a few months ago: “If you want to go fast, walk alone. If you want to go far, walk together.” Without Catherine walking with me, I would have never made it home that day. I would have given up. I would have given in to fear. But together we arrived in Lusaka, powered by prayer and faith. We all have a long journey ahead of us, toward the kingdom of God. But I do think that if we journey together, we will arrive.
I thank you all so much for being on this journey with us. We thank you for your prayers, your financial support, your correspondence. And we invite you to continue traveling with us. Your prayers, your financial support, your correspondence help us more than you know. It is the water that we need to drink when we are thirsty. It is the gas in our tank when we need fuel. It is what we need to get home. And together, through the power and grace of God, I do believe we will get there.
Joel, Kari, Frankie and Johnny
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