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A letter from Kari Nicewander in Zambia

February 2013

“Frankie, please finish your food!”

“I’m trying to, Mom, but I keep getting distracted because I have to pick out all the bugs... And I don’t eat bugs, because I am a vegetarian.” I looked over at Frankie and realized that he was dead serious. “Oh, okay, honey. Just do your best.” Yes, there were a few bugs in Frankie’s food and so he continued to pick them out as he ate. 

We are staying in Eastern Zambia for two weeks, doing intensive language learning. It is very different here than it is in Lusaka, and the poverty levels are extreme. Food security is a serious issue, and Frankie was going to finish his dinner, bugs or no bugs.

But later that night the rains came, and there were swarms of iswa, a type of moth with big white wings. They flooded our entranceway, attracted to the light on our porch. As night wore on, we turned off the lights to try to keep the bugs away. However, every 30 minutes or so someone would sneak onto our porch and turn the lights back on. By 11 at night I saw some women waiting across the path for us to go to sleep. Once we turned out our bedroom lights, they turned our porch lights back on. And then we heard them, on our porch, collecting all the bugs. It turns out that people eat iswa; they pluck the wings off the bugs and can eat them fresh, or they can cook them in their own oils. So the very night my son was picking bugs out of his food, other women were waiting for us to go to sleep so they could harvest the bugs from our porch in order to feed them to their children.

It is a convenient excuse—I can’t eat bugs, I am a vegetarian. But it also testifies to the choices that we take for granted. What will we eat tonight? What will we refuse to eat? Food security is not an issue for most of us in the United States, and so we forget that even choosing what we will have for dinner is an incredible privilege.

We have also been blessed to do home visits in Chewa villages. The homes in the villages are small circles made of mud, with grass roofs. There is a little low wall dividing the inside of the home. On one side is a grass mat for sleeping. On the other side are two small wooden stools and a bucket or two. It is incredibly cramped, and we were in one home when the rains came. The grass roof began to leak immediately, and the area surrounding the mud hut became flooded. Joel and I were given the only two benches, and the family sat on the dirt floor, hosting us with incredible kindness and grace. How do I sit on a simple wooden bench, in a mud hut, under a leaking grass roof, and listen as those sitting on the dirt floor proclaim the unending goodness of God, thanking me profusely for my visit? There is so much for me to try and understand; hope, joy, and faithfulness that I cannot yet grasp. 

Back in our temporary home we take bucket showers and boil the water in order to have a warm bath. We lose our water sometimes and have to wait in order to flush the toilet, wash our hands, or purify some drinking water. But the homes we visit have no water or electricity; the women walk to a well in the center of the village, and they carry buckets of water back to their homes, balancing them on the top of their heads.

Water, food, a bed, a light in a dark house. These are things we often take for granted. I hope that I never take them for granted again. 

In a different Chewa village the village headman spent a lot of time with us, very patient and kind as he let me practice Chichewa, the local language, with him. We gathered around the cow enclosure, a little circle of log poles near the front of the village. We spoke with many of the families, and after some time the headman declared that we must go into the fields. He wanted us to see how the village survived. And so we traveled a while and then came to a beautiful place where fields stretched on and on and the mountains towered in the distance. 

An oxcart transported workers into the field, and two bulls pulled a plow to dig up the earth. Further down, women pummeled the land with hoes, breaking the soil and throwing in seed. The headman suggested that I, too, learn to plant maize, and so the women worked with me, showing me where to plant the seed and how to cover it. It was one of those magical days, surrounded by beauty and gracious people taking the time to teach a Muzungu (non-Zambian) how to plant maize. We all did a lot of laughing, especially at my very, very broken Chichewa, and my very, very slow planting! 

Frankie and Johnny got a chance to plant, too, but they mostly played in the dirt with the children, using sticks and imagination to draw pictures in the mud. 

On Sunday I preached at the small village church made of low dirt walls, with a grass roof and pews made of packed earth. I preached partially in Chichewa and mostly in English, with a translator. I feel so blessed to be a part of this church that is working so hard to shine God’s love in a land that struggles with so much poverty. I am deeply grateful that the CCAP (Church of Central Africa Presbyterian) is here, in this town, because I know that they are trying to help people and to show God’s love, especially where there is pain and hunger.

Planting seeds in the land is worth the effort; there is a lot of rain now, and the soil is fertile. Walking together with the Chewa women, planting in solidarity, I could feel God’s powerful presence. Alone, there is nothing I can do. But together, working with and in the Zambian church, there is hope, there is change, there is transformation. The maize will grow, the hungry will be fed, for hope is strong among the people of Zambia. May it be so, as we plant seeds and walk the earth together. Thank you, dear friends, for planting these seeds with us, and we ask that you continue to journey with us, through your prayers, correspondence, and financial support. It does make a huge difference to us.

One more thing about Frankie’s buggy dinner. Right after he finished his meal, we walked out under the night sky and saw more stars than I have ever seen in my life. Frankie was in awe and kept spinning in circles, looking up at the magnificent heavens. And as he spun around, he ended up falling in the dirt. He got up, laughing, covered in mud, but focused on the stars. “Can you see them?” he asked. “Can you see how beautiful they are?”

Grace and peace,

Joel, Kari, Frankie, and Johnny

The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 115
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