A letter from Nancy Collins in Zambia (Regional Liaison for East Central Africa)
Dear Family and Friends,
I found 21-year-old Naomi Daka in the wilderness of eastern Zambia at Chasefu Theological College (CTC), a seminary with no electricity, no running water, and almost no infrastructure. It was in early 2010. I couldn’t help wondering what Naomi’s parents thought about their daughter living in such circumstances, the only woman with 11 male colleagues. And I wondered if Naomi’s parents approved of their daughter’s desire to become a pastor. Pastoring is hard work in the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP), Synod of Zambia, where solo ministers serve congregations composed of multiple “preaching points” located kilometers apart and bicycles are the primary mode of transportation. And with 60 percent of the Zambian population under the poverty line, most pastors struggle to manage on subsistence salaries. Plus marriage, the main goal of all Zambian parents for their daughters, becomes difficult for an educated woman living among largely uneducated rural Zambians. It is intimidating for a man to approach a woman who is better educated than he is.
And yet Naomi was at peace. She had come to CTC because it was where she could get the training she needed to fulfill her childhood dream of working for the Lord. Despite the many deprivations and hardships of seminary life at Chasefu, Naomi was contented—even joyful—to be there. She was learning what God wanted her to learn so she could become the person God created her to be. The courses of the three-year Chasefu program—including Systematic Theology and African Traditional Religion—touched her heart and filled her soul.
I saw Naomi again at Chasefu in November 2012. It was a day of great celebration—the licensing of the first class graduating from Chasefu’s three-year diploma in theology program. Naomi and her 11 colleagues, wearing pastoral collars for the first time, made their promises, signed their contracts, and laughed with joy as they were greeted by family, friends, guests, and local residents.
I saw Naomi for a third time in southern Zambia in early June 2013. In March 2013 Naomi was sent by the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian Zambia to pastor the Mazabuka congregation. We picked Naomi up by the side of the road and took her to lunch. After eating, we visited the small dirt-floored, tin-roofed church building where Naomi was happily preparing for her induction ceremony the following Sunday. Somehow on that occasion Naomi seemed very young and vulnerable to take on the pastoral responsibilities for the congregation.
My ministry in East Central Africa gives special focus to Evangelism, Church Growth, and Leadership Development. The rapidly growing churches in my region are struggling to train pastors fast enough to meet the needs of the congregations. Despite the many challenges to pastoring, the churches have waiting lists of candidates God has called to ministry. Imagine how these candidates must feel when they are unable to answer their call because they don’t have the financial resources for tuition. It is a blessing to me that I am able to help them by lifting up the challenges to PC(USA) constituencies and linking the churches to training programs, resources—both human and financial—that help them meet their priority goals, including scholarships for theology students.
Naomi and her colleagues are constant sources of wonderment and conversion for me. Their love for Jesus Christ in the face of poverty, disease, and death is a tremendous faith witness to me. In contrast I have seen the limitations of my faith—my unwillingness to depend on God. I have been strengthened and enriched by their example. Let us pray for Naomi’s joy, peace and grace as she moves forward with her ministry. Let us pray for all the others among the growing churches in Zambia, Malawi, Rwanda and Kenya whose story is similar to Naomi’s.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart to those of you who support me and my ministry through prayer, communication, and financial giving. Your support is what makes my work possible. And if you are relatively new to international mission, I invite you to learn more about the incredible work God is doing in His Church in Africa and about ways you can accompany the Church. I invite you to consider if God is calling you to support me and my ministry. Who knows what the result of this accompaniment will be in your hearts and in your congregations?
On the home front: I think many of you know that I have been separated from son Charles for four years now—ages 16-20. I have been able to see him only during limited vacation times in Zambia and in U.S.A. I believe it is important to reconnect with him through some significant time together, and PC(USA) World Mission is supporting me in this direction, for which I am very grateful. As a result I will be based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S.A., for the calendar year 2014.
During the year in the U.S.A. I will continue to handle all my responsibilities as Regional Liaison. I will make two trips to my region over the course of the year to visit mission co-workers and international PC(USA) church partners. I expect to be available for speaking in September and October 2014, and I hope I will see many of you during that time. I expect the year will be a busy and rich time, while enabling Charles and me to be a family together again. It will be a real gift.