Rev. Kari Nicewander and Joel DeJong
Mission co-workers in Zambia
Serving at the invitation of the Church of
Central Africa Presbyterian, Zambia Synod
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Kari and Joel will next be in the USA, based in Chelsea MI, in 2015. Email them or the Mission Connections office (Rachel.Anderson@pcusa.org) to extend an invitation to visit your congregation or organization.
About Kari Nicewander and Joel DeJong’s ministry
The Community Health Evangelism (CHE) initiative, a form of outreach that combines community health and development, evangelism and discipleship, is a growing model of ministry in Africa. Leaders of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP), Zambia Synod, believe this holistic approach has great potential to improve the physical and spiritual well-being of many people in Zambia. CHE emphasizes the role of communities in identifying their most pressing problems and working together to solve them. As a discipleship and church growth specialist, Kari Nicewander will be helping the Synod to engage more congregations and communities in CHE. Joel DeJong will assist his wife in her role with the Synod.
Zambia has a population of 12.9 million people, which includes some 70 ethnic groups. An estimated 50 to 75 percent of the population identify themselves as Christian. Most other Zambians are either Muslim or Hindu. Presbyterianism was introduced into Zambia by Scottish missionaries in the 1860s. The churches in Zambia, like those in other parts of Africa, struggle with leadership needs because of fast growth. Zambia has a per capita gross domestic product of $1,500, which ranks it 200th among the 227 countries of the world. In addition to poverty, Zambia struggles with the burdens created by the rapid spread of infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS. Zambia has one of the world’s most widespread rates of HIV/AIDS infection. More than one in every seven adults in the country is living with HIV/AIDS, and life expectancy at birth has fallen to just 39 years.
About Kari Nicewander and Joel DeJong
A major component of Kari’s philosophy of life and ministry is summed up in her name. “My parents named me Kari Joy, and the idea that I am called to ‘carry joy’ has always been a part of my identity,” she says. “I believe that I am a joy-filled person and passionate about the good news of God’s love. This helps me in outreach, evangelism and church growth because I believe that enthusiasm is contagious and we have good reason, as Christians, to be filled with joy.”
Kari and her husband, Joel, sense a call to go to a country where the joy of life is often cut short for many by AIDS. As they begin work in Community Health Evangelism, no doubt they will walk into many communities that will identify combating HIV/AIDS as their top priority. It’s also an issue that is a passion for Kari and Joel.
Their adopted son, Johnny, who is now 4, was born in Ethiopia to a mother who was HIV-positive. “When he was only 1 year old, she had to place him for adoption because she was too ill to care for him any longer,” Kari says. Kari and Joel’s experience with Johnny has heightened the couple’s awareness of the devastating effects of HIV and has led them to a deep love and concern for Africa.
“While Zambia is far different from Ethiopia in many ways, they do share some characteristics in common, and the opportunity to work with Zambians to address health issues, including HIV/AIDS, is very near to my heart,” Kari says.
Kari’s involvement in international mission began at age 15 when she went on her first trip to the Dominican Republic, where she worked in a batey, a village of Haitian sugarcane cutters. Over the next 15 years she went to the same village in the Dominican Republic every other year, developing close relationships with the people. During her ordination service, 10 years after her first trip to the Dominican Republic, she was presented a stole sent to her from friends in the Dominican Republic.
After she entered the ministry Kari began leading mission trips to the Dominican Republic. In more recent years she was accompanied by Joel, a graphic designer who also has good skills as a woodworker. “I led the work projects, helping people build school desks, church pews and computer tables for the schools,” Joel says. “I like being able to use my building skills to build relationships with people.”
For Joel those trips to the Dominican Republic and the relationships he built there have been life-changing. “Doing this work made me want to do mission service, and I have felt called to mission service for a very long time.”
Kari traces her call to mission to that first mission trip to the Dominican Republic as a teenager. “I saw vividly the way God can work through partnership, mutual ministry, and faithful relationships to transform lives,” she says.
Since her ordination by the United Church of Christ in 2003, Kari has been pastor of two congregations, Edgewood United Church in East Lansing, Mich., and Manchester United Church of Christ in Manchester, Mich. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan and the Harvard University Divinity School.
Joel earned a bachelor’s degree from the Art Institute of Boston and worked as a graphic designer for the Ann Arbor Observer. He plans to use his skills in technology and design to help Kari in her ministry and will also offer his assistance to local church leaders. One of his primary responsibilities, he says, will be helping Johnny and the couple’s oldest son, 6-year-old Frankie, adjust to life in a new country.
Joel November 7
Kari November 6
Frankie November 10
Johnny June 24