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A Pillar of Faith

A Letter from Nancy Collins, serving as Regional Liaison in East Central Africa, based in Zambia

July 2018

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Dear Family and Friends,

When I arrived in Lusaka, Zambia, back in 2009 — nine years ago — I moved into the house furnished by my predecessors, Rev. Ted and Sue Wright, and I inherited their housekeeper, Mrs. Gertrude Banda. Mrs. Banda has continued all these years as my housekeeper, coming two mornings a week to clean, iron and perhaps do some cooking — always on time, with a quick smile, totally honest and trustworthy, totally reliable.

Mrs. Banda walks to my house from nearby N’gombe compound, an unplanned community of small, crowded homes built helter-skelter without regard for streets, electricity or water. It is one of those communities where Zambians from rural areas have come seeking their fortunes and finding instead a life of many hardships and challenges. So it has been with Mrs. Banda.

Mrs. Banda was born Gertrude Nyoni in 1964 in Matema Village/Lundazi district in Chief Magodi’s area in rural eastern Zambia. She moved to Lusaka from Lundazi with her older brother when she was 2 years old so her mother could join her father, Timwani Nyoni, who was doing housework in Lusaka. In Lusaka, the family expanded to include another brother and three sisters.

Mrs. Banda dropped out of school in grade four when she was about 12 years old because the school was far from her home. She stayed at home helping her mother until she was 16 or 17, when she was sent back to Lundazi and stayed with her grandmother and aunt and helped them in their home. It was there that she met Forbes Bennett Banda, her husband-to-be. Forbes, from Zimbabwe, was in school at the time. However, when his father died, he dropped out of school (in ninth grade) because he could not afford the secondary school fees. It was at that time that Gertrude and Forbes married and moved to Lusaka. Forbes found “piecework” as a gardener at Justo Mwale Theological College, where Mr. Nyoni was working as a housekeeper. Gertrude and Forbes moved to N’gombe. Later, Forbes was employed as a driver for a variety of businesses. Over time, their family grew to include four boys (including a set of twins) and three girls. Currently, the Nyoni clan in N’gombe consists of 25 people comprising three generations living in four rough-built houses without running water or electricity.

In 2014, I was based for most of the year in the USA, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, doing my usual work and traveling several times back to East Central Africa for visits with international partner churches and with mission co-workers in my region. It was while I was in the USA that I learned of the unexpected and shocking death of Forbes Bennett Banda. He was fine in the morning. He went to collect money owed to him for a driving job, became violently sick, and was dead by the end of the day. As is typical under such circumstances, everyone suspected poisoning, but there was no autopsy, no police investigation, nothing. And there was no health insurance, no life insurance, no pension. For Mrs. Banda, there was shock and grief, the funeral, the burial, and the abrupt recognition that now she was responsible for supporting her family on the meager resources she made as a housekeeper. And praise God, there was her deep abiding faith that Jesus Christ was walking with her as healer, comforter and friend.

Since 2014, Mrs. Banda has provided for her family and struggled to educate her children. Three children are no longer in school, but Ruthie is in grade ten, twins Samuel and Moses are in grade eight, and the youngest — Madalisto — is in grade four.

Two months ago, Mrs. Banda confided to me that her other employer — for whom she worked three full days a week — fired her, claiming that she stole laundry detergent to wash her chitenge (the piece of cloth she wears wrapped over her clothing in lieu of an apron). Given Mrs. Banda’s integrity and trustworthiness, I find this distrust and accusation unfathomable.

Please join with me in praying that Mrs. Banda might find another source of income.

Madalisto, the youngest child, says she wants to be a doctor when she grows up. Please pray that all the Banda children are somehow blessed with the fullness of life God desires for all God’s children.

As I reflect on this story, I am again struck by what I learn over and over again from Zambians about faith in God — that in both joy and sorrow God is with us. When we do not have resources or material goods, faith in God is so much more immediate, so much more grounded, so much more transformative. It is a gift of faith Zambians give us Westerners when our hearts are ready to receive.

Often, we hear about the failure of Africa. But I want everyone to know that there are good and important things happening in the churches in East Central Africa, and there are good and faithful people praising God in all situations. And, yes, I would love to have your help through prayers, donations, and presence. It’s only through faith and your help that I am able to continue and see God’s Kingdom grow.

Yours in Christ,

Nancy


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