Building Relationships

A letter from Charles and Melissa Johnson serving in Zambia

July 2016

Write to Charles Johnson
Write to Melissa Johnson

Individuals: Give to E200534 for Charles and Melissa Johnson’s sending and support

Congregations: Give to D507589 for Charles and Melissa Johnson’s sending and support

Churches are asked to send donations through your congregation’s normal receiving site (this is usually your presbytery).

Greetings everyone! We are doing well, and continue with our language studies. Cooler weather has arrived, and we have begun using blankets at night when we sleep. Mornings are cold, and fortunately Charles found a sweatshirt in one of his bags. We found a local shop where men make furniture from a beautiful native wood, called mukwa. We asked them to make some different pieces for us, and slowly our house has become a home.

We continue to work with our language helper, Mrs. Mwanza, and even though we are frustrated with our progress at times, we seem to be moving forward padoko padoko (slowly). We are involved with our local church, David McConaughy Congregation. Charles preached on the Cost of Following Christ on Sunday, June 19, at the English service, and then later at the Tumbuka service with Reverend Chiboboka translating. Melissa plans to join the Dorcas International Choir soon, and she has joined in dancing a couple of times already. Rev. Chiboboka told her today that she was also on the preaching rotation for both services and that he would have Mrs. Mwanza translate for the Tumbuka service.

Charity and Melissa smile for the camera

Charity and Melissa smile for the camera

The CCAP/Zambia service to induct us as mission co-workers was originally scheduled for Sunday, July 3, but it has been rescheduled for a future date, yet to be determined. We’ve been assured that the postponement had nothing to do with Charles’ preaching. On the bright side, this will give us more time to be able to present our comments in Tumbuka more fluently. We will let everyone know once the new date has been confirmed.

In addition to language learning during our first six months in Zambia, we are also working to build relationships. Mrs. Mwanza, our language helper, and Charity, our house helper, are two people with whom we have the best opportunity to build relationships as we see them every day. We are learning about their lives and what it means to be a Zambian woman. Mrs. Mwanza is a widow. Her husband, a pastor, died about 10 years ago, leaving her to raise their three children on her own. Thankfully she has a college education and had been working as a teacher, so she had income to support herself and her children. Even so, life was not easy as a widowed mother of three. During a conversation with Mrs. Mwanza we learned that she had never had the opportunity to visit her youngest son, Jacob, at boarding school. Parents are allowed two visitation days per semester, but she had never made the three-hour trip to his boarding school in Sinda. After this conversation we talked and decided we would offer to take her to see Jacob. She was overcome with emotion when we offered to take her to visit him. We were also invited to our first Zambian wedding soon after arriving in Lundazi. Unfortunately, the date of the wedding coincided with the date of Jacob’s parent visitation. Mrs. Mwanza said we could go another time to visit Jacob as she knew we were excited about our first Zambian wedding, but Melissa asked her which event she would choose, to visit Jacob or attending the wedding, and of course she said visiting her son. Melissa told her it was settled; we would still go to see Jacob. When she saw Jacob the smile on her face and the way he hugged his mother told us we made the right decision. When we arrived back in Lundazi Mrs. Mwanza was again overcome with emotion as she tried to express her appreciation.

Judith Mwanza and son, Jacob, on visiting day at the Chassa Boarding School in Sinda

Judith Mwanza and son, Jacob, on visiting day at the Chassa Boarding School in Sinda

Though we missed the wedding ceremony we made it back in time for Melissa to attend the kitchen party that was being held before the reception. She expected something like a wedding shower back home, but boy, was she wrong! It was a very ceremonial event linked to Tumbuka culture. While there were gifts given by the guests, the bride and groom also presented each other with gifts that represented their respect for each other. The bride never raised her eyes, never smiled, and never looked at the groom during the entire event. That evening we attended the reception. While there was the familiar music and food, there were also more traditional Tumbuka activities. The bride and groom were introduced twice, once informally in party attire and then formally in their wedding attire. Both times, the groom was introduced and danced with the bride’s attendants and the bride was introduced and danced with the groom’s attendants. There were also traditional Tumbuka dancers who wore colorful traditional attire.

As we have gotten to know Charity we learned that she has also been a single mom for the last ten years or so. Her husband abandoned her and her four children because he decided he didn’t want to be married to a Zambian. A Congolese man, he moved back to the Democratic Republic of Congo, leaving her and their children to fend for themselves. She told Melissa about how patient and understanding her children were about her lack of resources, even when all she had to offer them was some water with a little sugar. Charity has completed grade 12 but could not afford college, so work has been hard to find. Most of her life she made scones and fritters and sold them in the market, with her children helping. On a good day she said she made 100 kwacha (about $10). Despite the difficulties of life in Zambia, Charity has been able to send all four of her children to school. Evelyn, grade 12, and Grace, grade 7, attend weekly boarding school. Her younger son, Michael, grade 5, attends primary school here in Lundazi. Her older son, Peter, decided to leave school after grade 9, but she is praying that he will go back.

These two women are so different but very much the same. They are both incredibly hard workers and have tremendous faith that God can and will change their circumstances—both for themselves and for their children. We are grateful to have them in our lives as friends and helpers.

Rev. David Chiboboka translates Charles' sermon, The Cost of Following Christ

Rev. David Chiboboka translates Charles’ sermon, The Cost of Following Christ

We continue to work hard to raise support for our work in Zambia and are very pleased that Mission Presbytery has scheduled a day of prayer and fasting as a support to us on Sunday, November 13, 2016. Although this is an effort of the Mission Outreach and Justice Committee of Mission Presbytery, all churches are encouraged to participate, regardless of location. If you would like to be a part of this event, please let us know and we will make sure you have all the information you need to participate.

Not only do we need your prayers, but we really need your financial support too. You may donate to our support through our giving page on the Presbyterian Mission Agency website, at Charles & Melissa Johnson: Development Specialist/CCAP Zambia. Please support the work we are called to do in Zambia, by making a contribution today!

We have been so blessed to have been supported by your prayers and support of all kinds! Letters we were sent with to open later, letters we have received here in Lundazi, emails and Facebook messages remind us almost daily we are loved and supported in our ministry here in Zambia. Thank you!

Charles and Melissa

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

  • Subscribe to the PC(USA) News

  • Interested in receiving either of the PC(USA) newsletters in your inbox?