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We’re Finally in Zambia:  First Thoughts

A letter from Charles Johnson serving in Zambia

March 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).

Dinner with family and friends at the home of Meagan and Eric Schwartz

As we prepared to leave for Zambia last week, we experienced a wide range of emotions.  Our son Brien came to Atlanta, where we could spend time together as a family.  On Saturday evening, our daughter, Meagan, hosted dinner for us, our family, and our dear friends, Jimmy, Jan and Cobi Shafe.  It was very special to be surrounded by loved ones.

On Sunday morning, March 13, we were able to attend worship at our daughter’s family’s church and witness the dedication of our new grandson, Max.  Following lunch it was time to head to the airport with our 20 bags, where we said our tearful goodbyes to Brien, Meagan, Eric, Lucy and Max in front of the Atlanta-Hartsfield International terminal.  Our bag check-in (20) went surprisingly well, and we were finally on our way.  Or so we thought.

Dinner with family and friends at the home of Meagan and Eric Schwartz

Dinner with family and friends at the home of Meagan and Eric Schwartz

After boarding we sat on the plane, at the gate, for nearly four hours, while the crew dealt with a mechanical issue.  This delay caused us to miss our connection in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Monday.  Fortunately, Delta covered the cost of our overnight stay at the Protea transit hotel, located in the terminal.  We had a good night’s sleep and no bags to recheck on Tuesday morning.

When we finally arrived in Lusaka, just after noon on Tuesday, we were met by our supervisor, Nancy Collins, PC(USA) Regional Liaison for East Central Africa; Rev. Dr. Victor Chilenge, who is Moderator of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian/Zambia (CCAP/Zambia) and heads the Projects and Development Department; and Rev. Gerald Phiri, who heads the HIV/AIDS program for CCAP/Zambia.  But only 9 of our 20 bags arrived (since then, another 10 have arrived, with only one remaining lost).  Melissa left the airport with Nancy, while I went with Rev. Phiri to the immigration office to pick up my work permit. The next day was spent at the customs office, working to have our vehicle cleared at the border.  (We hope we will be able to get it in the next few days.) We’ve also been doing other various housekeeping chores and shopping for some essentials.  On Thursday, March 17, we met with the leaders of the Synod of CCAP/Zambia; we were welcomed and learned more about the work of our partner church and how we will fit into that work.

As many of you know, it took 16 months from the time we submitted our application until we received word of our invitation to serve in Zambia.  Since being here we have learned that our partner, CCAP, has been waiting since 2011 for the development specialist position to be filled. We fought back tears as Rev. Phiri welcomed us. He shared an African proverb, which I wish I had known when we applied in February of 2014:  “Walking slowly does not prevent a person from arriving.” Rev. Kabendama has also said that because no one had even applied for the position during this time, they feel like God had us in mind for the work here.

In subsequent meetings we’ve heard more about Chasefu Theological College and Chasefu Model Farm.  We learned about the strategic plans for both entities and how Charles will figure into these plans, both in the near future and beyond.  We also heard about many programs where Melissa might serve.  We are excited to be joining a motivated church partner who has already begun working toward the goals that were laid out before us.  Eventually the desire is that Chasefu will become a university, with the following:

  • School of Theology
  • School of Agriculture
  • School of Nursing
  • School of Healthcare

Palm Sunday worship at Kuanda Square congregation in Lusaka L-R: Melissa, Charles, Menani Mwandila, Rev. Maleka Kabandama, General Secretary of CCAP/Zambia, and Rev. Dr. Victor Chilenge, Moderator, CCAP Zambia

Palm Sunday worship at Kuanda Square congregation in Lusaka L-R: Melissa, Charles, Menani Mwandila, Rev. Maleka Kabandama, General Secretary of CCAP/Zambia, and Rev. Dr. Victor Chilenge, Moderator, CCAP Zambia

To be involved in such plans, in the beginning stages, is a great privilege.

At the close of our most recent meeting we learned how Holy Week is traditionally celebrated in Zambia, beginning with Palm Sunday, which we experienced this morning.  We are so fortunate to have arrived in time to celebrate Easter in our new home, and we will be sure to share our observations and thoughts in a future Facebook or blog post.

So, what are our initial thoughts after being here five days?  First and foremost, we are finally where we are meant to be; not a day goes by when this is not validated.  We have been surrounded by love from the moment we stepped off the plane.  And we are excited about the work we will be doing here.  Second, we are also excited about experiencing our first Easter in Zambia.  Third, Lusaka is a beautiful, modern city.  Fourth, we are looking forward to arriving in Lundazi, where we will make our new home.  Now, if South African Airlines can just find the one “lost sheep” duffel bag with all of Melissa’s clothes in it, we’ll be in business.

As we begin our new life as mission co-workers in Zambia we are deeply grateful for your prayers, for your regular correspondence, and for your financial support. You are our partners in ministry!  If you don’t already, please prayerfully consider becoming part of our family of support.  Your prayers and your financial gifts make this ministry possible.

Grace, peace and love to all,
Charles & Melissa


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