A letter from Dustin and Sherri Ellington serving in Zambia
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Dodging muddy puddles at 5:30 am, Hannah attracts a lot of attention on her morning runs through the community where she lives and teaches. For one thing, she’s a woman. For another, she is white. She’s also tall—over six feet. And she’s not on foot to actually go somewhere, but just to get some exercise. How strange! By the time Hannah finishes running, the sun is up, making her skin color all the more noticeable. “Mzungu! Mzungu!” she will almost certainly hear called at her by people enthralled at the rare spotting of a “white person” in Zambia—or at least in the poor urban neighborhood where Hannah lives.
Later the call-outs become more loving and personal, as she heads to her classroom to start the day. “Teacher Hannah! Teacher Hannah!” students may squeal. Unlike the early morning shouts, with these there is real affection; they come from children who actually know the mzungu in their midst, and love her, and know that she loves them.
Hannah is one of three YAVs (Young Adult Volunteers) from the Presbyterian Church (U.SA.) who came to Zambia last August to spend 11 months immersed in Zambian culture and in service to the church. They each live with a Zambian family and work with a local congregation—this year all three have taught at “community schools” that local churches have mustered in efforts to fill some of the educational gaps in their communities. Alongside Zambian colleagues, these YAVs teach children who otherwise might not be in school anywhere—often because even the government schools charge school fees too high for their families to afford.
One of the frustrating things about teaching in a poor school in a poor community in a poor country is the lack of resources. During her first few months in Zambia Hannah frequently saw the literacy level of her students and wished simply for books! Books for the students to read. Or even basic textbooks. For most classes that Hannah teaches the school has exactly one copy of the textbook. So, like teachers all over Zambia, Hannah copies information from it onto a blackboard. And, like students all over Zambia, her students copy the information from the blackboard into their own notebooks with beautiful penmanship. Only rarely do most Zambian students (or adults) hold an actual book in their own hands.
In January this began to change at the school where Hannah teaches. Hannah returned from the Christmas break to find a large box of books in the school office! Inquiring about it, she learned it had actually been donated over a year earlier by a partner church in Longmont, Colorado, but no one had yet managed to organize it. Her own father a librarian, herself an English major with a love for literature, Hannah almost instantly glimpsed: a library!
Her excitement caught on, and various people at the school stepped up to make the library happen: bookshelves were built to display the books; Hannah grouped them into categories; the teachers developed a lending system that allows the books to go home with children on weekends but be available at school during the week.
And the library project continues to grow: Hannah’s school now has a committee in place to expand it into a membership library that lends books within the broader community while also generating income to support the school. (The vision also includes a copy/print shop to serve both school and neighborhood—and a healthy snack shop for both as well.) It is exciting to see a community newly inspired and empowered to make such improvements. Because Hannah lives among her Zambian friends and colleagues, feeling their need with them, they are together able to see with fresh eyes the potential resources the community already possesses.
It has been my (Sherri’s) joy in recent months to work with Hannah and the other two YAVs (Rebecca and Devin) as the interim site coordinator of Zambia’s YAV program. Earlier this month Dustin and I took the three young women on a retreat at a campground along the Zambezi River. In addition to Scripture study, discussion of a book called Toxic Charity, and time to unwind on a boat safari on the Zambezi, we debriefed some of the culture stress that can build up over several months of constantly being “different” and living 24/7 in a culture that is not your own.
There won’t actually be a YAV program in Zambia next year, because they need a permanent, full-time person to do the YAV coordinator position (half-time YAV coordinator, plus half-time other work with the Church of Central Africa, Presbyterian—one of our partner churches here in Zambia). But it will hopefully be back the following year! Meanwhile, there are YAV programs in many other American and international sites…keep this program in mind for young adults you may know in the 19-30-age range.
In other news, Dustin and the boys are doing well. Dustin feels increasingly “in the groove” with his teaching at Justo Mwale University, and absolutely loves it. He continues to teach Greek, various New Testament classes, a preaching practicum, and a spiritual companionship group, as well as to direct a few students in independent work. In February he also traveled to Beirut, Lebanon, to teach an intensive one-week course on 1 Peter—his first time in five years to teach in Arabic—and was blessed to also contribute in that way.
Clayton is 17 now and finishing up his junior year of high school. We welcome prayers of discernment for him (and his parents!) as he will soon start applying to colleges. Christopher is 12 and in the equivalent of 7th grade. We welcome prayers for his school situation, too, as we are trying to figure out a good situation for him as he moves toward high school.
Near the end of April Sherri will start teaching English again at Justo Mwale. After skipping the past two years she has realized that she misses it: teaching first-year students English is a truly wonderful way to get to know them and to continue to know them well throughout their four years at Justo Mwale and beyond. The new term runs April 20 through early July.
We feel so thankful to those of you who support our ministry here in Zambia through your prayers, thoughts, care, and finances (please consider giving by using the information below). We could not do this work without your partnership.
With love in Christ,
Sherri and Dustin Ellington
P.S. Dustin started a new Justo Mwale University Facebook page this month – feel free to “like” it!
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 154
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