Heartfelt Farewells and New Beginnings

A Letter from Dustin and Sherri Ellington, serving in Zambia

August 2019

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Dear friends,

Last week I found myself increasingly anxious as I waited and waited at Lusaka’s small international airport for one of the Zambia Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs) to arrive for his end-of-year departure. He was great at keeping me posted every step of his journey across town with his host family, but goodbyes after a full year are not easy and, if possible, not to be skimped on. The previous day, the other YAVs and I had attended his church as the congregation bade him a festive and heartfelt farewell. Today, en route to the airport, Miguel stopped to see a few close extended family members for final goodbyes. As many as could fit piled into the family car for the ride. I had offered to pay for booking a taxi so more people could come, but everyone seemed pretty adamant to all ride together for this final goodbye.
As I pictured the family togetherness (“Literally!” Miguel told me as we texted back and forth) it made me smile, and I eased my anxiety by pausing to fully imagine the scene:

Two parents,
two children,
a host son,
a Reverend,
and a niece
Sitting atop one another,
Bumping their way to the airport,
Luggage filling the back.
Elbows tickle as they nudge ribs on turns.
Squirmy bodies giggle on laps,
Breaking the solemnity.

It is a holy moment,
As the past year all squishes into this car, here and now,
Tickling one another on accident and on purpose,
One last time
As this family.

It was precious to Miguel to have his family seeing him off, including his 6-year-old and 2-year-old host sisters. And he made his flight just fine!

A second YAV, Sophia, was fortunate to have her biological family arrive at the end of the YAV year, and they made the long trek across Zambia and all the way to her village to meet her host family and the surrounding community, including a visit to the clinic and school where Sophia had volunteered all year. This extra connection between host and biological families across miles and cultures was very meaningful all around.

Emily, this past year’s third YAV, has requested to stay in Zambia for a second year! This is thrilling for her host community in the rural town of Lundazi, where she has deeply invested herself and has made close friendships. It is also a deep encouragement to YAV Zambia’s partner, the CCAP (Church of Central Africa Presbyterian, Synod of Zambia). When I first informed church leaders of Emily’s desire and asked their input regarding the possibility of someone staying a second year, eyes got misty. More than one leader expressed to me the deep affirmation it is for a young person to come from America, be part and parcel of their local Zambian church community for a year, and then request to stay longer than the original commitment.

So for another year, Emily will continue with her work accompanying three Lundazi-based departments of the CCAP: Relief and Development; Health; and Lay Training. We will also give her some further training in local language, and we decided to change up her host family to help her experience a different slice of Zambian community life. We’ve specifically seen God’s hand guiding this process….

In June, a few of us visited several potential host families to ask them to consider the possibility of receiving Emily as one of their own for the coming year. All of the families seemed lovely. But at the final home, something was different from the moment we arrived. My partner, Rev. Tembo, immediately felt a quickening in his spirit when we stepped onto the family’s property. I personally was overwhelmed with affection from one of the children playing in the yard — a boy who grabbed me around the knees to hug me, even though no one had been expecting us at that house. Inside, after we explained our purpose for being there and asked the husband and wife to discuss and pray about whether they might be open to hosting Emily, they asked if they could discuss it right then. We said no, we meant talk about it tonight and tomorrow and let your pastor know whether you are open or not. But in a very animated way they asked if they could please go in the kitchen and talk immediately. Within five minutes they had returned with a yes answer. Not only did they have space already available and set up, and hearts eager to welcome someone; the previous night the husband had had a dream of visitors — white ones, in fact — and had told his wife about it. So even before our arrival, the Holy Spirit appears to have been priming their hearts to receive Emily.

I am thankful for God’s work in and through and on behalf of all three of these YAVs over the past year — Miguel, Sophia, and Emily — as they experienced God’s touch and experienced their Zambian communities deeply during this “year of service for a lifetime of change.”

Please pray for their ongoing growth — for Sophia and Miguel as they re-enter the USA as changed people wanting to apply perspective from the past year to life in America, and for Emily as she gears up for a new start in her Zambian community.

We also appreciate prayers for these areas of our ministry and family:

*For Justo Mwale University, as the theological students soon return from their practical ministry experiences in churches and begin Term 3 (of three) of this school year.

*For our son Christopher as he begins his senior year of high school and college applications. (How time has flown!)

*For our son Clayton as he begins his senior year of college and discerns next steps.

*For YAV Emily as she begins her second year in Zambia, and for me (Sherri) to know how best to adjust the program to fit having only one YAV in the country this year, as well as to help Emily take things deeper during her second year.

*For Dustin at Justo Mwale, particularly as this term he gets to revise and teach a class on interpreting the Letters of Paul for the first time in Zambia. He also appreciates prayer for his preaching class and for the Bible study group he leads for second-year students.

We are thankful for the richness of family connections, whether between YAVs and their host families, or in church families. Thank you so much for your loving support which allows us to serve in Zambia through Presbyterian World Mission. May God be deeply at work in each of you and your families, and thank you for being part of our extended family as well. We could not do this work for the gospel without your prayers, encouragement, and financial support.


Sherri and Dustin Ellington

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