A Letter from Dustin and Sherri Ellington, serving in Zambia
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Sometimes Sherri and I are asked what we find inspiring about Christians in Zambia. We’d enjoy sharing three traits that have particularly stood out to us.
Singing their faith
One of the things that has always struck us, both in Zambia and at Justo Mwale University, is that the Christian faith is something sung. Many supermarkets play worship music almost all the time. While walking around campus or working in my office, I (Dustin) hear students singing their hearts out numerous times a day. It may be a choir practicing (our resident student body of about 65 has several choirs), or it may be a class starting with a hymn, or it may just be a student walking across campus singing their love for God. Perhaps many Zambians take it for granted that life is meant to be spent singing to God. Singing is the one of the main ways people learn the faith, deepen it, and express it. Having near-constant songs of God in the air has a way of nourishing our faith. I also suspect it prepares us for the life to come. Additionally, African Christianity creates lots of music, and I’m thankful our students receive an education that helps people think through the witness they are singing and producing.
Evangelism and planting new congregations
Zambian Christians, including Presbyterian and Reformed believers, understand the Christian faith as something that spreads to others. Sherri and I have been stunned, pleasantly, by how the Christians around us take planting new churches as among the most natural things for any congregation to do—as with plants, animals, and people, reproducing is just part of the DNA. Small groups within a congregation tend to be geographically based. They grow, they produce other small groups, and in areas where a new church may be needed, small groups can organically evolve into a new congregation. This natural reproduction also ensures that alongside intense African urbanization, there are always congregations popping up in new neighborhoods where people settle. New congregations also need pastors, and I take joy in being part of new pastors’ training.
The way I’m probably most challenged by the believers who surround me in Zambia is the extent to which they feel they belong to one another and thus share with one another. I think this sense of belonging to one another already existed before the Christian faith began to grow strongly in Zambia around 60 years ago; it’s an African trait that melds well with being Christian. People have a deep sense of belonging to groups. This is part of why Zambians typically feel like being part of a church is about the best thing one can do in life, and why many feel that there is just nothing quite like getting to go to church and singing in church. No wonder many worship services last two, three, or more hours!
This sense of belonging prods Zambian Christians to be generous in a way can inspire us in the U.S. Most people live on the edge financially. And yet, they are so quick to contribute once they know of a need. I have seen many homeless people during the time we lived in the Los Angeles area during the pandemic. It is hard to imagine such homelessness in Lusaka, even though it bustles with 2 ½ million residents. Under normal circumstances, people are looked after because everyone belongs to other people. Time after time, our students even give up their limited scholarship money to help others around them who are in greater need, though it can mean they may then go without meals. Because they belong to one another, sharing is the way of life.
I hope you can feel what is special about Zambian Christians. They tend to believe there is nothing better than belonging to and being among God’s people. You can imagine that the COVID-19 pandemic has tested the realities I’ve shared about. But it is also in such difficult times that these realities shine forth, as people express their faith with zest.
I know we live with different cultural realities in the USA, but I pray that what we’ve witnessed and shared breathes some hope and joy into your own life of faith. Thank you so much for allowing us to spend eleven years in such a setting through your prayers, support, and financial gifts through Presbyterian World Mission. To give toward our future service, please click here.
Before closing, we ask you to please pray about the following:
- Lately, COVID has taken a clear turn for the worse in Zambia, and many do not trust vaccines. As we type this, less than half of one percent of the country is fully vaccinated.
- Justo Mwale University’s future; its financial situation has been acutely difficult in recent months.
- For Zambia’s upcoming August 12, 2021, elections to be free, fair, and peaceful.
- God to lead and guide our return to Zambia. (I’m scheduled to begin teaching on September 6.)
- For our family (especially our sons and our parents) as we leave them in the USA.
Thank you so much for your prayers and partnership!
Grace and peace, Dustin and Sherri
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Tags: community, COVID-19, joy, Justo Mwale University choirs, Matthew 25
Tags: Dustin and Sherri Ellington
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