A letter from Charles and Melissa Johnson serving in Zambia
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By the time most of you receive this, we will be back in the United States for our first interpretive assignment. The past 15 months have been a whirlwind, as we’ve adapted to a new home, a new language and a new culture. We’ve made many friends along the way — friends we’ll miss while we’re in the U.S.
Since our recent return from the All-Africa Gathering in Rwanda for PC(USA) mission co-workers serving in Sub-Saharan Africa, we’ve been very busy. In early May, we hosted our first short-term mission team—friends from our home presbytery, Mission Presbytery. What a joy it was to spend time with this group, introduce them to our new friends, share with them the work of our partner, the Church of Central Africa, Presbyterian Synod of Zambia (CCAP), and to catch up on news from back home. As we write this, our departure date of June 12 is just three weeks away! We have been preparing for our time away from our life and work in Zambia and have been busy tying up loose ends on projects here. We have been paying our utilities in advance and arranging for folks to keep an eye on things around our house, including our dog, Gus. Charles has been working hard with folks in the U.S. to prepare for our visits to churches there. The first of our 47 church visits is scheduled for June 15 at Faith Presbyterian Church in Blue Ridge, Georgia.
We’ve experienced many challenges with our work in Zambia this year. Challenges in farming aren’t unusual, and Charles has encountered several in his work with the Chasefu Agricultural Income Generating Activity (AIGA) and Chasefu Model Farm. Because the rainy season has lasted about a month longer than last year, harvest has been delayed. The red onion program proved to be somewhat disappointing. The borehole problems experienced in December resulted in stunted growth, and late May rains resulted in rotting issues. Both problems led to a greatly reduced yield. The soybean yield was good, but only a small area was planted. The maize (corn) harvest is still about 10-14 days away, but, while a good yield is expected, crop prices are down from last year, which will impact profit.
Since our scheduled return to Zambia is in early November, just before rainy season and planting time, Charles has been planning cash crops and acreages for crops. These efforts will allow us to hit the ground running at the farm upon our return, as we prepare for the 2017-2018 season. Charles has also been working with Chasefu Model Farm acting coordinator, Rev. Mapopa Nyirongo, discussing next year’s plans.
Another impact of the longer rainy season has been an increase in malaria cases at the rural health center in Egichikeni. When Melissa visited recently, staff reported that rates have doubled every month since January. In January, there were 138 confirmed cases, and in April there were 1,240. The capacity of the clinic has been stretched beyond its means, leaving it with no rapid test kits and very little medication. The government provides both, but the number of cases has even overwhelmed the government supply. When we returned from Rwanda, we visited the offices of the Church Health Association of Zambia (CHAZ) with CCAP General Secretary Rev. Sevatt Kabaghe in an attempt to support and provide additional documentation for the application for membership submitted by the Egichikeni Clinic. Membership in CHAZ provides many benefits, including malaria test kits, medications and mosquito nets. We recently received the good news that the application has passed the initial approval process and will be presented to the CHAZ General Counsel in June. Please pray with us that the Egichikeni application will be approved. CHAZ membership will provide much needed support, not only in malaria diagnosis and treatment, but also in diagnosis and treatment of HIV/AIDs and in maternal and child health.
There are so many healthcare needs in this community of 7,400, and, despite limited resources and infrastructure, the staff is accomplishing amazing things. Mr. Ingundi, the nurse and in-charge, has had only one maternal death since his arrival in 2013. He has delivered over 1,000 babies since his arrival and sees an average of 90 patients per day. Although the facility has only 2 beds and several filthy mattresses on the floor, the women of the community trust him and his ability to deliver their babies safely. This is evidenced by the 20 plus pregnant women who are staying at the clinic waiting to go into labor so they can have their babies delivered safely by Mr. Ingundi, despite the fact that the area of the clinic for women waiting to deliver their babies, the mother care shelter, is unfinished due to lack of resources.
We often think of something we heard during our orientation: mission co-workers are “between people.” In Zambia, we’ve been welcomed and loved, but even though we have Zambian National Registration Cards and Zambian driver’s licenses, it’s pretty easy to tell we’re not quite Zambian and we never will be. We’ll return to the U.S., where we’ll be welcomed home by family and friends, but it won’t ever be like it was before because we’re not who we were before. We’ve been changed by our experiences in Zambia. Another mission co-worker told us that one of the most difficult things about going home is the realization that time doesn’t stand still in our absence. Friends and family members have passed, babies have been born, and friends have married or divorced. Our grandson, Max, was only four months old when we left, and now he’s walking, and starting to talk. Lucy, his big sister, will begin kindergarten in the fall. To say going home will be an adjustment is an understatement..We have mixed feelings about returning to the U.S. Don’t get us wrong – we can’t wait to see our families and friends. But we feel like we have finally settled in here in Lundazi and have found our place with our partner and community. Will you pray for us and all those we leave behind for these five months? Will you pray for us as we transition back into life in the U.S.? We are looking forward to seeing as many of you as we can. We have felt your prayers and support during the past 15 months and we want to thank you wholeheartedly. We will undoubtedly experience your support through your hospitality as you open your homes to us, feed us delicious meals and listen to stories of our ministry. We want to especially thank those of you who have found it in your hearts (and pocketbooks) to support us financially. We are still not fully funded, so we would be so very grateful if you would prayerfully consider providing new or on-going financial support to us and our ministry. Without you, we would not be able to be here in Zambia doing the work God has called us to. Taonga chomene!! (Thank you very much!)
Charles and Melissa
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