Your Consolations Cheer my Soul

A Letter from Dustin and Sherri Ellington, serving in Zambia

March 24, 2020

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Dear friends,

Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We hope that this note finds you and your families well, even at this time of local and global upheaval.

We apologize if you have received a version of this letter already. We sent it digitally to some people on March 24 but, for a variety of reasons, others have not yet received it. In some ways the content may seem dated, but we are still sending it now because we want to fill you in on our lives, ministry, and whereabouts. You can expect a more up-to-date letter soon, as well!

Some of you have asked what our plans are in these days, and we thank those who have prayed for us. After a very intense week of decisions and adjustments, including Justo Mwale University closing, Chris’s school switching to online learning, and PC(USA)’s Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs) being asked to return to the U.S., we have also followed the guidance of Presbyterian World Mission and the U.S. State Department and returned to the U.S. I am writing this letter on the final leg of our Lusaka → Addis Ababa → Dublin → DC → Los Angeles journey on Ethiopian Airlines, the last remaining airline still flying out of Zambia.

Even before receiving guidance from others, we felt that it was best to leave Zambia for the time being because, though generally very healthy, I (Sherri) tend to struggle with intense and lasting coughs after even a normal cold. After much prayer and processing, we felt it would be wise to be near better medical care than Zambia could provide in case of acute sickness.

For at least the next six weeks, we plan to stay at a furlough home called House of Rest. Rest sounds exactly like what the doctor ordered. California’s lockdown will mesh just fine with our need to self-quarantine for the coming 14 days after this international travel.

As of the day we left, Zambia only had three confirmed cases of COVID-19. Yet handwashing stations abound outside restaurants, grocery stores, pharmacies, airports, and public places. Handshakes, a staple of a warm greeting, are increasingly shifting to foot taps and elbow bumps, patting one’s heart, or clasping one’s hands together with a quick curtsy. We believe that past responses to cholera outbreaks have primed Zambia to respond with some of these precautions. People are starting to sew masks, anticipating the need. However, we are also concerned, especially as many Zambians have compromised immune systems. Most people live in tight quarters with many family members, making home self-isolation of an infected person all but impossible. As for oxygen and ventilators? Very, very limited. We know from personal experience how important it is to pray for protection for Zambia and Zambians, which we will continue to do from the U.S. So we pray.

Please join us in prayer for Zambia and our colleagues, students, and friends there, even as we also pray for the U.S. and other parts of the world. We pray particularly for the vulnerable to be kept safe by God’s grace and the thoughtful protection of others.

We are thankful for our 2-bedroom apartment that gives us our own place to live instead of crowding extended family members during a pandemic. We are thankful that Clayton was able to stay with college friends in Utah after his university asked students to leave campus. Online learning is a different ending to his college years than he ever expected, but he is on track to finish well. Chris is also finishing high school in a very different way, not just from another state, but another continent. We are thankful that his teachers’ and school’s flexibility and forward thinking are making this possible. And we are thankful to at least have a taken-ahead yearbook photo of Chris and his classmates in caps and gowns, despite the unlikeliness of an in-person graduation.

One verse that has spoken to us in the past week is Psalm 94:19, which says, “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” Let’s all be holding one another in prayer, remembering that throughout the world cares are many these days, but the Lord desires to meet and cheer and comfort his people in the midst of them.

May God console and cheer you and yours,
Sherri (and Dustin) Ellington (Sherri) (Dustin)

P.S. Justo Mwale University began online classes at the beginning of May. Dustin has been teaching digitally from Pasadena. We’ll be sending another letter soon!

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