It’s hard to know where to begin this post. Nearly eight months ago, I wrote about how my family and I would be going to Zambia during the summer of 2014 in “It’s happening.” And July seemed so far away at the time. At first I wasn’t thinking much about the trip but was focused on raising the (massive amount of) money we needed. I felt humbled and loved as every last penny poured in by our April 1st deadline. My focus then shifted from Africa to graduation and all that came with it. I studied to pass my finals, packed to move out of my house, spent precious time with friends, and the biggest task of all, looked for a job. I spent hours upon hours applying and calling and interviewing once I got back to Dallas, right up to the week we left for Zambia. I accepted a job three days before I flew halfway around the world, and when that weight was lifted off my shoulders, I realized I hadn’t been thinking about Africa much at all.
I was disappointed in myself for not preparing my heart well before the trip. I was upset that when people asked me if I was getting excited to go to Africa, I didn’t have much of a response. But my friend Kayli said wisely, “I think God intentionally keeps our minds occupied before events like this so that we don’t have time to make our own plans for how things should go. That way, we can go in with no agendas of our own and let Him have full control.” And she was so right.
I was worried about finding a job, but God used my stress right up until the point of leaving in order to protect me from turning His mission work into something of my own (and He provided a job before I left the country so I wouldn’t be preoccupied with it while I was gone…isn’t His timing just perfect?). So by the time I set foot in Lusaka, the capitol of Zambia, I truly felt like an empty vessel, ready to be filled and used as He willed.
And let me tell you, His will is enormous for Zambia.
The organization I went with, Family Legacy, is not “metaphorically” changing the nation of Zambia or “hoping to” change the nation of Zambia. It is literally changing the nation of Zambia. Family Legacy currently runs the second largest private school system in the nation and holds a Bible camp called Camp LIFE for over 7,000 orphans and at risk kids every summer. One child at a time, they are building up a generation of Christ followers, boys and girls who value themselves and love others.
I led a group of ten little girls ages 7-12 from the slum community called Chainda. I got to visit Chainda on the fourth day of camp, and I saw that my girls live in the smallest houses you’ve ever seen, made from dirt and surrounded by more dirt. All ten had such unique personalities, and their stories will mark my life forever. They were lined-up from shortest to tallest when I arrived, but the second they saw me, they brought me to the ground in a massive hug. These kids crave love and attention, not to mention they’re really intrigued by muzungus (white people)!
Every single one of my girls—Ruth, Mary, Faidess, Prisca, Christine, Joyce, Tasilla, Doris, Precious, and Memory—are so special to me. I could go on and on about each of them. But I want to tell you about three whose stories specially touched my heart…
October 21, 2004 is Doris’s birthday. She is the only girl out of the ten who actually knows when she was born, but it’s just like Doris to remember—she is sharp and wise. Doris has a special place in my heart because she feels things deeply and is understanding beyond her years. Her small grin is infectious, and I’d often find her sitting away from the others just watching and simply content to be there. She told me her mother makes beer for a living and asked if I would pray that her mom could find a different job. She hates that her mom’s work causes others to get drunk, and I was so impressed by Doris’s maturity in that request. I went on to ask her if she’d accepted Christ when she came to Camp LIFE last year, and she said yes. Doris told me she remembers when Jesus came into her heart because “she felt it all over her body while she was praying.” I got chills. Doris’s faith is real, and she has since told her mom, friends, and family about Jesus and asked me to pray for their salvation. This little girl who has never heard of Adam and Eve, Noah, David, or even Mary and Joseph, has felt the presence of the Holy Spirit and has accepted Christ as her Savior in true childlike faith. It’s simply inspiring.
Tears come to my eyes when I picture Prisca’s wide, precious smile. “Pretty Prisca” is delicate and prim, always careful not to make a mess when eating lunch, even though her clothes were covered in dust and dirt. Prisca is quick to laugh and grin, loved playing with the other girls, and told me her favorite thing to do is play with dolls. Prisca is loving, and she told me she cares about her family. But she also told me her mom beats her whenever she is unhappy. My heart ached to think that anyone could hit this beautiful little girl, but I hadn’t yet heard the worst. Prisca also said she was raped last year when she was seven by a ten-year-old neighbor boy. It took my translator and me a long time to get this information out of her because she was scared and embarrassed to tell us. She said it was painful, not to mention the emotional scars it left on her tiny heart. I love this girl so much and can’t bear to think that sometime last year maybe while I was interning in Colorado, or taking pictures on Bid Night, or celebrating Christmas, or living a normal day in Abilene, Prisca’s world was getting turned upside down by a thoughtless boy. But this is her life. And this is the life of so many children in Zambia.
Mary has the goofiest, purest smile in the world. She would stare at me like I was the best thing that’d ever happened to her (Camp LIFE probably was the best thing that has ever happened to her—she had tears streaming down her face when it was time to leave on Friday). Mary is playful, sweet, and sensitive, and on the second day of camp in Big Group time, I saw silent tears begin to stream down her face as she watched a video of Jesus being beaten and crucified. I pulled her into my lap and saw her cry again when Jesus rose from the grave. I literally sat and witnessed Mary’s little heart be transformed by the Holy Spirit. I immediately pulled her aside afterward with my translator and asked why she’d been crying. She said she was crying because she was so sad for Jesus, and I later found out Mary’s mom beats her nearly every day. Watching Jesus’ abuse was difficult for her because it was so relatable. But she also cried when Jesus rose from the grave, and she couldn’t explain why. How do you explain redemption as an eight-year-old? Even though she couldn’t describe it, she felt it, and I prayed over Mary as she accepted Christ into her heart. The next day when we asked the girls what their favorite part of the previous day had been, Mary said it was when she accepted Jesus. Not lunchtime, or the dances, or the candy she received—but Jesus. I’ll never grasp Christ on the cross the way Mary does.
These are just snippets of all that happened at Camp LIFE. It was truly a life-changing experience, but it was both life-giving and life-paining. The other day I caught up with my dear friend Hanna who’s lived in Zambia for a semester and a summer, and she said she always wants to warn everyone who’s leaving for Africa, “Don’t go! …But do go! Just know you’ll come back different.” It’s so hard to go because it’s so hard to come back. We leave little bits of our heart everywhere we travel, but I think we leave even bigger pieces when we make relationships while we’re there.
Now when I sing worship songs about Christ setting us free, I don’t think about me but of the freedom my ten girls received last week. Everything I spend money on I see in $44 increments—the amount it takes to sponsor one of my little girls each month. And when I go to bed at night, I picture their sweet faces waking up from a night spent on a cold, dust floor.
The reality is that Lusaka was just an experience for me, a trip. But for them, it’s life. If an American isn’t sponsoring them, they likely aren’t going to school or eating or learning about Jesus. Seven of my ten girls are not sponsored, and the biggest prayer I have right now is that they would be. If you’ve been praying about how to use your finances well for God’s kingdom, let me tell you, this is a perfect way. James 1:27 says, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress.” We’ll never fully comprehend the meaning of the word “distress” like my ten girls do.
To see the names and faces of my seven unsponsored girls, click here. And please let me know if you’d like to sponsor one of them! To more fully understand how sponsoring one of my girls will change her life, watch this 2 minute video contrasting the lives of an educated girl and an uneducated one. This brings me to tears.
Right now my girls are on the left. I want them on the right.