A Sweating Missionary in the Mud of Life

A Sweating Missionary in the Mud of Life

By April Sylvester

Kazangula is a small town (if it can be called that) on the watery border of Zambia and Botswana. A group of us had taken the long, hot journey for a 3 day mission trip. Within a few minutes, our group of four came across two women building a mud house. We were greeted with kind but slightly skeptical smiles and mud-caked hands.

My friend Emmanuel moved towards their house. He looked at the pile of mud they were mixing for the wall, saw that their two yellow water containers were empty, and with less than a word he picked them up and walked away.  As I watched him walk into the distance, the yellow containers [were] getting smaller and smaller.  After about 10 minutes he was coming back down to us, sweat beading on his forehead in the midday sun, water sloshing on his jeans from the containers.

In that moment, I realized that THAT is the kind of missionary I want to be. I want to be a sweating missionary.  How many times do we come across someone who is not concerned with words but is willing to get down into the mud of life with us? It means being able to really see people and their needs, which, yes, does take a certain level of cultural competency that I am still working on. But maybe I can bumble, sweat, learn and love my way towards that goal.

April is involved in an outreach ministry to Zambian youth that involves discipleship and mission training. Her home church is Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois.

In that moment, I realized that THAT is the kind of missionary I want to be. I want to be a sweating missionary

April Sylvester

SAMS Missionary to Zambia

A Nugget for the Journey

A Nugget for the Journey

Hot and cramped. That is what public transportation is here in Zambia. And the bus from town to where I live is even more hot and even more cramped than normal. So today I plopped into the bus next to a girl about the age of 20. Because of the whole hot and cramped thing, I don’t usually strike up conversations with the people I am sweating beside but today I did.
Her name was Naminga and she had the sweetest Bemba accent that accentuated her darling smile. We got to asking the normal get-to-know-you questions. Where abouts do you stay? Do you have any brothers or sisters? And particularly for me, What are you doing here?  And yes, how long are you here for. I always get this one and I am not a fan because I justdon’tknowandmaybeitisokaythatIdon’tknowalrightugh.
This time I shrugged and responded with my familiar joke “Find me a husband and I will stay here a long time!” Even though I am in no way on the market for a hubby, I have gotten some laughs out of it in the past.  
She did smile but then she looked at me more seriously.
“A man here might marry you because he thinks you are kind, because he thinks you are rich, or because you are white.” She ticked off the points on her fingers as she spoke. “And what happens then? What happens when you aren’t kind or when there is no money or when…” she paused “you are in the sun too much and get a really deep tan.” We both laughed.
“That is why we have to wait for God to send us the right one. If not, both people will be disappointed. God will give us the desires of our hearts and that includes the right man to marry.”
As the rickety bus josteled us, I was struck by the deep counter cultural wisdom this young woman had. Especially here in Zambia, women are overly pressured to find a husband, get married and have kids. You are not considered an adult until you are married. (Even if you have a job, live on your own, and provide for yourself!) But Naminga’s deep self-awareness and faith in God’s provision eschewed the desperation that this culture implants in single women and replaced it with contentment. Something all of us could use a bit more of.
A little nugget for the journey.

Kazangula is a small town (if it can be called that) on the watery border of Zambia and Botswana. A…

Kazangula is a small town (if it
can be called that) on the watery border of Zambia and Botswana. A group of 12
of us from GLO had taken the long, hot journey to Southern Province for a 3 day
mission trip. And this was our first day of evangelism.

Within a few minutes, our group
of four came across two women building a mud house. We were greeted with kind
but slightly skeptical smiles and mud-caked hands. Immediately the two older
preachers we were with began to ask these ladies bombarding questions like “Do
you know God?” “What do you think about church?” And I sat there a bit lost and
helpless because I did not speak any of the 5 languages floating around the
community.

As they continued the
conversation impregnated with long pauses and open Bibles, I saw my friend Emmanuel
move towards their house. He looked at the pile of mud they were mixing for the
wall, saw that their two yellow water containers were empty, and with less than
a word he picked them up and walked away. The preachers continued to talk as I
watched him walk into the distance, the yellow containers getting smaller and
smaller. He stopped to ask a man something and continued up the hill to a
half-finished church building. After about 10 minutes he was coming back down
to us, sweat beading on his forehead in the midday sun, water sloshing on his jeans
from the containers.

In that moment, I realized that
THAT is the kind of missionary I want to be. I want to be a sweating missionary.
The people of this country hear lots of words—it is not uncommon for church
service to be 5 hours long and school is notoriously lecture-based. So how many
times do we come across someone who is not concerned with words but is willing
to get down into the mud of life with us? It means being able to really see
people and their needs, which, yes, does take a certain level of cultural
competency that I am still working on. But maybe I can bumble, sweat, learn and
love my way towards that goal.

So when the preachers turned to me and asked
if I wanted to say anything. I shook my head. No. Emmanuel without even
speaking had said everything I wanted to say.

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Becoming a child again

I am a quintessential oldest child. I went to school 12
hours from home, refused to go home after graduating despite being jobless, and
now have moved abroad to the middle of Africa—alone. I can have a lot of things
taken away from me but take away my independence and I am somehow less April
Sylvester than I was before.   I
love striking out on my own, traveling, learning about new places and
experiences. So some
might say I am a strong independent and adventuring woman. But I’ll let you in
on a little secret: going to live in a different culture means giving up my most
prized independence and becoming a child again. And that is REALLY hard!

You see, as kids basically our whole lives are
informal (parents)  or formal (school)
enculturation—being taught our culture, the nuances of what we do and do not do
in certain situations and the logical reasoning of the world around us. And  “The result of the enculturative process is
IDENTITY: the identity of the person within the group. Society seeks to make
each member a fully responsible individual within the whole.” (Meyers) So no wonder your
sense of self goes out the window when you are parachuted into a new culture. I
have to learn to speak, eat, spend money, travel, and live in a completely new
way. I am a living breathing product of 25 years of that enculturative process
in America–I know who I am and how I fit in in society there–but then I
decide to move to Zambia.

While I love celebrating my baby steps to independence here in Zambia (from getting dropped off at the grocery store by myself to taking the bus from
one town to another alone), maybe the goal isn’t actually independence but the
process of getting there. I have wonderful people here who help me in my
infantile state. I cannot count how many shopping trips Nanna and Maria have
gone on with me. How many times Chisenga has translated what someone is saying
to me. How many times Yves and Geoffrey have cooked for me or welcomed me into
their homes. Or Chewe and Kambuta have driven me places. While I am in the
process of building an identity here so that I can finally be independent, what I want more is a community. 

They say
it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it also takes a village to raise an
April.

I looked at my dad and mouthed over the racket of the engine,…

I looked at my dad and mouthed over the racket of the engine, “I’m not scared.” Why am I not scared? I was voluntarily throwing myself out the window of a plane for goodness sake! But my heart beat was calm and steady as I stared at the rolling forest below. And then we hit our dropzone and I jump. If you look at the video, the first emotion on my face is sheer terror. It’s quite funny actually. But only for a split second and then I calm down and just enjoy the ride.

Six days later, I am sitting on another plane. I take a glance out the window as we pass 10,000 feet. Oddly enough, I have a similar feeling now. I’m not scared. Why am I not scared? Packing my bags, getting my visa, saying each goodbye. It feels so natural. Like it is the next thing on my errands list for the day. But I am here. I have reached my drop zone and I am about to jump. Not from the plane window but headfirst into a new life in a new country. Most likely the first emotion on my face will be sheer terror when I actually realize what I am doing. But even amid the chaos, I hope to be able to calm down and enjoy the ride. Cuz it’s gonna be a crazy one.