I have traveled enough to have seen my share of Third World Poverty. From Swaziland, to the Amazon Basin, to India poverty has a somewhat familiar face. There is a difference between the rural and urban face of poverty but generally speaking when you see rural poverty in one country it looks a lot like rural poverty in another. The same can be said of urban poverty. Or so I thought. A few days ago I was introduced to rural poverty like I have never seen it before. The Western Province of Zambia is about the size of England yet has only a million people. Mongu is the largest town in the province with about 30,000 people. But don’t let the word “town” fool you. From what I could tell most of those 30,000 people live in grass huts no different from the rest of the province. Folks outside the town live in small grass hut villages ranging from a few dozen to a few hundred people.

It is estimated that in Western Zambia there is close to a 50% HIV/AIDS infection rate. Before the introduction of ARV’s or antiretroviral drugs, the infection rate was about 30%. So why the rise in infection rates? The ARV’s are helping people live longer. The tragedy in that is that lots of those folks are not changing their sexual habits and simply passing on the disease to more people. Included in that culture is what young girls go through after they experience their first menstruation. I small, closet sized straw enclosure is made outside the house. It has no roof and no door. It is a glorified walled fence with no door. it is built-in such a way that you can’t see directly in. The girls are placed their as the place where they now live and are forced to keep silent in order to learn submission. But every sex offending guy in the area knows this. So it is common for these young girls to be repeatedly raped and they must keep quiet the whole time. Not only do they suffer the trauma of that violation butit comes with the astronomically high risk of HIV infection.

As if it could not get more shocking, three out of five children in Western Zambia die before the age of five. So 60% of all children never see their fifth birthday.  What do they die from? Well AIDs is a big factor but so are very preventable and basic things. Scores of children die from drinking water that is not clean. In little ones, the diarrhea that results is quickly followed by death. Also high on the list is death from malnutrition. Even though Zambia is a net exporter of agriculture, the western province has been shut out and ignored by the central government. There are almost no roads leading into the area. Roads the do exist are either crater filled dirt roads or subject to flooding several months out of the year. So because of tribal disagreements, apathy, and the lust for power, children die.

As painful as that reality may be, the most shocking reason for this mortality rate was that some children are killed by their own parents in obedience to the dictates of the local witch doctor or shaman. Friends who I stayed with told me of the horror of learning that a family just a hundred meters down the road killed their baby. The local witch doctor told them the baby was cursed and the needed to kill it. So they buried the child alive. By the time my friends heard this and rushed to save the baby, it was too late. Lest you think that is one, extreme, unique situation we heard similar stories on several occasions.

But there is hope. My friends, Paul and Marinette Van Coller are living in Mongu and leading an effort called The Zambia Project. Along with an amazing team of people, including their 5 and 3-year-old sons, the Van Collers are providing education, health care, job training, a safe house village for abused children and are taking the Gospel to all parts of the province. Their vision is to plant a church within walking distance of all 1 million people in the province. Walking distance for them is not what it is in the west. Six or seven kilometers or about an hours walk is their target. That means they are working towards planting 6,000 churches.

The reason for planting the churches is simple enough. The only way to break the hold of animism and witch doctors, and sexual abuse of kids, and provide clean water and dignity is if there is a healthy church that is serving people in Jesus name. These folks need the freedom and power that can only come from the Gospel.

The process is actually rather simple. A group of people, including Zambians who are being raised up for leadership will head off into the bush in four by fours. They will go to a village and live out of their vehicles for a week or two at a time, building relationships and talking about Jesus. Eventually some people come to faith and become the beginning of a church. The team then stays in contact and trains local leaders to begin the process of improving their lives in the village. Eventually those new believers duplicate the process in villages nearby. If that all sounds very “first century Book of Acts” to you, you’re right. It is exactly that.

What inspires me is that people like Paul and Marinette and James and Jess, Lehana, Moses, Stephen, Maurice, Scott and Naomi, and Ruani, have dedicated themselves to serve others as Jesus would. Some of them are from the province and they are struggling desperately to bring Jesus to their homeland. Others are from outside Zambia but they know that God would not let them ignore the needs of others. In the developed world we find it easy to insulate ourselves from the harsh realities faced by most people on the planet. Just by reading this blog you have allowed yourself to move out of your isolation and see the stark reality of life that is normal for others. The question is, will you slide back into your comfortable world in the next five minutes or will you allow what you have learned to change you into a different person? Will you live more simply so you can give to others? Will you give up your vacation in order to go and spend two weeks feeding babies or even planting churches in Zambia? Will you reach out to the homeless person you pass each day on the corner? Will you spend more time with Jesus so you can learn to love as He loves and tell others about Him?

Comments
  1. sawyer says:

    So now I see, but could be wrong. Using this blog, you seem to be trying to provoke us, the readers into serving mankind in the name of your interpretation of jesus. Well then quote me the scriptures attributed to jesus that instructs me in the way in which jesus would respond in this circumstance. Did He say to build churches. Did he say to convert people to His thinking and ways. Did he say to guilt people into getting out of what you believe is another’s comfort zone? – Travel to zambia for instance. And what are these people told about Jesus – that he gave his life for what?, for whom? for us??? for them??? How full of oneself can we be to think us so worthy of his willingness to… Well, actually if you’ve read much of what jesus said and put some of the points together, whom did he die for????? Can you answer that for me, though I know the answer all too well. He did it for his FATHER, not for me, not for you and not for anyone else. It’s right there in John’s gospel plain as day and actually in many places. Before running off to zambia, why don’t people start asking the Father, as Jesus instructed that His will be done through them on Earth. When we pray, say the Lords prayer, are we asking that his will be done on the planet, for the planet or are we asking that his will be done through us who exist on Earth? I suggest you re-study all the quotes of jesus where he speaks of his relationship with his father. I’m not pretending to judge the rightness of helping anyone. Of course we should help others but the first commandment was to love the lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind and all our strength. If we are not regularily asking “what’s next for me God” – what can I do to serve your needs at this time, with a willingness to go to zambia if that’s what manifests or to investigate Ti and Do (which I believe many fear doing), then that’s their next best step. However, we can all get hung up on thinking we’ve got our place and position and don’t really need to keep asking for what’s next. jesus said that many will call on his name but that their hearts are far from him. WE see all sorts of people calling on his name, millions, even every day, thank you jesus this and that, thank you lord this and that, but when it comes to “doing the will of him who sent me” – well – I know I, though I’ve been given a whole lot that most have not have to do a much better job of living up to my talk, though I can’t slip into judging myself either. And when we share with others things about jesus lets share it all, not just john 3:16 or the beatitudes. They are of course wonderful but lets look at all the hardest things to swallow to seek understanding. It’s easy to believe in someone that isn’t looking us in the eye and challenging us simply by their presence.

  2. Dan Lacich says:

    Sawyer
    It is simple. Jesus said love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, AND love your neighbor as yourself. He said go and make disciples of ALL nations teaching them to obey all the he has commanded. The Bible says true religion is the care and feeding of widows and orphans. It says You can’t love God whom you have not seen if you do not also love your neighbor who you have seen. It says that we are to do good to all men, especially to the household of faith. I could go on and on but I have made the point.

    You question the message we take to people in Zambia without having any knowledge at all of what that message is. You assume it is about guilt and self fulfillment. No it is about the freedom that comes from a relationship with Jesus by faith. Did Jesus do what he did for the Father, yes, but he alos did it out of love for that which the Father created.

    You say don’t show us just JOhn 3:16 and the Beatitudes. Well read the rest of the posts. I have yet to say anything about John 3:16 and have only written on a few beatitudes. You want hard stuff, read about loving your enemy, forgiving people who have abused you and submitting to one another out of love for Jesus.

    And while we are on scriptures and what is in them, your whole Do and Ti thing is about as far from scripture as it gets. Your whole idea of them coming from a higher strata to assist us into the next strata and that you had a dream that it is time to leave, nice but it’s all in your head. You claim that you know that Saul/Paul was actually visited by a space alien lucerferian angel and not Jesus without any biblical proof and you want me to give BIble verses for what I believe? You stick with Ti and Do and I will stick with the Jesus I find in the Bible and history.

  3. Olac Fuentes says:

    While I share your sadness and anguish for the people of Zambia, I could not disagree more with your proposed method to combat this great problem.

    I fail to see how a church, let alone 6,000 of them, are going to solve the problems that plague this nation. I would even argue that the church’s position on condoms would even exacerbate some problems, such as the current AID epidemic.

    You said “The only way to…provide clean water and dignity is if there is a healthy church that is serving people in Jesus name.” I don’t think this could be farther from the truth. How is a church going to help get clean water? If it is going to due it with external funds and with charity, than why condition it to a religious conversion? If this country has no money for infrastructure like roads, hospitals and water treatment plants, where is it going to get the money to build 6,000 churches? And wouldn’t that money be put to better use by funding infrastructure instead of superfluous churches?

  4. Dan Lacich says:

    Dear Olac,

    Thanks for your response. I am curious as to which church position on condoms you are referring to. The churches I know in Zambia are not opposed to the use and distribution of condoms. If you want to see how the church can deal with the HIV/AIDS epidemic then you need to look at Uganda which is the only African nation to see a drop in infection rates. It has come about because the church, in cooperation with the government took a holistic approach to dealing with the disease. it is not only about condoms and safe sex but also about dealing with moral issues of sexual abuse and rape as well as monogamy that the church there is dealing with.

    In providing water for people there is no condition of religious conversion at all. The folks I met in Zambia are providing water, health care, groups homes for abused children, a clinic for malnourished children as well as job training and schooling. There is never a condition of conversion. Rather they are doing it for a simple reason, Jesus said we are to love our neighbor. How is the church doing this? To be sure some of it comes from donations. A well gets drilled in a village because Christians have donated the money. Anyone in the village has access to the water. There are no conditions on that. Building a water treatment plant is what would be superfluous. These villages are miles from any other resources. There is water beneath their feet. All they need is a well and Christians are providing that. Village by village it is happening.

    What does a church do in that village? In one village, and by village I mean two dozen thatched huts, women in the village where being taught skills in order to run their own micro-business and provide for their families. For the first time they have the dignity of being able to help support themselves and create something that others can use.

    You are concerned about the cost to “build” a church and shouldn’t the money be used for other stuff? The church is the people and not the building. In some cases the church meets under a tree or in others, in someone’s home. In those instances where the locals decide for themselves to put up a building they do it the same way they make their homes. They use local material from the bush and build a thatched building only bigger than the typical one room hut they live in.

    I would like to make a proposition. Why don’t you come with me sometime and get a different picture of the church and the impact it can and does have in the lives of people. I am not talking about the western version of church that has become about building and materialism and what it is against. I am talking about the church that is people who love God and love their neighbor with all they have and all they are.

    Sincerely
    Dan

  5. God Bless you and your heart for Africa, Dan. Keep on being salt and light in the world. I, too, have spent a lot of time working on African problems, although, I worked on West African issues at a law office in Washington D.C. I agree with Olac that you’re suggestion that churches alone will solve the problem, but I think that your heart is in the right place. Logistically, part of the problem with nations like Zambia is that they’ve been seduced into oppressive trading and debt relationships by countries like the US, through the auspices of the IMF. Generally, IMF debt management policies from the 1980s onwards can be shown to have worsened the situation for the unemployed and poor (UNDP, 2005, 2008). The so-called adjustment programs of the 1980s and 1990s destroyed many traditional economies, leaving many countries only with major debts. They also at times furthered sharp concentrations of wealth and advantage, mostly via corruption by governments and elites. Much research on poor countries documents the link between hyper-indebted governments and cuts in social programs. These cuts tend to affect women and children in particular through cuts in education and health care, both investments necessary to ensuring a better future (for overviews of the data, see various annual issues of the UNDP and of the World Bank).

    For instance, at the height of these programs in the early to mid-1990s, Zambia’s government paid $1.3 billion in debt but only $37 million for primary education; Ghana’s social expenses, at $75 million, represented 20% of its debt service; and Uganda paid $9 per capita on its debt and only $1 for health care. In 1994 alone, these three countries remitted $2.7 billion to bankers in the North.

    So you see even if everyone in Zambia converted this would only partially alleviate their problems. And then look places like Uganda, where ‘church’ is omnipresent but the gospel has been heinously misread.

    Nevertheless, though the problems seem insurmountable–and they ARE insurmountable by human efforts–we are called to give water to the thirsty, visit the sick, and the imprisoned and the widow. It is for you to be transformed by this experience. This can be like a gift to you. And then when and if you come back to the United States, try to be a part of systemic solutions.

  6. By the way, though, I really appreciate you sharing your experiences with us. It’s important to hear reports from the front lines. If you want to read what I’m thinking about these days I’ve got a blog, too. (Doesn’t everybody?) My blog is at http://www.g0spel0fj0hn.com. I just started it.

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