Monday, January 26, 2009


Some days, it seems like everything in Zambia is broken.

Last night we had an electrician out to hook up our dryer and 30 minutes after he left the plug was melted to the outlet. Apparently, attaching a 30 amp device to a plug made to handle 13 amps is sort of like shaving with weed eater (its just a BAD idea). Now you may be wondering, why in the world didn’t the electrician notice this? And the answer would be that, well, the term “electrician” can mean so many things in Zambia, and doesn’t necessarily mean someone who knows anything at all about electrical stuff, but that simply decided one day, “I think I’ll be an electrician.” And thus, he became an electrician. Which is of course, the same way that many people in Africa, and around the world, have become presidents.

In fact, there’s an old missionary adage (and we, being missionary, often speak in adages) that says, the proper question to ask when hiring someone for a job, is not CAN you do this, but have you done it before. This morning as we were getting ready for church, our hot water suddenly was reduced to little more than a trickle (sort of like Michael Jackson). And as I went to unlock our front door so we could leave, the key would hardly turn and almost broke and I felt my love for all things Zambian beginning to drop faster the Dow.

The church we were ministering at was in Ngombe compound (which means cow, and is named that because originally it was settled by Timbuka people, although no one really knows what Timbukas and “cow” have to do with each other. Nonetheless, that is the reason we were given).

The compound, like most compounds in Lusaka, consists of make shift mud brick houses, many with only a sheet for a door. To get to the church we had to drive through the market, which after an all night rain was a mucky mess of mud stained black from charcoal sold for cooking and heating. It was before 9 a.m. in the morning and drunks were stumbling out the bars and half naked little kids were running around unattended nearly getting hit by passing mini buses.

And I thought as I looked at this market, and compared it to the place where we shop, a nice modern shopping center, with carts and pleasant music playing and courteous employees wearing matching smocks, I thought to myself, this world is broken! This strange world we live in, with worlds within the world, worlds that are as distant in realities as farthest galaxies.

Just before church I slipped away to the “facilities,” knowing that we might be here a long time, and found myself at nothing more than a hole in the ground, attended by roughly made walls and a wooden door that wouldn’t shut, and no roof and the rain steadily falling. I thought of what it would be like to live in this place and to never know the luxury of indoor plumbing. And I thought, this place is broken.

After church during a meeting with the board, we listened to the pastor, a lady, describe some of her challenges. She didn’t have a car and lived on the other side of town and her husband had recently had their only car confiscated by the police because it was “registered as a personal vehicle and was being used for business.” Likely nothing more than a matter of the police looking for a bribe. But the result was that her husband had been unable to work and had become depressed and they had been without food until friends came and helped them out.

And then another pastor shared about a 15 year old girl in his church that was being sexually abused by her brother–in–law and how he had been able to counsel her and her family, but the result was that the 15 year old girl was shipped off to live with other relatives, without any counseling, without anyone real help at all. And I thought, these people are broken.

As I listened to these stories I found myself not wanting to hear anymore, but just wanting to go and get back to the comfort of my quite unbroken home (by comparison) and my very unbroken life.

And so, yes, many things in Zambia are broken.

Some are too broken to be fixed. And others, like myself, are perhaps not broken enough.


Netta said...

I needed this!

Jerry and Paula Ireland said...

Netta, what would I do without your encouraging comments!

Devan said...

I have been dealing with this topic very much lately. I think the problem is our human nature wants to block anything that might cause pain or suffering. A prime example would be here at home when a commercial for feed the children comes on the television. I would safely assume that 95% of the people watching would switch the channel quickly before letting the reality of suffering sink in.

That is our problem! Our natural survival instinct leads us to a hardened heart. If we don't look at it we won't feel the pain. Problem solved. We move on with our lives. But by changing the channel or diverting our attention to something pleasurable we quench God's Spirit. It is an endless downward spiral.

So I have convinced myself that although it may hurt me to watch, the greater suffering is of the person who suffers alone, without anyone to care or to help.