Tomorrow, it will be a week since I arrived in Kitwe, Zambia. There is plenty to adjust to and I think I will be adjusting for…. a while. My husband and I are living in a little cottage on the campus at the university sponsored by the Zambian mission partner of Global Ministries, the United Church of Zambia (UCZ). Since my arrival, I have met so many people that have taken the time to tell me “Welcome to Zambia.” I am already feeling welcome and anxious to begin my work with students in the library/computer lab.
This evening I had the opportunity, with my husband, to be present at the closing session of an in-service training of recent ministerial graduates of the theology program of the university. After graduation, the ministerial candidates remain on a two-year probationary period before they are fully licensed. They are assigned to positions all over this huge country – think of Texas and Nevada combined – and not necessarily to church positions. The UCZ University brings them back to campus for two days so they can share their experiences, and at the same time, listen to what each other has been experiencing. Some graduated in December of 2017, others in the previous class. It is also an opportunity for the university staff to hear how well their students’ training at the college has served them.
We sat at a table with five young men – though there were several female candidates for ministry in the room as well – and I learned that they came from all over the country, some from quite remote and lonely areas. Most of the group had already spoken during the daytime sessions over the last two days, but there were four who had not “de-briefed” yet and they stood to speak while we dined on nshima (dish made from maize flour [white cornmeal] and water) and chicken.
The first to speak was a young woman pastor assigned to a church in one of the provinces neighboring the Copperbelt, but inhabited principally by Zambians who do not speak the dominant language of this region, which is also the language of the young pastor. She expressed her frustrations with her isolation – linguistically and personally – and her community’s resistance to her ministry. She was discouraged because Zambia continues to experience tribal loyalties that make it hard for outsiders to win acceptance. That goes for outsiders who come to do ministry there. This was an eye-opening experience for me.
Two young men then spoke about their chaplaincy work in schools operated in different areas of the country, one in the Northeast and the other in the Northwest. They shared the same complaint that, working in schools with adolescents, they do not get to address the religious needs of the people they expected to be serving when they came to the university and trained for the ministry.
Finally, a young man stood up to speak from the perspective of a minister who has been assigned to serve also as a hospital administrator. He was assigned to this duty because he has another degree in public administration. He complained of being pulled in two directions; he had to satisfy church (UCZ) officials and he had to work to strengthen the hospital’s finances. He felt like he rarely got to use his religious training. “One funeral… one holy communion service” since he left the university.
This was a rich experience for me, especially since I had so recently arrived. It taught me that the work of the university here is important to many parts of Zambian society. It sends students to work not only in traditional church assignments, but also to other institutions that affect the lives of common people in this part of the world. I am looking forward to making my contribution to this shared mission.
Charo Breckenridge serves as a Global Service Co-worker, assigned to the United Church of Zambia. Her appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples’ Mission Fund, Our Churches Wider Mission, and your special gifts.