Robert Breckenridge, Global Service Co-worker

Describe the mission of our partner, the United Church of Zambia.  

I participate in the educational program of the theology department within the state-chartered private university governed by the United Church of Zambia.  This university prepares students in a variety of fields (primary and secondary education, social work, agriculture and ecology, among others), but the theology department prepares men and women for ministry in either the UCZ (Zambia’s largest Protestant church) or in some sort of religious education or chaplaincy work, usually the army or the police department.

What is your role in their mission?

I teach almost any class I am assigned by my dean.  Not being ordained, I decline to teach specifically  ministerial classes, but I am regularly assigned academic courses such as church history and research skills.  This semester, I have also been asked to teach introductory courses in Christian theology and mission.

What led you to want to serve?

Having just retired as a secondary school teacher and enjoying very good health, I decided to offer my services to my (UCC/Congregational) church.  I felt led to give something of myself, my time and my treasure to others who may be less fortunate than I have been in my life.  I earned a doctorate in religion many years ago, but scarcely used it in my professional career.  I felt God had blessed me too richly to let my interest and training to remain forever unused.  I put my name and vita out there and am thrilled that the UCZU thought I might be helpful.

Is there a passage of scripture that carries special meaning in your daily work?

Two: Isaiah 6:8 and Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30.

What are some of the challenges facing the people where you serve or our partner?

Many.  My students are mostly second career people.  Most have spouses and children, a few have grandchildren.  It is a hardship for them to leave remunerative employment, come live at the university and study.  No one has any financial resources to speak of.  The university operates on a shoestring.  Computer bandwidth is weak and often unavailable.  Students have to buy it individually to receive my reading assignments.  Our library rarely has more than one copy of any given book.  The department operates with a single paper copier, ancient vintage, subject to frequent paper and ink exhaustion.  We have one digital projector and one beaten-up old screen.  It is not easy to pursue study for ministry here.

What is a lesson you have learned from our partner that should be shared with churches in the U.S.?

Material poverty need not lead to despair.  I have seen other teachers, administrators, and students here confess enormous hope and satisfaction in the promises of their faith in spite of the hard circumstances in which they and their congregations live.  There is a real trust in divine providence and embrace of Jesus’ command to love one another.  There is a generosity of spirit at this university and a resolve to please God that enriches my life and I know would thrill any Christian with a beating heart.

What are some ways that churches can show support to the people where you serve or our partner?

  1. Pray for us.  Pray that our zeal does not flag.  Pray for our students, many of whom are making great sacrifices to be here.  Pray for our teachers - mostly as old as myself, some less healthy than me.  Pray for Zambia’s government; it is less corrupt than some in Africa, but revenue certainly does not meet the needs of the people.
  2. Financial contributions to this work are always welcome, of course.  I am a volunteer with a small stipend from home, but sometimes university staff - including librarians, gardeners, maintenance workers - do not get paid when they expect it.  They have hungry (and sometimes sick) families.

Which books have influenced your understanding of your country of service, work, or theology?:

My interest in and developing love of Africa was sparked by fiction - Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King, Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible.  These have also impacted my personal theology to some degree, but I am also influenced theologically by many others, including ancient writers (Origen, Augustine = both Africans!) who sometimes still nourish my spirit and contemporary  liberation and contextual theologians such as Gustavo Gutierrez, John Pobee and Robert Schreiter, who lead me to think more carefully.   

Which films that have influenced your understanding of your country of service, work, or theology?:

I’m sorry, I do not think I have seen more than a few feature films in the last 25 years, and certainly none which have impacted my thinking about Zambia.  I have been encouraged by a couple documentaries such as Pray the Devil Back to Hell (2008) (about the Christian and Muslim women’s roles in ending the Liberian civil war) and Sean Fine and Andrea Nix’s (2007) War Dance (about children caught in the rural violence in Uganda).  I’m sure there are more out there, but I am, sadly, somewhat out of touch with this art form.

Blog link:  I wish!  Looking for time… probably not going to happen.

Robert works with:

Robert Breckenridge