Sunday, May 17, 2009

Smoke that Thunders

Word for word, the name for Victoria Falls in Tonga is ‘Smoke that Thunders’. During the wet season you can see the mist from the falls shoot into the air for miles around. The famous missionary and explorer David Livingstone (also one of my heros) discovered the falls by navigating a canoe towards the large rumbling sound that grew and grew. He landed on an island right above the falls, now named after him, and was the first European to see what is now one of the seven wonders of the natural world. This is where we call home. Our base is 8km down the Zambezi river from the falls. The sound of the river and distant rush of the falls hums quietly in the background.
Dirty Feet
We spent the last six days working with and living amongst the people of the Nyawa kingdom in Siachombo village. We pitched and yawed in the back of the large 4x4 for 6 hours into the bush. The women of the village greeted us with songs as we pulled in. This was the first time many of them had received any attention from the outside world and many of the children had never seen white people before and went running away screaming when we approached them.
Our efforts in Siachombo were meant to supplement the long term presence Overland Missions has in the Nyawa kingdom. An American couple, Jake and Jesse, have committed five years to start sustainable development projects and help train local pastors in Nyawa. One of the more interesting parts of the week for me was seeing how a Mukua, a white person such as myself, goes about establishing a positive presence in Africa. I am fortunate that I can spend three months learning from people with years of experience. Upon first observation: nothing is done without the consent of the village headman, rank and age frame all social interaction; never make a promise you can’t keep; everything starts with relationship, not need based but genuine relationship; of all the people I asked the two most important things they need are fertilizer and education.
Most people are genuinely interested in hearing what you have to say because they have never received positive attention from outside their village before. Many times the only attention they receive from outsiders is for some business venture that does not have their best interest in mind. So when we told them we were there to help them out for no cost they responded with unimaginable gratitude.
It is harvest season and we accompanied the villagers into their maize and ground nut fields. Nearly all the farms, even commercial farms, harvest corn by hand. There are some bigger farms that use machinery but more often than not villagers will harvest some of their maize for consumption and some for sale. Depending on the size of the field a farmer can live quite well. But the size of your field depends on where you rank in the village hierarchy, at least that is what I observed.
We were shepherded around by the deputy village headman who wore a neon green shirt that read “No money, No honey”. Amen brother. Myself and four others walked with a farmer named Richard to his field. As we walked the few kilometers to the field I heard a rattling sound. I looked up and a woman with a child on her back yelled “No brakes!” and swerved by us on one of the wrought iron, single gear bikes that are so common in Africa. Richard showed us an open wound on the bottom of his feet that hindered him from working in the fields. Even though we were not as fast as experienced farmers we still helped him out quite a bit harvesting the maize. His injured foot did not stop him from joining in as we taught the villagers how to toss a Frisbee and American Football.
Richard took us back to his house and we sat under a tree and exchanged questions about life in Zambia and in America. Later on in the day he pulled me aside and showed me where he grew his marijuana patch. I politely declined, but realized the reason he had done so: I was wearing a floppy, full brimmed, tan hat and aviator sunglasses, and upon my own admition, I bore a striking resemblance to Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Hunter S. Thomson in ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’. Nice try Richard! He must be a huge Johnny Depp fan.
Our days were spent helping farmers in the morning and then having meetings or soccer games in the afternoon. The villagers are incredible soccer players. I played around with some of the younger kids and saw that they learn how to dribble with string balls that refine their foot skills acutely. Surprisingly, we held our own considering half our team never played soccer before. Our rag tag bunch of well fed former American football players, former rugby players, and former high school all star soccer players lumbered around the field. Occasionally a sinewy Zambian villager would go flying after a collision. We played two games and lost both 1-0. I consider my soccer skills one of the most valuable things that I learned in the States. You instantly have friends of any age if you start kicking around a ball. Of course everyone wants to see what the curious white man is made of, but they are quick to smile back if you smile at them and “You like Manchester United?”, “Christiano Ronaldo? Messi?” cross all language barriers.
Plus we got to slaughter six chickens and a goat before we ate them! Villagers have goat maybe once a year. We had two and a half during the course of the week and the headman tried to hand us a live one as we drove off. This just goes to show how insanely generous the villagers are.
Laying hands on the sick and casting out demons: crazy spiritual stuff most Westerners won’t believe.
The main reason Overland Missions operates in such remote locations is because we believe that Jesus Christ is the answer to the questions of life; why? For what purpose? I believe there is a spiritual realm and it manifests itself much more visibly in the developing world than in the first world. In the villages, churches exist but most of the time knowledge of the word of God is minimal and convoluted with false teachings. This past week was the first time that I prayed for a person to be released from demonic oppression. It was the first time I saw with my own eyes human bodies convulsing violently, heard with my own ears deep guttural languages not native to Africa come from the mouths of people claiming to have a demon inside of them. It breaks my heart. Even more than the physical poverty that exists is the oppression that dwells inside some of the people. I sat next to a woman on the ground. She had a look of sadness I cannot begin to describe. I placed my hand on her shoulder and began to ask God that he would release her, truly free her into His grace and love and peace. As she started to shake and scream and the people around us got into a frenzy I just whispered in her ear that Jesus has such love for her. That God gives peace beyond comprehension. One thing I learned that God’s voice does not scream. He is gentle and loving, he draws you near as your heart breaks inside of you; breaks the pretense that He is some distant force relegated to the pulpit or a mystery locked away in some thick book. No, He is a relationship that will never fail you. A voice that quiets all others that preach inadequacy or legalism or anxiety. I have met people here that know about God. That know they have nothing of their own merit to offer and give themselves totally to the Way Jesus preached, and they are the richest people I have ever met. In the midst of their physical lack they have a smile that will never dim. That is worth more than any pay check can deliver: Blessed are those who are poor in Spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of God (Matthew 5).


  1. Dave - WOW. Thank you so much for sharing these incredible stories. I just can't even fathom the experiences that you are having. Our God is SO big! I am praying for you, JJ, the Overland team, and the people of Zambia. Many blessings to you!! -Bridget

  2. Thanks for the update! Prayin for you!

  3. Dave, keep up the good work!