Saying good-bye to my mom back in November of last year I knew that there was the possibility that it would be my last time doing so on this earth. This has now come to pass. How do I process that from afar?
One of my mom’s favorite songs in recent years has been “Count Your Blessings”. Mark even mentioned this recently when he preached at church a month ago. So, I will count my blessings as I move forward.
I am sure that God was preparing me for this, as well as other difficulties this year, even as I dealt with the sudden death of my nephew Marky last year. Mark and I were not with our children when we received the news. We had to call each one of them individually because they were all spread out across the country and state. I was having a hard time with that and wanted nothing else but to be with them as they grieved his death. As I prayed about that back then, I was comforted by the fact that although I was far from my children, I was physically close to my sister, Marky’s mom, and my brother and was able to be with them as they dealt with this terrible loss. God showed me this blessing and affirmed to me that my children each had wonderful friends, who stepped in, to comfort and support them as well. It was like God was saying: “Don’t worry Maggie, I will sustain them and provide for them, each one, in their time of need” and “Here you are in the same country as them and can’t be with them and I’m taking care of them, so I will also take care of them when you are across the ocean”. The peace that God gave me at that time has been a blessing even now as we travel this road again having had to call our children and give them the news. Jocelyn was with a truly great friend hiking in NC and came home to stay overnight with Zach before heading back to college, Holly is living with my mom’s brother as she completes a clinical in Boston, and Naomi happened to be spending her birthday weekend with my in laws. All were in good hands and loved. God is good!
Having moved to Zambia and a few months later dealt with the separation that COVID has caused, has made it more difficult to make new friends here in Macha. The blessing of social media and phone calls have been wonderful. Unlike when my brother died in Morocco, when telegrams and letters were the only means of communication, I can talk to people easily. I am blessed to be in touch with friends and family in the US even as I don’t have many friends here yet.
Speaking of friends, the first Zambian couple whom we met are Michael and Beatrice Musonda. Back in July we had planned to take a trip to Kafue National Park along with another missionary couple. As things turned out, we weren’t able to go at that time and they returned to the US for a couple of months. We then decided to ask the Musondas if they would be interested in going. They were very interested, however, they had to wait until Michael submitted his dissertation for his Master’s degree and then presented it before a panel, never really knowing the dates for either of these events ahead of time. Mark also had to preach at church and then was summoned for hospital budgeting meetings for a week in Livingstone. So, finally the dates were picked: Sept 30 to Oct 3rd, when all were free to go. As the end of September approached and mom was put in hospice care I was second guessing whether to go to Kafue or to stay home. As I encouraged Jocelyn to go ahead on a trip with a friend the very same weekend and to not wait around for the news, I knew that I couldn’t tell her one thing and do another myself. So, off I went with the Musondas (along with their youngest almost 1 year old Marianna) and Katrina (a Canadian working at MICS) to KNP. We had a wonderful time relaxing (which everyone needed very much) and enjoying the animals (even having to be escorted after dark as hippos were grazing in the grass around the cabins) as well as getting to know each other better. We had lots of laughs and were enjoying the wonderful experience together. When I received my brother’s call on Friday evening (our time) that mom had passed the news was difficult. It would have been difficult wherever I might have found myself at the time. I was actually so grateful and blessed to be in such a beautiful, peaceful location with my new friends.
Had we been in Macha all of them would have been very busy at work and in their homes rather than having time to spend together and support me. What a blessing this was! Mark was available to me instead of fielding 1000 phone calls and people knocking at the door. This was truly God’s timing!
As I slowly adjust bit by bit to the reality of her departure, I am blessed to know that mom is rejoicing in heaven right now. I am blessed by her legacy and what she has modeled for me throughout my life. I am blessed by the countless prayers that she prayed on my behalf. I am blessed by the many who have shared their love with us in these difficult times. And, as an added surprise blessing, I even received a beautiful bouquet of roses from another Zambian friend.
Today I have felt the love of 4 Zambian ladies who seem to truly care about me which has been very encouraging to me.
So , onward we go, knowing that God has us in His perfect care.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 2 Chorinthians 1:3-4.
She enjoyed playing with her grandchildren.
She had a hat for every occasion.
In the end, the most important answer that any human will give is to the question of “what they believe will happen to them after death?” My mom knew that Christ’s redemption from her sins was the only thing that would allow her to have eternal life with Him after her brief time on this earth. She loved Christ and wanted others to also find this redemption that only He could give them. So, if any of you reading this blog have not yet found faith in Christ’s redeeming blood (that His blood on the cross paid the price for each and every sin committed by us on this earth) and His resurrection (which allows the redeemed to rise to heaven after death) please ask me about it. Please start asking questions. Please search for answers. Don’t be afraid to seek out what the Bible teaches. Mom would want this for you and would rejoice in seeing you in heaven. I long for the day when I will see her, my father, my brother and nephew, as well as many others, in Glory.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” 1 Pet. 1:3
These past two weeks have felt like we have just moved to Africa. Part of being settle in a new place is just getting used to the way things are. So, after being here in Zambia for 8 months, it was time for us to move from our comfortable 1 bedroom flat to the “Big House” (a 4-bedroom house just across the road from the hospital). In preparation for the move, we had the ceilings in the bathroom and kitchen replaced. It was a wise decision to do this before we moved in as when the old ceiling came down so did the 40 years of dirt that these windy winter days had deposited in the rafters.
Now after painting and several cleanings to remove all the dust we were ready to move in. It seems like an easy task to move from a 1 bedroom to a 4 bed room place, but 40 years of missionaries living in this house has left many wonderful treasures which needed to be sorted and rearranged to make way for our things. So, the most common phrase these days is, “Have you seen…?”. This change of venue, along with a change in water schedule and recently expanded load shedding, has left us feeling like we had just arrived all over again. Now two weeks into the move we are feeling settled and thankful for the many blessings of our new home.
This brings up “Showers of Blessings”. In our old house, we had a continuous water heater which was great as long as you had water and electric at the same time. These types of heaters are pressure dependent and while wonderful when the pressure is good, often required a bit of a dance when the pressure was low to keep the water at the right temperature. I generally referred to showers by the level at which the nozzle had to be held to achieve the correct temperature. (head, shoulders, knees or toes – don’t recommend the last level as conducive to getting clean). So, moving to the Big house we were excited to move to a house with a water tank. Day one, when we moved into the new house, we heard a rushing noise near the outside drain. Turns out the intake pipe had ruptured and was flowing directly into the sewer. So, we turned off the water to the house and spent the first 2 nights without water or a shower. The next morning it was fixed. Would you believe a second pipe broke by day 4 and we went through the whole process again?
So now, with running water, I was ready for a good shower. To use this heater; you turned on the inlet valve and the power to the heater. You had to wait about 10 minutes and your shower was ready. If you didn’t wait long enough your shower was cold and if you waited too long your shower was too hot. Great! I traded showers controlled by height for showers controlled by time. So, shower one was way too hot! (again much dancing required). Shower two, the shower was way too cold (remember its about 45-55 degrees in the house these days). So, you would think shower three would have been just right (I’m Laughing).
I was not having this shower by timer so on our trip to Choma I was in search of a “shower mixer”. After checking 4 hardware stores, I found one and returned home triumphantly. Now you know the old saying “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”? Well, here in Zambia I think it’s “If it’s broke don’t fix it!” The reason is that even the smallest home improvement turns into a big ordeal. So, knowing this, I elicited the help of our local plumber to tackle this task. I figured that I could do it, but if I got stuck it was better to have someone with the right tools and knowledge. Good call! After Day one, the project was mostly done but required some parts so no shower. Day 2, the plumber returned and replace the last 2 conduits. That evening I jumped into the shower (even after my wife told me it wasn’t working well—which she tested before attempting a shower!). This time I could go from Hot to Cold but nothing in between (needless to say “more dancing”). After a disappointing 3rd shower, I surveyed the system and realized that the plumber had inadvertently switched the intake and outputs to and from the water heater causing the improper mixing. “Well I can switch 2 flexible ½ inch conduits no problem!” I thought. Done. Now there was no water flow at all! So, day 3 the plumber returned. Turns out with all the work, small rocks (pieces of sediment in our water from the old pipes) had blocked the intake valve as well as some of the internal mechanisms of the shower. So, after cleaning these out, the water began to flow. So, shower 4 was well mixed and quite pleasant. Of course, the shower head only worked halfway because of calcium which had blocked most of the head’s outputs, and after the shower the one joint was leaking significantly. So tonight, I was determined to fix it once and for all. After my run this evening, I was ready for a good shower. I redid the leaking junction and no leak! I cleaned the shower head with Mineral Spirits, often used here because of the high calcium level in the water. (I think it is hydrochloric acid or something – very toxic but it does the job). So, after all these maneuvers, the shower head flowed nicely and I took one of the best showers I have had in a long time.
So why the long story about our water issues. Lately I’ve been thinking about “showers of blessings”. The song “Counting all my blessings” by Rend Collective has been going through my mind as well as the old song “Count your blessings, name them one by one.”
It sounds like a good idea, but I was wondering whether counting your blessings is actually biblical. While I could not find this exact wording in the Bible, the psalmist in Psalm 103 and 107 does exactly this. Psalm 103:2 says, “Bless the Lord, oh my soul and forget not his benefits”. The psalmist then goes on to list God’s blessings: He forgives our sin… He redeems us from the pit… He satisfies your desires… Following a list of Gods blessings. Psalm 107:43 says: “whoever is wise let him attend to these things, consider the steadfast love of the Lord”. In verse 42 the Psalmist says: “the wise ponder the blessing of the Lord. The upright see and rejoice but the wicked keep their mouths shut.”
In this day of COVID 19 there is much we could complain about but the palmist challenges us to count our blessings and rejoice about them. The wise ponder the blessings of the Lord and make them known, the wicked keep quiet about it. So, where does that leave those that complain, somewhere behind the wicked?
So, as I look at my showers of blessing, I have to praise the Lord. Not just for a good shower but for water pressure good enough to burst our pipes twice, leaky pipes that mean we have water, not being able to find my things because I both have things to misplace but also this large house in which to misplace them.
What about COVID? Right now, we are supposed to be home going to camp meeting, mission conference, and visiting family. But God is doing amazing things not just in spite of COVID but because of COVID. I call these my COVID blessings
Churches that have been forced to go online are now readily available to us to share in worship with our churches back home.
NGO organizations have sent money for COVID relief allowing us to buy much needed supplies, improve infrastructure, and care for patients.
Our house which didn’t sell before we left, has now become a gathering place for all our children who have returned home from there schools because of COVID, allowing them to spend time together for the first time in years.
As a result of COVID relief legislation, we have been able to borrow money from our IRA and pay of our mortgage off which has been a huge monthly drain on our finances.
Because of COVID, Naomi’s internship has continued online, allowing her to work and stay at home, not having to pay high rent in Philadelphia.
As a result of COVID Door dash (home delivery of take out) has taken off and our girls have found a new way to make money for school.
God is blessing all around. I hope today you choose to see these blessings. Name them one by one and it will surprise you what the Lord has done!
Our 4 kids and their cousin enjoyed a celebration together on the 4th of July
Mark and Maggie
Many of you ask about how COVID is going here. One more COVID blessing. For 4 months we have been preparing for COVID without any cases in our areas (a blessing in itself) Last week we had 2 individuals who attended a funeral in Lusaka, where the son and the deceased man both turned out to have COVID. They live about 45 minutes away. They both chose to come here for contact testing. One was positive, our first case. Praise the Lord we were prepared and all the proper procedures were followed and we had no unprotected contacts or exposures. All the training and planning has paid off. The numbers in the country are now rising and we expect to see more cases but we are blessed to have had good training and donation of PPE and supplies. Thanks for your prayers as the Pandemic is now coming to our area.
PSS. My wife has just told me there is a new drip from the shower. The calcium build up may stop it, but that’s a problem for another day and another Bible lesson I’m sure (Matthew 6:25)
Two Mondays ago I had the opportunity to experience my first ever Zambian “kitchen party”. What’s a “kitchen party” you ask? It’s a bridal shower! I had heard about these events and I had received the invitation a long time ago so I was curiously anticipating the event. The party was to start at 9:00 according to the invitation, taking place under a pavilion, but I was told not to arrive before 10:30. At 11:00 I found loud music playing, people seated and chatting, the attendants outside milling around and a few ladies dancing.
I was hoping to slip in and find a seat in the rows of benches but, unfortunately, I was taken up to the very front table seated the closest to where the bride to be would sit once she came in. Sigh!
When the bride arrived, people gathered around the car. We went outside to greet her, but surprisingly, she did not simply exit the car. She slithered out very carefully, while women covered her with a chitengue (very colorful cloth used by Zambians for everything from wrapping it around like a skirt, to carrying babies, to sitting on on the ground etc…) placing one person in front of her and one behind, as to cover her completely from head to toe, so that no one could see her. The only clue being a puff of ruffles peeking out the sides.
The bride made her way through the pavilion very slowly, with drums and music, to the cheers of the crowd, to carefully, all while being lead and not being able to see where she was going, sit down on a mattress on the floor under a decorated area.
This took some skill as not to reveal her too soon. On a side note: once we returned from greeting the bride my seat was taken (later I found out by the groom’s mother) so I blissfully moved to another seat next to Bina Beauty (our cleaning lady and friend). This was good for two reasons: one, I wasn’t up front and center anymore, and two,I could ask her to explain to me what was happening and why.
Once the bride was settled, the women all sang traditional “kitchen party” songs revolving around what is expected of her as a bride and wife (at least that’s what I got from asking about the lyrics). After a while, another car arrived bringing the groom and his attendants with gifts in hand. He also slowly came into the pavilion along with music and cheers. He then came over to the area where the bride was seated and slowly started to fold up the chitengue from the far end (this one was probably 8 meters long). Gradually, a little bit at a time, he finally unveiled her to the glee of the crowd! She was indeed his bride!!
The surprising thing to me though was her posture! I expected her to be looking up at her husband to be, smiling and happy to see him. Instead, her face was very blank as she sat like a rag doll with her thumbs tucked into her fists. She accepted a hug from her groom, and once he stood up, she lowered her head to the floor and sat absolutely still like a doll. But why, my 4 year old self was asking?
Apparently this represents, as I understand it to be, her ignorance, submission, gratefulness and inability to do anything by herself. Throughout the “kitchen party” she was to maintain this overall posture while others instructed her and gave her guidance and she was to give them gifts of gratefulness. She and the groom danced around together for a little while and then spent time giving gifts to their mothers and other close friends. Each time the bride gave someone a gift she curtsied and then rolled fully on the ground on one side and then the other clapping her hands together in gratefulness. Yes, she is literally laying down on the ground!
Once the gift giving was accomplished, the pastor’s wife gave them a challenging word of scripture and addressed the crowd and then food was handed out in “to go” bags for all to take home with them.
The bride was then taken by a committee of women, to the “kitchen”, an area where a cupboard and stove were sitting along with a multitude of pots, pans and an assortment of kitchen equipment, where they “explained” to her how to use each item. She submissively watched and listened to their counsel.
To end the “kitchen party” announcements were made for each large monetary gift that was given and from whom it had come: kw 2000 from ____ for the purchase of a fridge etc… The invitation to the “kitchen party” had a suggested amount of money to be given as a gift to the bride so at least I knew ahead of time that I didn’t have to go searching for a gift and it let me know what monetary gift would be appropriate. So I was grateful.
A few people gave thanks to all who attended and supported the bride and groom and then, with a little more dancing, the party was “finished” (as they say here). The “kitchen party” lasted about 3 hours in total and was very nice. It was a fun experience and I was enlightened as to what a Zambian “kitchen party” entailed.
Six months! Six months is when you’re supposed to change the batteries in your smoke detectors. We don’t have any of those. Six months is when you’re supposed to flip your mattress around so that it doesn’t sag. We do have one of those thankfully. Six months is when you look back over the time you’ve spent in a new location and wonder how it went by so fast and yet so slowly!
Six months ago, Mark and I made a big move, leaving our friends and family in the US to come over to start a new life here in Zambia. As with any move, we had certain expectations and ideas of what living in Zambia might look like. Overall though, we trusted God to lead and guide us each step of the way. Some things were known ahead of time and others weren’t. We knew that Mark would be taking Dr Spurrier’s place at the hospital doing medicine and surgery. We knew that at some point in the future he would also be taking over the medical director or CEO position (called the MS-Medical Superintendent here) as well: don’t ask me how he was to find time to do 2 very busy full-time jobs at the same time but that was his assignment. We also knew that we had no idea what I would be doing. That is not unusual when we go on mission trips. All I knew was that I only wanted to do things that Zambians couldn’t do so that I wouldn’t be taking anything away from them.
We knew that God had put everything in place for us to come here: most importantly our kids were supportive, our friends, family and churches had rallied around us offering both prayer and financial support, very quickly and efficiently getting us here within 6 months, my mom was happy in the personal care home she was now living in and had many people calling and visiting her, and through no plan of our own, God prompted us to make a lateral move selling our condo in NJ and buying a house in the OBX to help us pay for our 3 girls still in college and grad school. Our condo sold in 6 days cash! God is great! The one thing that we didn’t understand was why our big house, which had been purchased when 7 of us lived there, had not sold! But we trusted that God had a plan and was in control of all things working them all together for our good so off we went.
Life here in Zambia has had its share of struggles and joys over the past 6 months. Mark, of course, hit the ground running, jumping into surgery and medical work right off the bat. He enjoyed working with both Zambians and others from a variety of countries who came to help out. We had nursing students from Canada and Messiah college (unfortunately the ones from Indiana Wesleyan had to cancel), medical students from Penn State University, and various residents and doctors from the Netherlands, Sweden and the US. Each one was very helpful in their work at the hospital and Macha Research Trust. We truly enjoyed every moment we spent ministering to them through friendship, having them over for meals, encouraging them as they worked at the hospital and taking them to church with us. We miss them and hope that some at least will return in the future. We also look forward to more coming here as soon as this pandemic is over and flights and visas resume.
For me it was a slow start to figuring out exactly what I was to get involved with here in Macha. When we arrived, we landed in the very first rainstorm of the wet season. There are 3 seasons here: Wet/Hot and Humid (November-April), “Cold”/Dry (May-July), and Dry/Very Hot (August-October)–plan accordingly if you plan to come visit us. The country was trying to survive from having had a bad drought the year before and there was a famine. My days were spent handing out roller meal (corn meal is their staple food which they eat as porridge for breakfast and as “nshima” for dinner) to people coming to the house for food. I always tried to give them a little job (piece work) to do before I handed them the bag of food. At times, I got up in the morning to a dozen women sitting along the sidewalk in the back yard waiting for a job to do in order to receive food. I got rather creative in the jobs that I gave out: weeding, sweeping, laundering, hoeing, picking up garbage around the community or going to the market to buy me some vegetables. They were always very grateful for the food. The problem though, was that it took a lot of time for each household giving out food to assign jobs, if that was their chosen protocol, and to manage the flow of people coming to all the houses. Also, some people went to multiple houses while others got nothing. There needed to be a central location from which people could get food in order to have a solution to this problem. By the end of December, a storage room was selected, and the Macha Feeding Program was organized. This program ran from January through the end of March at which time it ended due to two factors: one, the Lord provided a great rainy season so people now at least had fresh maize (corn) to eat, and two, the Covid 19 restrictions no longer allowed for large gatherings. Needless to say God provided a job for me to do.
My job in the program was manyfold:
to write a proposal for funds from the Global Compassion Fund (please feel free to donate to this fund for ongoing projects like the Macha Feeding Program here and in other countries as well as emergency relief projects including COVID responses at https://partnership.bicus.org/project/global-compassion-fund/ ).
to collect and keep track of donations and expenses.
to order and purchase roller meal at the best price each week.
to organize payment from various outside accounts.
to organize transportation and pick up in Choma.
to problem solve issues along with Vincent and Beenzu that came up every week. (see video)
insert video linkhttps://youtu.be/6FpiWeXW7r4
In addition, I also spent time learning Tonga and tutoring kids from MICS in reading. (Macha International Christian School).
However, at the end of March everything that I had been involved in came to a screeching HALT! The Macha Feeding Program ended, MICS closed, and many foreigners working here left for one reason or another. The last week of March was VERY difficult. Having to say goodbye to new friends (who really feel like family here because Macha is so small and we’re so far from our families), having both our eye doctors leave abruptly to return to the Netherlands and having our hospital Medical Superintendent go back to the US with less than 24 hour notice, left me cleaning up their houses and feeling the huge void. It was much too reminiscent of when I was 12 years old and my brother and his fiancée returned to the US taking my 16 year old sister with them. When my mom and I returned from the airport to the empty house, with unmade beds and dishes still on the table, we both burst into tears and left to go visit friends. It was easier to face it all once more time had passed, knowing that their planes had left, and they wouldn’t return. This left 11 of us ex-pats still here working at the hospital, MRT (Macha Research Trust) and MICS (even though it is closed there are jobs to be done).
Although we knew that Mark would eventually be taking over the MS position, we didn’t have any idea on when this would occur. Dr Deboe was still happy to do the job, so Mark concentrated on his medical work. Suddenly, on March 23 Mark was now acting MS. He now had to pick up all of the various projects, responsibilities, and accounts that James had been in charge, continue his medical work, as well as prepare the hospital for a pandemic!
Mark was put in charge of managing a 200 bed hospital, 400 employees, maintenance of 75 houses, continuing the reworking of the entire water distribution system,
finishing the construction of the new Operating Theater (OT),
overseeing the construction of 3 new buildings (pre and postpartum Mother’s Shelter),
the planting/harvesting of food in the fields and gardens for the patients in the hospital,
running a guesthouse, and all the accounts and purchases that go along with all of this. Oh! And the minor detail of having to worry about and prep everyone and everything for a pandemic! (sarcasm I’m sorry)
Prepping for Covid 19 has been an ongoing activity since the end of March. Hand washing stations have been set up throughout the hospital, hand sanitizer dispensers
have been given to all departments, the flow of the hospital traffic has been reconfigured, patients can only have one visitor/person stay with them, all staff wear masks,
triage tents have been set up outside the hospital, and someone is now in charge of everything related to Covid 19. She has been a huge help in getting these preparedness needs ready and educating all staff in using PPE as well as running drills with planted “patients”.
Due to Covid 19 all schools closed on March 20th. Most, but not all, secondary school here are boarding schools. Macha Girls houses hundreds of teenaged girls and the Nurses Training School (NT) houses hundreds of nursing students. With both these schools closing, the place got very quiet. The 3rd year nursing students (final year) were allowed to stay as they were almost finished with their program and could also be of help at the hospital should the caseload increase drastically.
My job with Covid 19 prep was to cut out mask and gown kits for the hospital staff, while local tailors sewed them together. (600 masks and 50 gowns). Sometimes it meant taking a trip with Mark to Choma to buy various needs like gown material, oxygen tank valves, hand sanitizer, and a multitude of other things needed “just in case” Covid 19 came to Macha.
I am happy to say that as of this writing we have not had any positive cases here. We’ve had a few questionable cases that ended up being other things such as malaria or TB. The hospital is as ready as possible should a positive case arrive.
Mark’s job is stressful, to say the least, but he is enjoying it as well. The most difficult aspect is adjusting to the protocols that the government uses for everything and the constant lack of funding to move forward with all of the needs. The blessing is that due to Covid 19 and the fact that everyone is in their fields harvesting the wonderful crop that God provided for them this year, the hospital is a lot quieter, allowing Mark the time to adjust to his new job.
An aspect of his job that I don’t enjoy is that now I am the boss’s wife. Here in Macha, there is already a longstanding status divide between missionaries and Zambians. This makes it very difficult to get to know people (and Covid 19 social distancing doesn’t help) especially because we are looked at as a financial or job resource rather than people to befriend. We are constantly being asked for money for school or exam fees, funerals, travel cost, food, etc… The best one was when someone wanted k40 to pay for his police report paperwork.
The social distancing protocol has been difficult for everyone globally. However, it is one thing when you have long established friendships and family around the corner. It’s very different when you’ve only just arrived in a new country and don’t know people nor the culture yet and they are all being asked to social distance. As Mark works 50+ hour weeks, 6 days/week, I spend a lot of time by myself. That’s nothing new for me because I’m married to a surgeon. What is different now is that I don’t have my kids and mother around like I have over the past 26 years (even though they’re in college they still come home and are home now which makes being here more difficult). I hadn’t even had a chance to go through “empty nesting” in the US but now am going through it here without my friends to go on walks with or chat with. Dealing with Covid 19 at home would mean hanging out with my kids, playing games, doing puzzles, rollerblading, going on walks with the dog, playing tennis, and cooking yummy things together. That sounds like bliss in my book! BUT more importantly it would also mean being there to help them get through this Covid 19 pandemic as they struggle with various aspects of it. However, it is a blessing that our house did not sell because our kids now have somewhere to be together and it’s their home.
My mother lived with me from 2006-2019. When she moved out last March to be closer to my brother, we felt that being in a personal care facility would be beneficial so that she could both be taken care of and socialize with people. At my house she was no longer going out except for church and prayer meetings. After 13 years together it’s hard not to just be able to stop in her room for a little chat. But now she is isolated to her room. That is a very difficult thing for me because if I hadn’t come here she would still have been at home with us and interacting with the kids. We couldn’t have predicted this I realize but this has been very difficult on her mental state. She is very much ready to go to heaven and can’t wait to go. (that’s nothing new) But being here and knowing that now she can’t have visitors nor even leave her room just saddens me. A lot has changed in 6 months!
Others things that have kept me “busy” during this time is that I have been tutoring 2 people in English, which I enjoy very much, and occasionally have gotten to see children with speech issues. The latest was an 11-year-old who didn’t speak. I suspected a hearing impairment and was excited to find out that MRT had an audiometer, as well as someone to do the testing (it’s been a long time since grad school when i did it once or twice!).
The screening showed a moderate hearing loss in both ears. So, now he will have to go to Lusaka to an ENT office to be tested and fitted with hearing aids if possible. I would be happy to do some aural rehab with him afterwards. He is the nicest boy and is very eager to learn.
The past 6 months have been a roller coaster ride to say the least. But, through it all God has been faithful and given us what we have needed to get through and do the work that He has called us to do here. Through the ups and downs He has helped Mark and I work as a team and support each other. Even though Mark works a lot we have never spent this much time alone together without running to Youth Group or other church activities, doing some sort of sport (tennis, rollerblading, waterskiing etc…) or umpteen other tasks. You have to be a lot more creative here to find things to do. So the past 6 months have been a learning experience in many ways but we are grateful for the growth that we have experienced and thankful for God’s faithfulness through it all.
We serve with Brethren in Christ US World Mission. Contributions preferenced for our ministry may be sent to BIC US at:
What was our Easter celebration like this year in Zambia? I have nothing to compare this year to, as we only just got here in November, but I imagine that in some ways it was “normal” for life here and in other ways it was “abnormal”.
Every year since our kids were little we’ve celebrated a Passover Seder. So, this year as well, we invited friends over to enjoy a meal together remembering when the Israelites were freed from Egypt and spared from the 10th plague by the death of the Passover lamb and when Jesus shared the bread and cup with his disciples before he died. I’m happy to report that everything was cooked and tasted halfway decent in spite of the lack of electricity (8-9 hours off per day alternating mornings and afternoons each week) and water (on for 2-3 hours morning and evening). It was only after the whole thing was over that I realized that what I had presented as beef (not being sure that I’d have enough lamb I pulled a roast out of the freezer and cooked that as well) was actually a pork loin!!!! Oh my! That is the worst thing to serve at a Seder! We laughed so hard.
If you’re interested in learning more about a Passover Seder and why we do it give this a listen. (Going on a tour of Israel someday with Dr Rydelnik moderating is on my bucket list).
As per usual, Mark didn’t realize that Friday was a holiday here, so he worked a 7 hour day. This was especially tough for me because there isn’t much to do around here regularly and now with social distancing it’s even worse. The fact that all four of our kids were home at our house in PA together and I was here with nothing to do made it all the harder. It was a nice surprise when my friend Beatrice called. Her daughter was turning 2 so we enjoyed an evening together celebrating Brianna. She didn’t like it when we all sang to her though saying: “stop!”. I guess that she just wanted to move forward with the cake.
Saturday Mark worked a half day (still not taking a day off) and then we joined the Books and a Swedish doctor for a 10 mile run/bike ride in the bush and around a hill/mountain. You never know what kind of terrain or animals you might have to dodge along the way. We 3 bike riders took a wrong turn after a drink stop and got separated from the 2 runners. We had quite the adventure doing some real mountain biking but eventually found our way home before dark. Both Marlys and I managed to fall off of our bikes at one point: me due to choosing to ride down the steep side of a river bank only to stop dead in the sand and flip, and her due to her tires getting mired in the sand stopping the bike and tipping her sideways. We both had a good laugh and kept going.
Saturday evening Mark and I enjoyed watching/listening to my brother Ian’s Good Friday service (since we didn’t want to listing to it at 1:00 in the morning when it was first aired). It was a treat to be able to take part in that from afar.
Sunday morning was when everything really seemed “abnormal”. There was no church service to go to! What now? How do you celebrate Easter without going to church or decorating eggs or singing Easter songs or eating a boatload of Reese’s Easter eggs etc…? So we googled how to make natural egg dyes and went to work boiling and cooking things (we had electricity until 13:00) but of course we were starting with brown eggs so were already at a disadvantage. A friend let us know that if you put brown eggs in vinegar for 30 minutes the brown comes off so of course we did that too. Once we boiled red onion skins, turmeric, beets and greens we let the eggs soak.
While Mark enjoyed playing in his chemistry lab I moved out to the dining room to make homemade peanut butter eggs: modified Buckeyes!
We then invited friends over to decorate the eggs with Sharpies and have our traditional family “egg fight”.
We did have some excitement on Easter in that we discovered that bees had infested our joint chimney, with Amanda next door, so we simultaneously had to light fires to smoke them out. It was plenty hot without the fire in the house but apparently we needed a fire in spite of the heat. We thought that the whole bee ordeal was over but then later on in the afternoon as we were listening to an Easter service on the phone, over the sound on the phone, we heard this “enormous” buzzing! Here, outside by the road, thousands of bees were swarming around a tree. It was SO LOUD!!! They swarmed for about 20 minutes then disappeared. I’m just really hoping that they didn’t settle back into the chimney.
Sunday evening we had the privilege of watching the Sight and Sound movie of Jesus (at the Books house since they had electricity) and we really enjoyed the way they presented the story. It was so nice to be able to get to watch such a wonderful drama presentation of Jesus’s life and message to the world.
The rest of the night we spent talking to family in the US and catching up on their news, The fact that we can talk to each other frequently is a wonderful blessing!
So, although this Easter was the same and yet different, we enjoyed pondering and celebrating Christ’s death and resurrection. We know that no matter what our situation Christ has redeemed us and made a way for us to be reconciled to him. He is the resurrection and the life!
After reading our blogs, you might be asking yourself, didn’t you go to Zambia to do surgery? The answer is definitely “Yes!” Much of my day is filled with surgery or taking care of those with surgical and medical issues. So, I guess, it is time that I share with you some interesting cases.
The weekend after arriving in Zambia I was called upon to make my first house call. We received a call from Wes Wilcox, the director of New Day Orphanage to see a patient. I say “house call” because I saw the patient at a house but not the patient’s house.
A child, 3 years old, who I will call Pretty (a common Zambian name, but not her real name) is not an orphan but had come to New Day with her mother seeking help. Pretty had a major bowel blockage at the age of 9 months and now had two ostomies. Surprisingly the mother was well informed and had arrived with the little girl’s records from 3 years ago, which showed that the child had developed an obstruction and the surgeon at that time had divided the transverse colon and brought both ends out, one on the left and one on the right, to decompress the bowel. The provisional diagnosis was Hirschsprung’s disease. A disease in which the nerve endings of the colon have not developed resulting in nonfunctioning bowels. The problem, at this time, was that the left sided ostomy had started prolapsing and was in need of surgical repair.
If the child indeed had Hirschsprung’s then putting the 2 ends of bowel back together was out of the question (At least here in Zambia). If it was not Hirschsprung’s then reconnecting the bowel was worth considering. So, after discussing the case with the mother, it was decided she would come to the hospital and have a biopsy to determine what surgery we would perform to correct the current problem of bowel prolapse. So, facilitated by the Wilcoxes the child came the 45 minutes’ drive to Macha and had her biopsy. Biopsies are sent to the capital, Lusaka (7 hours away), and usually take 3 months for results. Thanks to the staff at New Day, who personally took the specimen and retrieved the results, this process was shortened to 6 weeks. I received the report from Wes and the results were good. There was no evidence of Hirschsprung’s, Good news! Unfortunately, this good news was followed with some not so good news. While in Lusaka, Laurie Wilcox had a CT scan and was given the provisional diagnosis of metastatic ovarian cancer. So, on the day before leaving for South Africa to seek medical care, the Wilcoxes arranged for Pretty to come to Macha for a second time to have her colostomies taken down. The next day we took Pretty to surgery and were able to put her bowel back together. Then we waited. Waiting for a 3 year old to move her bowels seems unexciting but it is nerve racking when you consider all that was riding on this simple function.
After 3 days, pretty began to move her bowels and there was much rejoicing. By one week, Pretty was walking around, happy, smiling, and moving her bowels. The day came for her to go home, but like always in medicine there is always another patient waiting to be cared for.
I will call her Patience (again not her real name). I think however it suites her. She also had had surgery, like Pretty, as a child, but about 10 years ago. She also had had a problem with her bowels, but the family was not as clear as to what had been done, other than that it was something with the bowel. She really had no pain but was complaining of feeling full and having long periods of constipation. By the second day of her admission, it was clear her bowels were obstructed. Her x-ray showed very dilated loops of bowel including the colon.
One of the common problems in Zambia, because of the high fiber diet, is twisting of the bowel (sigmoid volvulus). Clinically this didn’t fit her picture but given the large amount of air in the left colon it was a consideration. What we knew was that the patient needed surgery. So, we took her to the OT (Operating Theater – from the British influence). At the time of surgery, we found, as expected, dilated loops of large and small intestine. I have seen some very large bowel over the years but by far this was some of the most dilated. I wish we had taken a picture but alas, we did not. After decompressing the bowel, we were able to take a better look around. Initially we had seen 2 spleens one larger and one smaller. (this can happen sometimes with patients developing an accessory spleen). As we looked more carefully, we realized we were seeing a normal spleen on the left and a liver just above it. For those of you who don’t remember your anatomy class, the liver belongs on the right and the spleen on the left. A small part of the population has what is known as “situs inversus” which can be partially or complete. We more commonly hear of “dextrocardia” where the heart is on the left instead of the right. More often in bowel obstructions in kids we see malrotation of the bowel in which the left and right colon are switched. In this case, the bowel had a normal position but just the liver and gallbladder were flipped. This had created abnormal adhesions obstructing the transverse colon. By releasing these adhesions, we were able to release the obstruction and restore bowel function.
After seeing the insides of this patient, we were able to go back and look at the x-rays and they made perfect sense. The dilated bowel we thought was on the left was in reality dilated bowel on the right. The film was backwards, or maybe you could say the patient was backwards. When looking at the film we put the liver shadow on the right, where it always is supposed to be, but this was backwards. Seeing the real thing helped us to put the x-ray into perspective and see more clearly the shadows we were seeing on the x-ray. Paul says that “Now we see through a glass, darkly” I Corinthians 13:12, but some day we will see things the way they really are.
As these 2 surgeries were going on, it was confirmed in South Africa that our friend Laurie was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer. They are good people! People who are doing exactly what James says to do; taking care of widows and orphans. I contemplated why. Why do things like this happen? This case of situs inverses showed me that, I was not looking at things the right way. Here in this life I am only seeing x-rays of the real things. Things I don’t have access to or can’t even understand, not until they are shown to me completely by the Father. Like a surgeon, I plow ahead in life making plans based on what I think I see. Most of the time with good results because I have come to recognize when surgery needs to be done, but often changing “my” plan when I realize the reality of Gods truth.
As a child when I read the verse “He sends the rain on the just and unjust” Matthew 5:35, I equated rains with the bad things that happen in life. After all rains mess things up. That’s why we have “rain dates” and we talk about it “raining on our parade”. Rains interfere with life and our plans so they must be bad. Living in a country which has suffered from a drought, I have come to realize that rains are a blessing. Every time it rains, we praise God for his provision. Last week we had 4 days of steady rain. This happened right when the community had its annual disc golf tournament. They played in spite of the rain. It did seem inconvenient and by the end of the 4 days, those of us who had been asking for the blessing of rain were hoping they would stop soon and not erode the corn which was growing so nicely. As the rains poured, I was reminded of the song “Blessings” by Laura Story. “Cause if your blessing come through raindrops, what if your healing comes through tears… What if the trials of this life are your mercies in disguise?” What if I have been looking at the x-rays of life backwards for all of these years? What if the things that I think are bad are really for my good? What if Romans 8:28 really is true and God does work ALL things together for the good of them that are called according to His purpose?
Please prayer for the Wilcox. They are now back in the US and Laurie will be starting her cancer treatment soon.
People often ask me, Maggie, what life is like in Zambia. Of course it’s difficult to give a true picture seeing as so much of life involves sounds, smells, tastes, feelings, sights and, of course, what we experience every day. I think that moving to and living in Zambia is a lot like rafting down the Zambezi.
Before actually heading down the river we first asked others what it was like to raft down the Zambezi. Some said that it was the best experience ever, while others said that they’d never do it again. Mark had already bought the tickets for us to go, so we were going one way or the other, with these mixed messages regarding other people’s experiences. I wasn’t really sure whether to be thrilled or apprehensive about the experience to come.
The day arrived for us to head down the river. It was a beautiful day! We had put on our sunscreen, eaten a good breakfast and were heading for the amazing experience which is rafting the Zambezi river class 5!
The very first thing that we did was to receive a life jacket and a helmet. “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, … take the helmet of salvation…” (Ephesians 6:14,17) The life vest was securely on me, so tight I could barely breath until I loosened it a little. The helmet was wobbly at best on my head until I switched with Mark. I was ready to go. But I needed more…that wasn’t enough. Just because we’ve been willing to follow God’s call to Zambia doesn’t mean that we are fully equipped by any stretch and what we are equipped with doesn’t always work perfectly to say the least.
The second thing we did was listen to the safety instructor regarding any possible scenario on the river and what to do in order not to drown: commands used, body position when out of the boat in the rapids, where to find help, how to help others appropriately etc… “Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promise you.” (Deuteronomy 6:3). If ministry in Zambia is to go well we are to be obedient to the Lord and His instructions. We are attempting to best follow God’s leading as we navigate the cultural norms and learn the processes that are most appropriate for various situations in which we find ourselves involved. The norms that we are used to often do not work here so much adjusting and learning are necessary even though God’s truths and commands still apply. Just as rafting on the Zambezi is vastly different from life on dry land, life in Zambia is vastly different from life in the US.
The third thing that we were given was a paddle to move and steer the boat, reach out to a person in the water, or whack a crocodile if necessary! “…and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17) The word of God is what helps me steer through life here in Zambia through the joys and challenges. I confess that I need to spend more time in His Word.
The fourth thing that we were given was a guide. We had never met before, we had never even spoken before. He came recommended by the company we had booked our tickets through but we didn’t have any prior knowledge of this guy. The only thing we knew was that per his word and his colleagues he was “a great guide!” “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”(Proverbs 3:5). So with great faith in our guide off we hiked down into the gorge down to the river, no turning back. Here we are living life in Zambia following our Lord’s leading each and every day. He knows best how to guide us through all of the situations we find ourselves in and we are trusting in Him each step of the way. It is always difficult as we truly like to “lean on our own understanding” but it is best when we follow our guide and humbly submit.
The fifth and final thing that we were provided with was a raft. It was inflated on the rocks next to the swirling “melting pot” where we were to enter the river. It looked sturdy enough but who knows what one crocodile tooth could do to this raft? I’d love to tell you that we all got into the raft, were pushed off of the rocks and dropped into the rushing water with our guide steering the boat to calm waters…but that’s not what happened. Mark, Holly, and Naomi got into the raft (ours was the last raft to go in) and there was a huge miscommunication right at the start. Life is full of miscommunications here in Zambia: not only because we don’t speak Tonga. Their pronunciation of English is also very different. So back to rafting! Since the raft is on a scraggly rock next to the water, as people get into the raft they move up to the “front” of the boat while guides hold onto the back of the boat. Everyone keeps on moving up up up to the “front” of the boat until it is hanging over the edge of the rock so that when they let go the raft can drop into the river. Our guides kept on yelling “back, back, back” to Mark and the girls. They understood “bounce, bounce, bounce!”, thinking that our raft was stuck on the rocks. Jocelyn barely hopped into a bouncing raft but, before I could even get close, the guides couldn’t hold onto it anymore and it dropped into the river, rushing down the rapids without neither me nor the guide. Life in Zambia is often just like this. Filled with different ways of doing things, different expectations and definitely surprising outcomes. So my very first experience on the Zambezi rafting trip was jumping into the “melting pot” and letting the rapids carry me down the river! I started off the trip outside of the raft!! Once again I didn’t know whether to be apprehensive or exhilarated to be having this experience. On the flip side of this, once the raft reached calm waters, the four in the raft wondered where I was? And where our guide was as well as he also had to jump in and catch up to his raft. Sometimes you get left behind in life and just have to jump right back in no matter what. This is life in Zambia. At a moments notice you can feel left behind but have to make the choice to jump right on back into it. “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)
The Zambezi is like life. It has varying classes of rapids with rocks, whirlpools and crocodiles but it also has calm and peaceful sections when our arms could rest and we could enjoy the beauty around us. Even though we did our best to listen to and obey our guides instructions at times the waters flipped the rafts over sending people into the swirling rapids. However, with everyone working as a team and the help of safety kayakers, all were collected and returned to their rafts. “In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3b). This is not always easy anywhere in life but here in Zambia when people are constantly and I mean constantly knocking on your door, asking for something, this command is often difficult to follow.
I’m very glad to report that we made it all the way down 25km of the Zambezi river going through 23 rapids (except for rapid 9 which is a class 6 so we had to portage around it) and enjoyed every minute of the experience. So as we continue our life here in Zambia I will often think of our ride down the Zambezi and along with much prayer and patience continue this journey going forward. “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand….And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep praying for all the Lord’s people.” (Ephesians 6:13,18)
Added note: this link shows what can happen on the Zambezi (this is not our boat and didn’t visit happen this way on our trip event though rafts did flip over quite a few times) and in life, but notice how long the guide stayed in the raft!
“For unto is born this day in the city of David, A Savior which is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:11
Getting together with fellow Christians from the US, Canada, and the Netherlands to celebrate our Lord’s birth singing carols and enjoying Christmas cookies
Christmas is always better when you are able to share it with family. While Zach had to stay in the the US we enjoyed having our 3 daughters here in Zambia for the holidays
We enjoyed spending Christmas morning at church where the youth retold the story of Christ birth We arrive late at 9:15 for the 9 am service to an empty church The service started “promptly” around 10:30 in usual African fashion.
Christmas dinner with fresh ham that was slaughtered this week and delivered to our door. Complete with Christmas cookies we managed to bake when the power was on.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and yours
Blessings of water. While we had a very dry last couple weeks of December this past week has brought several rains. Promise of rains for tonight off to the right of this picture while to the left is a 100,000 gallon water tower now being filled after the successful drilling of 4 new bore holes and placement of 2 new pump.
After 2 1/2 weeks of no rain, much of the maize looked very strained The rains this last week have been a welcome relief. Above is the corn planted for feeding patients at the hospital. While smaller than other fields because we planted later, the corn is doing well. This is our first endeavor to grow our own food for feeding patients. Pray that the rains will continue and we and others will have a good crop to end hunger in the area.
Thanks to many generous donors, there has been much distribution of roller meal. Our efforts so far have been uncoordinated, going to various villages or passing our food from our homes. With 20-30 people coming each day to various houses we have decide to centralize our efforts.
Today, marked the beginning of our centralized efforts The hospital has provided a place to store and distribute roller meal. Maggie and Jocelyn went to help, but much of the work and organization has been done by the Zambians here at Macha
Beenzu who has a degree in social work has met with the local headman of the villages to determine those in need. Pictures above, Beenzu reviews the list and those who have come to receive roller meal