It was my first day in Zambia. After an hour-long ride down rural roads in which “bumpy” is a gross understatement of a description, our team now followed a group of widows as they led us down to their gardens. It was hot, sticky, and grasses scratched at my legs as I walked on well-worn paths, avoiding mud puddles and trying to remember if I’d taken my malaria pill last night. This was the rural community known as Shikambo – ironically meaning “no problems”.
A COMMUNITY WITH PROBLEMS, A WOMAN WHO CARES
Beside me was Mrs. Chibinda. A local woman in her 40s and mother of seven, who has dedicated her life to serving women and orphans in communities like Shikambo. Communities where poverty, lack of opportunities, and high HIV and AIDS rates created thousands of widows and orphans – many HIV positive themselves. The current situation in this area of Zambia was particularly desperate, a shortened wet season produced crops far less bountiful than last year’s, and prices of staple foods had tripled in just one year. Long story short, people were going hungry because food was unaffordable.
In the wake of such dire problems, Mrs. Chibinda stood out as a determined and humble crusader for the most vulnerable orphans and widows in this area. Overseeing women’s groups in three communities through our local partner, Kabwe Home-Based Care, she walks distances of 7, 10, sometimes 15 km a day to visit each beloved group at least two times a week. Leading bible studies and coordinating income generating activities, she empowers women to work together to increase food security and deepen their relationships with God. I asked her what drove her to such servanthood, she simply smiled at me and said, “God gave me a heart for these women and children. It’s what He’s called me to do.”
FRUITS OF HARD LABOUR
When we finally reached the gardens, about twenty women proudly pointed out and showcased the okra, eggplant, and tomatoes they had grown with some seed investment money from a WOW missions team last August. They picked away at the vines, cleaning off anything remotely ripe and carried the fruits of their labour back to the place we had initially gathered. Along the way they stopped to show us two additional fields of soybean and sunflowers they had cleared and cultivated all by themselves with the profits from that first initial vegetable garden. “They are hoping to buy a press to make cooking oil with the profits from these new fields,” explained Mrs. Chibinda.
The afternoon sun was starting to set over this African brush land, the village headman and chiefs joined our little gathering to express additional gratitude to Kabwe Home-Based Care, Mrs. Chibinda, Visionledd, and us – their most honoured guests from Canada. We heard from a few women in the group who told us how these gardens have given them purpose, some food to feed their children, and hope that tomorrow holds more of God’s amazing promise. What’s next for these women? A watermelon field – God willing. But right now they can’t afford the seeds.
A GIFT TOO GENEROUS
Then, just as we finished dancing and singing along (as best as we could) to their songs of gratitude in the Bemba language, a couple of women emerged from the circle, placing at our feet the entire contents of their harvest from that day. All of the tomatoes, okra, and eggplant that we had just witnessed them harvest in bushels before us. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw chiefs bring forth three plump chickens from the village – they were for us as well.
It was too much. Really. Here at my feet was enough nutritious vegetables and meat to feed this entire group of women and their children for at least two meals. They had stripped the gardens clean of everything – when would they be able to harvest more? A few weeks at least. We can’t accept this, I thought. That would be like me clearing out everything in my fridge and cupboards and giving it to a stranger. Yet I can at least go out and buy more food – they cannot. Is there some way we can most graciously explain that we want them to keep this food for themselves? God knows they need it more than we do. But any objections I had went unacknowledged as our guide and Zambian local partner Pastor Eric Mwambelo graciously accepted the gifts and we packed them in the back of our vehicle.
We began the bumpy journey home, waving to the children of Shikambo as they ran beside us until they could no longer keep up. I overheard my boss Richard confirm with Pastor Eric that as discussed earlier, we were going to make sure the women got their watermelon seeds. Out of curiosity and concern I asked Eric what the monetary value of the gifts Shikambo had given us added up to, a rough estimate indicated the harvest and chickens were about 210 KR, approximately $42 CAD – more than what an average person in that community makes in a month. Ironically, (or perhaps quite divinely) that was also the value of the watermelon seeds and fertilizer we were arranging to send them.
The generosity of the Shikambo people still puts me on the verge of tears every time I think about it. I learned that to have refused their gift would have caused them deep hurt and confusion. In a sense, refusing their gift would have robbed them of their opportunity to bless us. Robbed them of their chance to show God’s love towards their fellow brothers and sisters. Who was I to judge what they “could” or “shouldn’t” give? I was deeply humbled.
Never before had the parable of the widow’s offering made such utter and perfect sense to me: “As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:1-4 NIV)
Blessed are the women of Shikambo, they taught a spiritually blinded and rich young woman what generosity truly looks like. Never have three bushels of vegetables and village chickens made a person feel so loved and blessed as I did on that day in Zambia.
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Revelations from Africa is a blog series dedicated to showcasing personal testimonies from the field – often demonstrating important life lessons that God revealed through experiences and people we encountered in sponsored communities and projects. These stories come from Visionledd staff, advocates, and short-term missions volunteers. If you have a story you would like featured in this series, please contact Cheryl Martin at email@example.com