I traveled to Africa with Ron McCormack, a member of Tri-Lakes and our missions team. Ron was the perfect traveling companion, easy to get along with, flexible, and wise.
We made it to Denver Friday about noon. From the time we left Lusaka until we hit the Denver airport was 30 hours and 15 minutes. The trip from Johannesburg to Atlanta was 18 hours, the longest I've ever been on one airplane. But enough whining about the flight. The trip was--overall--great.
We started in South Africa with a visit to Dean and Kathie Carlson, OC missionaries living in Jo'burg. Great folks. Dean is a great strategist and has recently been asked to take the lead on a project to plant churches in all ten of the countries of southern Africa.
They took us to Soweto, where we learned more about the realities of Apartheid. I stood in Nelson Mandela's home, on the spot where school boy Hector Pieterson was killed by police in the demonstration in 1976 that made the world aware that Apartheid had reached a boiling point. I met a young pastor who is leading a church where 80 percent are unemployed and as many as 40 percent are HIV positive. Thieves had just broken into the church the night before and stolen their one and only computer, as well as that Sunday's offering that had not been deposited. It was a discouraging day for him, and I hope I was able to encourage him.
We also had time to visit one of the smaller game parks and saw some game in the wild, as well as a place where some baby animals are kept in captivity. After 3 days with the Carlsons we headed up to Zambia.
Tri-Lakes has been involved in Zambia since 2002. We started out in strictly humanitarian work, feeding during the famine and digging wells. As a result, a number of congregations have sprung up. We visited several. They are scattered all over the country. Alex Yalenga, the Zambian pastor we work with, is stretched so thin. We really need to tighten the focus of our work, or he'll burn out for sure.
The Zambian situation is so depressing. It's the only continent where the economies are steadily getting worse by the decade. Only six percent are employed. The average life span is 37.9 years. Ninety percent of the Zambian governments budget comes from foreign aid, much of which ends up in someone's pocket, not reaching the people. AIDS here is rampant, as high as 40 percent. We came through Chirundu, which is on the border of Zimbabwe, and the truck drivers were lined up for blocks to visit the local prostitutes after a long trip.
AIDS here is primarily heterosexual, and comes not only from promiscuity, but from a number of cultural rituals that involve sex and/or blood. The Lusaka cemetery will run out of burial spaces in another month, holding an average of a hundred funerals a day.
Even those in the churches revert to the occultic practices of their cultural heritage. While there are some large successful commercial farms where there is irrigation, the average Zambian in the bush lives or dies--literally--by the rain. This year was another drought.
There is not enough money to "fix" the real problems. People have devoted their lives to studying the situation, but as I see it, the poverty of most African nations is an amalgam of corrupt politics, an outdated agricultural economic model, a welfare mindset, and a workforce that is only valued for unskilled labor.
The church is the hope of the world. If we can get self-sustaining churches in every community, large or small, we can address the heart issues first, and rebuild a country. But missionaries have been in Zambia for 150 years, and there is little visible impact.
God help us crack the missiological code for the wonderful people of this country.