Nancy Collins PC(USA) - December 2015 Update

A Christmas Story from Zambia

For the past four years I have celebrated Christmas in the U.S.A. Last year my goal was to attend as many Christmas performances and activities as possible. I spent Christmas Eve with my 21 year-old son Charles and Christmas Day with Charles and my brother David’s family.

This year I am celebrating Christmas in Lusaka, Zambia. I dusted off and set up all my Christmas decorations. The house looks nice. One evening – when the power was on – I listened to a Christmas music CD. But these things were not very satisfying. This is the first year son Charles and I will not be together on Christmas. I have had moments of panic and grief about being in Lusaka by myself at Christmas. The pull of western style Christmas traditions, and of family fellowship, has been very strong.

Last week one of my Zambian colleagues asked me how Christmas is celebrated in the U.S. I wasn’t sure I could explain in a way that would make any sense to him: buying the Christmas tree, all the decorations and lights, shopping for Christmas presents, Christmas cards and letters, the special food, the family gatherings, the performances and festivities. My colleague told me that in the rural area of eastern Zambia where he grew up, Christian families would gather on Christmas Eve at the local church to sing hymns and carols until daybreak, celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ with  joyous music and dancing. Then if families could afford it, they celebrated Christmas by buying rolls and sugar so they could have bread and sweet tea for breakfast. Normally families went without breakfast. Financial resources were too limited for a breakfast meal. That was, and still is, Christmas in rural Zambia. The contrast of Zambian Christmas and American Christmas is striking and painful.

I find the discipline of partnership and of accompaniment with our international church partners calls for great patience and perseverance. I have to be willing to risk leaving empty spaces for God to fill, and that can be scary. Sometimes it takes an act of will on my part to be obedient to what God is teaching. I think this Christmas is one of those moments. 

Rev. Joseph received a diploma in theology in 2008 from the College of Theology in Ekwendeni, Malawi. Between 2008 and 2014 he served two rural congregations in eastern Zambia. In 2014 the Synod awarded him a scholarship to obtain a BTh Degree at
Justo Mwale. In 2015 while continuing his studies, he was assigned to serve as interim pastor at CCAP Chilenje congregation. CCAP Chilenje has been my congregation for several years, so Rev. Joseph has been my pastor. Sunday mornings, since we were neighbors, I frequently took him and his family to church. The church is about 15 miles from Justo Mwale, and I used the travel time to ask Rev. Joseph questions about how the church is organized, to get clarity on various activities, and to understand why so many offerings are collected during the year. 

On December 20 I assisted Rev. Joseph Chilenje, his wife Miriam, and their four children as they moved into the partially finished manse at CCAP Chilenje congregation in Lusaka. Rev. Joseph finished his Bachelor of Theology (BTh) studies here at Justo Mwale Theological College in November, and then he was assigned by the Synod to serve as the solo pastor at CCAP Chilenje. Chilenje congregation is an old one, but one which has struggled with conflict. This has affected its growth and its ability to support a pastor. Rev. Joseph is the first full-time pastor the congregation has had in many years.

After Rev. Joseph and Miriam packed all of their household possessions, the open bed Mitsubishi truck – the common mode of moving households here in Zambia – arrived. My contribution to the move was to drive the family to the manse. On the drive I asked Rev. Joseph about the Sunday morning worship service on this, the Sunday before Christmas. He expected that one of the congregation members would have preached in his stead.

Congregations in Zambia are responsible for providing housing for their pastors. The Chilenje congregation struggled to raise funds to complete a two bedroom manse for Rev. Joseph and his family. Despite last minute efforts in December, the manse was not completed. The concrete block exterior and interior walls were built, and the concrete floor was finished. But due to a miscalculation, two of the iron sheets for the roof were missing so puddles of rain water stood on the concrete floors. There were exterior doors, but no interior doors. The walls and floor of the parents’ bedroom were very nicely plastered but since the concrete was still wet, the room was unusable. The bathrooms and kitchen were empty of fixtures and appliances. There is no running water or electricity. The family will use the facilities at the nearby church building. Miriam will do her cooking outside on a small charcoal brazier. The promised iron window frames and glass panels for the windows of the sitting room and parent’s bedroom failed to materialize, so the window spaces were filled with additional concrete blocks. Other windows were covered with empty maize sacks. I was dismayed.

However the members of the congregation who spilled out of the church to welcome the pastor and his family showed no consternation. “We have lived in such places before,” one of them told me when I commented on the status of the house. Men and women gathered around the truck to take suitcases or pieces of furniture into the humble little home. Eager hands made short work of the unloading. The church members  crowded into the little house to sing to God, to praise him for his love and graciousness, and to pray for the well-being of the pastor and his family, for resources to complete the house, and for the unity of the congregation.

So this was my “worship service” on the Sunday before Christmas. This was how I worshipped God that Sunday. This was how God chose to fill the empty Christmas space in my soul. 

There wasn’t any organ music. There were no special anthems by a robed choir. But there were beautiful voices raised in glory to God. There weren’t any Christmas poinsettias or Christmas garland or lit candles, but there were many outstretched hands willing to be of service. There was no sermon but there was love and hope and the power of the Holy Spirit and a chorus of prayers lifted to God. I could not help thinking of another Joseph and Mary and their humble Christmas dwelling. 

Merry Christmas! God bless us every one!

Nancy Collins                                                                            
East Central Africa Regional Liaison

Note from The Outreach Foundation: 
Friends, if you feel compelled by the Holy Spirit to help the Chilenje congregation to complete their manse, we would accept and forward gifts earmarked for that purpose.

Read more about Nancy Collin's ministry by clicking HERE.

Amount needed in 2016

The Outreach Foundation seeks to raise a minimum of $25,000 for the CCAP synod roofing project and $10,000 for Nancy's support. To make a donation, click the Donate Now link in the sidebar.

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