This summer I had the opportunity to serve with SEU Missions as we partnered with Overland Missions in Zambia, Africa. Our journey began almost nine months before our first plane departed. At the beginning of the school year my co-lead, Alyssa, and I began dreaming about serving in Africa. We planned to focus on children’s ministry. Even after several logistical components changed, the calling to serve in children’s ministry remained on our hearts. Although things didn’t go as we had originally planned, my Alyssa and I believed that God was going to do something sweeter and better than we could ever imagine.
And now, as we look back on the trip, we can’t even begin to fathom all that the Lord did.
Our team gathered at the airport ready for our journey to begin. After 68 hours of travel, we finally reached the Zimbazee Overland missionary base. Although we were exhausted, our team continued to smile and laugh joyously as we met our ministry partners, a group of local Zambians who have been radically transformed by the power of God and want to minister to their fellow Zambians. They quickly became mentors and friends. Because they are native to the land and know the language, they became an integral part of the team in so many ways.
The next day, we packed up a Doorne’s Aanhangwagen Fabriek (DAF) truck with all of the supplies we would need for our one-week expedition, and set out on a four hour drive on a bumpy red dirt road to reach our campsite in the remote village of the Mpidichiefdom. Due to large tree branches blocking our path, that four-hour trek was not an easy one. Our Zambian ministry partners stepped up and began climbing trees and chopping down tree branches that prevented the DAF truck from passing through, further proving that nothing could stand in the way of this team.
While traveling on the long, windy, red dirt road, our team began to prepare our hearts by singing worship songs. We were eager and excited to share some of our favorite worship songs with our Zambian ministry partners, and they were eager to teach us their favorite songs as well. While driving along — bumping, singing, and laughing — we started to see villages along the narrow road. Children would hear the DAF truck and would come running to greet us. Some children even followed the DAFtruck and would run for miles following us, as our team waved to each of them, smiling from ear to ear. Eventually, we arrived at our designated camping area, which was located close to the villages that we would be serving. As we pulled in, we heard joyous screams of excitement from the village children, and were followed to our camping area by hundreds of smiling, tiny faces. Tears filled our eyes, recognizing in that moment that our hearts for children ministry were developing even before our tents were set up.
It was in these moments that Africa became more than a land of red dirt, but one filled with stories, smiles, tiny hands and feet, and faces and hearts that were curious and eager to hear more about the Lord.
Life in the Village
Our long days consisted of walking long dirt road paths lined with different native African vegetation. As we walked from village to village, from hut to hut, we continued to reflect on the goodness and faithfulness of God. Not only did the Lord bless us by inviting us to minister to His people in the remote places of Zambia, but He also showed us His beautiful creation in Africa. Our translator pointed out the different trees, including mango trees, and animals, like chameleons.As we stargazed at night sitting around our campfire and sharing testimonies from the day, I couldn’t help but think that the same God that made promises to Abraham and Moses was making promises to me, my team, and the people of Zambia. I also reflected on the fact that God keeps His promises and does exactly what He says.
We are promises fulfilled by God to Abraham — His descendents are as numerous as the stars in the sky. The people of Zambia are His descendents and He sent His son to die on a cross for them. As I write this, I’m still taken aback at these revelations from the Lord.
Our day-to-day ministry consisted of walking from hut to hut and evangelizing. We met so many local Zambians who were hungry and eager to hear what we wanted to share. We also came across strong Christ followers who told us the creation story!
From the very beginning of this expedition, it was clear that the people of this remote unreached village in Zambia were expecting to see the Lord move in new ways, both for those who have followed Christ for years, and those who had made the decision to follow Him while we lead them in a prayer. Every day looked completely different than the one before, and it was refreshing to the soul each time we got to meet a new friend.
While on this expedition, I oftentimes found myself thinking about the basics of the Bible. I realized that the simplicity of the Gospel is often overlooked. I experienced this first hand while sitting on a wooden stool underneath a giant shaded tree, looking into the beautiful faces sitting on woven mats. As I spoke, I felt the eagerness and expectancy that they had for the Lord. After asking them very simple questions like, “Do you know who Jesus is?” and “Have you heard of Jesus?” immediate confusion appeared on their faces and the translator turned to me and said they did not know that name and had never heard of it. I immediately had butterflies in my tummy and I sat straight up on my wooden stool. I had the opportunity to teach my new friends the story of creation. For a lot of Chrisitans, this story has been ingrained into us. We were often taught this story as a child in Sunday school. But these people, who lived an hour’s walking distance from our camp, had never heard the name of Jesus, and these Bible stories brought a brand new revelation of salvation into their lives.
Often, when we hear stories about international missions and the term “unreached people groups,” we don’t fully understand the significance of the term. But after hearing this story, I hope you realize that there are people around the world in forgotten places largely unknown to man —unreached people who have never heard of the name of Jesus. Although they may be unknown to mankind, they are not forgotten or forsaken by God.
After teaching my new friends the story of creation, I continued to minister to them by telling them the redemption story of Jesus and how he came to save them through salvation. After finishing the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, the faces of my new friends were even more eager than before. I then asked them if they wanted to receive the gift of salvation. As I gazed over the crowd, a few hands began to raise. The translator turned to me and said that all of them wanted to receive, yet only a few had raised their hands. I continued to explain the significance of making their own personal decision to receive salvation. I explained that their friend could not raise their hand for them, that they needed to choose this on their own and raise their hand to express an outward action of an inward surrender. After the translator spoke to them and translated what I said, every hand shot up into the air.
I smiled and looked at the translator. He then asked me if I could lead them in the salvation prayer. I immediately agreed and we all stood to our feet with our hands raised towards heaven as a sign of surrender to God.
I still remember sitting on that wooden stool and looking around at all of my new friends’ faces. My eyes filled with tears as their native language began to spill from their tongues. I can’t help but marvel that the God who made me and knows and understands my language, also made and understands the language of my Zambian friends! The ultimate life-changing stories of creation, crucifixion, resurrection, and salvation are simple because that’s the way they were designed. I’ve been challenged by this and continue to be challenged by the simplicity of the Gospel. It doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated — just shared with our whole hearts.
Purpose in the Details
There are certain things that are significant due to their meaning in every culture. In the story of my friends receiving salvation under a shaded tree, the woven reed mats and wooden stools we sat on signify importance, along with respect and honor. In Zambian culture, when you walk into a village area, you are often greeted with smiles and a cupped hand clap, which is a Zambian way of greeting. After returning the cupped hand clap, you are ushered into the shade to take a seat. When my team and I were welcomed into the village that had never heard the name of Jesus, they greeted us in this way and brought us wooden stools to sit on. The wooden stools are typically for the men of the group, but on this day all four of my team members, both male and female, were handed wooden stools. I think this is a testament of how beautiful the hearts of the Zambians are, and the importance of love and hospitality in their culture.
A big part of missions is partnering with and honoring the missionaries who have been there before us and will still be there after us. While partnering with the Overland missionaries, we had the opportunity to help start conversations about Jesus with an unreached people group. We had the opportunity to grow their curiosity and desire to know more about God and who He is. Through these conversations and interactions, we paved the way for the long-term missionaries to be able to disciple these people and nurture the seeds planted in their hearts. A team of two missionaries would not have been able to minister to more than 500 unreached people in the amount of time that our team of ten did. Now, these missionaries will build lasting relationships with the people and continue to minister to them and help them grow in their Christian walk of faith.
Thank you, Overland Missions, for inviting us to partner with you in what the Lord is doing in Zambia!
Written by Lovina Botone, SEU Student
Edited by Mia Golding, Student Writer
About SEU Missions
Hundreds of students, faculty, and staff travel the globe each year through SEU Missions. Each student-led mission trip has a specific purpose with one overall goal — to spread the Good News to the ends of the earth.