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An Unexpected Encounter in Gwembe

ELVIS SIMAMVWA is from our Gwembe Cluster in Zambia. In this week’s blog, he recounts a story of personal discovery, made by a fellow Cluster member as he took part in the team's community work.

Buumba walked slowly behind the rest of the group, as if in a trance. His eyes clouded with tears. He hoped the others would not notice that he was starting to cry.

The group of four was returning from a community visit to a nearby village. They had been there to see a family who had various health concerns, and to help them identify available strengths and responses.

When they had entered the village, the group stopped outside the family's home. An elderly woman was talking to an elderly man. She was making a fire, while he sat on a wooden homemade chair. Goats and chickens were milling around. Nearby, two young boys and a girl were laughing and running while playing a game of catch.

At the sight of the visitors, the old lady asked the children to stop making noise and to go and play at the back of the house. The children stopped playing, became quiet, and looked with questioning eyes at the approaching group. Teta – the youngest of the children – suddenly ran straight towards where the old man was sitting, and jumped into his lap. The old man laughed and then cradled Teta in his arms, whilst welcoming the visitors.

The sight of Teta stopped Buumba in his tracks, though he wasn’t initially sure why. As the old lady greeted them and invited them to sit, Buumba could only mumble a response. As he sat grappling with these sudden, unexpected emotions, something began to make sense to him: in Teta’s eyes, and in the old man’s embrace, Buumba saw a reflection of God’s love, and that this love was all Buumba really needed.

Buumba’s Childhood

At the age of six, Buumba’s uncle had sent him a beautiful, colourful school bag. Buumba loved and cherished this bag. One morning while getting ready for school, he noticed that ants had chewed through one corner during the night. Buumba began to cry uncontrollably. His mother read him the riot act, blaming him for being careless and irresponsible. His father, meanwhile, just laughed and told him to go to school, as the bag could still hold its contents.

With tears streaming down his face he had started his walk to school. But then his grandfather appeared. He picked Buumba up and took the bag from him. He mended the damaged corner with cotton and needle, before letting him go on his way to school.

This was typical of Buumba’s relationship with his grandfather: it was one of unconditional love and trust.

One day, ten years later, while in high school, one of the teachers called Buumba aside to inform him that his grandfather had died in his sleep, and that he should leave right away in order to attend the funeral in the village.

From that day onwards, Buumba’s attitude changed completely. He became an irresponsible boy who did not care about his school work. His grades fell and he started enjoying the company of unruly boys and girls.

He grew to dislike himself, and he barely made it through the rest of school. After graduating, he went back to the village to live a life that lacked both hope and vision. He just accepted each day and never confronted the question, “who am I?”.

That was until the Buumba’s encounter with Teta.

Sharing our Lives

Buumba had only joined our Cluster a month prior to this community visit. Before the Cluster’s launch, Buumba worked with NGOs that came to “help” the community address its perceived needs. He did this work in order to be with his peers and to earn some money. But most of all, he did it to rid himself of the constant emptiness that he felt. It would work for a while, but eventually this emptiness returned, and he would keep searching.

Our Cluster, on the other hand, does not offer money. But Buumba participates nevertheless. While our Cluster emphasises that there are physical and intellectual dimensions to a community’s health, we also focus on developing a community’s spiritual and emotional strengths as well. We believe these are an important ingredient in the development and transformation of a community.

Our particular Cluster also operates under the premise that God is present in every situation.

On the morning of the visit to Teta’s home, our Facilitator had shared some Bible verses in the morning devotions. These included Ephesians 2: 12 -19, Jude 23, as well as Nehemiah. In sharing these passages, the Facilitator emphasised several things: the value of appreciating “who we are”; the meaning of loving one another; and of how when we share with others, we can find hope and faith, but we can also find ourselves.

After the devotions, the Facilitator asked that the group go into the village without assumptions or expectations, but simply with an intent to listen, to appreciate and to learn, and to all the time believe that God had something to show, share and teach each of them.

For Buumba, the Facilitator had been right: by embracing these instructions, the visit not only helped the family find some helpful ways to respond to their health concerns, but it taught Buumba about what was missing in his own life. In the interplay between Teta and his grandfather, Buumba saw his own need for God’s love, and that when we genuinely seek to connect with others, we become more receptive to this love.

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