This article was originally published in the June 2011 edition of ITMI Monthly.
The two women chatted as they made their daily trek to their only source of water, the Zambezi River, not far from their village.
The Zambezi River is the fourth longest river in Africa, and is responsible for carving out the famous Victoria Falls. It supports life for an estimated 32 million residents of the Zambezi River Valley.
Ann [not her real name] spoke eagerly of her hopes and dreams for the child she would carry for a couple more months now. Josephine [not her real name] walked slowly so her friend could keep up, prompting Ann’s hopeful dialogue about what she would name the baby and what games she would play to make him or her laugh.
Hope is a rare thing in Lukulu West. The isolated area of Western Zambia between the Zambezi River and the Angola border called Lukulu West is home to an estimated 460,000 people, all living in utter poverty with no electricity, no roads, no shops and no water wells.
Ann’s joy in the blessing of a child she felt would give her life meaning, was casting off the realities of Lukulu West. Josephine enjoyed losing herself in it, too, even for a little while.
Upon reaching the river, they stashed their large empty water jugs on the bank and removed the rags they had tied around them in place of clothing in preparation for bathing.
Ann sought out a quiet spot up the river a few yards. She slipped into the waters, thankful as its coolness enveloped her tired body. She took her time lathering soap in her tightly wound short black hair and ever aware of the dangers of the river she leaned back, quickly dunking her head into the water.
Josephine was leaving the water after bathing when she heard the screams and splashing. Then she saw it.
There was so much thrashing up the river, it was impossible to see what was happening, but it was an all too common occurrence and she knew what had happened.
She didn’t even need to see the crocodile thrash away from the bank to know one of the slow, defenseless women had been attacked by the hungry beast.
When she saw the remains of the victim, she was crushed, numb in disbelief.
It was Ann.
Ann, whose hope had carried her through another day of hardships and hopelessness. Ann, whose unborn baby would never be named or laugh at games or the face of a loving mama. Ann, whose remains were now floating down the river, contaminating the water for all who would drink.
This is life in Lukulu West.
Full of utter poverty, constant affliction, and needless death, Lukulu West is isolated and forgotten, especially during flooding. The outside world has shown little to no acknowledge-ment of its existence, much less interest in its afflicted state - at least not enough to overcome the hurdles of accessibility brought on by the crocodile infested Zambezi River.
Mud and straw are the only protection from the elements and wild.
The Zambezi River is used for bathing...and drinking!
Women and children carry heavy containers filled with water from the croc-infested and un-sanitary Zambezi River.
Those on the east side are much better off due to easier access to the rest of the world. But even their own tribesmen living just east of the river in Lukulu East have been unable to assist their brothers west of the river.
The Lord has placed an “apostolic” calling on the life of ITMI partner, John Jere. As John puts it, to be a “sent one.” To holistically meet the needs of the most afflicted poor - needs for clean water, food, clothing and hope. Hope that, as John says, can only be found in Jesus.
The Spirit, and John’s heart for the afflicted, suffering and poor led him to Lukulu West. He was told by the local tribal chief that he was the first missionary ever to cross the river and visit the Lukulu people. Thanks to the faithfulness of believers who have helped with the provision of funds and supplies, the 9 hour drive to the river’s edge was possible for John’s team.
On his first visit there, he came across an old man, squatting outside his dilapidated mud hut, shivering. The winters are bitter cold in this area without clothing, and it is a season of pure misery for the residents.
John gave the shaking old man his own sweater, and told the man that Jesus loved him. The man realized he was a sinner and accepted Jesus as his Savior.
He then asked to touch John’s Bible. He’d heard of a Bible, but had never seen one. He couldn’t read it, but he understood that it provided hope. After returning home, John sent some clothing for him. After wearing them for a couple weeks, this new brother expired to his eternal home.
It is these kinds of stories that burden John’s heart for this area that has been neglected and overlooked by government and church alike for so long.
John has been given great favor with the Lukulu tribe on both sides of the river. When he heard that John would like to set up a church, school and clinic as God provides the funding, the Lukulu Chief gave John a piece of land near the water. The chief also made it possible for John to purchase some land on the east side of the river, even though John is not a member of the Lukulu tribe, for the same purpose.
Many of you gave for the purchase of this land.
John spent May in the US, sharing with believers, encouraging American churches, being encouraged by American believers and learning things he can take back to further God’s Kingdom in Zambia.
He and Steve Evers shared with one couple the plight of the Lukulu community with regard to their water situation and the dangers of collecting and drinking water from the Zambezi River. Erik and Michelle looked at one another and smiled. Just a few days before, God had laid on their hearts to research where they might fund the building of a well for people in need.
They committed to fund the first well in Lukulu West.
Elated by such support, John plans to dig the well on the church’s property, so that the Lukulu tribe can get both the water they need to live and the living water in the same place, a place that is safe from both disease and crocodiles.
Summer Kelley is a writer living in Phoenix, Arizona with her husband and three kids. She’s had the honor and privilege of telling ITMI’s stories since 2006. She’s a homeschooling mom and a T-shirt and jeans aficionado who likes all things simple. When she’s not writing or homeschooling, you can find her honing her skills as what some might call a "suburban survivalist" as she learns to thrive in the suburbs with 3 kids. As a productivity and organizing enthusiast, she may or may not spend hours attempting to use technology to "save time.” Summer loves reading, the outdoors and Coca-Cola Classic from the fountain.
Steve Evers has advocated for and served the ITMI partners as ITMI Director since 2001. Approximately once a year, Steve visits with ITMI partners in their countries and brings stories back to encourage supporters. Steve enjoys photography and mechanics, (both hobbies that have greatly benefited ITMI partners!) Prior to becoming ITMI's Director, Steve served on the Board of Directors for 12 years. Steve lives in Arizona with his wife, Darlene.