God often works in strange ways. Recently I’ve become reconnected with the area that gave me my start in Zambia over ten years ago (as well as my first and second bouts of malaria- good times). Back in 2000 I did a lot of discipleship and child evangelism training at Covenant College in Petauke. Since then I’ve had very little contact as the college and surrounding ministries changed hands several times. In 2009 I met Marjanne, a Dutch missionary working with community schools and teachers in the Petauke area. I’ve given her a lot of the educational materials from our container, which she uses to help teachers improve their schools. I’ve also taught several teacher training courses from the base there. Staying at Covenant College again sometimes gives me a strange sense of déjà vu. I was also surprised to see that the cattle I purchased “back in the day” have been used to start a herd which now helps support the mission base!
Esther with crutchOn my way home from Chipata I was able to stop in Petauke for a few days to do more teacher training and follow up on some of the teachers and supplies. Marjanne took me to a real bush school and introduced me to Esther, (pictured left)one of the teachers who attended the seminar. Esther is an incredible lady. At the age of four she survived polio, but both of her legs grew improperly, leaving one of them lame. She uses a simple, wooden crutch to get around, but walking is still very difficult for her. As a young woman she married and had four babies, all of whom died in birth or infancy. Shortly thereafter her husband left her. She always wanted to teach young children, however because of her severe disability, making the long walk to the local community school was impossible.
Marjanne occasionally visited this small bush village and was finding a growing desire for a school and Bible teachings. When she met Esther and realized this godly lady had a passion to teach children, Marjanne pulled together materials from our Container Project, organized for Esther to come to one of the teacher training seminars, and helped her start a bush school. There is very little currency in villages so Esther is quite literally paid in peanuts, the major local crop. She eats many of them, but can also trade for other necessities. Each day Esther has about 20 children, ranging in age from three to eight, to whom she teaches preschool and Bible lessons. These children, largely neglected by their families due to the nature of village life, have become deeply attached to Esther, who has a very vivacious and visible love for these little ones. As a father of a two very squirrely children, I was impressed that Esther, who cannot get up to chase kids around, was able to keep her class in line with small verbal requests and reprimands.
Esther has expanded her “school” to include the local cattle boys. In many places throughout Africa, the cattle herd is a village’s lifeline. Boys around the ages of 6 – 10 are in charge of herding the cattle, and they do little else until they are replaced by other boys. After reaching this age, these boys are practically adults in the African estimation and are expected to work full days in the fields. Sadly, because of the lack of education or discipleship in their early years, these boys often come to trouble and become drunkards and thieves. Esther realized this serious problem and now teaches the boys as they have time to come to her. She is teaching them to read and write, but more importantly, she shares the Gospel and disciples them through their lessons.
Esther is a great example of what God is doing in Africa. She is a poor woman, from a poor village. She has very little training in much of anything, but has a heart full of love for God and His little children. There are many other teachers in a similar position. I often find “bush schools” where a teacher has gathered local children under a tree and, lacking any practical supplies, tells them stories and tries to convey what they themselves can remember from primary school. These teachers receive very little payment for their work, usually have almost no training, and often no supplies whatsoever.
So how can we make a lasting difference for Christ in schools like Esther’s? The Lord has blessed us with several really effective avenues to make both an immediate and long-term impact toward lasting change. Through our Container Projects and Teacher Training Seminars we are able to drastically improve the school environments and the teachers’ abilities. Most importantly, we equip Christian teachers to use education in discipling their students for Christ. In Leadership Training we emphasize to parents the need to educate their children and financially/practically support godly teachers. My long term goal is to produce a Christ-centered curriculum that can be easily and inexpensively reproduced so that more African teachers can have access to real curriculum. We must reach the children for Christ if we hope to make a truly lasting difference for Him in Africa. This will be so much easier to do if we can put a discipleship-oriented school curriculum in the hands of the teachers and train them to make every lesson count for the Kingdom of God.
A Time to Build Up
Last year we got the opportunity to buy a half-acre piece of land. We’re over halfway through paying for it now and have been looking forward to the day when we’ll be able to build a house of our own. At the moment we’re renting a small two bedroom apartment, which is a tight squeeze for our growing family. Additionally, teacher training and ministry from home are nearly impossible as the work area, children’s play area, food preparation area, etc. are all just one room. We have found that having a godly household is a growing part of our testimony to the community, especially in Zambia where there is little concept of what that looks like. However, sharing this testimony has been difficult as our small apartment limits our ability to bring people in for training and discipleship. We would love to have a house big enough to bring pastors, teachers, and (for Ashley) local women into our home to train them in the Gospel and practical skills. It would also be beneficial to have an extra bedroom so that we can provide a place for our Western friends to come and work with us on short term trips.
About six weeks ago Hannes, a South African missionary who disciples Zambians through building-skills training, approached us and said he has an unexpected opening in his building schedule- would we like his team to build our house? This came as a surprise since we know he is booked solid for the coming three years. As I will otherwise have to do the building myself (there actually aren’t any other good contractors in Kabwe, even using a loose definition of the term), this is an incredible opportunity for our family and ministry. While doing the building myself is certainly something I’m willing to do, the amount of time that would take away from ministry would be devastating.
After much prayer and a little budget squeezing, we were able to come up with the deposit for Hannes to start building. He’s willing to work in phases as we can come up with the money. Our goal is to get the house built to the roof before the rains come (mid-December) and save up to do the plumbing, electrical, and finish work next year. At the moment we need to raise about $18,000 more to build from the foundation through to the roof. We’ll need a further $10,000 + to put in plumbing, electrical, and fixtures. Because building out here costs so much less than it would in the States, the project will pay for itself after only six years because of what we’ll save in rent payments. This will then free up funds over the following years to give us a head start in the printing and distribution costs of our discipleship and teacher training materials.
We are very excited at the opportunity to have a home big enough to accommodate our family of (almost) five and, at the same time, increase our capacity to be a witness for Christ in the community. By building our home now, we can greatly increase the effectiveness of ministry to the families around us, using our home as a testimony of God’s grace. Please pray with us that, should this Mission House Project be in the Lord’s timing, He would bless us with the funds to go ahead with the building.
We are very seriously looking at doing another Container Project in 2012/2013. Please keep your eyes and ears open for Christian school curriculums, school supplies, Bibles, Christian discipleship materials, etc. If you hear of churches or schools looking to replace old materials, please snatch them up (or put us in contact with the people who have them). There is such a shortage of materials out here- the books and school supplies we brought out in 2009 are practically all distributed already. Seeing the way the Lord brought those materials to Africa and put them to work for His people out here has been amazing!
We need YOU to help us collect a container full again!
Timothy, Ashley, Monica, Frederick, & “3” Keller
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