Farming is a huge part of life in rural Zambia. Most people have at least a small plot to grow maize and maybe some vegetables. Since being in Zambia, I have become a huge fan of a programme called ‘Foundations for Farming’, which tries to teach Biblical methods for farming. These are simple things, such as what it means to care for the land well and to have a Biblical work ethic towards the land. It often involves a bit more work, for example farmers are encouraged to reuse stubble rather than burn it up, but the results are quite astonishing – sometimes 2 or 3 times the yield! Indeed, our own students at the Bible College are given just a small plot of land and since implementing FFF they now have enough to feed their families and even some to sell.
The thing that is so great about FFF is that it is not just a new technique for greater yield and profit but the core value is being a steward of God’s land. This stands in contrast to many traditional methods, which are often linked to witchcraft.
Just over a week ago we held a field day at Fiwale to share this programme with the local people and to demonstrate how the programme can work. And then last Friday, I went with one of the students to Ndola to share at another field day. Sydney Pensulu, our third year student, gave his testimony about how the FFF programme has enabled him to grow enough maize not only for himself but also to give back to the church. He shared how when we give what little we have to God, he can multiply it – Syndey bought a small amount of Tomato seed, and within a short time was supplying most of the college with tomatoes!
I believe this programme has the potential to radically change poverty in Africa, although it’s not without opposition. The traditional association with witchcraft is not easily broken, and we do feel some big challenges lie ahead!
I took some students this morning to Kola Baptist Church, in one of the townships near Ndola. I was preaching and the students were also involved with the service. We hadn’t realised beforehand that the church was also using this morning to hold a memorial for a previous German missionary.
Gunhild Rott came to Zambia in 1988 with Liebenzell mission and served the Zambian Baptist Association. Incidentally, the principal of Fiwale Bible College is also a Liebenzell missionary, as are some of my friends in Ndola. Gunhild visited Kola Baptist Church to share with the women there but as she was leaving she was shot and killed by men who stole her vehicle. This morning we heard a number of stories about her service and tireless work among the Lamba people, but perhaps most significant was what happened after her death.
Some of the thieves were caught and sentenced to prison, where they were saved and became disciples of Christ. They were later pardoned by the President and released, and began to plant churches, which are now in many countries all over sub-Saharan Africa!
As we stood around the grave, which is unmarked as they can’t afford a stone, it shed new light on the verse:
Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24)
I know it’s unlikely that you will ever have heard of Gunhild, but the story is worth sharing!
One of our first year students has been off this last week. His brother, a police officer, was murdered as he chased away intruders to his home. Another student, a second year, returned to Fiwale yesterday after burying his granddaughter.
I don’t really know how to write about this.
From my western perspective, the returning students did not seem to be grieving. I’m sure part of it is that Zambians grieve differently to Westerners. But I suspect there is also a familiarity with death in this culture that anaesthetises people to the sanctity of life. At the other end of the spectrum, maybe my culture has made such an idol out of life on this earth that we cling to it obsessively.
I was reminded today that one of Jonathan Edward’s resolutions was to ‘to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.’ Reading that today seems quite disturbing and depressive, and I’m not entirely sure what the purpose would be. Certainly, to think often of the brevity of life brings about a profound shift in our perspective on life.
I’m grateful for the reminder around me here that life is fleeting, to make the most of everyday to honour Christ. But I also pray that we won’t become desensitised to the astonishing value that God places upon every single human life.
Can I also ask you to pray for our students and their families? Even now, some of the students have children with some serious illnesses. These dear children are uniquely known and loved by a heavenly Father who counts the hairs on their heads.