Vinsons’ US Visits

A US Visit

As missionaries with United Methodist Global Ministries, we are responsible to visit our supporting churches every three years to raise support. I once heard a missionary refer to these visits as the “dog and pony show.” We hoped that our visit would not just be obligatory visits to an uninterested “audience” who is just there for yet another missionary presentation… and we have not been disappointed.

One of our problems is that no United Methodist Annual Conferences in the United States partner with Zambia. Most Conferences (regional divisions of the UMC) have overseas partnerships, but none include Zambia. To that end, we made visits Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, East Ohio, and West Ohio. East Ohio made us especially welcome during their Annual Conference. They even gave us “stage time” and Brian spoke to the entire gathered Conference. We enjoyed our visits with the Conference Mission representatives. We took the opportunity to introduce ourselves and our mission in Zambia.

Telling the story at East Nelson UMC Bible School

The main focus of our visits has been local churches. We came to Zambia with only a few partner churches, but God has been preparing new partnerships. As we meet with churches, we share what God is doing in Zambia. We also share what we have learned (and are learning) from our Zambian friends. We want our partner churches to partner, not only with us, but also with the Zambian United Methodist Church.

So we make visits to churches, sharing what God is doing. Please join us! For certainly, we all grow through partnership.

 

A Summary of our First Three Years

Here is a video summary of our first three years serving in Lusaka, Zambia. The password for the video is Zambia .

2017 Itineration – I Can Only Imagine from Brian Vinson on Vimeo.

Saving Zambia… or not…

Saving the children… You’ve seen it before: the pictures of hungry children living in squalor. The stories of poverty and malnutrition. Horrible pictures of ugly situations. And then comes the kicker: for only (insert dollar amount), you can “save” the children. We can easily fall victim to the misconception that we Westerners can “save Africa” with our donations. These children don't need saving.

But the people of Zambia don’t need another savior.

The reality is, Zambia doesn’t need “saving.” The people often need opportunities, but this isn’t “saving” them. Love to Zambia is about empowering Zambian people. So, for example, we will not just teach English classes, but we will also teach locals to teach the course. A perfect example of our approach is the organization Paradigm Shift. This program empowers churches to meet the spiritual and economic needs of the poor in their communities.

They teach business training courses specifically designed in/for a Southern African context. Alongside the business training, they teach Christian discipleship and stewardship. We do not teach these concepts in a vacuum, but rather, with a successful Christian mentor. This mentorship role also provides graduates of the program a place to “give back.”  Through the program, entrepreneurs will be able to obtain small microcredit loans, which restore dignity and worth.

So we are not saving Zambia; we are empowering Zambia.

The difference between “saving” and “empowering” is huge. “Saving” suggests that they are somehow deficient and that we are not. It even suggests that we are better than them. This is not the case. Zambia is a beautiful nation, and the people here are the friendliest people I’ve ever met. They are warm and loving and generous. They have struggled with poverty and colonialism, but they have so much to share, not only in Zambia, but around the world

This is why we are so excited about the chance to build resource centers in the compounds of Lusaka. These resource centers will help to restore the dignity of a wonderful people in a beautiful country.

Remember: You can click here and find out more about our Church and Community Resource Centers, including how you can give to the ministry!

Thank you for your interest and for joining us in loving Zambia!

Advancing Hope in Christ’s Name

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  ~Hebrews 10:23

The United Methodist Church in Zambia is a young church, a church with many hopes and dreams. Though we have written before about Zambia’s poverty, that is not what defines the United Methodist Church here. More appropriately, the church might define itself as hopeful.

Our leaders are hopeful that soon we will become a fully functioning, self-sustaining Conference. (Currently we are a provisional conference, under the auspices of the South Congo bishop). We hope that we will one day have the infrastructure to support our pastors and the work of Christ. And we hope to make a difference in our communities.

One hope our members hold is for church buildings. Currently we meet in school classrooms, in a disabilities center, and we have even met in a home. A building represents hope: for evangelism, for stability, for church growth.

But to us, a building represents hope for the community.

We plan to use a building for Sunday worship, for Tuesday youth meetings, for Wednesday prayers and Bible Study, and for choir practice and seminars, but that’s not all.  Our building will be a community resource center, offering entrepreneurship classes, English language courses, Bible study courses, money management courses. We will provide career counseling and computer classes. A building is a place for education, and education offers hope to the community.

We have been waiting patiently for the opportunity to move forward with the plan God has called us to… and now we can!

United Methodist Global MAdvancing Hope in Christ's Nameinistries has approved our proposal to build resource centers in Lusaka, Zambia, through the Advance. You can find some of the specifics here: Building Church and Community Resource Centers

With the approval of our project, now you have the opportunity to partner with us! In a future blog post, I will explain a little more about how the Advance works, but for now, you can find information on how to give on UMC Global Ministries’ Advance Project Webpage. You, too, can give hope to our friends here in Zambia!

Graduation Celebration for Our District Superintendent

Here in Lusaka, Zambia, we have five United Methodist Pastors. Of the five, two are appointed local pastors and do not have formal United Methodist training. One is in the Pastors’ School at Kafakumba Training Center. One is a foreign missionary. And the fifth, our District Superintendent, Rev. Stephen Kaluba, has just finished his Bachelors of Theology Degree at the Baptist Theological Seminary of Lusaka.  He celebrated his graduation last week!

15078680_1782742702003921_3114792555182545139_nIt has been difficult for Rev. Kaluba to finish his degree. He is a true bi-vocational pastor — he is our (virtually unpaid) District Superintendent. In this role, he leads the pastors and directs all of our churches. Most noteworthy is the fact that he has been a faithful seminary student, taking his studies seriously, learning while ministering. And he has a full-time teaching job as well.

Rev. DS Kaluba

Rev. DS Kaluba on his graduation!

For most United Methodist Pastors in Zambia, getting adequate training is extremely difficult.

People from various compounds or towns frequently come to us, asking us to plant a church. However, we are limited and the limiting factor is trained pastors. While the Kafakumba Pastors’ School is our primary source (and has also provided pastors for D.R.Congo, Tanzania, and even Senegal!), our pastors still need support. We must train them and at the same time, build up in our churches the willingness and ability to provide for them. We now have a fantastic (and badly needed) program to help pay pensions to retired pastors (thanks to Kafakumba). Now our retired pastors are earning more than our active pastors! Therefore we plan to help our churches begin to support their pastors.

In the meantime, we celebrate the graduation of our District Superintendent, Rev. Stephen Kaluba, and we look forward to seeing growth of our pastors’ training and support!

Zambia Pastor Retreat

Years and years ago, a delightful, tough woman, Lorraine Enright, had  a vision of holding a pastor retreat for Zambian pastors. When she began dreaming of this retreat, there were few Zambian United Methodist pastors. But she kept praying. Nearly two years ago, Kafakumba Training Center held its first Zambian Pastor Retreat.  Pastors from all over Zambia came together to worship, pray, and fellowship.

During this year’s pastor retreat, John Enright spoke about some of the difficulties he has

Zambia Pastor Retreat

Zambia Pastor Retreat

faced. He told us that many of his endeavors failed. They tried growing bananas and aloe vera, but the crops failed. Their sawmill all-but failed.  But then one of the pastors spoke up.

We are the bananas.

Many (almost all) of our Zambian pastors have been trained right there at Kafakumba. Because the bananas and aloe vera provided income for Kafakumba Training Center, Zambian pastors benefited. For them, no investment,  no matter how small, no matter how sustainable, was a failure.

Though the banana production was a failure in the sense of not being able to sustain itself, it provided for these pastors’ training. However…

Our Zambian pastors cannot support themselves on a pastor’s salary.

If I learned anything from the pastor retreat, it was that Zambian pastors have to make major sacrifices. Most churches are unable to pay their pastors.  Many of our pastors are bi-vocational. Although our annual conference (leadership for the church in Zambia) agreed years ago that pastors must be paid approximately $50 per month, no church has been able to do so. One of our goals is to partner with Kafakumba and local theological schools to help with pastor education. Another is to help struggling churches to raise money to pay their pastors.

We will do this two ways. Our Resource Centers will help empower entrepreneurs — thus increasing the tithes and offerings that the churches receive. We will continue to help churches support their pastors through your gifts. We will continue to work to train both laity and clergy for the theological task in front of them.

Thank you for reading this far.  Look here for continued updates as we should find out within a month if United Methodist Global Ministries accepts our project requests!

In the meantime, the pastor retreat has encouraged and empowered our Zambian pastors and given us strength for the mission!

Zambian Missionaries

Over the past few blogs, I have been recounting what we need here in Lusaka, Zambia. We need Resource Centers. We need Pastor Training. We need Children’s Ministry.  While we serve as missionaries in Lusaka, other areas are saying, “We need missionaries, too!”

Yes, we have plenty of needs here in Lusaka. But please do not take these blogs the wrong way. I am not saying that if we fulfill all expectations that we will somehow “save” Zambia; Jesus already died and rose again to save Zambia, and He doesn’t need us to be Saviors.

The reality is, it can be easy to write deceptively about Africa.  We honestly want you to partner with us and thee easiest way could be to tug at your emotion and your ego… if we paint a sad enough story and lead you to believe that you can somehow “save” Africa, then perhaps you will join us…

The reality is, Zambia is a wonderful place.

Lusaka has fabulous weather. I have a weather app on my phone, and I never, ever use it. Why not? Because I know it will be mild overnight, the sun will shine, the breeze will blow, it will get warm, even hot in the afternoon, and the shade will feel good.

Lusaka has malls and shopping centers just like the West. Some Americans like to joke that Zambia is “Africa Lite” or Africa 101, but that’s misleading. The reality is Africa is not monolithic; it is huge and multicultural. Africa has its rural villages and its thriving cities. We often hear about African poverty, but at the same time, many African nations supply the world with raw materials, such as the copper provided by Zambia’s “Copperbelt” region.

The real wealth of Zambia is its people.

Bible StudyThis isn’t just about how friendly people are to us – the fact that wherever we go, people smile and greet us. It’s not about the hard workers we see everywhere. It’s about heart.

One of our church members, Monica, has been active, not just in the local church, but also in health and wellness ministries in Lusaka. But recently in her travels (to care for and minister to) family members, she was asked for help. The village has no water. Monica has UMCOR training, and she determined that this is what her training is all about.

So with the blessing of our local church, Monica will be traveling to that remote village to assess the situation. We will also see what resources are available to help the village not only get by, but to thrive.

Sometimes people think of missionaries as white, Westerners who go “over there” to minister. Some of us (obviously) fit into that category. But Monica is an example of the truth: that God calls all of his people to be missionaries, to carry his Word to all places. She is just one example of the character we see in the Zambian members of the United Methodist Church!

Life in Lusaka: The Children

Life in Lusaka is a little different from the life we knew in Ohio. Our Ohio friends are enjoying the cooler fall weather (and dreading the coming Winter) Meanwhile in Lusaka, the temperature is heating up. Ohio residents take for granted their highways, roads and streets (and complain about potholes). In Lusaka, roads with potholes are generally the good roads.

IMG_1584

Our son Jonathan teaching the children of Kanyama an Easter Sunday School lesson. Life in Zambia often sees children teaching children.

A big difference between Ohio and Lusaka is the age of the citizen. Columbus, Ohio’s median age is 32 years. Lusaka’s median age is 18 years.  Columbus Ohio is a city of relative youth, with 23% of its residents under age 18.

However, 27% of Lusaka’s population is under age 10.

 

These children face many difficulties; HIV/AIDS, malaria, poverty, sub-standard schooling.

With so many children and so many issues, children’s outreach is vitally important. We trained our volunteers (who were primarily youth) to teach using AWANA techniques and materials. On the last day of the training, we brought in some of our children to participate (so the leaders could practice with real children). Imagine our surprise as the number of children grew… and grew… and grew. All it took was for us to start setting up for a game!

It is important for us to provide a safe place for children to learn and grow: physically as well as spiritually.

Wherever you go in Lusaka, you find children. Some are on their way to or from school (almost always on foot, even hitchhiking, always in school uniforms). Some are playing alongside the road. Many are kicking homemade soccer balls. Life in Lusaka is not like the U.S., where kids have an array of choices for church activities. As we strive to begin children’s programs, such as AWANA, we provide meaningful and fun places to go, and at the same time, we continue to train adults to train up the next generation of leaders.

We look forward to providing hope for the children of Lusaka, and we look forward to seeing them grow to lead a new generation forward. They can lead new life in Lusaka!

Resource Centers: Empowering Entrepreneurs

“We don’t have the money to do that.”

“We need to start a [fundraising] project so we can have money.”

I hear these phrases every time we hold a district or church council meeting. Some of the church members have some good ideas about ministries we should start [such as a feeding program for children in the community] or about enhancing worship [buying instruments] or about a church building.

Unfortunately, we barely have enough money to pay our classroom rental fee.

Now, at this point, many missionaries start asking for donations. But this creates an unsustainable pattern where we rely on outsiders; if the outside donations dry up, then so does ministry.

In the meantime, the primary way we raise money is by asking the congregation for donations. When you consider that the average monthly income for a Zambian is around $34, we constantly struggle. This is where the “we need a project” conversation comes in. But when it comes to “projects” it is hard to think of something new, let alone to get it off the ground.

This is where our resource centers will come in.

We are partnering with Paradigm Shift, an African organization that teaches entrepreneurs. Listen to what Paradigm Shift is all about

Paradigm Shift exists because people are in poverty and we believe the Church should be on the forefront of solving that problem. The Paradigm Shift Program is a tool that connects business men and women within the church to microentrepreneurs in poor communities. Through business training, discipleship, microcredit and one-on-one mentoring, volunteers engage with developing entrepreneurs, who, in turn, bring economic possibility to their impoverished communities.

Paradigm Shift is a proven, African approach to training entrepreneurs.  But Paradigm Shift does not simply train individuals. It is a program where individuals are trained… to train others. Why is entrepreneurship important? Click here (part 1), here (part 2), and here (part 3) to find out.

Entrepreneurs are not simply facts and figures. They are real people with real stories.

It is important to meet the real people whose stories drive the movement. The story of Pauline is a great example. Hopefully we will be able to share our own stories as we get off the ground with Paradigm Shift, one of the benefits we will see of having our own Resource Centers.

Why Do We Need Resource Centers?

Why do we need resource centers here in Zambia?

Why not just build church buildings? After all, most of us have seen the pictures from mission teams who have gone overseas to build church buildings. We see how grateful the locals are to have their own building, and we understand that having a building is essential for evangelism. However, a church building is only part of the answer to the issues the United Methodist Church faces in Lusaka.

Zambian schools are still substandard.

While we Americans take free public schools for granted, Zambians have to pass tests to continue schooling. Grades 7, 9, and 11 all have mandatory exams. If you do not pass the exam, you do not progress to the next grade level. Even if you pass seventh grade, if you do not have adequate school fees, you cannot attend. Consequently, many adults have a seventh grade education and no more. Out of every 100 primary school children, only 1.07 will enroll at a university or vocational school. This website (the Borgen Project) has more surprising statistics on education.

English is the official language of trade in Zambia, but locally, different tribes speak 72 different languages. Primary education begins with local (indigenous) language. So many adults have only a tenuous grasp of the English language. The government does sponsor night school, but unfortunately it is inaccessible for many, especially women. Travel (primarily on foot) at night through the compounds is dangerous.

Money management is another area of difficulty. The overarching African view of finances differs greatly from an American mindset. If you want to read a great book on this subject, I recommend African Friends and Money Matters: Observations From Africa by David E. Maranz. Joe Gallup of the Uganda Mission compiled a summary of the principles contained in the book, which you can find here.

We also see other factors which many of Americans take for granted. For example, we rely on computers (or smart phones or tablets) and free (or inexpensive or prepaid) internet connection. Even if we don’t have an internet connection, free wifi is only as far away as the nearest McDonalds. But for the typical Zambian, computer access is neither easy nor available. It is difficult even to type a document. One must write it by hand, find someone who can type it, pay them, and hope that it comes out OK.

In the compounds, resource centers can provide the space for these activities.

Here, we can teach English language, computer training, money management and entrepreneurship courses. We can provide computers and wifi. We can provide a safe place for students to complete homework. And, on Sundays, the church can have its own space to worship.

Over the coming months, I will share some specific stories about life in Matero compound.  I hope to help you understand how resource centers can help real people.

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