It’s Monday morning again. Where would I like to spend the day if I could go anywhere just for a quick visit? Going back to Mwandi would be a wonderful, albeit heart-wrenching, way to spend the day.
Mwandi is a little village in south-western Zambia and I took a team to visit there just over five years ago. I’d love to see what has changed since. We worked with the local church and an Orphans and Vulnerable Children Project which provides education and food in order to support the kids staying in the local community. These are kids who have lost one or both parents to AIDS, and in a village where 60% of the population are under 16, this presents huge challenges.
Mwandi is also an incredibly beautiful place, right on the Zambezi River. We passed a tower of giraffes on the way into town and spotted hippos and crocodiles in the river. The sunsets were stunning, the local woodworker hand-carved intricate treasures, and we dined on freshly caught fish from the river. Neither the place, nor its people, should be defined by what they don’t have.
What do I love about Mwandi?
The people, absolutely the people. They were so incredibly welcoming and hospitable to us despite the cultural faux-pas I’m sure we were making left, right and centre. They had so little and yet they were so generous and open hearted.
I also loved the warm weather, the community culture, and the peace and solitude readily available. Walking through the market and hearing the sharing of lives along with produce. The giggles of children watching us walk by with our strange clothes, language and customs. The roadside entrepreneurs selling everything from haircuts to mobile phone minutes. The warm welcome into people’s homes and the opportunity to join in whatever was going on from singing and dancing to making mud bricks to gutting fish.
What did I learn from my time in Mwandi?
I was inspired and taught by the deep faith in Jesus I saw in action. As a Westerner with the title “Rev” I was treated with respect, even deference, and looked to for teaching and comfort. But I learned so much more than I was able to share. It was an incredibly humbling experience to pray for those who were dying and to try to share hope with those who had lost loved ones that day. I felt so out of my depth and my comfort zone, but God gave me incredible opportunities to learn from being stretched in those ways. I also felt shame at the excesses of my life, the stuff that I do not need and yet cling to, and the way that I compare myself to those who have more and feel either justified or jealous. And I was challenged by the way people shared their lives and cared for one another which stands in stark contrast to the isolated, independent lives so often lived in my cultural experience.
Mwandi is the kind of place where you find yourself thinking, “I will never be able to go back and live my life quite the same way I did before I came here.” And yet it’s so easy to forget and slip back into what seems so normal and innocuous when you return home. I want to remember my visits to place like Mwandi because I need to be reminded every day that the way I live is not the experience of the majority of the world, and because I want to live my life in light of how they have to live theirs.