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Zambia Reflections (Part 1)

I’ve been back from Zambia for a couple of weeks now. In hindsight, I’m grateful for the snow at the beginning of March, which saw Archbishop Richard and me delayed for 48 hours in Addis Ababa. As my wife, Anne pointed out – those 48 hours were a gift, affording me time to reflect on the visit.

My previous frame of reference for CMSI in terms of Mission Experience is in the form of two trips to Kenya, one in 2003 and one in 2015. I was keen to see something a little different on the trip to Kitwe, which is the second city of Zambia.

Warmth of welcome

It never ceases to amaze me how much warmth there is within the CMSI family. We were struck by the welcome we received from our friends Keith and Lyn Scott, from the students in the seminary, in the different churches we visited…indeed, wherever we went, we were warmly welcomed. It became clear to us that Zambia is a nation full of warm people who are very proud of their country – of its relative stability and its role in the wider life of the continent.

Faith in poverty and the lesson we can learn Of course, that warmth of welcome was set against a backdrop of relative poverty. Kitwe may be the second city and in the lucrative copper belt region, but its infrastructure is fairly basic, and we were told there is a high level of unemployment. This presents challenges on a number of levels, but it is a real issue for the Church. Archbishop Albert explained that, although his people are not lacking in generosity they are lacking in material resources. This makes it very difficult to plan strategically as a Church, and it is so very different from life in the Church of Ireland.

I know from experience the level of planning that would go into, say, building a new church hall here in Ireland. Indeed, such a project would not be undertaken here without some sense of certainty as to funding. To apply that kind of thinking in a context like Northern Zambia would be just unrealistic.

When we visited some churches in Chingola (about 50km from Kitwe) with Archbishop Albert, he was surprised in almost every one to see a new boundary wall, or the next bit of a classroom or some other small job completed. But that’s the only way such projects can ever happen – stepping out in faith and proceeding a small step at a time. I wonder if we in the Church in Ireland are possessed of such faith, of such patience?

Familiar faith I had to smile when, after traveling 5000 miles, one of the first things we sang in the chapel at St John’s Seminary was a great modern Irish hymn, In Christ Alone. I joined the students most days for Morning and Evening Prayer (and Wednesday Morning Eucharist) and these services, alongside Sunday Worship, had a distinct Zambian flavour but also felt entirely familiar. Indeed, not having a local prayer book wasn’t really a problem as we went through the liturgies. (The seminary doesn’t have enough prayer books– another example of the challenge they face in terms of basic resources).

The idiom of worship in Kitwe is more ‘high church’ than I experience most of the time in my parishes. It was a joy to witness and join in the dignified (but never dull) rituals of worship and be blessed by the very real value of a broadly universal liturgy that unites Anglicans worldwide.

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