I believe you don’t truly understand someone until you make a connection with them and actually see how they live. I felt God tugging at my heart to leave my comfort zone. For me, that meant serving a local church in Zambia.
In October 2015, at Willow Creek’s 40th anniversary celebration, Bill Hybels identified 40 churches across the globe that Willow would assist by acquiring or constructing new buildings. One of those was in Zambia. I love being a part of the Willow community, so when I heard Student Impact, our high school ministry, was sponsoring a mission trip to Zambia, I quickly sought God’s guidance about whether or not I should go.
God answered my prayer, and I got the opportunity to serve in Zambia with Student Impact. My experiences in Africa widened my lens and taught me about community and communication — two things that are central to God’s presence in our lives.
We traveled in June, which is the winter season for Africa. The weather was very pleasant and in the 70s. We focused on the area near Lusaka, which is one of the major cities in Zambia.
In the downtown area, there were indoor and outdoor malls, which surprised us. We drove to the Pentecostal Holiness Church on a dirt road and noticed the houses are close together and made from concrete. Our role was to paint the church with some of the members.
As we painted the church, I was able to see the community the Zambians have with one another. They genuinely love one another and want to know how other people are doing. They are not in as much of a rush as we are in the U.S., and they spend quality time with others.
Over three days, I got to witness and partake in intentional conversations our team had with Zambian workers and youth. Some of the topics we talked about included dating, politics, gender roles, sports, and church. Our intentional communication allowed us to become more of a community. We all got to know each other so well that it felt like we became family by the end of the trip.
One day — and this was a highlight of my trip — we spent a day with Zambian teenagers to experience their daily lives. My teammate, Andrew, and I were paired with a young adult named Sky who was very friendly and happy. He loved to sing. In fact, he was always singing to people. We went to the local market together and bought lots of fresh vegetables, fruit, snacks, and even a live chicken!
When we arrived at Sky’s house, his brothers, sister, and mother greeted us. They were so excited to meet us and eager to start cooking lunch. I didn’t want to kill the chicken, so Andrew did the deed. Sky’s mother and sister showed us the process of cleaning, plucking, and cutting up the chicken. Although I felt terrible about killing the chicken, it was quite tasty to eat.
Sky’s mom also showed us how to cook everything, and she let us help. The staple food served in Zambia is Nshima. It’s made out of cornmeal and water. You need strong arms to stir the Nshima because it gets really thick.
The whole family sat around a coffee table in the living room, and then we ate the fresh food we cooked. Our meal consisted of soup, sautéed spinach with tomatoes, Nshima, fried chicken, mackerel, cabbage, and onions. Lunch tasted delicious, and it filled me up pretty fast.
I loved getting to know Sky’s younger sister, Natasha, because she is 16 — which is a year younger than me. I asked what her life was like at home and school. We talked about her hobbies, which revolve around drawing, singing, going to church, watching television, and spending time with family and friends. Even though Zambia is over 8,000 miles away, I discovered we have a lot more in common than I initially thought.
On one of the last days of the trip, our team taught at the Rise and Shine Community School, which partners with the Pentecostal Holiness Church. Andrew, Taylor, and I taught science, math, and English to the first- and second-grade class. Andrew’s topic centered on fighting HIV/AIDS. A lot of the young kids already knew about how to prevent AIDS and HIV, and it showed me how fast these kids have to grow up and how different it is to be a kid in the Zambian community.
For English, which I taught, the students copied three basic grammar sentences I wrote on the board into their notebooks, which were made of newspaper and loose-leaf paper. Before we left the classroom, the teacher and students sang us a song. They sang our names: “Teacher Katie, Teacher Taylor, and Teacher Andrew,” followed by, “We will miss you, when you go / But remember to remain in the union with the Lord.” It felt so unbelievably powerful and touching. Tears flowed from my eyes because I went to Zambia to serve the local church, and they served us by showing their appreciation and love.
This trip was a life-changing experience. I will never forget it. I learned so much about cultures, food, a strong community, and myself. This experience is the start of my journey of understanding other cultures and serving people. Stepping out in faith to travel to Zambia was definitely worth the effort. I grew in my relationship with God by experiencing, understanding, and working alongside Zambians.
I feel very fortunate I have been able to travel to Zambia at a young age, and I look forward to sharing my experiences with others. If anyone is considering going on a mission trip, pray about it, talk to others who have gone, and if the door opens, take the opportunity.
Katie Howard is a senior at Barrington High School and in Student Impact at Willow Creek South Barrington.
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