A lot happened this week, much more than I had originally anticipated.
One of the things that happened was a death. The person who passed away was someone I had met less than two years ago and I was only around for about four or five days. However, he had a profound impact on the way I see the world. This person was Jimmy Ulenge. A pastor from the African country of Zambia. A man I had a conversation with that I will never forget.
In October of 2014, myself and three others from my church traveled to Zambia on a missions trip. Many things happened while I was there and I am still processing the experience to this day. I'll have to save a majority of the stories for another time, but right now, I want to share the story of what happened when we helped to feed over 200 children outside the city of Chingola.
It was our third or fourth day in the country. There were six of use altogether, myself, James, Erika, Jimmy Ulenge, his wife, Martha, and their son, Destiny. Jimmy drove us all in his van and we made our way into the small village. It was filled with two things: small brick houses, many without roofs, and children, lots and lots of children.
We arrived at the front of a schoolhouse, it was swarmed with kids. They were running in and out of the building and everywhere around it. Most of them didn't have shoes and it was obvious that what they were wearing were the only clothes they owned. Despite this, most of them had smiles on their faces. They were all so joyful. We got out of the van and walked towards the schoolhouse. I entered through the doorway and turned to my right. This is what I saw:
All the food we brought was placed on a large table at the front of the building. The kids all lined up and we began to serve them. Each one brought something from home to put the food in. Some had plates or bowls and some had tupperware containers. We gave them chicken, rice, and macaroni & cheese. After they were served, they found a spot of the floor and began to eat.
The only way to describe how I was feeling was utter shock.
We were there for about two hours and I was in disbelief the entire time. I was aware of third world countries and the poverty that goes on in them. I was aware of starvation and how there are children in the world that go hungry everyday. What I wasn't aware of was how real all of it was. My world was turned upside down that day and something in my brain clicked. I understood why so many people give up living their comfortable lives in the United States and go to places like Africa.
Towards the end of our visit, I was sitting on a bench in the schoolhouse pondering over the things I was seeing. Most of the kids had been fed and we were getting ready to call it a day. Jimmy came over and sat down next to me. He asked me what I thought about all of this. I went on to tell him how surprised at how little was being done by the rest of the world. Everyone in America is aware about the starvation that happens in third world countries. I hear the phrase "there are starving kids in Africa" regularly. It upset me so much at how aware we are and how little we seem to care. I told him that I knew what I was going to see when I came to this country but I didn't realize that it was going to be like THIS.
He then took my hand, a gesture I later found out was a sign of respect amongst men there, and he said three words to me.
"This is Zambia."
We then walked outside and I saw a group of kids playing on a set of rusty metal bars. I played with them for a few minutes. They were impressed by how many pull ups i could do. After that, it was time to leave. We all piled into the van and drove away as a group of about 20 or so kids ran after us.
I will never forget that village or the short conversation I had with Jimmy.
I found out earlier this week that Jimmy had passed away. It happened suddenly and without warning. I was beyond saddened to hear that.
When I think about Jimmy Ulenge, I think of two things. The first is the conversation we had. The second is him singing on Sunday morning at his church:
Now that's a joyful noise!