This piece of writing came out of my experiences in Zambia and was shaped by trying to answer the question posed by LEAST at Wheaton Academy this fall: How have you been changed by your relationships with the LEAST?
For me, my relationships have radically altered my life for good because of what I have received and learned and experienced in a culture and with people I never knew before...I closed LEAST this year with this piece...it is personal and a reflection of how God uses surprising folks to change us deeply in His Kingdom plan...ENJOY...
I am currently spending my days doing some writing about what God invited us to do as a student community over the last six years in response to the AIDS pandemic in Zambia…and as I retell the story in my typing of words each day, the stories invariably cause me to sneak a peek at many of the African faces I have gotten to know and love over that time frame…you see, my story of my own life and faith now is deeply intertwined with these faces and their stories…I’ve spent a good portion of my life trying to teach in such a way that it changes and transforms the lives of the students sitting in my classroom, soccer pitch, youth group room, mountain top vista, or retreat cabin…I’ve desperately wanted them to hear and embrace the things that truly matter, what they really need to learn to experience all the fullness of life Jesus has died and overcome death to bring into their lives today…
And in the midst of all that teaching, I have found myself still being taught about what is most important in this life as well…several years ago there was an extremely popular book by Robert Fulghum entitled All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten… and his list of findings included these kinds of phrases:
Don't hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don't take things that aren't yours.
Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Take a nap every afternoon.
This book literally sold millions of copies and I remember getting a copy for my graduation from college from one of my relatives…
But if I were to write my own book around this very topic 20 years later after receiving these pearls of wisdom, my title would be very different:
And so tonight, I want to share with you a short list of my own entitled All I ever really needed to know I learned in Zambia…and here it goes:
*Living without a watch or clock is a rather freeing way to live
*You play a game simply because you love it
*Life must be celebrated with great passion
*Share freely even if you don’t have extras when you give it away
*Dance when the Spirit of God moves inside of you
*Sing with a voice not caring what people around you think
*Learn all you can because it is a privilege to receive an education
*When friends come to visit, you run out to greet them
*The church service ought to be a highlight of one’s week
*When your family member is sick, you drop everything and do anything to care for them and their needs
*Life is fragile
*You get to know someone when you do things together that you both love to do
*Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world
*Water and food are blessings from heaven
*A short life can still be a full life
*A gracious spirit attracts other people to you
*Telling and listening to stories is one of the most enjoyable things in life to do
*You can and should laugh often every day
*A blanket makes all the difference when you lay down to sleep
*Riding a bike enables you to get places you couldn’t go before
*Where you grow up shapes a good bit of what your life will become
*Hope sustains us thru experiences we never imagined we’d encounter along the way
*It’s OK to ask God for a miracle…because He’s a God who makes the impossible become reality
In the summer of 2004 on my first visit to Zambia I took a walk with my friend Fordson who would become the kind of friend who would drive from anywhere in the whole country to share a meal with me when he found out I was coming back to his country…and on our walk we dreamed together about what God might want to do in Kakolo Village…he had dreams that were way bigger than I could imagine…dreams that truly were God sized in the midst of completely overwhelming and devastating poverty…we pointed to an overgrown field of wild grass and imagined things like electricity, a huge schoolhouse addition, a new medical clinic, clean water wells, a ministry center…and God has seen fit to allow us to help make those dreams become reality…and the last thing Fordson talked about was something rather unusual…he turned to a an overgrown field spot a couple hundred yards away with trees and said that’s where the brand new soccer pitch must go…and you can come back and play on it with us someday…
In 2007, I made a very difficult decision and stepped down as the varsity boys soccer coach at WA…to be honest, I was left wondering if I had made the right decision…I loved coaching, loved my players, and wasn’t sure I had really fulfilled the goals I set out to achieve on the field…as the summer began and the season drew near, I was missing it and feeling so weird about not being part of a program I had poured my life into…and then we went back to Zambia for our third trip…I have loved soccer for most of my life, and the people of Zambia play the game every day even without grass, round balls, and nets on goals…it is easy to feel out of place when you first encounter the LEAST, but for me and many of my friends, a soccer ball and a dirt field made us feel very much at home…and as we reconnected with our brothers and sisters in Kakolo Village that summer, there was one beautiful brand new thing the community had built without resources from WA students…by hand over the course of many months the Kakolo community had built a gorgeous new soccer pitch, with a level dirt playing field, white pipe goals with nets, and skybox seats built on the top of 2 gigantic anthills overlooking the pitch…it was truly the most beautiful field I had seen in all of our travels throughout the nation…and it was a gift for us, a place where we could play the game together on a field built with love for people who played on perfect grass on the other side of the world…and on the side of the field was a rather large marker that had my name on it as the person who this field was dedicated to…it was a complete surprise and arguably the best gift I have ever received in my entire life…it was the completion of my dream, fordson’s dream, and god’s dream for this community and our relationship as two communities were brought together…as I stepped onto that field to play, I felt remarkably loved and affirmed…and much of the pain in leaving coaching melted away because of the reality that I would always have my field to play and coach on…because of my friends on the other side of the world who knew what I loved and whom I loved…and if you ask me what some of the best moments and days in my life have been and will continue to be, I would tell you about playing soccer with those called the Least and my students who I love dearly…for on that soccer pitch people in Chicago will never ever see I am at my second home, playing the game I love with people who have shown me the love of Jesus in a most personal and tangible and sacrificial way…and I am forever changed for the good, my life is obviously different in its richness and meaning, because of the faith, hope and love of the people of Zambia…may we continue to serve and be served, to love and be loved, to help build and create and dream dreams, to allow Jesus to be present in our lives through the relationships with those He cares most deeply about, those that Jesus called the LEAST…AMEN